Young Communist League meet: Lively, diverse, activist

SCHILLER PARK, Ill. – The Young Communist League (YCL) 7th National Convention here brought together a diverse group of 158 activist youth from communities and campuses around the country Nov. 22-24 for a lively weekend of discussions, workshops, poetry, music and dance. The event’s focus was on action and struggle around the convention theme: “Youth and labor unite for peace, equality, jobs, education and socialism.”

Inspired by the example of South Africa’s African National Congress, the convention voted to make 2003 the “year of the organization,” mapping plans for leadership and membership development and organization building. The racial and cultural diversity of participants and the leadership role of women in the convention were unprecedented in the YCL’s history, convention organizers said. The convention elected a new diverse 40-member national council, a coordinating committee half of whose members are women and half young people of color, and a black-brown-white male-female team of three national co-coordinators.

The convention was a “turning point for us,” YCL National Coordinator Libero Della Piana told the World. “It represented our organizational and political connection to mass movements and organizations.” The 91 delegates included members of active YCL clubs and others who are establishing new clubs. The general discussion and workshops reflected the breadth of their involvement, covering a range of issues including youth and labor struggles, peace, education and privatization, immigrant rights, globalization, queer struggle, unity against racism, young women’s rights, and socialism. A workshop series focused on organizing in high schools, colleges, and communities, elections and coalition building, revolutionary culture via the spoken word, and the YCL’s magazine, Dynamic.

Alcy Montes, co-chair of the Uptown Manhattan YCL club, told the World her club initiated an Uptown for Peace and Justice coalition, involving a variety of neighborhood organizations, and is working to build a broad-based Dec. 14 march against war.

Miles Rodriguez, a senior at Rice University in Houston, Tex., stressed the importance of building “solidarity of young workers across backgrounds and occupations.” He described the formation of a young trade unionist group, the Federation of Labor Youth, now officially affiliated with the Central Labor Council.

Seven students from a new YCL club at Stanford University said their club is considering launching a campaign to get military recruiters off the campus. Roman Shusterman, a student at Marymount Manhattan College in New York, said his YCL club started around a petition protesting copier fees. Now in its second semester, the club is initiating a campus peace movement.

Students at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., said their new YCL club is working on building campus-community ties around stopping war on Iraq. Members of a new club at the University of North Texas in Denton said their club had developed out of involvement in a student-labor coalition. They have been working to cut the university’s ties to Coca-Cola, which has been implicated in murders and persecution of union activists at its operations in Colombia.

Convention guest speaker Luis Cardona, a Colombian trade unionist who worked for Coca-Cola for 12 years and was forced into exile, described his experiences with the company’s terror campaign against its Colombian workers. The convention passed a resolution supporting a boycott Coke campaign.

Also among the 58 convention guests were leaders and activists from the Communist Party, United States Students Association (USSA), Jobs with Justice (JwJ), Black Radical Congress Youth Caucus, Choice USA and the Student Liberation Action Movement (SLAM) at City University of New York.

Sarita Gupta, coordinator of Chicago JwJ and former president of USSA, and current USSA President Jo’ie Taylor greeted the convention. Communist Party Executive Vice Chair Jarvis Tyner led a delegation from the party’s national leadership. He told the gathering that, as in the 1960s, peace was a key challenge for this generation of youth.

Attending from the host city, Chicago, were activists from Southwest Youth Collaborative, Puerto Rican Student Association at the University of Illinois Chicago campus, Batey Urbano, Young Democratic Socialists, and the National Center for Violence Intervention, as well as a group of striking workers at Azteca Foods, whom delegates supported in a resolution. Cesar Casamayor, a YCL organizer for the convention, told the World the Chicago guests were excited by the convention and eager to work with the YCL on other activities.

Representatives of YCLs of Greece, India, Israel and Portugal, and the president of the World Federation of Democratic Youth brought greetings to the gathering. Messages were read from YCLs around the world. Some, including Iraqi and Cuban groups, were blocked by the U.S. State Department from sending delegates.

New YCL members, guests and “old-timers” alike said they were pleased and energized by the convention’s diversity and action focus. New member Chris Coombs, a freshman at Mary Washington College in Virginia, said he had gotten many ideas for organizing on his campus. SLAM activist Tamieka Byer exclaimed, “This is the best conference I have ever been to.”

The author can be reached at suewebb@pww.org