This is the fourth installment of Chapter Reports from Spring of 2022. This group features labor and electoral organizing updates from American University, Brown University and the University of Chicago. They have been lightly edited for clarity.
Matt Romano, American University
In recent years, the YDSA chapter at American University, the most liberal university in America (according to Niche.com) has died and been revived multiple times, but we have finally found our footing. We are moving into the next semester positioned to be a strong leftist presence on campus after the momentum we built this year. From the start of the 2021-2022 school year, our chapter held regular meetings mostly oriented around our ongoing campaign to help with contract negotiations between workers and our administration. On November 11, we held our first rally for the adjunct faculty and graduate students with the help of the SEIU 500, gathering hundreds of students on our quad. Our administration, led by President Slyvia Burwell, refused to listen despite spewing rhetoric about being a progressive campus of “changemakers.”
The next semester, we came back harder. As an official club on campus, YDSA AU could network with other organizations on campus easier. We also worked more closely with the workers who we were fighting for with this campaign. Over the semester, we filmed several interviews with adjunct professors about their working conditions and shared them on our Instagram. Our social media presence was key in generating hype for our actions on and off-campus. Most notably, one of our members found Senator Elizabeth Warren on campus and asked her to record a video offering her support to our campus’ union. The video amassed nearly 3,000 views. It was posted about a week after one of our biggest actions yet in which hundreds of students rallied outside of our School of International Service and eventually stormed the building as President Burwell held a meeting inside. After this event, we worked with the SEIU 500 to crash a donor event for the university at the Kennedy Center. Students and staff traveled from AU in buses during a downpour to tell the donors where their money was actually going. For the first time in the contract negotiations, the administration paused to reassess its budget following this protest.
Our string of actions concluded with a boycott of classes by adjuncts and students on the last day of classes and a protest at President Burwell’s house on campus. This event was mentioned in The Washington Post in an article focused on the plight of adjuncts in D.C. As of now, the union has not settled on a contract with the administration. However, we are hopeful that when they reach an agreement, the decision will be influenced by our hard work this semester. Regardless of the outcome, we are proud of our work and excited to harness the progressive energy we feel radiating through our campus.
Tony Unger, Brown University
The Brown/RISD YDSA is currently in a stable political position after having rebuilt the chapter. One issue we’re working on is the GLO’s fight for a raise. The admin didn’t agree to give the graduate students a raise, which was reason to support the union negotiations and fight. We inherited a plan of escalation from GLO, which started with a petition and progressed to a public rally. In the process of organizing we discovered that social media is essential for turning out undergrads. Also, labor organizing is highly dynamic and situational. We also learned that with a few dedicated organizers, our relatively small chapter could punch above its weight. The experience of witnessing and participating in a labor struggle illustrated the nature of class conflict for our new members.
Diego M., University of Chicago
Chicago has somewhat stabilized in terms of membership and activity, after an explosive period of growth following the 2020 uprising. For our electoral work, there are 5 incumbents up for re-election, there are new socialist challengers expected to request endorsement, the boundaries of electoral maps are being redrawn, and the chapter has formally entered races for hyper-local school councils. We have formed an electoral field sub-committee that is training members on basic mobilizing skills for winning elections. This includes power mapping, cutting turf, setting up canvasses and phone banks, collecting data, etc. The lessons learned from our success in 2019 are numerous, though not well documented. Our electoral work offers members training in hard organizing skills, on-the-ground experience with the mass working class in real life situations for political analysis, and collaboration with other organizations.