Inspired by comrades
Spring 2020

Inspired by YDSA

By Maria Svart, DSA National Director

I’m writing this column before Super Tuesday, so rather than comment on the presidential campaign, I’ll talk about the national conference of the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA), which I attended February 14-16 in Chicago. These young socialist organizers have more at stake than any of us, and while they were very pumped about Bernie Sanders and many are volunteering long hours back home for the Sanders campaign or a campus YDSA for Bernie operation, the prize they have their eyes on is a lasting socialist movement.

Some 275 students traveled from Arizona and West Virginia, California and Florida, and in between. Colleges, high schools, and even a middle school were represented. We met in the union hall of the legendary Chicago Teachers Union.

Conference sessions included a mix of panels, skills workshops, and discussion breakouts, a chance for students to canvass with DSA for Bernie on Sunday afternoon, and a speech from Phillip Agnew—organizer, artist, and founder of the Dream Defenders—that brought down the house. In my speech, I touched on my own history of organizing and emphasized that the relationships the students build now and the lessons they teach each other and learn from more experienced generations of DSAers will prepare them for the work ahead.

YDSA promoted good praxis, or the alchemy of combining thought and action. National co-chairs Amelia Blair-Smith and Kristen Cervero reminded YDSAers to organize events after their state primaries to invite students to join DSA and become part of the struggle for the long haul as well as to take rank-and-file union jobs in key industries after graduation. We gave the attendees a copy of We Own the Future: Democratic Socialism, American Style (reviewed here), along with a discussion guide. [The DSA Political Education committee is developing educational programming linked to the book.]

Why do I give this description of the YDSA conference? Because it highlights a major strength of DSA: We fight hard to get our members and allies into office, but we will still be organizing long after election day. If we put Bernie in the White House, we can expect the capitalist class to do everything in its power to hamstring his agenda.

More than a hundred DSA-endorsed candidates are currently in public office. DSA chapters across the country are teaching each other how to build volunteer field programs through door knocking for candidates or legislative pressure campaigns like Medicare for All or public energy. DSA for Bernie alone (our independent expenditure effort), has knocked on 381,000 doors as of mid-February. This is possible because we have trained up members to bypass the consultant class and support working-class candidates to run winning campaigns that rely on direct voter conversations instead of expensive radio or television ads.

And members are organizing their workplaces into unions or strengthening their existing unions, setting up chapter-based labor committees, and sending delegations to the Labor Notes conference this April. They are organizing Climate Strikes for Earth Day, Fund-a-Thons for Abortion Access in April, and demands for elected officials at all levels to sign the National Nurses United’s People Over Profits Pledge, stating that they will not take contributions from executives, lobbyists, and PACs affiliated with the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future and their corporate backers.

We’re working alongside ally organizations with a multiracial working class base, such as the Center for Popular Democracy Action, Make the Road By Walking, People’s Action, and Dream Defenders, among others in the People Power for Bernie independent expenditure coalition.

Most important, we’re able to do all this amazing work because we are funded and run democratically by you, our members. We are unbought and unbossed, fueled largely by the small-dollar contributions of tens of thousands of democratic socialists.

At the 2019 DSA national convention, delegates passed a resolution to grow our membership to 100,000 by 2021. One of our most recent new members is Phillip Agnew, who ended his rousing YDSA conference speech by declaring that he had joined.

I hope you will join this membership campaign by asking your friends, neighbors, family, and coworkers to join DSA. And I hope you will find the closest DSA chapter and attend a meeting or event. You may be nervous about attending your first meeting if you don’t know anyone. But, as I said to students at the conference, going alone to my first YDSA meeting when I was a student was a decision that changed the trajectory of my life. I realized I actually wasn’t alone, and that there’s power in solidarity. Now I ask you, in this critical moment, to take that step.