Youth in action, March-April 2021

March 11, 2021

From the March-April 2021 issue of News & Letters

by Buddy Bell

Every day since mid-January, young people have filled the streets of Tunisia calling for jobs and relief from rising food prices. The marches are taking place 10 years after protests forced the ouster of former President Ben Ali. As a marker for the start of Arab Spring, those protests spread a global rallying cry for “employment, freedom and dignity.” A frazzled government administration soon resorted to deploying the army, filling the streets with tear gas. Banners now bear the motto: “Police everywhere. Justice nowhere.”

On Feb. 6, the government attempted to enact a supposed COVID-19 lockdown, but protests continued. As police and soldiers beat protesters and more than 1,000 people have been summarily detained, the protesters are also decrying police brutality and human rights violations. In Tunis, 24-year-old Haytem Ouslati told Al Jazeera: “I lived 10 years in freedom…I am not ready to lose it.”

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Kavi Vu

Kavi Vu, a young Vietnamese American poet and videographer from Atlanta, organized with some friends to make a YouTube show in Vietnamese that could challenge rampant disinformation found on Vietnamese language Facebook pages. They met while doing voter registration and education, and were floored to realize how blatant lies were widely believed. “We would go into Boba tea shops and ask folks, What do you know? What do you not know? What do you want to know?… Through that, I got a lot more connected with the Asian American community here and just learned what was missing.”

One commonly-held belief propagated by Trump sycophants was that Biden and the Democrats voted against admitting Vietnamese refugees, whereas the only votes against a 1975 bill to do just that were cast by Republicans. After the Senate runoff victory for Democratic candidates in Georgia, angry right-wing authors harangued Facebook to remove the page of Vu’s show, and the personal pages of every admin of the page, pending verification. “It makes me a little proud knowing we were doing something right, or they wouldn’t have gone through all that effort.”

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More than 1,000 students at Columbia University are withholding tuition in order to demand a 10% reduction in tuition rates, a reduction in campus police, and divestment from fossil fuels. At least 600 more at the University of Chicago are withholding the student services fees portion of their tuition, saying that there is reduced services and little or no student programming during the pandemic. Columbia has gone ahead and charged each of the strikers a late fee of $150. In reply, student Becca Roskill said to The Guardian: “Our best safeguard against these sorts of measures is our collective strength. There’s been a really impressive will among strikers to continue striking through this.”

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