Dahlia W. of Albany High School YDSA shares lessons learned from the transition to online organizing.
In March, Albany High School YDSA reoriented, as we shuttered our Bernie campaign and transitioned to online school. After founding Albany High School YDSA in 2019, we’ve grown to a 20-strong chapter, canvassing for the Bernie Sanders campaign at public transit hubs and conducting public-facing political education events, such as a night school with speaker and author Meagan Day. Our weekly meetings featured member-led political discussions and served as an opportunity to find solace from the school day in a tightly-knit group of comrades.
The transition to online school disoriented us as we struggled to find our footing within the newly-emergent landscape of online organizing. Discord, Zoom, and other standard collaborative tools allowed us to coordinate activities such as participation in the East Bay-wide labor history reading group, and the use of our mass-texting system helped turn members out to anti-racist actions, such as the Pay Your Dues March for black lives organized by students at Berkeley High School. Through use of our sibling chapter East Bay DSA’s Zoom line, we began having meetings informally discussing socialist theory. These meetings gradually began to take on a more structured, ambitious character as we took on topics such as “Bernie or Bust” and the theories at the root of anarchism.
This process also brought to the surface issues that had been laying low in the chapter for a while. We soon found that clearly defined delegation of tasks was critical to sustained socialist organizing. The steering committee proved eager to take on far more tasks than they had prior to moving online; they simply needed more guidance, reminding me of one of the truest things I’ve ever been told: your role as a leader is to organize yourself out of a job. Devoting myself to apportioning responsibilities more intentionally has been such an asset for the health of my chapter and my own wellbeing.
Similarly, transitioning to online meetings exposed another lurking issue within my chapter in need of addressing: our chapter is comprised overwhelmingly of juniors and seniors. As the school year came to a close and the seniors moved on from high school, it was made apparent the need to recruit more underclassmen to preserve the chapter through next year’s turnover. I took the skills I learned from my mentor and East Bay DSA’s YDSA coordinator, Ari Marcantonio, and began a series of political education-based meetings with the younger members of the chapter in order to boost their confidence as organizers and prepare them to take on a larger role within the chapter.
One of the greatest sources of political guidance came from the coalition of East Bay YDSA chapters that has developed in the past year as the number of YDSAs in the area has exploded from two to seven. This group had been meeting regularly up until the pandemic to share advice and lessons from their chapters, share struggles and ask for advice, as well as holding in-depth political discussions.
We fundraised to cover the costs of sending 15 YDSA members to the winter conference in Chicago through social media outreach (no small feat given the cost of flights from Oakland) and led a workshop about grassroots fundraising at the conference, outlining the process of creating fundraising goals and making asks. This group initially transitioned into the aforementioned labor history reading group before eventually resuming regular meetings over Zoom. I reconnected with old comrades as well as people newer to the organization, many of whom were also in high school.
Having the opportunity to hear about the campaigns being run by other nearby chapters, their successes and their struggles, many of which we had in common, dissipated all the feelings of isolation that I had been harboring within my chapter. The political discussion we had, centered around interviews by Jacobin and Democracy Now! with Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor and Cornel West, brought me new perspectives, analysis, and calls to action around the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and the fight for black liberation. I adapted the discussion and its pre-readings for Albany YDSA, combining it with an engaged recruitment effort to bring in new comrades.
Ultimately, I see the purpose of my YDSA chapter as being the creation of a socialist cadre who, after graduating, will bring the lessons of solidarity, material analysis, and working-class power with them into their workplaces and the rest of their lives. Although we have a lot further to go in rebuilding our campaigns and recruitment structures under remote conditions, I feel confident in our ability to weather it with mutual support and camaraderie, just as we have the past months.
Dahlia W. is a founder and co-chair of Albany High School YDSA in California. They serve as an at-large member of the National Coordinating Committee.
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