DSA is treading water and needs a strategic reorientation quickly. To truly reach the multiracial working class, we need to focus on building chapters at public universities and community colleges.
From being an at-large member of YDSA fresh out of high school in 2016 to co-founding a chapter at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, I have seen countless debates and victories for YDSA. The great campaigns YDSA has engaged in, from the Bernie Sanders presidential campaigns to fighting for tangible change on numerous college campuses, are admirable and should be celebrated. However, we should recognize that with Joe Biden’s 2024 reelection campaign underway, the Bernie Sanders moment is over and YDSA stands at a crossroads where we lack a coordinated political strategy. At this moment, I believe we must reorient our national priorities and focus on organizing strong YDSA chapters at public universities and community colleges.
Well-organized radical student movements have been integral parts of socialist campaigns across the globe, including fights against the South Korean dictator Park Chung-Hee or Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. But it was right here at California State University, Los Angeles or Cal State LA, where my paternal grandparents were exposed to Marxism and socialist feminism during the Chicano Civil Rights Movement. Their learning and activism there had a deep influence on their children and grandchildren and led many in my family to careers as educators and civil servants and also strong pro-labor beliefs.
From their example, I remember that we will not always be a part of YDSA, and once our time in college is over, we will be forced to reckon with the reality of capitalism in our day-to-day working lives. The experience of socialist organizing in YDSA will help us keep the flame of socialism alive as we graduate and join the workforce. It is imperative that we instill these socialist beliefs in a more diverse membership and develop a lifelong socialist cadre from YDSA. For many people, college is a critical juncture where they are exposed to socialist organizing for the first time and where the pressures of capitalism are somewhat reduced relative to the pressures that they will experience once they enter the workforce. College is when many of us have more time to consider how best to build society before the pressures of capitalism alienate so many of us from our time to contemplate.
YDSA has a diversity issue and it is severely hindering our growth as a national organization. The working class is much more racially diverse than the current composition of YDSA. As a working class Chicano, I believe it is imperative that YDSA makes proactive strides towards building out its membership base. Public universities and community colleges tend to have much more racially and socioeconomically diverse student bodies than private and research colleges. At public colleges, students of all working class backgrounds naturally engage in political development while they work towards a degree. Many of these students go on to get jobs that are integral to economic production or social reproduction, as opposed to the professional, middle class jobs that many private and research university graduates go on to hold. These jobs have strategic leverage in society, and we have the ability to reach future holders of that leverage at community colleges and public universities. Not organizing on these types of campuses prevents us from hearing these perspectives and only hurts us in the long run. The multiracial working class is a crucial component in our strategy to win socialism, so why not focus on organizing where the multi-racial working class actually resides?
This priority resolution aims for YDSA to focus on public universities and community colleges. An important distinction in the resolution is that the focus is on public universities like Cal State LA and Cal Poly Pomona, and not elite public research universities like UCLA and UC Berkeley. Commuter schools are also a focus as they have not been given the proper resources to establish YDSA chapters. Organizing commuter schools is extremely difficult and some would say this makes it less strategic in nature. Some compare the difficulty of organizing fast food and Starbucks workers that have high turnover to commuter schools, whose students are just as fleeting as a base. In my opinion, that would not make it less strategic, only more challenging. It is inherently strategic and worthwhile because that is where we can meet the multiracial working class.
This resolution calls for the YDSA National Coordinating Committee (NCC) to hold hearings from existing YDSA leaders from public universities and community colleges across the country to learn new strategic courses of actions towards building new YDSA chapters going forward. Regional-specific chapter building templates will emerge from these hearings, which will allow new and growing YDSA chapters to benefit from the shared knowledge of legacy YDSA organizers. The templates will comprise a variety of socialist organizing strategies ranging across topics like labor, mutual aid, electoralism, and political education. These templates would serve to answer the common issues and frequently asked questions of developing chapter leaders and help chapters maximize chapter organizing output, build public coalitions, and most importantly broaden campus engagement.
It has been discouraging to see some within the broader DSA not value the strategic importance that YDSA brings to the organization. From decreasing the number of spots at this year’s Winter Conference to dismissing the need to fund local YDSA chapters, this attitude is completely unacceptable. In the pursuit to establish YDSA chapters on public universities and community colleges, it is imperative that these burgeoning YDSA chapters receive adequate resources and funding from the national organization. Establishing a notable presence at an enormous state university is drastically different from a tiny private liberal arts college. Many YDSA members state that they would like to continue their work within DSA after college. They might never have gotten into socialist organizing if they had not been lucky enough to find a YDSA chapter on their college campus.
At this year’s YDSA Winter Conference, I organized a public university and community college breakout that brought together chapters to discuss the issues related to organizing on large campuses. We had a nuanced and substantive conversation about a variety of topics like dues, POC outreach, our relationships with university administrators, and much more. We were glad that some private school and Ivy League comrades came to hear our concerns and contribute to the deeply needed conversation we held. To address the feeling of exclusion discussed in both this and the socialists of color breakout, we should materially address the problem and put more resources towards organizing on these types of campuses. This has historically been an issue within the US left, as it has had a culture of being disproportionately white and elite. YDSA is the future of DSA and a better tomorrow for all. To get serious about building a mass movement we need to start investing in where the multiracial working class actually resides.