The Common Good
July-August 1998

The Passionate Nonviolence of Youth

by Vincent Romano, Matt Schroeder, Neera Singh | July-August 1998

Young people are the keystones of any culture. Youthful energy is needed to get work
done in society.

Young people are the keystones of any culture. Youthful energy is needed to get work done in society. We provide new ideas, physical labor, laughter, the human connection to the future and the world community, and the push for reform and change in society.

So, in the United States, why are teen-agers considered nuisances? Why do we have one of the highest youth suicide rates in the world? Why are we spending $267 billion on the military to train youth to kill, and $42 billion on all other education? How can our government claim to provide security when its priorities place young people near the bottom of an expendable pile?

This past January, 17 young adults of many faiths and nationalities came together at Kirkridge retreat center in Pennsylvania for Fellowship of Reconciliation’s Peacemaker Training Institute (PTI), a weeklong nonviolence training program to engage youth in exploring activism.

Our training provided us with the space to get to know other equally passionate young people. At Kirkridge, we met students who have started their own campus groups to address some of the root causes of violence and insecurity: poverty, homophobia, hunger, human rights abuses, and their college’s investments in the military. They have founded their own peer mediation programs, support groups for rape victims, magazines, and peace and justice radio shows.

WOULD THAT nonviolence training was required for all students, and that the way of nonviolence practiced by Jesus, Dorothy Day, Gandhi, Muriel Lester, and Martin Luther King Jr. would be as much a part of our culture as commercial advertising. During our training, we visited a community-supported agriculture project and a women’s shelter, as well as sheet-rocked for a day with Habitat for Humanity. Training like this helps young people realize that although so many of the problems in society seem overwhelming, each one of us has the power to take action to create change.

One member of our PTI group was in Columbus, Ohio, a month later, among the many students who gave up classes for the day for a firsthand education in the delusions of "security." She witnessed a youthful "uprising" when top administration officials, threatening an air strike campaign against Iraq at the "international town hall meeting," failed to hold back our outrage against using the lives of innocent Iraqi people as bargaining chips in a spat between two headstrong politicians. Before that seminal event, the mainstream media had effectively ignored the anti-war movement percolating in every corner of the nation. They could no longer do so once the national government had been pinned by the simple, incisive questions that young people asked on behalf of the world: "Is it moral to bomb Iraq?" "Why is our foreign policy so inconsistent?" "How can you sleep at night?"

We had helped to get those students there, and to the dozens of other protests, utilizing our computer savvy, the Internet, and the World Wide Web to do urgent grassroots organizing against the impending bombing. Now we are agitating for an end to the economic sanctions on Iraq. For seven-and-a-half years, Iraqis have been crucified on the cross of insufficient food, filthy water, and non-existent medical supplies. We will not be discouraged, because the people of Iraq are depending upon us to change U.N./U.S. policy. With creativity, persistence, and the nonviolence training we have received, we will continue to struggle for a world that provides real security for all.

VINCENT ROMANO, MATT SCHROEDER, and NEERA SINGH are three of the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s 1997-98 Harrop Freeman interns (in communications and disarmament, local group organizing, and youth/nonviolence training, respectively). Three times a year, the PTI program offers workshops on organizing skills, consensus decision-making, oppression, nonviolence history and practice, the religious roots of nonviolence, and reconciliation. They can be contacted at forpti@igc.org or www.nonviolence.org/for.

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