Youth Movements: The Next Generation of Global Leaders

The future success of global social movements depends largely on cultivating the next generation of activists. With the support of Grassroots International, local groups around the world are organizing creative social, political and environmental awareness programs explicitly engaging youth. Below are a few highlights from some of the grants we made this past year.

 
In Haiti, deforestation and disposal methods for plastic waste pose an environmental threat. Recognizing this challenge to Haiti’s ecosystem, the Haitian Platform to Advocate Alternative Development (PAPDA) has been experimenting with several waste reduction strategies that utilize the participation of youth. In February 2012, in collaboration with other Haitian-led community groups, PAPDA organized a youth workshop for the retrieval of plastic waste products and their transformation into “art objects.” Through this workshop, over 90 youth participants re-purposed the plastic materials into various objects such as handbags, pens, earrings, champagne flutes, belts and more. These crafts were showcased during the General Assembly of the Limonade Women’s Association for Development, Production and Craftsmanship held in March 2012, and several of these items have been sold to the public. PAPDA sees this transformation project as not only a strategy against plastic waste, but also a strategy to diversify sources of income and job creation. This five-day workshop recovered more than 1000 pounds of waste and created 45 jobs.
 
In Brazil, the state of Maranhão has one of the highest rates of unequal land distribution in the country stemming largely from its marked history of wrongful colonization policies, money laundering schemes, drug trafficking and government corruption. Within this context, the Landless Worker’s Movement (MST) in Maranhão is working to address landlessness and other social justice issues through the political education and leadership development of its members and other peasant groups, with a particular emphasis on rural youth living in settlements and encampments. Considering youth as “one of the most neglected social groups in the country by public policy,” the MST’s educational program aims to raise youth’s political awareness and capacity for analysis, strengthen peasant identity and reinforce collective values of solidarity, responsibility, justice and respect for diversity. Over the next year, the MST will organize five regional workshops culminating in a state level meeting in Maranhão in 2013, in which peasant youth will have a space to define strategies to strengthen youth leadership as well as to coordinate actions around land rights and agrarian reform.
 
In Palestine, the construction of the Wall and the restriction of movement through the Israeli checkpoint system have directly contributed to the separation and alienation of Palestinian citizens from their agricultural lands, economic livelihoods, environmental resources and local communities. In the global arena, Palestinian society is similarly isolated due to tight Israeli control over the borders, which severely restricts movement out of the territories and checks on internationals wishing to enter. Young people are especially affected by these policies, as according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, over 63 percent of the population of the occupied Palestinian territories is below 24 years of age. However, as Stop the Wall notes, youth voices are rarely represented within traditional political and social organizing structures and they are often excluded from decision making processes. In conjunction with the Herak Shababi youth movement, Stop the Wall has organized various projects including litter clean-up, tree planting and social outreach. Through these projects, nearly 100 youth are providing solidarity to Palestinian communities, building social connections and reducing feelings of isolation.
 
On an international level, cohesive Palestinian and international actions are vital to ending the Israeli occupation and demanding accountability for human rights violations. The World Social Forum (WSF) Free Palestine, which was held in November 2012 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, provided such an opportunity. Thousands of social justice movements and human rights organizations came together to develop and debate ideas, share experiences and plan strategies to advance international solidarity networks with Palestinians. With the support of Grassroots International, youth delegations from Stop the Wall and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC)joined various other youth and student movements from Palestine and around the world in their attendance at the WSF Free Palestine. As this event opened a space for thousands of young people to engage with the struggle for Palestinian liberation, the Herak Shababi is actively seeking to build new linkages with youth and student movements in 30 countries across the world.
 
Whether it’s environmental degradation in Haiti, land distribution in Brazil or lack of free movement and resources in occupied Palestine, redundant approaches and dominant ideologies are failing to solve important global problems. Therefore, only by building a strong and educated youth movement can we begin to tackle these social and political issues with enthusiasm, new youthful ideas and the promotion of positive generational renewal and leadership change.