Democratic Socialism and the Rise of Student Protests in 2015

A statement by the YDS Coordinating Committee, drafted by Jack Suria Linares.

Over the last few weeks, student activism across the country has generated a successful wave of protests over the continuation of micro-aggressions, global White Supremacy, and student debt.  The first protests at the University of Missouri ignited when University President Timothy Wolfe presented no action against the racial incidents occurring on their campus, including a swastika drawn on the wall with human feces. Following this, protests at Yale sparked as a result of email threads debating the effects and outcomes of cultural appropriation. At Harvard Law School, students woke up to hate crimes and defacing the portraits of tenured black professors.  In addition students, including members of Young Democratic Socialists (YDS), across the country at Ithaca College, the City College of New York, Hamilton College, William Paterson University, UC Riverside and UC Davis among others held demonstrations in solidarity with the racial justice protests occurring, but also to demand an end to student debt. Alongside the student protests, political violence has emerged all over the country in an attempt to impose fear.  In Minneapolis, five BLM organizers were targeted and shot by white supremacists. We live in a time of great crisis.

These protests exemplify the frustrations over the global system that repeatedly fails to defend people of color.  Despite the mantra that the U.S. is the land of the free, racial hierarchy and racist institutions continue to define the construction of this country.  The protests reflect a moral question: Do we value black life? This question pushes our consciousness to move beyond colorblindness and aim to instill a genuine understanding and appreciation of each other. We must recognize that anti-black racism remains a specific form of oppression that the black community continues to face.

A sad, yet key, truth occurred when the administration gave in to their demands after black football players went on strike. The strike revealed how oppression and capital have deeply attached themselves to the exploitation of black labor. Though the hunger strikes brought forth the demands, not until students and football players threatened the continuation of profits were they seen as legitimate movement with a radical set of demands.  These include the statement of #WeDemandUNC including apologies from administration, resignations, lowering tuition cost, development of comparative ethnic studies curriculum, and plans to retain marginalized students. This student movement calls for an intersectional analysis, a framework shaped by black feminist thought and intended on diverging from orthodox Marxism, but remaining in the field of critical theory. Thus, the protests have opened the space for a return of genuine democratic socialist movement in this country.

Socialists have historically played a major organizing role in social movements.  This movement is no exception and as socialists we must participate to fulfill and continue the tradition for a more just society.  We recognize how much capital and inequality impacts the continuation of racism and understand that in turn White Supremacy shapes and defines the limitations of the political economy. It is dialectical. If we recognize the importance of ending White Supremacy, then the United States must realize that western civilization should not conceive itself as a society inherently worthy of praise. Contributions can come from all societies. Perhaps the U.S. could finally provide reparations even in the form of wealth redistribution or small radical reforms like those proposed in the students’ demands.  It is time that the United States begin to view all people as equal and embrace (or at least tolerate) the cultural and racial experiences of one another. Only through this genuine compassion can we move toward the just and equitable society we want, because neither the government nor Wall Street will provide such society for us.We ask that you remain assiduous as the country aims to heal wounds created by its own history.

Rarely will students receive the opportunity to engage in national crisis at the local campus level. Rarely will students embark on a journey to proclaim new visions of change and equality. Rarely will students define and shape the political and cultural atmosphere of their country. And rarely will students find themselves available for massive demonstrations after their time at college.  The YDS CC encourages all DSA/YDS members to embrace this moment and immerse themselves fully into the greater intersectional student movement. We should participate as an addition to the various agents of change who combat White Supremacy. If the U.S. does not embrace the various cultures, acknowledge its hierarchical structures or solve such inequities, then the U.S. will cause its own downfall and demise.  We live in a time of crisis, but we also live in a time of great hope.  The YDS Coordinating Committee is determined to find hope in the midst of the great crisis the country lives in.  Our generation will help decide which journey to choose.