According to the Chicago Tribune, 45 year-old David Abrams, a Florida-based member of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), is a “baby” in the socialist movement. That’s because the reporter covered DSA's three and a half day biannual convention for only one night, before the main business of the body had even gotten underway. Had the periodical’s impatient journalist bothered to attend the next day he’d have seen over twenty young people arrive. Abrams’ age would certainly been pushed back to at least adolescence.
The 2009 DSA convention was another stepping stone towards the revitalization of our organization and displayed a rising youth presence and leadership in it. Over twenty-five percent of the convention delegates were young DSA members. They represented over a dozen Young Democratic Socialists (YDS) chapters and DSA locals, a marked increase over the fifteen young people who attended in the 2007 convention in Atlanta.
But the major difference between the youth delegation in Illinois and Georgia could not be solely measured by the numbers. In 2007, young cadre represented primarily YDS chapters. Some had been elected as DSA local delegates, but no one’s activism was through the “adult” section exclusively. In Evanston, several young socialists were leaders in their locals such as Sean Monahan, who is rebuilding Philadelphia DSA with veteran John Strauss. Others, such as Benjamin Kreider of the Washington, D.C. and Andrew Bowe of Denver, were looking to restart locals. Half of New York City’s delegation was composed of members under thirty, including several on the local’s elected leadership committee.
YDS alumni had a greater role in the conference’s programming as well. Monahan, New York City DSA Chair Maria Svart, and I led a workshop on integrating young DSA members into locals. I spoke about the need to address generational differences before they become problems, Svart explained how young people can be DSA leaders because of their free time, and Monahan tackled building a campus presence at Temple University around the revitalized Philadelphia local.
The YDS National Organizer Erik Rosenberg and National Co-Chair Tatiana Guerrero addressed the convention as well. They provided an overview of the current state of the YDS and our new goals stated within the five-year strategic plan adopted earlier this year. Rosenberg covered our recent national activity around Renegotiate NAFTA, Student Labor Week of Action, and G-20 protests in Pittsburgh, and the successful ongoing publication of the Red Letter (YDS’s internal news bulletin) and The Activist. Guerrero addressed the work of the Coordinating Committee, which is developing a regional organizing strategy to build YDS beyond its current base. She explained the need to use new technologies, such as a new and improved website, to reach student activists and bring the YDS web presence up to speed.
The convention also moved a motion pushed by YDSers entitled “Building Bridges and Locals.” The document, referred favorably to the National Political Committee (NPC, DSA’s elected leadership), outlined principles of building new locals with intergenerational participation. In addition, three young people were elected to the NPC. This marks the first time the NPC will have an under thirty-year old voice outside of the Co-Chairs in nearly a decade.
Despite wonderful and measurable organizational gains, the strongest mark of the success of the convention and of YDS over the past few years was the level of camaraderie present at the event. Veteran YDS activists and first-time socialist delegates mingled with ease and spent the convention and after-hours discussing life and politics. Friendship and common purpose are two critical foundations to any group’s success. Now DSA and YDS both can confidently proclaim they have both.