YDSA Conference Made Me A Lifelong Socialist Organizer

This year’s YDSA Conference was held in Chicago from April 14-16th and was combined with an activist conference for DSA electoral and labor organizers. While a national activist conference might be a good idea for DSA, it shouldn’t come at the cost of spots for YDSA members in crucial phases of their socialist development.

Just over a year ago I had never even spoken with another socialist before. In the fall of 2021, I had just moved to Los Angeles from San Jose, to start college at Gnomon School of VFX, Games, & Animation. One of the first things I did was join DSA. I had been radicalized through a whirlwind of political activity – the BLM protests in the summer of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic that caused me to lose my entire senior year of high school, and the presidential election. But it’s one thing to become a member on paper – it’s another thing entirely to be an active and organized socialist. 

At this point, I had no personal connections to anyone in the DSA-LA chapter or the wider city. I started to organize a YDSA chapter at Gnomon by reaching out to national YDSA, where I attended my first meeting with other YDSA members from across the country to be trained in starting our own chapters. Very quickly I was roadblocked by my college’s rules. Gnomon is a private school, so if you want to create an on-campus club, it must be curriculum-aligned (i.e. directly to do with computer graphics in the entertainment industry) and be approved by the administration. Because of this, I was unable to reach out to other possible socialists on campus in traditional ways like tabling and postering. This was a very alienating and lonely experience, and not one you would expect to happen at an arts school in California! Eventually, I was set up with a YDSA intern for a 1-on-1 meeting regarding the status of my chapter, where I was invited to attend the 2022 YDSA Conference in Chicago.

I decided to attend, as it would be a good opportunity to connect with people in similar situations starting their own chapters. Landing in Chicago, I entered the conference hall and immediately felt at peace – which is saying a lot for a person with social anxiety! I have never felt so at home and comfortable in a room full of hundreds of strangers, and knowing we were all there to be a part of the same fight for a better world was awe-inspiring. I was looking directly in the face of the future of the socialist movement. I could reach out and touch it. Knowing I had comrades all over the country fighting for the same thing left me feeling no longer so alone. The personal connections I made there were also vastly important. Before the conference, my experience in Y/DSA was limited to Zoom meetings and this was my first major in person event. Through comrades I met at the conference, I was connected to DSA-LA’s YDSA coordinator, who connected me and my chapter to other YDSA chapters in Los Angeles, as well as unions in the entertainment industry such as the Animation Guild (IATSE Local 839). I left the conference inspired and reinvigorated.

After returning home from Conference, my heart was on fire. I could not shut the feeling out that I had to get out there and do something. I was willing to throw themselves into anything if it benefited the socialist movement. In California, the 2022 primary elections were around the corner. I quickly started to volunteer every day for the Kenneth Meija for LA City Controller campaign, assembling letters, sign waving, and helping to promote events all over the city.  Mejia would later go on to win the general election against incumbent Paul Koretz in a landslide, earning more votes than either candidate for mayor – even for a position most Angelenos hadn’t heard of until recently! Additionally, I also went onto the picket lines in support of Los Angeles United School District teachers represented by SEIU Local 99, whose members make an average salary of $25,000, and 1/3rd of which have been homeless or been at risk of becoming homeless. Braving the freezing LA rain, they went on strike for three days, eventually winning a contract, winning pay raises, health benefits, and bonus payments. 

While my YDSA chapter is still yet to be officially chartered and still not allowed to be on-campus, we are certainly in a better position than we were a year ago. When I went to Conference last year, I was practically alone. Now, I get to share our chapter with other wonderful and dedicated comrades. I am so eternally grateful I get to share the experience of being artists and socialists who will work and organize in the entertainment industry. 

This year’s YDSA Conference (2023) was a unique one. The DSA National Political Committee (NPC) voted to make half the conference dedicated to DSA electoral and labor activists, and the other half dedicated to YDSA. The YDSA representatives on the NPC voted against the decision and  the YDSA National Coordinating Committee (NCC) originally had different plans. While a hybrid Y/DSA Conference has some benefits, like offering a great opportunity for YDSA members to connect with and learn from DSA members more, it’s unfortunate that this is being done at the expense of YDSA seats. Being a YDSA member is a short-lived experience, lasting only as long as you are a student. There are also limited opportunities for YDSA members to gather all together nationally, so Conference is particularly valuable. 

If I were trying to start my YDSA chapter this year, I doubt I’d even make a slot. It is truly unfortunate the amount of comrades that are missing out on this incredibly formative experience to connect with other YDSA members from around the country. If we want to develop youth organizers in YDSA into lifelong socialists, we must prioritize the needs of YDSA and offer the most amount of opportunities for anyone to get involved, including the opportunity to attend such a monumental event such as YDSA Conference.