Before the World Conference Against Racism at the end of August in Durban, South Africa, some 200 young men and women are expected to come together to draft a Youth Declaration and begin building a global youth network to fight racism. The Youth Summit, which will be held in Durban August 26-27, grew out of what young NGO representatives saw as a marginalization of youth voices during the initial planning stages for the conference. The experience led to the realization that "youth is a political category, so…young people need to organize for [their] rights," as Arturo Sanchez from the Mexican reproduction rights group Elige stated on the web page of the international women's rights group Madre.
Deciding to take matters into their own hands, the young men and women successfully advocated for the inclusion of at least one youth representative on NGO coordinating teams and established regional planning groups. Last December in Santiago, Chile, the Americas Regional Youth Caucus adopted an ambitious declaration that calls for, among other things, equal access to high-quality education, measures against the exploitation of youth labor, and the elimination of laws and practices that criminalize youth.
One of the daunting tasks faced by the Youth Summit in Durban will be the compilation of one global youth declaration from all the regional ones. Education, legal measures and globalization will be the major areas of concern. With the exception of government delegates, almost all of the young people will be there on behalf of different NGOs, such as the Palestinian human rights group LAW, the Young Indigenous Movement of Nicaragua and the Berkeley-based Prisoner Activist Resource Center. What binds them all together, says Katie Miranda, 21, from Madre, "is the need to participate and be active in the process."
Jotaka Eaddy, already a member of the US National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty's board of directors at age 22, wants to "make sure that the connections between juveniles, racism and the death penalty are a part of the discussion." But she is also going to Durban to network with other young people and work toward an international youth movement for social justice. "Building a global perspective will make us all the more powerful," she says.
Participants are determined to come up with concrete recommendations and mechanisms to monitor their implementation in a Youth Action Plan, and–what might prove to be most challenging of all–to convince government delegations to officially adopt the language of that Plan. "The youth caucus has been received well by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and warmly by government delegates," says Miranda, "but it's a difficult process because youth are still often seen as inconsequential."