Reflections from YDSA members on their experiences attending YDSA Conference in Chicago.
Rene Choudhari, UC Berkeley YDSA
I joined YDSA because I thought it was just a political activism club, but attending YDSA Conference has made me realize that this organization is about far more than one-off campaigns or just discussing socialist ideas. We heard from DSA members across the country who are dedicating their lives to the socialist movement, committing to careers in strategic workplaces and spending every day organizing on the shop floor–teachers, nurses, truck drivers, and Starbucks workers who are organizing workers one conversation at a time. Especially as a new member, one of my biggest takeaways from YDSA Conference was that saying that we’re socialists is not just wishful thinking or complaining about capitalism, but about committing to a movement to see real tangible change in our lifetimes. And that movement is much bigger than I had originally imagined; it’s easy to forget when we’re just interacting with each other in a room once a week, but we really are connected to a whole generation of socialists. These socialists are doing inspiring work at college campuses across the country and preparing to enter the workforce themselves. Attending YDSA Conference was like plugging into this powerful source of energy and community, and it honestly opened my eyes to the real scope and potential of the movement we’re building.
But with that in mind, our chapter has a lot of really strong organizers who have been involved for a long time and are very plugged into national YDSA work, but that doesn’t seem quite as accessible for new members like myself. Had it not been for attending this conference, I don’t think I would have learned nearly as much about the real goals of YDSA and realized how much deeper it is than just the individual campaigns we’re working on. I think a good priority for us moving forward would be focusing on educating new members about DSA, including its caucuses and strategies and putting new members in direct contact with our leadership. It can be intimidating as a new member that everyone seems to have so much history with DSA and that the leadership circle seems to be small and tight-knit. If YDSA is primarily seen as grounds for recruiting, educating, and training young people to go on to become lifelong socialist organizers, we need to prioritize making this organization seem more easily accessible and inviting.
Evolutia Anfilofieff, University of Oregon YDSA
Growing up in a very conservative low-income family in a small town my experience at the YDSA Conference was incredible. I had never been on a plane before and generally felt lonely at University of Oregon so to go from Eugene, Oregon to Chicago was an experience I’ll never forget. I came to YDSA to find community and while getting some of that in my chapter this conference not only made me feel like I belong to something bigger than myself, but that I am accepted and valued by my peers. I not only found a sense of community but also friends. I grew closer to my chapter and found myself filled with overwhelming joy to find others like me and not feel alone in this movement and way of thinking as I did at home. It has inspired me to engage further in organizing and want to commit to being a lifelong socialist organizer.
David Villani, UC Berkeley YDSA
YDSA Conference was personally inspiring and stimulating for the chapter. The three aspects that contributed to my feeling of reinvigoration were the labor, electoral, and national/social element.
Beginning with the national/social element, it was wonderful to be able to meet and speak with organizers from across the country, to compare and contrast how our chapters were doing, and to learn from their successes and failures. I come away from the conference with the sense that our chapter has some of the highest potential in the country and that our leadership is extremely developed and well-trained. Our top leadership is well-integrated into national conversations, and participating in Bread and Roses has proven to be remarkably fruitful for the facilitation of cross-chapter connections. I think that working with people from around the country is a worthwhile enterprise for most of our members. Certainly, I should add that it was also very fun to hang out and drink with YDSA people from across the country. Socialism is when you’re social.
Regarding the labor element, I don’t have much to say beyond the fact that the labor panel was extremely fucking cool and inspiring. I’m not sure what more we should do in that direction, but it’s very heartening to discuss all this in the wake of Amazon and Starbucks.
And finally, the electoral element. I think we should pivot more to electoralism. I really say this for two reasons: first, when we were asked who joined YDSA because of the Bernie campaign, every single person raised their hand. Electoralism engages new people more than anything else, and though we need to be clear about the importance of labor, our role as Young Democratic Socialists is to bring in new people and develop them. This brings me to the second reason: electoral campaigns are an excellent model of membership development with clear escalating asks, time frames, and material objectives.
After the conference, I find myself recommitted and excited.