New York, October 24, 2011—Youth leaders Gabi Avner and Anas Ashqar spoke at a think tank and local high school about how to bridge the gap between grassroots mobilization and the political realm during their New York area tour last week.
The two events could not have offered a greater contrast. During the first, Gabi and Anas sat amongst construction paper cutouts and class projects in a buildOn high school classroom in the Bronx. At the second, the two dressed in shirts and ties and led a discussion featuring influential members of prominent foundations, NGOs and financial organizations at a Council on Foreign Relations meeting at their presitgious headquarters in Manhattan's Upper East Side.
Yet, despite their obvious differences of setting and audience – not to mention attire – the events were connected by the underlying theme demanding change, which stressed the importance of the grassroots and the latent potential of youth activism.
Around 50 students from two different high schools stayed well after the final bell to listen to Gabi and Anas share their personal stories and draw connections between youth activism in Palestine and Israel and under-resourced communities closer to home. Drawing parallels between their own experiences and the narratives they heard, students asked the youth leaders how they motivate others to get involved and to envision a more promising future.
"That's my job as a youth leader: I need to fight apathy, I need to make people understand that they have to care because if they don't, then who will," responded Gabi. "You have to set a personal example. That's how you lead."
"Youths are the agents for change," said Stephanie Gilman, program manager for buildOn at the Banana Kelly high school. "They can break the cycle [through] youth led, youth instigated, youth directed activism."
In line with this message, Gabi and Anas headed the CFR meeting that featured members from a variety of organizations who share OneVoice's goals of grassroots political mobilization and youth empowerment, including Global Kids, the US Institute of Peace, and the Kenan Institute for Ethics.
While CFR meetings are usually led by top level policymakers, Gabi and Anas were invited to lead the meeting "to provide their perspective on what it means to build consensus in the grassroots in Israel and the West Bank," said Rachel E. Beer, national intelligence fellow with the CFR, in her introductory remarks to the 20 member audience.
"Sharing best practices across organizations is the best way to strengthen our movement," said Rachel Steinberg, International Education Program director. "Anytime we can expand our message to a new audience, draw connections with other groups, and inspire others to empower youths, we are furthering our goals."