The 2007 Democratic Socialists of America’s (DSA) convention was a turning point for both the DSA and the Young Democratic Socialists (YDS). Fifteen young delegates, many meeting for the first time, gathered with sixty of their older comrades in Atlanta, Georgia for the two day convention, which spanned from November 9th to the 11th. The YDS delegates participated just as much as the more seasoned members of the delegation and looked optimistically towards their continued role in building the DSA organization. The active participation of the YDS members in attendance served as a boon for the DSA delegation and helped make this convention more lively and noteworthy than those of past years. This mutual excitement helped to keep a positive and cohesive group attitude throughout the weekend.
The YDS Coordinating Committee, the youth section’s elected leadership, made great use of the gathering to further its goals. YDS Coordinating Committee members are dispersed throughout the country, so the convention presented a rare opportunity for face to face discourse. The Coordinating Committee set attendance and fund-raising goals for our upcoming national outreach conference, “Be Realistic, Demand the Impossible: Reviving Democratic, Socialist, and Youth Activism,” to be held in New York City. The Coordinating Committee also discussed how to work better as a unit and further the great work of the now revived Feminist and Anti-Racism committees. The Coordinating Committee encourages YDS members to get involved in national committees, through vehicles such as The Activist blog.
Specifically, the issue of diversity was a big topic of conversation at the convention. The YDS members held a caucus to address the concerns about the amount of diversity in the YDS. YDS members suggested that holding both caucuses for those from non-privileged backgrounds and auxiliaries for allies at the summer conferences. Both would provide safe spaces for caucuses and allies to discuss ways to combat oppression. We determined that the YDS needed to give chapters more educational materials and training to help facilitate cooperation and interaction between different campus communities. The conversation and recommendations were sent to the Anti-Racism Committee for further discussion.
It is a healthy sign that YDS as a whole believes in the need to address the need for more diversity. We engaged in lively, but respectful debate about organizational issues and were careful to avoid fractional and unproductive discourse. Despite our problems, in many ways the diversity of the YDS delegation represented what we hope a future DSA would look like. The YDS delegates were evenly split on gender and brought nearly all of the people of color to the event. Leadership was shared by all and many broke traditional roles, with men serving as note takers and women chairing meetings.
The convention was not all deep political discussions: YDS members made sure to have a great time as well! On Friday night, we hung out with avowed democratic socialist U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Sanders, the first socialist elected to the U.S. Senate, had the honor of addressing the gathering. Sanders keynoted the Atlanta DSA Douglass-Debs dinner honoring Charlie Flemming (President of Atlanta North Georgia Labor Council) and Alice Lovelace (poet and a lead organizer of the United States Social Forum). YDS members enjoyed southern cooking, mingled with some of most dedicated Southern activists, and even got to sing along to some civil rights anthems at the night’s end.
Saturday night proved to be just as lively. Attendees heard a riveting speech from DSA member and trade unionist Bill Fletcher, Jr. about the current state of economic injustice and the bright future for organized resistance against corporate globalization. Afterwards, Fletcher and YDS members raised their fists together behind the great blue DSA banner. Workers from Grady Hospital spoke about their jobs which are being threatened with privatization. The night ended with a multi-generational dancing to reggae music and moving impromptu speeches by YDSers.
A portion of the closing day was spent on finding concrete ways to build bridges between DSA and YDS. We held a well attended workshop hosted by me and YDS Co-Chair Maria Svart on how DSA members could support YDS and what could be done to help the transition of youth activists into DSA leadership roles. DSA has a strong commitment to ensure that YDS members get assistance from DSA and are welcomed into locals (and encouraged to start there own).
Lastly, the most important symbolic gesture was that DSA changed a long standing tradition and allowed the youth to close the convention. YDS Co-Chairs and I had the privilege to give the last speeches of the convention. The Co-Chairs talked about the new opportunities that laid ahead for DSA and YDS and the new possibilities of greater cooperation between the sections. I ended by telling how DSA had always been a part of my life, whether I knew it or not, through my father’s work, the legacy of Michael Harrington, and my political activity.
We did not break with one important tradition: singing the Internationale. As DSA heads towards the end of one chapter and begins another in a matter of years, its storied socialist legacy must and will continue. While the 2007 DSA convention certainly introduced a great many young people to DSA, it also showed longtime members that there is a new generation in the wings, firmly committed to the humanitarian values of the Democratic Socialists of America. Let’s make history together!