by Gary Gach > American Reporter Correspondent
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Date Posted: 07/23/02 8:07
Author Host/IP: myoon0.connect.com.au/220.127.116.11
SAN FRANCISCO ~ Three Mexican men in their early 20s added their voices to a conference called Peacemaking: The Power of Nonviolence, hosted by His Holiness the Dali Lama for three days in June at the Bill Graham Civic Center in San Francisco. The conference featured three Nobel Peace prize laureates, 45 workshop leaders, and a dozen meditation instructors, attended by over 3,000 participants.
Ellen Samuels, a diminutive, pixie-faced, blonde Americano wearing all black, who grew up in Mexico, translated for super-tall Flacco, wearing a black T-shirt with a hand-painted face looking out from his left shoulder; short, round-faced Mauricio, wearing a black leather jacket handpainted with a skull against an azure background, and Raphael, a handsome lad in a plaid Guess shirt,
These representatives from Urban Courage shared their story with their peers also under 24, kids of all races and creeds ~ in America, a generation that has pierced everything it can find to pierce, died their hair every color in the rainbow, tatooed themselves all over, and is now facing the problems of society head-on ~ students and social workers, healers and social activists in their early 20s, working with the homeless, battered families, kids at risk, etc.
They were all crammed into a room the kids had commandeered: having been brought together from across the Americas, they'd seized the opportunity to network with each other and form an ad hoc Youth Coalition for Social Justice. They didn't want to be a Bnenetton poster at the conference, they said:
We want to win this war.
The following narrative is a composite paraphrase of the Urban Courage representatives' rivetting testimony at that impromptu session.
Mexico too has had street gangs, drug addiction, poverty, people without values, etc. Youth has been dragged through things that were not very pretty. There came a point when we realized it wasn't normal for kids to be killing other kids we didn't even know, over petty turf wars, especially since the streets don't belong to gangs. Streets belong to all of society.
We realized we were living out a tv series playing in our head. A cowboy movie. A violent cartoon mentality. Our own "Porky & His Friends" Club was competing with everyone else's own cartoon, and that's not good. Somebody said, "We are the crude reality of a people in decay."
We were tired of a Culture of Waiting:
a religion waiting for someone to come down from heaven,
a revolution waiting for a Zapata to bring us social justice,
a government building a lot of jails where youth could be kept waiting.
So we walked away from our violence. Realized that youth has the capacity of doing anything. That transforming the world depended only on attitude.
So we rehabilated ourslves from drugs. Stopped being the bad guys. Vowed to do positive things. To heal the earth. To reclaim our native traditions. To create our own culture.
We taught themselves skills. Carpentry, upholstery, silk-screen, ironworks, classroom practices, soccer. Created their own jobs, to become self-employed. Some went to law school to protect themselves from corrupt officials.
Within the old structure of our gang, we formed a new organization. For nonviolent social change. This happened from gang to gang, spontaneously, on its own, autonomously. As new gangs learned of each other's transformation, we networked. Formed coalitions. The coalition of the coalitions became known as Urban Courage.
Still the cops harassed us. There was a two-month dragnet of gangs. Cops were shakng kids down. Whenever we'd found drugs on a kid, we'd take all his money. Even go to his parents and take all their money. Like a gang of thieves, with a license to steal. And so thousands of people took to the streets and demonstrated in support of the Urban Courage movement.
We signed a blood contract, making a lifetime commitment to our project. We saw barriers thrust in their path as just tests to see if we were able to go beyond them.
We read up on law and discovered squatters' rights that still existed thanks to the Mexican Revolution. Anyone who has lived in a place for fourteen years can claim it. So we went to the government saying, "We want a piece of earth."
The government laughed. Gave us a garbage dump. But we cleaned it up. And we realized that amongst themselves were various skilled laborers. Amongst ourelves, we could build a house. So we went to Salinas asking for tools. We told Salinas we wanted to work to end violence, but that he had to have a disposiion to do the same. To heal their city. We were asking for dialogue with our leaders about the future.
Salinas gave us money. We didn't split it up and go their separate ways. We didn't buy drugs with it. We used it to grow our movement.
Next we worked to eradicate police violence. We realized the psychological war that was trying to push them into a corner and get them to fight back. We realized we were a living energy. 800 of us went to the police,
The police saw 800 gang members coming at them and fell in line. The front line had their guns ready. Wetold them this wasn't a cowboy movie and reminded them that they were public servants. We said we wanted to make peace with them. We reminded the police that they had kids of their own, that we'd like to see their kids talking with the rest of the guys.
Police had been nicknamed "dogs." Urban Courage said to them, "Don't believe your nickname. You're human too. You're not dogs. Behave like men." It was tense but the police sat down with them. Now the police have dinner at Urban Courage homes, every six months.
What really matters has no color. No name. We had to get outside to explore what is and what is inside of us. When the people begin to realize what we have inside, the rest won't matter.
You can't call us ignorant. Because: we have passed along this wisdom.
The Urban Courage Network
The international Urban Courage network includes such groups as Earth Crew, Popular Youth Council, the Revolutionary Agrarian Youth Organization, the Mexcalibur Project, and Banana Kelly.
Earth Crew's graffiti writers and aerosol muralists exhibit art with subjects of reflection and hope for society at large and offer such productive projects as airbrush workshops, silk-screen design, and set design.
The Popular Youth Council, based in Neza, now claims over 35,000 square feet of property where we hold workshops for job training, diverse events, forums, and massive concerts.
The Revolutionary Agrarian Youth Organization (OJRA), based in Iztapalapa, has a center for culture and sports, an open-air gym, space of concerts and events, and a grafitti wall. Representing more than 42 gangs, their social work includes a drug toxicology center co-financed by the U.N., the mayor, and the gangs themselves.
With ties to indigenous youth and elders, the Mexcalibur project promotes communications, cultural exchanges, and community action and helps members obtain self-financing for ecosustainable micro-industries.
Banana Kelly, based in the Bronx, reconstructs abandoned areas with the participation of youth and the community. They have their own bank and have remodeled over 45 buildings targeted for demolition.
The Urban Courage network carries out exchange programs concerning culture, sports, health education, human rights, housing, recreation, skill training and employment, to strengthen the local work of each organization that participates. They've served as a model of autonomous, independent, social development promoted by youth. Urban Courage has participated at the U.N. Earth Summit, at Rio; the Global Forum, Manchester; Habitat II, Istanbul; Children's World Congress, L.A.; and Global Youth Forum, Vienna.
By hooking up with the Urban Courage network of communication and learning about the creation of physical spaces for creative expression, urban youth can develop their own projects and exercise their responsiblity for positive proactive participation in their own development. What are youth in your own urban or rural areas doing? Urban Courage wants to hear from you. Urban Courage, Ninos Heroes #151, Colonia Doctores, Mexico, D.F. 06720; E-mail
Earth Crew (525) 578-7406
Popular Youth Council, (525) 797-3387
OJRA, (525) 428-6425
Mexcalibur, (525) 578-7257
Banana Kelly (718) 328-9396
Youth Coalition for Social Justice ~ c/o Julia Globus-Sabori ~ (415) 554-6446
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