student to student
After a night shift at my media internship, I headed over for breakfast with the Utah Democratic Delegation, and then had all intentions of returning back to my temporary quarters to catch up on some sleep, but as I mounted the 16th Street Mall shuttle I was suddenly captivated by a spectacle of young protesters on the bus.
Young people and others of all ages carrying just the few clothes on their backs and possibly a few other small items have congregated in Denver’s City Park for the official, "Tent State" gathering. I asked if I could follow them around and they warmly welcomed me, but one individual quickly said, "you can’t follow us, but you’re welcome to walk alongside us". After walking for a mile and managing to secure a few oranges from a local Latino man unloading cargo, the young protesters arrived at the City Park with me tagging right along in the business attire required for my internship. Let’s just say, I may have been just a bit of an odd duck, but they didn’t care and neither did I.
According to their website, Tent State University at the DNC, "is a model, not an organization." They encourage young people to learn the non-violent organizational model and take it back to their communities and campuses. They also say, "Tent State will serve as an alternative university, teaching the tactics and strategies necessary to force an end to this war. This week, the "University" named in honor of the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, hosted guest lecturer, Dr. Vincent Harding and is scheduled to hear other guest "professors" that may include Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney, and others.
I wanted to understand these students’ motivation for devoting themselves to a weeklong protest and regular marches around the city. I wanted to be able to attach a face to the thousands of people I had seen protesting the day before. I had seen numerous television producers develop stories about the protesters at the Democratic National Convention, but these stories were clearly produced from the perspective of the producer. I wanted something just a bit more, a vision of democracy through the eyes of the protester.
Although in many ways their views may ignite controversy, I found these young people to be very inspirational, not only because they have come from every corner of the country, some even managing to catch rides on freight trains, to protest the war in Iraq, but because they dare to face adversity just to say, "I want my voice to be heard." Some of them believe in some form of anarchy, but Ryan Hartman a 29-year-old student from the Buddha-inspired Naropa University describes it as a different type of anarchy, "Deep down we are all anarchists," he said, " they say that we should do this, but we are not allowed to ask why and if we do, then they arrest us."
Many of the young organizers complained of their inability to freely protest at the DNC and according to Hartman, "if people saw the police brutality that we have experienced, if they saw the 3-4 blinding white lights placed on us while we slept in the Freedom Cage last night, or the helicopters buzzing over us, or if they saw the way they wouldn’t even let us make eggs for breakfast, they would have been outraged," he exclaimed, "they are the ones with the guns, and they outnumber us."
According to Jonathan Berger, a 19-year-old student from the University of Maryland, "There is a lot of rhetoric out there that Obama uses about going to the grassroots, but electing Obama is not going to mean a resurgence of grassroots power, the only way is by actually doing it, which is not the same as simply organizing for the Obama campaign. We need what he has sparked to go beyond the election."
The White Tent Campaign is clearly making an effort to move the ignition of their grassroots movement forward and is supported by a group of highly committed yet somewhat disorganized courageous change-makers. According to Hartman, they were able to secure the support of the American rap-metal band, "Rage Against the Machine," which donated 140,000 concert tickets to the campaign. The White Tent University staff is currently allowing individuals to sign up for concert tickets on a lottery basis as long as they make an effort to be involved in some aspect of the campaign.
Their mission may not transcend or correlate with the important issues of other young people, but they surely resonate with many and provide a good example of a student-led effort to make change. Tabitha Lazenby is a graduate of South Summit High School and is currently a senior at Utah State University. She is majoring in international studies, has studied in Nicaragua and Uganda and recently participated in an Rotary International program in Kenya.
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