An Interview with Noah Streng

A member interview with Noah Streng, co-founder and president of YDSA at the University of Michigan.

YDSA is a democratic organization. To that end, The Activist will be publishing a series of member interviews. We want to know what members are doing for YDSA and how they believe the organization can be improved.

Our first member interview is with Noah Streng. When interviewed, Noah was the vice president of YDSA at the University of Michigan. After the chapter held executive board elections last week, he is now president. We thought Noah would be a good interview because of his diverse set of experiences. 

In addition to leading his YDSA chapter, Noah is a proud member of Ann Arbor’s Inter-Cooperative Council and will be working as a paid organizer for Public Citizen and the Michigan Student Power Network this summer.

The following transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

EK | Start by saying a little about yourself and your background. 

NS | My name is Noah Streng and I am a third-year undergraduate at the University of Michigan studying sociology and history. As a formerly unhoused, uninsured queer person, I know what it’s like to face some of the cruelest realities of our economy. Like many LGBTQ+ people in America, I was disowned by my family and kicked out of my parents’ house because of my sexuality.

These experiences were formative for developing my understanding of how our current political and economic structures fail to stop people like me from falling through the cracks. Through my background, I have developed a strong sense of empathy for those who experience oppression and have dedicated my life to building economic and political systems which uplift and care for society’s most vulnerable.

EK | Describe your role in YDSA. What do you do for the organization, at the local or national level? And what have been your proudest moments as a YDSA member?

NS | I am one of the co-founders of my campus’s YDSA chapter and have been with YDSA for about three years now. I’m currently the vice president of my chapter and formerly served as one of our political education chairs, leading our weekly socialist reading group.

I’m most proud of getting to work with such a diverse and talented group of activists who inspire me every day with their burning desire to make the world a better place. Because of our amazing and dedicated membership, our chapter has been very successful in achieving our goals.

In the past year, we’ve doubled our membership, hosted numerous teach-ins with prominent community leaders, phone-banked for progressive down-ballot candidates, elected socialists to our Central Student Government, and actively supported our campus’s graduate student and lecturer unions in their bargaining campaigns with the university. And we’re just getting started.

EK | What inspired you to join YDSA in the first place?

NS | I joined YDSA because I believe that everyone is entitled to a dignified and fulfilling life. I believe that workers are entitled to all the wealth they create and that our economy should be run democratically to meet the needs of society as a whole. I think that YDSA has the best chance of building socialism in our lifetime because of our organization’s willingness to adopt a multi-tendency approach to building student and worker power. Getting socialists elected to higher office, supporting unions, and participating in direct action and mutual aid is all part of a wider strategy of fostering a multi-racial, multi-generational mass movement to create revolutionary change in our society.

EK | What do you feel YDSA does well?

NS | YDSA is great for young activists who want to gain organizing skills that they can use throughout their life when trying to create change in the world. Whether it be organizing a weekly socialist reading group, inviting community leaders to talk on a Defund the Police panel, or recruiting fellow YDSA members to phone-bank in support of the PRO Act, many of us are gaining concrete organizing skills that we will carry with us wherever we go.

EK | The priorities of YDSA’s 2021 Winter Conference were student debt cancellation, defunding the police, and COVID-19 relief. Is that a good list given the current political circumstances? Are there any issues you would add or remove?

NS | I think that these are very important and relevant issues for YDSA to take on. As student organizations, YDSA chapters are uniquely positioned to advance these demands on their respective campuses. Whether it be advocating for tuition reductions, organizing for defunding and disarming police departments, or fighting for better COVID-19 policies, there is plenty that YDSA chapters can do to help advocate for these priorities in their communities. 

There are other issues that I think we should definitely prioritize as well, such as single-payer healthcare, building union power, and fighting for a Green New Deal. This being said, I think it is important for us to recognize our capacity as an organization so we don’t overstretch ourselves. It’s also worth noting that many of these issues intersect with one another. For example, a significant part of COVID-19 relief should be focused on both medical and student debt cancellation.

EK | Where do you think YDSA still has room to improve? What lessons can we learn from other youth-led progressive groups?

NS | I’m impressed by the Sunrise Movement’s incredible ability to create impactful demonstrations that disrupt those in power and effectively draw attention to their movement’s demands. I think that YDSA has a lot to learn from the Sunrise Movement’s organizing activities and we should try to incorporate more forms of direct action into our work. As an example, we could partner with Sunrise Movement to organize more sit-ins in the offices of political leaders in support of the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and the PRO Act.

EK | How has your approach to socialist organizing changed under Biden versus under Trump? And what concessions are we most likely to extract from the current administration?

NS | I agree with those on the Left who recognized the immense danger that a second Trump term posed to our country and the world. However, I am also deeply skeptical of any big progress that could be made under a Joe Biden presidency and I acknowledge the many ways in which Biden represents a return to the oppressive status quo that continues to threaten the lives of millions worldwide. 

There are some areas where we can make progress under a Biden presidency. However, we should remain cognizant of Biden’s deep ties to corporate America and long history of supporting American imperialism. The mission now is to organize members of our communities to pressure Biden and the Democratic Party to fulfill their campaign promises and go further to meet the needs of the current crises.

EK | What steps can National take to help enhance local chapters such as your own?

NS | Not all chapters are alike and thus the growth and success of a chapter relies heavily on the knowledge and skills of its members. Smaller chapters that have less-experienced members might benefit from guidance in how to recruit new members and organize effectively in their communities. National could also help facilitate regional partnerships that could lead to more collaboration between YDSA chapters.

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