Youth and U.S. Foreign policy: a conversation.
What impact has being young made on doing the work within WILPF?
C.J.: I don't think I'm always taken seriously as an expert on both organizing and understanding U.S. policy. I graduated from Wellesley College with a degree in Peace and Justice Studies, with an emphasis in political science. I've been on the list of eligible hires for the U.S. Foreign Service. I was a union organizer. The larger world never seems quite sure how to deal with my varied experience. And I've learned that my WILPF work is rarely taken seriously when I apply for jobs, simply because I am not paid for it.
Within WILPF, I've experienced ageism. Sometimes, people try to patronize me or tell me that I should defer to my elders. On the other hand, I've met some of my closest friends in WILPF, and I'm committed to helping this organization thrive, increase its visibility, and expand its membership.
K.Z.: In the WCUSP Campaign, I've noticed a lot of generational differences in the way that we think through the issue of Israel and Palestine. It's very easy for me to jump to "radical"--and incredibly oversimplified--conclusions because I didn't grow up with the notion of Israel as a "safe haven," and Israel's existence has never been celebrated in my lifetime or my culture. If anything, it has been demonized. I also don't understand the historical legacy and impact of anti-Semitism in the way that a lot of our older members do because I think anti-Semitism looks a lot different today than it used to. Not being Jewish, I hadn't given much thought to it before I got involved in WCUSP because it looks and functions in very different ways than other forms of oppression.
Our notions of strategy are very different, too. I grew up in the information age. I often don't understand the emphasis on reading and education, because I am very comfortable using technology to access whatever information I need. I feel like young people tend to gravitate toward high-impact, high-visibility campaigns that they can win, and older generations focus more on movement and community building. I would like to see the culture of WILPF meet somewhere in between these two styles.
I think one of the things that we fail to do in WILPF is to acknowledge these cultural differences between younger and older women. The contrast in organizing styles, communication styles, etc., can be a barrier to working together. WILPF would be wise to create a space for young women to work in their own way, on their own issues, while partnering with WILPF members for joint projects, mentoring, and dialogue. For that reason, I'm really excited about the YWILPF program and the new West Philadelphia YWILPF branch.
How does your religious/ethnic identity affect your activism? Do you believe it's more effective to work within an ethnic community or in a multiethnic group like WILPF? Have you had trouble with your family because of your activism?
C.J.: I'm Jewish and some of my family have nothing in common with me politically. But more than any other topic, challenging their knee-jerk support for the Israeli government is the hardest activist work I've ever done. I'm used to having strangers call me a "self-hating Jew," but for my own aunt to write "Do you realize you're Jewish?" hurts more deeply. This doesn't stop my activism; but I must admit that organized Judaism's unflinching support of Israel and its occupation of Palestine is a major reason I'm not more active in the Jewish community. I was a Bar Mitzvah tutor, a leader in my temple's youth group, and a member of the adult choir before going to college, so this disconnect is hard for me.
I've always done my activism within multiethnic groups, but I also appreciate the need for more ethnic communities to become activists. I admire the Muslim community's strong stand against ethnic profiling, and I am encouraged by actions like the nationally coordinated Jewish "die-ins" to denounce Israel's unlawful war of aggression against Lebanon. I suppose I believe it's important to have a multi-pronged strategy that includes both WILPF and ethnic communities. Unfortunately, I don't have any quick solutions for speaking with people about Israel/Palestine. I only know that our words can cause pain to both Palestinian solidarity activists and supporters of the Jewish state of Israel.
K.Z.: I see my organizing for peace in the Middle East bound tightly together with my Lebanese-American identity and my effort to connect with my culture and family. In my spare time, I study Arabic and work to further integrate myself into the Arab community in Philadelphia. I am the first of my family to be born in the United States, however I have only been to my father's home twice, and I'm just now getting to know my aunts, uncles and cousins, all of whom live in Beirut. The July War in Lebanon was an incredibly intense experience for me. I had just gotten back from a visit and in one short month the whole country was flattened. Living through this experience gave me a small taste of what it is like to have your friends and family brutalized by the system, and doing activism in that context is a really different experience from doing work that you are personally abstracted from.
I agree that we need a multi-tiered approach to working across cultures. On one hand, I really take a lot personally from organizing in the Arab community. I have a sense of belonging I just don't feel in other organizations. But I also believe in the need to build a grassroots movement of people from all cultures and backgrounds, and I think if WILPF learns how to engage in true solidarity work with poor people and people of color, we could serve as a bridge between larger NGOs and grassroots organizations run and led by the people who are directly affected by social injustice.
What advice do you have for WILPFers to get more young people involved in WCUSP's work at the local level?
C.J.: Have your meetings on weekday evenings. Try meeting at a pub--Drink Liberally is an intriguing group. Don't start a meeting at 9 a.m. on a Saturday. Really figure out if you're ready to give up some control. Realize that you can't expect every young person you meet to recruit 10 more young women for WILPF. Be willing to change. Learn to use web activism--to promote your in-person meetings and to expand the reach of your branch. Have a plan that includes actions in addition to reading dozens of articles. Don't be afraid to take risks. Choose a representative from your branch to interact with the WCUSP national leadership team--we can provide additional support and resources.
K.Z.: Pay attention to the existing youth organizing that is happening in your community. If there is a college or university in your neighborhood, there will most certainly be student activist groups. Work with them, but don't try to take over.
Understand the importance of youth leadership, not just youth involvement.
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|Title Annotation:||interview with C.J. Minster and Kate Zaidan|
|Publication:||Peace and Freedom|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2006|
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