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Young People Can Have an Impact In These Times

How Progressive Young People Can Have an Impact In These Times

By David Swanson

(Remarks for gathering of progressive caucus interns at US Capitol, July 27, 2005)

Well, what kind of times are these? They seem to me to be times not just of an increase in plutocracy, but also of a decrease in awareness of it.

A majority of Americans favor single-payer health coverage, a shift to renewable energy, the protection of natural resources, investment in education, and protection of civil rights. And very nearly a majority of Americans – a strong majority of Democrats – favor impeachment of the President if he lied about the reasons for war. And a majority of Americans believe that he did so lie. But a majority of Americans have no idea that a majority of Americans support these things. The same media outlets that do the polls, do their news reports as if the results were quite different.

A majority of Americans distrust those in power and see them as under the influence of corporate money, but a majority of Americans have no clear vision for directing political power to better use. Rather, as people's cynicism about Republican lies and abuses grows, their cynicism about Democrats grows right along with it.

On many majority issues there is a minority in Congress willing to speak up, but the media doesn't do a very good job of communicating that fact.

One thing that I think young people can do is influence our public communications system, through activism and through the creation of better media. There are thousands of people who lack the skills you have for communications. You're needed in that field.

At the very least, you should be submitting regular columns to your local newspapers. Or take a job at a small town newspaper for a while, to influence it and to learn journalism – at most small town papers the pay is lousy, but you can get a job practically by walking through the door, and if you're smart you can improve the coverage.

Get involved in college radio and community radio. I'm working on a project for Pacifica Radio right now and need a volunteer who knows the internet. If you're interested, contact me. But also, simply go over to WPFW in Adams Morgan and volunteer to help with whatever they need. Answer the phones for them. Learn how to edit audio. Get yourself on their advisory board.

Start your own low-power FM station. Contact the Prometheus Radio Project in Philadelphia to get help.

Go to a labor union local in your town, or a community organization in your town, and offer to help with their newsletter.

And, whatever you do, do it on the internet. There are local and national groups in this country in desperate need of websites. Make them one. Call them up and offer to make them a website. You can get help from, a non-profit, unionized ISP that helps set up sites for progressive groups. It's very very easy and well worthwhile.

Start a show on a cable access TV station and put it on the internet as well. Work with existing shows and satellite stations like Free Speech TV.

And use your experience in Congress to tell people that the Progressive Caucus exists and that Congress Members are influenced when they hear from their constituents.

Get active in the nearest chapter of Progressive Democrats of America, where you can develop skills both working with Congress and giving Congress hell.

Another job that you can get by walking in the door, but that you can only hang onto through great dedication and ability is that of community organizer or labor organizer. Talk to me if you want to try to find work for ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. They are doing some of the most effective organizing of poor people – those people who are always snubbed when politicians demand concern for "the middle class." But it is often only poor people who stick with progressive causes through foul weather and sacrifice for them.

Rumor has it that the labor movement is falling apart. I doubt it very much. Things could hardly have gotten worse, and a serious debate about what's needed has yet to begin. If you want to help resuscitate the force in our country with the greatest potential for progressive action – and the most wasted potential – get a job with the labor movement. But do so by taking a job in a workplace that needs to be organized. Organize as a fellow worker, and do so without any superiority. You'll have better luck and you'll learn more.

A couple of other features that stand out about our times are increased militarism and increased globalization. It is the role of young people to bridge national divides and to take the risks needed for peace.

This may seem unrelated, and maybe I just want to say it, but:

Yesterday I learned that next Spring I'm going to be a father. This means that I need to fight harder for a better world, but it also brings with it hesitation about travel and about risking death or prison. I can't ask you to take greater risks because you're young, but you should think about what you will face later.

It may be that massive civil disobedience will not stop the wars or shift our resources out of the Pentagon to where they can do some good, but I know we will not accomplish this without massive civil disobedience. Contact organizations like CODE PINK that are not afraid to take risks.


DAVID SWANSON is a co-founder of After Downing Street, a writer and activist, and the Washington Director of He is a board member of Progressive Democrats of America, and serves on the Executive Council of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, TNG-CWA. He has worked as a newspaper reporter and as a communications director, with jobs including Press Secretary for Dennis Kucinich's 2004 presidential campaign, Media Coordinator for the International Labor Communications Association, and three years as Communications Coordinator for ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. Swanson obtained a Master's degree in philosophy from the University of Virginia in 1997.

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