Over Valentine’s Day Weekend I, along with four other members of the Metro DC DSA, rode a bus bound for New York City. We headed to this year’s Young Democratic Socialist Winter Conference. And though we arrived far too late on Friday night to attend the conference’s opening plenary on police violence, our trip north was not without its own discussions on politics, labor, and socialist news.
The Saturday morning plenary included two speeches on the importance of being a socialist and roles that socialists can have in shaping a more just, free, and egalitarian society. Speaking immediately after DSA Vice-Chair Joe Schwartz was our comrade Jose Gutierrez. Together, Jose and Joe began the day of the conference on a high note speaking of the necessity of raising the minimum wage into a living wage, the need for fully-funded public services and goods, and the need to organize working class power to build a mass movement for socialism in the 21st century.
Following their morning talk, I attended a workshop on the 7 habits of highly effective chapters. To my actual dismay, there were not 7 habits that Philly DSA member Dustin Guastella could impart to me. But Dustin had plenty of useful tips for improving the growing and improving of one’s chapter. This workshop gave me a moment to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of our own chapter.
When I assess our chapter I see that we do organize great salons and talks on interesting and very topical matters. However we do not do the best job advertising our events and ourselves as socialists to the interested public. And although we do have several ways for prospective members to become involved with our chapter, we do not do the best job at retaining their long-term interest and commitment. Furthermore we also seem to fail at times to develop prospective socialists into fully-fledged socialists. But I think both of these issues would be improved by committing more of our chapter to the Fight for $15 campaign. I think there’s a lot of truth to the saying that we grow as socialists by doing socialist work. And committing ourselves to this work would not only help build working class power by reducing the power of the 1%, but it will also help us to grow as a chapter and as seasoned socialist organizers.
After Dustin’s workshop concluded, I attended another one given by Boston DSA member Jared Abbott that delved more deeply into meaning of socialism. Jared’s presentation asked us to define socialism in our terms, before he then challenged our notions by posing a series of thought-provoking hypothetical questions to us. This presentation gave us some much needed time to unpack our conceptions of socialism by asking us to critically ponder our own understanding of the term. From this I gained a little more insight into my own assumptions, and learned a little more about how I could defend my belief in socialism from valuable criticism. For that reason, I really enjoyed Jared’s presentation.
Saturday concluded with a reportback section where each individual chapter and regional organizer had the opportunity before the entire conference to present their members, talk about their campaigns and issues they’re working to address, and a little about the struggles and success they’ve had as a chapter . Some of the newer chapters like the students from Case Western University talked about the struggles they’re having as they move from an organizing committee to an established chapter, particularly with membership recruitment and choosing a campaign focus. Likewise some older and more established chapters like Sewanee University discussed their continuing success in developing their chapter and their work in solidarity with the local Nashville, Tenn. Black Lives Matter movement.
Though I was happy to see so many older chapters in attendance, I was especially thrilled to learn that New York City colleges were so well represented at the conference. Just within the last year or so, many young socialists, who were almost all of working class backgrounds from around NYC, helped organize and start four new campus chapters at different city colleges. All of these are in addition to the New York DSA local, which has been revitalized with several new members.
After the reportback period, we left the conference’s CUNY grounds and made our way to Brooklyn for our socialist party that night. The party gave us a nice way to socialize together in a very stress-less and unstructured setting, which the very scheduled nature of the conference often doesn’t allow.
Sunday’s opening plenary was given by a representative of the A. Philip Randolph Caucus and one from the Left Caucus. The representative of the former was our chapter’s own David Duhalde, while the latter was NYC DSA member Neal Meyer. David and Neal presented their vision of DSA’s electoral strategy and the goals DSA should position itself to achieve in the near and immediate term. Both speakers felt the old DSA electoral strategy of realignment was dead. Duhalde and Meyer differed over what that should mean for DSA and YDS. Duhalde embraced deprioritizing electoral politics, while Meyer embraced supporting explicitly socialist candidates. One longtime YDS member I spoke with described the plenary as one of the best he’s ever seen.
To echo their sentiment, I will add that altogether the conference was one of the best that I have ever attended. It was not only well attended in terms of numbers, but also in that so many of the attendees were passionate, committed, and dedicated socialists. I was even pleased at the demographic makeup of the conference attendees. Truth be told the conference did not achieve gender and sexual equality of representation. But it did come closer to that goal than any other conference I’ve attended. I was also astounded at the presence of so many nonwhite attendees. Again, racial and ethnic representation at the conference was not proportionately equal to society at large. But it was yet again closer to achieving that goal than any other YDS conference I’ve been to.
For these reasons, the issues and topics discussed, and the feeling of optimism amongst us, I’m very glad that I chose to attend. And I am very glad that for all the attendees who came to their first YDS conference, they had this moment to help mold their socialist identities.
David Duhalde contributed to this article