Concerns of Youth to be Voiced, Conventionally

Heather Szerlag
July 1, 1996

At Chicago's last Democratic National Convention in 1968, angry young anti-Vietnam war protesters were clashing with National Guard troops outside the Conrad Hilton and Towers and chanting "LBJ, LBJ, how many kids have you killed today?" This time around, young people will be inside the hotel speaking out as participants in the First National Youth Conventions.

The Youth Conventions, brainchild of San Diego-based Foundation of America director Peter Raducha, will run simultaneously with the Republican (August 12-13) and Democratic (August 26-27) Conventions, in San Diego and Chicago respectively. They are meant to be a forum for youth ages 10-24 to voice their major concerns and ideas with party leaders and the electorate.

"Kids say they're not listened to and that the public's perception of American youth is negative," said Raducha of his reasons for organizing the conventions which he hopes will become a fixture of the nation's political landscape.

Raducha's is not the first attempt at showcasing the youth perspective on the state of the nation. This past April the RespecTeen National Youth Forum in Washington, D.C., canvassed the opinions of 15,000 youth — without making much of a splash, however. Whether it's the hoped-for participation of one million young people via the Internet or the timing to coincide with national party gatherings, the first National Youth Conventions seem to be generating a great deal more excitement.

"I believe there is this crazy synergy that's elevating this event and could propel youth issues onto the national level," said Susan Herr, executive director of the Chicago-based non-profit Youth Vision and the main organizer for the Chicago convention.

At the 1968 convention, television networks filled time by rerunning scenes of violence and the orations of war protesters. Any standout events at this year's youth sessions in the hotel may also draw national television coverage, organizers hope.

Less than a year ago, the youth conventions had not even been conceived of, but in that short time, the idea has gained the backing of 28 national organizations including the National Urban League, Child Welfare League of America and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Raducha's Foundation for America has received over $350,000 in cash and in-kind contributions from such donors as Ugg Boots millionaire Brian Smith, Children's Hospitals of San Diego, the Chicago Hilton and Towers and Netscape.

Mark Riley of the Child Welfare League observed that "a lot of groups are paying lip service to kids, Saying youth empowerment and development and participation is all good stuff. But we'd rather they don't show up at our convention if you don't mind, they might get in the way."

Organizers are soliciting youth participation via the conventions' Internet Youthlink connection and mail, asking for responses to the questions: What are the top three concerns you have about America today? What would you do/suggest to improve your community? Your country? What one question or suggestion would you like to submit to the President of the United States?

Raducha says Youthlink has been receiving 100 to 200 "hits" or responses per day. However, to keep an "element of surprise" for the conventions, he declines to relay what responding youth say are their major concerns.

Instead, results will be announced when 300 youth delegates chosen from local public schools and sponsoring youth agencies gather in San Diego and Chicago. President Bill Clinton and presumptive Republican nominee Robert Dole have been invited to talk with the delegates. Neither candidate had accepted as YOUTH TODAY went to press.

That Raducha (who has been described variously by people who know him as "visionary," "entrepreneurial" and "pushy") has managed to put together the conventions in so short a time is exceptional considering his virtually nonexistent track record within the youth field. Before his appointment in 1992 as director of Foundation of America (started by the Journalist Carlos Whiting in 1964, the foundation’s main claim to fame had been working on beautification projects with Lady Bird Johnson), Raducha had sold real estate in southern California and ran marketing for the Rancho Verde Racquet Club in Palo Verde, Calif. His only youth work experience had been as an assistant camp director for YMCA.

Some youth work professionals express reservations about Raducha's methods of promoting the conventions. One prominent member of the youth field who wished not to be identified said he felt Raducha had misled him in stating he had the support of Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) and other Congressmen for his project when in fact all he had were "rubber stamp reply letters that said bless you for being so concerned but gave no commitment."

Susan Herr acknowledged that Raducha seemingly "came out of nowhere" but thought that "says something about the youth service field — we're slow to act." Herr added: "Peter Raducha has a strong sense of the entrepreneurial spirit. I think the youth field could use more of that."

And it may well see more of Raducha. He is hoping that the youth conventions will help launch his Challenge for Children, a campaign to raise awareness of the needs of children and to establish a "Big Eight" certified accounting firm-monitored National Trust Fund for the implementation of solutions to children's problems.

Whatever the success of Raducha's future endeavors, the conventions are likely to become a hit with young people looking to voice their opinions. Desiree Logue, a 9th grader at John Muir Alternative School for Humanistic Studies and chair of the planning committee for the San Diego convention, said she became involved because politicians weren't tuning in to such issues as youth curfews, which she called "disgusting."

"We hope that some party leaders will understand that we realty do care and we're doing a lot to get their attention." Logue said she will feel the conventions are a success if party leaders hear their concerns and warned that "whether they do something or not, we're not going to stop pushing."


First National Youth Conventions

3020 Children's Way, MC #5093

San Diego, CA 92123

(619) 576-4044 National

Szerlag, Heather. "Concerns of Youth to be Voiced, Conventionally."Youth Today, July/August 1996, p. 20.

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