Political education is at the heart of a socialist, student organization like YDSA. Supporters of Resolution 4 argue that restoring a national committee to help facilitate this work will make our political education programs more effective.
Political education is one of the most important things YDSA can do. Our critical task is to develop the next generation of socialist leaders and organizers. To succeed, we have to build structures to train and educate our members, equipping them for the battles to come. Additionally, YDSA members are spread out, with only two opportunities to meet and share ideas in person each year: conference and convention. These two events can seem especially daunting for new members, or those from chapters without strong political education programs, as many attendees will rehash decades old debates or use jargon which might be unfamiliar to new members. While the level of national debate YDSA has developed is admirable, it can feel ostracizing and difficult to get up to speed. Similarly, members from across the country may be struggling against the same conditions, and need to have the same language with which to discuss and deliberate how to respond. When our members are running into the same problems or carrying out similar campaigns, they need a space to come together and discuss, look at the ways that these problems have been addressed in the past, and decide how to apply these ideas to modern organizing conditions.
Political education is a vital aspect of everything YDSA seeks to do. When we ask our members to make strategic decisions about their work, we should know that they are prepared to think through the various political factors at play. We should arm them with the knowledge that will allow them to make these decisions effectively. Another major goal of our organization is the creation of life long socialist organizers. Political education is an integral part of this mission. If we do not prepare our core organizers with the history and theory that will guide them through a political life, we do them a disservice.
Luckily, there is much we can do as a national organization to connect these dots. YDSA already has a robust political education curriculum, we just need to use it. For a year, we have gone without a national body to facilitate this work, leading to discontinuity and a loss of institutional knowledge. With turnover as a constant cloud hanging over our organization, we need a strong national committee to ensure that YDSA members continue to be among the most politically advanced on the Left today. For these reasons, it is necessary to rebuild the Youth Political Education Committee (YPEC).
Of course, this committee will not meet these lofty goals by default. For this reason, it’s also necessary for us to create projects for this body to carry out. In order to facilitate the creation of a shared political analysis, the YPEC will be charged with running a national political education curriculum. Each semester, the body will lead YDSA chapters through a study of a particular topic, such as electoral politics, labor organizing, or building social movements. Through this programming, more YDSA members will have access to the high-level discussions and strategic decision making that sets our organization apart.
Chapter leaders have already shown the ability to run political education events and we should continue to build on local education work, not just leaving it to the national organization. Nor should we give up on the potential for leadership development that comes from giving members the chance to organize and run their own political education meetings. For this reason, “Resolution 4: Reestablishing the Youth Political Education Committee (YPEC)” proposes a “hybrid” national political education curriculum. The beginning and end of each semester will be marked by a national call that chapters can get together in person and attend. These calls will introduce the curriculum, set the stage for the discussions that occur, allow for exciting guest speakers, and provide YDSA members from around the country space to debrief, share lessons, discuss how the curriculum has related to their work, and get to know each other.
These calls can also include intermediately sized meetings, allowing chapters to act as breakout groups themselves, or grouping a few chapters together to discuss. Zoom fatigue is an ever growing problem in our organization, and by bringing members together in person to watch a call together, we simultaneously use both the reach of online communication and the socialization of face to face meetings. We can bring together chapters within the same state or working on similar campaigns, and allow them to share with each other what they’re learning, and how the curriculum is guiding their work.
The intervening meetings between the launch and wrap-up calls can be run within chapters, as most political education is currently run. Chapter leaders will still be in charge of facilitating discussion, and can still create opportunities for leadership development, allowing other members to lead parts or all of the discussion. The time consuming work of choosing readings and making discussion questions can be centralized, preventing the duplication of work, and ensuring that chapter leaders can run effective political education without diverting capacity that might otherwise be used on other organizing.
YDSA has a critical opportunity. In the past year, we’ve seen explosive growth, and all of these new members mean new opportunities to create lifelong socialist organizers who will lead the fight for the better world we know is possible. In order to follow through on this mission, it’s crucial that we take political education seriously, and create a strong, national curriculum and YPEC that brings members to think, debate, and struggle together.