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Local groups help young activists get active

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For local college students, activism provides an outlet to express views on everything from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to environmental issues, and a way to bond with people who share similar beliefs.

N. Ryan Haney, who graduated from Kennesaw State University last spring, formerly led the KSU Campus Greens, a group with ties to the Georgia Green Party. Last year, the KSU Greens organized a music festival with local bands such as Collective Efforts; hosted discussions with such guest speakers as alternative-media journalist Robert Lovato (who talked about the U.S. immigration crisis); and held demonstrations against the war in Iraq.

But Haney says being a student activist can be an isolating experience, whether it's the indifference of fellow students or hostile college officials.

"On my campus at Kennesaw State, since [the Campus Greens] were a very politically vocal group that was growing at a rapid rate, our events and requests for funding were scrutinized much more than any other organizations were scrutinized," he says. "It's safe to say that there's some persecution of progressive student groups on campuses."

In response, Haney helped create the Georgia Progressive Student Alliance. The informal network of 20 different groups on 14 different campuses – including Georgia State, Georgia Tech, Emory and Agnes Scott College – provides a way for students to share horror stories as well as successful campaigns.

"I think most of the students on these campuses have been very sharply politicized within the last five or six years due to the widening wars we've got going on, and seeing that injustice has allowed them to see contradictions in other areas of society," Haney says. "I think some issues have gotten so drastic that it's forced students to become active on a more grassroots level and not to put trust in more established political avenues [such as the Republican and Democratic parties]."

The Madratz collective also provides a focal point for young local activists. Formed in February 2005, the group spent the next year-and-a-half raising money before opening the Madratz Infoshop in November 2006. The group sells membership cards ($25 for six months, $45 for a year), holds fundraising parties and requests donations at its events. On Aug. 25, the group will host Totally Titties, a concert at the Earl benefiting the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

The Infoshop, located in a warehouse on 840 DeKalb Ave., has grown into a hub of information for Atlanta activists, including student groups such as the KSU Greens, Oglethorpe University's Student Progressive Activist Network, Georgia State's Global Rights Organization and the Emory Environmental Alliance. "I think that college students who are new to Atlanta, and are new to living in a city where things are so spread out – it's very hard to find different things – we offer a great meeting ground," says Diana Presson, Madratz's media coordinator.

The two-room center includes a small reading area with couches and carpeting, and a library where activists can purchase or borrow books published by small radical publishers such as AK Press and donated books on various topics. The center also features a computer lab and a workspace with construction tools.

"We hope to do more demonstrations on building things," says Madratz Infoshop director Morning Strickland, who plans to form classes on using the Infoshop's sewing and silk-screen printing machines.

Madratz Infoshop probably isn't for conservative or Republican students. "All of our books and all the things we offer are very left-leaning," Presson acknowledges. "As an organization, we are neutral. We will not do events that are fascist. We're against any hate or racism. But we're open to many different shades of leftism," she adds, laughing.

"It's not a cult, it's for the benefit of people," Strickland adds. "Our biggest goal is getting the activist community more unified."

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