Momentum builds for world youth festival

An “invasion” is about to engulf Caracas, Venezuela. An estimated 20,000 progressive and radical youth will be pouring into the Venezuelan capital Aug. 7-15. The occasion? The 16th World Festival of Youth and Students.

Venezuela, the center of a “Bolvarian revolution” for social justice and Latin American unity, is a hospitable and appropriate meeting place for young activists dedicated to the cause of peace, friendship and global solidarity.

Jessica Marshall, representing the U.S. National Preparatory Committee for the festival and the Young Communist League (YCL), participated in a meeting of the festival’s international preparatory committee in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February. Thirty-five other countries were also represented.

“There’s a high level of enthusiasm and optimism among organizers worldwide,” Marshall said. The focus of the Hanoi meeting was on this year’s festival program and on fine-tuning logistical and administrative arrangements.

Past festival programs have included plenary sessions, forums and conferences on special issues, musical offerings from participants, art displays, sports, parties, and ample “down time.” This year, Marshall said, side trips into the Venezuelan countryside and smaller cities will be set up, along with special meetings of religious activists and young political officeholders. An international hip-hop “summit” is also in the works.

Opposition to the U.S. government’s war for oil and corporate plunder will inevitably loom large on the festival’s agenda. The festival’s theme will be: “For peace and solidarity; we struggle against imperialism and war!”

Traditionally, festivals provide opportunities for bilateral and multilateral meetings of youth from all nations, including nations that may be in conflict with each other. This year will be no exception, with youth and students from the U.S. planning to meet with their Iraqi counterparts, for example.

From its 50-year experience, the World Youth Festival has gained recognition as the pre-eminent gathering of world youth united for peace and social justice, with delegations from as many as 170 nations.

From the first festival held in Prague in 1947, to gatherings staged every two to four years elsewhere in Europe, the festivals have given voice to the necessity for peace, democracy, and national liberation and have opposed colonialism, racism, and the remnants of European fascism. The Youth Festival came to the Western Hemisphere for the first time in 1978 with a meeting in Havana, Cuba, and again in Havana in 1997, when more than 800 young people from the United States took part.

The World Youth Festival last met four years ago in Algeria, the first time on African soil.

Recent festivals have called for protection of the environment, opposition to capitalist globalization, and support for women’s rights, in addition to the movement’s traditional emphasis on peace, racial justice, and the abolition of nuclear arms.

The World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY), made up of over 165 organizations from 106 countries, organizes, promotes, and assures the continuation of the festivals. WFDY is a nongovernmental organization with UN consultative status, and in 1987 won the UN Secretary-General’s Peace Messenger award.

Many countries have already set up national preparatory committees. Among the 12 or so organizations participating in a steering committee for the U.S. group are the Venceremos Brigade, the U.S. Student Association, the Bolivarian Circles, the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition and the YCL. Already more than 20 local organizing committees have been formed for the purposes of promoting the festival, recruiting delegates and fundraising. One of its main priorities is to assure that the composition of the U.S. delegation reflects U.S. diversity. Financial donations will be used to enable low-income youth to attend the festival.

Leaders of the organizing campaign suggest that the festival is crucial to building an international youth movement for universal education and health care, jobs for all, racial and gender equality, and land reform.

For information about applications, recruiting, fund raising, or local committees, contact the U.S. National Preparatory Committee at 646-437-5347, or usnpc2005 @