998.jpg BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Determined to fight for a better future and to beat back the ultra-right, over 250 members, friends and allies of the Young Communist League USA gathered at the Marriott Hotel here May 27-29 for the YCL’s 8th National Convention.

999.jpg Rep. Major Owens (D-N.Y.) welcomed participants “on behalf of all the progressive forces of the nation and the world.”

“To hell with employers who exploit and cause poverty,” he told the crowd. “There are people who care about humanity, to stop exploiting workers, who want health care instead of a war in Iraq. I hope your youthful energy can provide the spirit to confront the tough politics ahead.”

Delegates and guests came from New York, California, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Missouri, Florida, Texas, Illinois, North Dakota, Arizona, Ohio, Tennessee and many other states.

1000.jpg The gathering reflected the country’s diversity, as African American, Latino, white, Asian American, Arab and Native American youth discussed politics and shared ideas and experiences.

Participants ranged from 15 to 30 years old, and included high school and college students as well as union and community organizers, young workers and activists.

Outgoing YCL coordinator Jessie Marshall fired up the crowd as she asked, “How can we begin to challenge Bush?”

“Every club, every member, every friend has to be out there working to make an impact in the upcoming elections,” she said. “This country needs a radical youth organization, a strong and vibrant multiracial organization.”

Marshall added, “The YCL knows that unity is not a secondary vision. We are not victims, we are fighters!”

“This is our life, this is our future, we need to speak to others and share our vision,” she said. “Young people know another world is not only possible, but necessary!”

Demond Mullins, a member of Iraq Veterans against the War, told how he saw his fellow comrades and innocent people die in an unjust war. Mullins outlined IVAW’s three-point mission statement: demand U.S. troops come home now, guarantee the troops adequate care when they get home and pay reparations to Iraq for the destruction caused by the war and occupation.

“Innocent people are dying for no good reason. We can set up camps in Iraq, but we can’t even take care of Louisiana. When someone goes to war to sacrifice his life instead of going to college there is something wrong, something wrong with the system,” he said.

“Iraq vets are my family now. You guys are my family,” he said. “We are all like fingers, and we are making a fist, and we’re punching the wall of democracy and they need to hear us.”

Jarvis Tyner, executive vice chair of the Communist Party USA, told the convention, “This election could be the greatest revolutionary act ever, in defeating the ultra-right and Republican Party. We cannot fight for the future if we don’t defeat Bush today,” he said.

“Capitalism should be illegal,” not immigrants, Tyner added. “Socialism is the answer, we say it, and we believe it, putting power in the hands of the people. This battle is heating up and we have history on our side.”

Throughout the weekend youth participated in workshops on many topics including “Youth and the Poverty Draft,” “Building Student/Labor Alliances on Campus,” “Social Justice Issues in Queer Communities,” “The Fight for Immigrant Rights,” and “Youth Activism in High School.”

Skills-building sessions addressed running campaigns in local elections and counter-military recruitment drives, starting a YCL club, and fund-raising techniques.

Youth panels featured representatives of the National Farm Workers Ministry and the United States Students Association.

Guests from Israel, Portugal, Greece and El Salvador and the president of the World Federation of Democratic Youth brought greetings to the convention.

On opening night, an art show and live hip hop concert, “War and Peace,” gave delegates and guests a chance to dance, network and have fun.

1001.gif The next day the YCLers picked up signs and banners to chant and march through Brooklyn streets to a military recruitment office. Bystanders cheered and passing cars honked their support.

Later that day, participants further explored the city on “Radical Walking Tours” led by New York YCLers.

The convention elected a new National Council and adopted the “YCL Action Plan” for the next four years. The plan includes campaigning for a Youth and Student Bill of Rights and three main points of struggle — peace, jobs, and education — on which young people will work to improve their lives and help defeat the ultra-right.

Erica Smiley, who has worked for many pro-choice and student labor organizations, was elected new national coordinator.

“We have a lot of work to do, our struggle is long term and in the next four years we hope to see the war and occupation in Iraq come to an end,” she said as she closed the convention.

Smiley emphasized that the struggle ahead must become a “class struggle,” saying, “I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and it keeps flashing socialism.”

Young fists were raised high in the air as shouts of “YCL,” and “Give ‘em hell!” rang through the hall.

Dan Margolis contributed to this story.