...I'm okay with being REALITY-based.

Thursday, October 23, 2003
      ( 10:26 AM )
World Youth Congress Learns Major Lesson:
Stop Acting Like Their Parents

I read a fabulous article this morning in Wiretap (just a note: if you don't read Wiretap regularly, I encourage you to do so if you're at all interested in young people who have better brains than the people running this country) by a young woman named Emily Freeburg. She attended the World Congress of Youth in Morocco in August and her article was an honest assesment of what started out as a great experiment in Solidarity turned very, very sour. It's not just a lesson for young people, it's a lesson for all of us. Because when you get down to it, the future our children have is dependent on the resources and the example we give to them.

I'm 23. I'm an idealist. But this summer I
went to a World Congress of Youth, and
beyond learning of a truly universal love
for the 50 Cent "In Da Club" song, I learned
that we carry history in ourselves. We are
more like our parents than we know --
and this is dangerous.

Yikes. Talk about indictment. The article goes on to describe how despite their expectations that they would have the opportunity to work together to solve problems and come up with a declaration to present to the United Nations, it all went downhill starting when the opening paragraph of the Declaration was being drafted. Some participants wanted the language regarding inclusiveness to include sexual orientation.

As soon as the translation went through in
Arabic, many Moroccans and other delegates
from Islamic countries were on their feet
shouting in Arabic, chanting, and heading for
the plenary stage. The arguments against
adding in homosexuality weren't complex;
there was no way homosexuality could be
alluded to, because in Islam it does not exist.
Though it wasn't specifically argued, there
was no way a document could be handed to
the King (who paid for the Congress) with
such a reference.

But it got worse.

The tension hung. Then after a workshop to
fundraise for a youth peace coalition between
Israelis and Palestinians, a Moroccan-led mob
of Palestinians and their supporters stormed
in, ripping apart the posters and t-shirts about
peace, and flaunting their destruction in front
of the watching Moroccan TV cameras. Several
people were hurt in the confrontation, and the
only Israeli girl attending the Congress was

Let it be clear that the mob was not the majority,
the violence was not committed by every
Palestinian there, and many were trying to be
reasonable, but an angry mob is formidable and
not open for rationalization.

It turned out that the Congress did not expel the kids who actually hit the girl. The Moroccan government's reasoning was that they couldn't condemn the attack because Arab nations do not recognize Israel (Israel was not invited to the conference by the sponsor, but by the co-sponsor, a peace group out of the UK). Emily, the author, was devastated by the incident and moreso when she later heard from one of the Moroccan participants that "they could not punish one because they all would have done it." The Congress tried to rectify the situation by having the kids get together and sing "Imagine."

The strength of my reaction surprised me. Was I
really so idealistic that this relatively small act of
violence shattered me? Part of it too, was anger.
This was a youth meeting, youth must be the ones
speaking to work this out, and the adults had sold
us out again by managing this problem, and not
addressing it head on. Youth then, were only allowed
to address problems in the abstract, on paper, but
when something arose that did affect us, we were
not allowed to talk about it.

We live in a world of violence, pain and injustice,
and the world's young people were singing
"Imagine" and holding hands. At that moment I
did not believe that peace was possible because
no one would take responsibility and each country
has alliances that are too large to change. It was
too much to stomach.

The Conference eventually ended up with no true consensus and the final declaration seemed to be all but a farce. Emily was disappointed, and as I read the article to the end, I realized how truly devastating this sort of event could be for someone who had all the hopes and expectations that the next generation could change things. In the end, she didn't feel it was a total failure because she learned lessons she never would have otherwise.

Two weeks after the Congress, the World
Trade Organization talks failed for similar
reasons as we did: mysterious processes
of document creation, politicized leadership,
inability for people to put their concerns on
the table right away, and the blatant ignoring
of certain country's contributions, though
they had every right to contribute.

This generation can be a bridge, but not if we
don't change ourselves. If we keep acting like
our parents do, we're going to end up with a
world that isn't fit for our own children
. I wish
I could tell you the answer, I wish I could tell
you Arab and African Muslim youth and Western
youth get along and communicate with ease,
but we don't. One is a culture of endless
individualism, in the other there is a unified
Arab or Muslim identity, which often politically
and culturally lacks self-criticism. Both are changing,
but each side wonders why the other can't be
more like itself.

She comes to some great and challenging conclusions in the end. I was moved by her ability to try and learn and see ways to overcome what she had seen and experienced. But I also read in this article my own responsibility as a parent and as no longer being part of the "youth" generation. I so long took my youth for granted, my activism in my younger days empowered me to feel that I was going to make things happen, cause positive change, all that good and meaningful stuff. In some ways, I'd like to believe it did. But now that I have entered a new season in my life and I find myself with the job description of "parent," I find it a sobering lesson that my activism, my actions, my language and my behavior carry so much more weight because I am raising the Future.

I didn't like to read that this young woman felt that part of the problem was that the kids were just acting like their parents. But what could be more true? If we as the parents don't start breaking the patterns, how can we expect our children to do so? If they have no example, it will be nearly impossible for them. They cannot create positive change out of nothing. Young people are even now carrying out the traditions and same behavior as their parents in all parts of the world - to the destruction of a peaceful community of humanity. Emily's conclusion was that it was up to her generation to stop the cycle. But I find that there is much more responsibility for us to stop it before they have to take it on.

After all, if mankind keeps leaving the cleaning up to the kids...pretty soon there won't be any kids to do the clean up anymore.

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