Student Socialists in the Fight Against COVID-19 and Capitalism: A Statement from The Activist Editorial Board

The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented crisis, putting millions of lives around the world at risk and threatening economic collapse on the scale of the Great Depression or worse. However, as socialists we know that this pandemic is also exposing a crisis of legitimacy for the neoliberal capitalist order. Millions of Americans are suffering from mass job loss and economic insecurity, a parasitic for-profit healthcare system, and a corrupt and morally bankrupt government response. Socialists have an opportunity and an obligation to engage in serious organizing that will both save lives now and build towards a revolutionary break with capitalism. 

The scope of the crisis is incomprehensible, and there’s still widespread uncertainty about how long it will continue and how bad it will get, but now is not the time to despair. We need to prepare for the worst, and know that in this rapidly changing world, we have an opportunity to make sure that we change it for the better. 

Never has the choice between socialism and barbarism been clearer. As we write this, politicians in Washington are debating giving Wall Street yet another blank check written in the blood of the working class, with only a handful of socialist legislators standing up for workers. As young people and as socialists, now is the time for us to take a stand against the billionaires who would risk millions of lives for their bottom line. Now is the time to fight for a political revolution that ends capitalism and wins our socialist future.

Already around the country, YDSA organizers are working around social distancing measures to keep fighting for socialism. We’re organizing our workplaces, building mutual aid networks with our neighbors, and demanding that our college and university administrations keep students safe and financially secure. Our comrades at University of Maryland, Baltimore County are organizing a pressure campaign around demands that include housing and tuition refunds, paid leave for student workers, and that has already achieved substantial local media coverage. UCLA YDSA is adopting the DSA National COVID-19 Response Platform and building a pressure campaign around these demands on campus. YDSA at Georgia Tech and Emory are organizing solidarity housing for students displaced by closing residence halls. YDSA members at Western Washington University, in the early epicenter of the pandemic in the US, are organizing community aid and gathering student responses to present a list of demands to the university administration, and organizing to get rent reduced in the area as well. 

In New York City, which has by far the most COVID-19 cases in the country, NYU YDSA is working in coalition with students, faculty, and other campus orgs, including the graduate students union, NYU Sanctuary, and the student government association to demand housing for students that were evicted and protections for campus employees, as well as a full tuition reimbursement and universal pass grading policy. With no response from the administration, the coalition is working to connect affected students with NYC residents with spare rooms and resources. NYU YDSA has been using their Bernie 2020 contact list to mobilize people to participate in phone blitzes. Like chapters around the country, they’ve had to get creative in their online efforts to organize students who can’t meet in person.

Across the United States, YDSA chapters are leading efforts to demand that colleges and universities keep students safely housed and make online classes accessible. We’re creating networks of mutual aid and resource sharing for vulnerable students and community members. This is part of DSA’s national effort to mobilize members to organize in their workplaces, communities, and on their campuses, to protect each other and demand a just, working-class-first response to the COVID-19 pandemic at all levels of government. We hope that sharing these stories now, and continuing to share YDSA chapters’ experience as the crisis and response continue, will inspire young socialists everywhere to take action.  There’s no shortage of urgent work to be done, and the best cure for the hopelessness caused by COVID-19 is solidarity.

Doing this work requires that we stay together, even as social distancing keeps us from meeting in person. The YDSA NPEC is creating resources on how to host political education meetings over zoom, and we already have an incredible syllabus that chapters can use to keep crucial strategic and political discussions alive online. Now is the time to have organizing conversations over the phone and on Zoom, to keep people engaged and morale high. The only way we’re going to get through this is together, not just with our current comrades but with all working people fighting capitalist oppression, all of whom are welcome to take part in our common struggle. If we stand together, we can not only save lives and ensure a response to COVID-19 that centers working people instead of Wall Street, but build and sustain a lasting movement that keep up the fight for socialism long after the lockdowns have passed. 

To that end, the Activist editorial board is hoping that YDSA members will use any newfound freetime they have between organizing and playing Animal Crossing to write for The Activist. It’s more important than ever that we keep lifting up the inspiring work chapters are doing, and collectively think through strategic and political questions facing our movement at this moment. No one can know exactly what our future holds, but we do know that what we do now will have lasting ramifications, and that the lessons we learn in this time of crisis can inform our work going forward. 

In the days and weeks to come, we’ll be posting reports from chapters organizing in response to COVID-19, and we’re hoping to highlight as many chapters as possible. We also hope to publish longer articles as well on questions like campus coalition-building, virtual and remote organizing, recruitment and retention, usefulness and necessity of mutual aid in times of crisis, the role of YDSA in the coming recession, and more (please check out our call for submissions for more information). Above all, we want to be a voice for young socialists, and to keep putting out content that can both calm and catalyze people. Now more than ever we need strong, independent left media and we need a movement that can think on its feet, and The Activist is committed as ever to making that possible.

The Activist Editorial Board is Elias K, Griffin M, Halsey H, Jack Z, Jatnna DLC, Nate K, and Nate S.

Want to support The Activist and help build a mass working-class movement by and for student socialists? Become a YDSA member today! YDSA members: we want to hear from you! Find out how to submit your work to The Activist here.