YDS Conference Report: From Sanders to the Grassroots

by Meghan Brophy, YDS-CC

From August 5-7, members of Young Democratic Socialists (YDS), College Students for Bernie, and the Student Labor Action Project gathered for a joint gathering, “From Sanders to the Grassroots.”  The D.C. area conference represented what speaker Bill Fletcher Jr. called for: unity between progressives and socialists to amplify each other.

This conference was an unprecedented act of strategic unity for the U.S.-based student left.  As our newly politicized generation navigates this tumultuous election, we have a long term vision and tactics for social and electoral change.  “From Sanders to the Grassroots” provided a crucial space for student activists to network, discuss, and strategize together about how we can continue our political revolution against the billionaire class.  

From plenaries on theory and history to workshops on student organizing, this conference challenged a new generation of activists to examine the growing popularity of socialism and increasingly authoritarian neoliberalism.

This event, just over a week after the Democratic National Convention, brought together three leading organizations from the student left. Each group brought a different set of skills to complement the others. The Student Labor Action Project (SLAP) hosted Power Mapping and Strategic Campaign Planning  and Recruitment and Leadership Development, helped equip attendees with vital skills to organize on their campuses and in their communities.  Likewise, sessions such as Police Brutality and Capitalism, led by a representative from Black Youth Project 100 and Aaron Goggans, a core organizer with BLM:DC, and Socialist Feminism, led by Chris Riddiough, former National Organization for Women & Chicago Women's Liberation Union leader and current Vice-Chair of Democratic Socialists of America, provided pivotal perspectives and analysis.   

The main plenaries provided a valuable space to hear different voices from the movement.  On Friday evening, speakers from the three sponsoring organizations presented on their ideas for channeling the enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders on college campuses into a prolonged movement.  Hannah Zimmerman, a newly elected member of the YDS Coordinating Committee and Founder of High Schoolers for Bernie, discussed her desire to see young people continue to get organized and fight back. Outgoing YDS Co-Chair Shelby Murphy told the crowd we need socialist organization to continue the Political Revolution.  Elizabeth Lee, a founder of College Students for Bernie, discussed how CS4B chapters could become YDS or YPDA chapters in the fall.  On the other hand, Chris Bangert-Drowns, an organizer with the Student Labor Action Project, provided historic examples of Cuban students about how the young people can engage the political process as revolutionaries. This was the perfect opening to a weekend of discussions and debates.  

On Saturday, speakers including Bhaskar Sunkara, editor of Jacobin magazine and YDS alumnus, Lawrence Mishel, President of the Economic Policy Institute, Joseph Schwartz, Vice-Chair of the Democratic Socialists of America, and several others, spoke on a variety of pertinent topics. Each plenary stressed the need for a visible socialist presence in labor, fighting the right, and other social movements. However, all agreed socialists alone around not enough. As Bhaskar noted, “people must first be bought into liberal reforms before they can be won over to socialism.”

Later, the 2016-2017 YDS Coordinating Committee was elected and the Activist Agenda was selected from a group of solid proposals.  Former YDS Co-Chair Jack Suria Linares and newly elected YDS Co-Chair Kayla Pace’s winning proposal, Toward an Anti-Racist Socialism, outlines a socialist analysis of anti-racist politics and potential campaign activities for YDS chapters.  In addition, conference attendees got #TrySocialism trending on Twitter!  

During the last day of the conference, there was a final set of workshops and group discussion.  Dominic Chacon, an organizer with the DSA/YDS chapter in El Paso, TX, and David Littman, founder of the YDS Chapter at the University of Georgia, led the Environmental Socialism workshop.  While Dominic spoke about starting a community garden for low-income students, David discussed leading a successful student group at his university in their fight to shut down a coal plant on his campus.  

For the last few hours of the conference, attendees reflected on their successes, the challenges ahead, and how YDS, CS4B, and SLAP could continue to collaborate. These ideas included more regional unity conferences, joint projects, and shared social media to stay in contact and continue to grow the political revolution on campus.

Meghan Brophy is an incoming freshman at Barnard College and a member of the YDS Coordinating Committee.

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