From February 17-19, members of Young Democratic Socialists (YDS) gathered for “Revolution at the Crossroads: Igniting the Socialist Resistance Against Trump.” The first YDS conference since the post-Bernie/Trump boom, the gathering acted as a rally point for all our new members as well as the staging ground for building and confronting the new far-right administration.
|Photo: Katie Schuering|
The most notable aspect of the conference was its size. More than 250 people attended, almost three times as many as last year. Many of the attendees had just joined DSA in the past couple of months, and many were first politicized by the Bernie campaign. But as less than a month had passed since the Inauguration, all attendees were concentrated on President Trump's new far-right administration.
The conference focused on the administration right out of the gate, with a panel on immediate tasks for fighting back.
Longtime DSA veteran Michael Lighty spoke first. The first openly LGBT person to lead a U.S. socialist organization, when he was national director of DSA in the early 90s, Lighty is now the director of public policy for National Nurses United. The Nurses were a key ally of the Bernie campaign, headlining the People's Summit which DSA co-sponsored last year. He spoke passionately of the need to make socialism more readily accessible to the masses already energized by the Bernie campaign. Joining him were veteran anarcho-syndicalist and co-founder of People for Bernie Winnie Wong, who spoke equally passionately on the need to work both within the Democratic Party to ease the path for more left-leaning candidates, and outside the party. Rounding out the panel was Khalid Kamau, member of Black Lives Matter and candidate for city council in the City of South Fulton, Georgia. He highlighted the right wing's long-term strategy, especially their use of local races as a path for base building and candidate training. He argued that the left also needs to employ this strategy.
The plenaries continued Saturday, with the first focused on introducing many of the new members to Democratic Socialism. On the panel were Joseph Schwartz, member of DSA's National Political Committee and DSA vice-chair; Dan La Botz, author and long-time trade union activist; and Rahel Biru, co-chair of New York City DSA. They were followed later in the day by Jose LaLuz, trade unionist and DSA vice-chair, and Komozi Woodard, professor at Sarah Lawrence College, who spoke on people of color in socialist movements. Of particular note was Jose LaLuz's rousing call to arms against the Trump administration, delivered without the use of a microphone, which received a standing ovation.
The workshops on Saturday provided a valuable space to hear different perspectives on the resistance. They covered several important topics, from the labor movement to international perspectives, to critiques of intersectionality. Of particular note was the “Skills Training to Fight the Right on Your Campus” workshop, led by myself and fellow Anti-Racism Working Group member Javier Miranda, and moderated by YDS Coordinating Committee member Andrew Shelton. The workshop was intended to provide participants with the skills needed to defuse dangerous situations involving right-wing provocateurs on campus. Before it began, I gave a brief presentation on the alt-right, giving an overview of its history, current ideological makeup, and the major figures involved. Then, all three of us roleplayed a scenario in which I, acting as an alt-right provocateur, harassed Andrew Shelton, who was roleplaying as a Jewish man wearing a kippah. Javier stepped in and attempted to distract me so that Andrew could get to safety. The scenarios were repeated using different methods of distraction. After our run-through, the workshop participants split into groups and ran through the different scenarios. Afterwards, we held a brief report-back and Q&A. One thing we all reflected on was the value of training for these scenarios. In real life, these situations can trigger our own fight-or-flight responses, making these trainings all the more necessary for remaining calm and ready for when racist incidents happen.
During the last day of the conference there was a final set of plenaries and group discussions. Longtime DSA member Michele Rossi and CUNY Professor Nichole Shippen spoke about socialist feminism and the importance of resisting the liberal feminist narrative of Hillary Clinton and Sheryl Sandberg, who prioritize women in power over the needs of working-class women. Workshop topics included building sanctuary campuses, socialist political education, and queer liberation. In the last hour of the conference, attendees reflected on their successes, the challenges ahead, and how to best fight the Trump administration.
Adam Cardo is a founder of Emory U. YDS, a member of Metro Atlanta DSA, and a member of DSA’s Anti-Racism Working Group.