Gotham Gazette

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What is it like to be young and envision a different world? In some sense, youth are society's guinea pigs – products, fashions and anything one can make money off are tested on them. If we go by what the mainstream media says, young people are not really "political" -- they are interested only in the latest number one hit, what is cool to wear and how to become a CEO at 16.

NYC Summer/100 Days of Democracy in Action is an attempt to challenge that. A six-week program of workshops, discussions and internships, NYC Summer is meant to be a space where young people who question everything around them can work toward developing a vision of why the world is the way it is and how to change it. NYC Summer hopes to strengthen the leadership of young people within their communities -- particularly in organizations based in those communities.

The reactive protest model where people pour into the streets with banners and slogans to protest and then get beaten by cops and be portrayed as "outside agitators" in the mainstream media has had its day. Much of the protests surrounding the Republican National Convention at the end of the summer will be that/DTDe of demonstration.

We recognize that U.S. adventures abroad are linked to the neoconservative policies of the Bush administration at home. We are therefore interested in making the links between the larger issues of war, empire, militarism and global capital abroad with control of schools, budgets, police brs ality and repression in our communities. And so, we at NYC Summer will no doubt protest the convention but we want to go beyond that.

NYC Summer takes young people's concerns seriously. We believe that youth dissent is not simply petty anger against parents or teachers, or "juvenile deliquency." And we want to create places that help foster an alternative discourse -- spaces that allow youth to feel that they are not mentally disturbed for caring about the world and that they are not alone. And NYC Summer works to strengthen the leadership of young peoples within their communities, particularly within organizations that are based in those communities.

To accomplish that, NYC Summer will create six weeks of liberation schools for youth activists from New York and around the country. We believe that the idea of popular education first developed by radical Brazilian educator Paolo Friere provides the ways and means to help instigate social change. This encourages learning through dialogue rather than set curciculums, working to strengthen community, and basing learning on people's life and experiences.

The young activists will attend one day of workshops each week. Another two or three days a week will be spent interning with community-based social action organizations. These include groups working against police brutality, the NYC Aid Housing Network, WBAI, indymedia, and various groups focusing on immigrant rights and lesbian-gay-transgender issues particularly among working class people. Weekly seminars open to the public will also be offered.

Young people want to make their voices and ideas heard, but frequently they are not taken seriously because they're either not old enough, not "educated" enough or not "qualified" enough. We want to change that.

As a youth, I first heard about NYC Summer as a potential participant, which, in the conventional sense, meant a student who would "learn" knowledge from supposedly all-knowing older teachers. I now realize instead that my role is to help break the boundary between student and teacher, organizer and participant. It is not to construct an alternative school, but rather a space for collective learning, sharing and liberation. The NYC Summer collective members are of diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, ages, gender identities, sexual orientations and even visions. None of us are identical, yet we share a common bond of struggle, resistance and mutual respect for each other and ourselves. We hope to inspire youth to articulate their own visions, not necessarily to digest ours, and get out there in the spirit of the Zapatista slogan: "Everything for everyone, and nothing for ourselves."

Suneel(a) Mubayi is a transgender student, writer, activist poet and member of the NYC Summer Coordinating Committee.