continued Martin Eder, one of the founders of Activist San Diego -- what he calls "an information center for progressives in San Diego" and a training center for young activists -- has been involved with social-justice issues since high school. Eder, 53, lives in Ocean Beach but has just stationed Activist San Diego in the World Beat Center in Balboa Park. "I did go to Seattle," Eder says, "and was terribly enthused to see such a cross-fertilization of youth and experienced activists on a new global agenda."
He won't characterize the state of youth activism in the beach communities, but Eder admits it's a difficult time to organize youth and there's a lot less street activism and visibility here than there used to be. "There are few issues that are affecting such a wide number of people right now as civil rights and Vietnam [did], so large numbers of people aren't being galvanized."
Han Shan agrees. "During the '60s, to be honest, the issues were black and white," he explains. "What kids were being taught and what they were witnessing just did not agree. It was easy to act on your conscience. Today, the issues and the enemies are more disperse. The issues are just more complicated. We're talking about global economy, international trade, international environmental impact. It can be harder to act and mobilize on these issues, harder to identify and act against a culprit."
By all accounts, USC's Shockman says, today's youth care about a variety of issues. "The data says this generation volunteers nationwide in more domains than ever before and that community involvement has taken on a whole new dimension in this cohort."
But, he asks, "Does that mean that they are apolitical, less active on the macro issues?"
Young people in the beaches talk ardently about what concerns them. An informal street poll has abortion rights, race, water, and schools as the major issues on kids' minds, but the step into activism, for the most part, has never occurred to many of them.
Dorian Cruz, 17, is an editor of The Beachcomber, Mission Bay High's school newspaper. "Whatever happens on TV, we talk about it," he says. "We talk about abortion, immigration, stuff like that. Last year I knew some girl who wanted to protest Burlington Coat Factory because they sold fur. I don't know if she did it, but I saw little pamphlets of animals all over school. I'm not sure if she ever did it; I never asked her."
Another editor at the school paper, Amanda Robb, 16, says, "I don't really protest, but I'm very opinionated. I mean, I'm very liberal. I think it's stupid that we can't vote, but I never go to rallies about it. I've thought about it, but I don't really know where to start."
Dan Morales, an OB resident and union organizer, puts it bluntly. "It takes an exceptional person to pick up activism."
Steph Sherer is one of San Diego's busiest young activists. She doesn't live in a beach town, but, ironically, on Banker's Hill. Sherer, 24, has spent five years in activism and is the one staff member at Activist San Diego. She's also the local representative for the Direct Action Network, a Seattle-based group that started planning for the WTO demonstrations months ahead of time. The network mobilized young people for Seattle with street-theater rallies and teach-ins, and then during the protests, it used mobile phones, Ghandian civil-disobedience tactics, and human chains to blockade downtown streets. Sherer was one of the organizers of the debate-night protest in Balboa Park.
Speaking in terms of national trends, Sherer says that it's difficult to get youth to take that step into the streets. "It's really hard to organize; it's really hard work. People don't know about getting on the streets until they see it. That's why WTO helped."
She adds, "There are a lot of people out there that are by themselves; they know things are wrong but can't act on it. Visibility is the only way. It's situational, you know. I mean, the youth aren't being escorted off to war today. The thing is, action isn't organized. First, things happen, issues happen, and then people organize against those issues."
Sherer believes that the origins of disconnectedness in youth are a combination of less parental and more media presence in kids' lives. What concerns her the most is how the media tells young people what a normal life and normal relationships should look like. When reality doesn't measure up, kids start to feel alienated.
"Everyone I meet who's active," she says, "had to go through a process of deprogramming themselves."
On the topic of local activism, Sherer says, "San Diego's a really hard town to organize in. I wanted to compile a history of activism in San Diego, to give people a sense of connectedness. I found out that Mother Jones was tarred and feathered in San Diego. You know, people aren't used to seeing people on the streets here." She pauses. "It's a very challenging city, but you know, it's a strange transformation to activism."
To make that metamorphosis easier, Sherer helps organize local action camps with Activist San Diego and the Direct Action Network. Like the higher-profile camps sponsored by the Ruckus Society, the purpose of these camps, Sherer explains, "is to share resources and experiences. Anything from puppet-making and banner-making to legal workshops for knowing your rights at a demonstration. We also do nonviolence training and anti-oppression. Activist San Diego's more about education, training for Internet resources, and media work, while Direct Action's more about creating a space for people to feel comfortable on the streets. I'm more comfortable with confrontation. I teach workshops on police negotiation and being a police liaison at actions."
Sherer says that this sort of training came in handy during the action in Balboa Park on October 11. "When we got to Hall of Fame," she explains, "they had already constructed a free-speech zone behind some barricades. We said, 'We won't stand in that' and went across the street. We made them move things around; we told them what to do. We teach people how to not be pushed around so that you're a block away from the meeting you're protesting."