We Got Now – Youth Organizing in the 21st Century
Prepared by Tom Connors
On November 3, 2013, the Teamsters Labor History Research Center hosted a panel discussion sponsored by the GWU Progressive Student Union on youth organizing. Speakers were Allison Burket, an organizer for UNITE HERE Local 23 and Joshua Dedmond from the UAW Global Organizing Institute and DC Student Justice Alliance. Progressive Student Union coordinating committee member Sam Nelson moderated.
Sam started the discussion by noting that students and young workers are often maligned for being complacent and inactive. This is not the case he said and listed a number of recent examples of students and young people working for change in the Middle East, North Africa, South America, Canada and here in the US.
Allison Burket followed with an account of how she became an organizer. After studying international development at Kenyon College she came to Washington DC to find work in that field. Following the politics of food and farming in Congress, she realized that power can be an obstacle to change and that change has to come from the grass roots. She became a community and school organizer for UNITE HERE Local 23, then moved into worker organizing. She participated in the struggles of food workers at area campuses including American University and GW’s Mt. Vernon campus. Allison readily admitted to the difficulties inherent in her work but noted the satisfaction she feels in being part of Local 23’s recent organizing successes.
Joshua Dedmond spoke about his interest in community organizing stemming from student experiences at Tougaloo College and Brown University. After college he became active in opposing school privatization in Mississippi. He also became involved in the organizing struggle of the Nissan workers in Canton, Mississippi. This activism connected Josh to the Mississippi Student Justice Alliance and the UAW’s Global Organizing Institute. Josh noted students and young workers have the energy and imagination to make a real difference in the struggles of working people. He too admitted to the difficulties of organizing but overall finds it a positive experience and he recommended the work to those in the audience (most of whom were in their 20s).
Questions pertained to language barriers to organizing, alliances with community groups, personal transformation stories and the larger struggle for social change and political reform.
Twenty-five people attended this Sunday afternoon panel discussion many of whom lingered afterwards to continue the discussion.