YDS activist, leader, and wonderful soul Deanna Wooten has passed. She was active in our William Patterson University chapter and in national events. Here are some memories of Deanna from those of us who loved her.
During the year I served as national YDS organizer I was lucky enough to work closely with Deanna. She was a strong organizer and a caring soul, and passionate about socialist politics. My first campus visit was to William Paterson University where Deanna helped lead the chapter. I remember I was nervous about giving my first speech so she spent the whole afternoon with me, showing me the campus, introducing me to other YDSers, and talking to me about my presentation. She served on the national leadership of YDS and at our winter conference she led a great workshop on chapter building that taught new members how to organize. At the same time she met and befriended many new members, welcoming them to their first conference. I'll remember her for her warmth, her commitment, and her quiet sense of humor.
- Neal Meyer
Former Young Democratic Socialists National Organizer
I had first met Deanna when I decided to get involved on campus my second year. I started going to Model UN because I wanted to get better at public speaking and I had an interest in politics. We all went to the Five College Model United Nations at Mt. Holyoke College in Springfield, MA. It was a fun weekend, but I rarely got to see Deanna since she was in another Model UN simulation. We were all waiting for her one day and wondering where she had been. Turns out she had miss her UN simulation because she went to sleep through the entire thing out in the hallway. I thought that was the funniest thing on Earth.
By the summer before my 3rd year, and I find out that Deanna is running YDS this coming semester. She asked me to be a part of the group. I excitedly said yes. At the time YDS was inactive, almost defunct. People from the world over tell me how legendary the original Willy P YDS was. See, the old YDS led walkouts in the hundreds, protested just about everything you can think of, and were very successful in their campaigns and clearly visible on campus. I swear that someone is going to come up to me next semester only to rave about the old YDS.
With her position, Deanna was able to accomplish more in a semester than what any person could do in a year or two. She was able to rebuild the William Paterson chapter; create and offer events and discussions for everyone to attend; organize all existing files and documents for the organization; provide contact with various other organizations and clubs on campus, across the state, and throughout the country; and, most importantly, she actually got people to join YDS. People were excited about what we were doing. Sure, there were times when only 4 people would show up, but it was still a huge improvement to nothing at all the year before.
Not only was Deanna a great organizer: She was a great friend. Even if she was having one of the worst days in her life, she always had time for you. You were always laughing with Deanna, always having a good time. She would literally give the shirt off her back to you if it meant that you needed it. Deanna was also loyal, sticking to you and having your back no matter what. For someone so small, she packed a huge punch. Deanna was so passionate about what she believed in.
Truthfully, I never wanted to be Co-President of YDS. Come to think of it, I absolutely hated the idea. I was happy on the sidelines of the group, a committed fan. We were all sitting, looking around the room, panicking that there wasn’t someone to be president next semester. So the likely candidates were either Shannon or I. I offered to become co-president only if Shannon would also be co-president. I thought: A.) I could never handle all that work and responsibility by myself, and B.) Co-leadership should require gender diversity (Hell yeah). And so what started the longest year of rebuilding and organizing to get back from square one again.
It was close to impossible trying to get back to where Deanna got us. There was one occurrence where, during midterms, we just looked at each other in disbelief how hard it all was. How simple it all seemed. It’s different when you’re the one running the show. When you have to plan, to go to all the meetings, to just show up everyday.
Now people at Willy P associate me as that crazy but driven Socialist guy running around campus shouting slogans and chants or publicizing our event coming up next week. I use jargon that only makes sense to committed Marxists. I’m conjuring up ideas and theories on dialectal materialism and how it relates to our globalized, neoliberal society as I walk along the sidewalk. My god, I’ve become a classic stereotype.
But life has a cruel irony. I am my current self because of Deanna. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for her. The same can be said for Shannon. She told me recently that she would not be at her current internship for DSA had it not been for Deanna. I’ve seen Shannon and pretty much all our group members evolve into full-fledged activists ready to take on the establishment. And that was all from the work and encouragement of Deanna.
I’m not really sure if Deanna was trying to mentor me as president for this club some day. I was sporadic, inconsistent, and was not committed to the cause as much as Deanna or anybody else had been. But I’m starting to think that life will work in mysterious ways, that there are no accidents. It was through her passing that I saw what an impact she had on my life and on others as well.
I guess it’s true when Mary “Mother” Jones cried, “pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.” Deanna was a comrade, a friend, a fighter, a lover, and an overall awe-inspiring woman to know. The only thing I regret is not getting to know her more on an intimate level and not just strictly business, i.e. activist organizing. But we were able to develop a friendship later on, and I couldn’t be happier. So, with that, I am pleased to not mourn the death of my comrade, but celebrate her time here.
Rest in power, Deanna.
- Tyler Brenes
Co-President of YDS at William Patterson University