The most recent Young Democratic Socialists (YDS) winter conference, “Students Fighting Austerity: The Future of Democratic Socialism in Neoliberal America,” was held over Presidents’ Day weekend at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, New York.
The conference urged students and graduated activists to become active in the fight to end student debt, poverty, and environmental problems brought on by capitalism across social, economic and political lines. It provided a safe space for youth solidarity and also worked to connect YDS members and potential members to the larger mission of the national organization.
Speakers presented issues ranging from the media’s role in fast food workers’ fights for justice and workplace democracy to the environmental implications of working to pass new climate legislation. The main headline speakers, including Frances Fox Piven, Joanne Barkan, Jérémie Bédard-Wien and Cornel West, all spoke on the relevance of student activism and what it means as students face debt, unemployment, and benefit cuts. (For an interview with Cornel West conducted at the conference, see page three and a longer version on the Democratic Left blog at dsausa.org.)
(L to R) Beth Cozzolino, YDS co-chair; Matt Porter, YDS co-chair; Jackie Sewell, YDS national organizer; Jérémie Bédard-Wien; Michael Walzer; Bhaskar Sunkara
Joanne Barkan said “It was very satisfying to speak to and with a large group of young democratic socialists. The attention to serious issues was apparent, and the most common question from the audience – ‘What can we do about this?’ – is exactly what needs to be asked.”
The conference this year had a stronger focus on issue briefings than on organizing workshops, but effectively taught young activists about the importance of internal and external democratic socialist education, leadership development, and campaign planning. It was also encouraging to see former YDS activists and DSA members such as Peter Frase and Bhaskar Sunkara speaking at workshops and plenaries, as well as talking about their success in publishing Jacobin magazine.
The conference saw delegations from new YDS chapters, like Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. Older chapters such as Wooster College YDS from Wooster, Ohio, and Temple University YDS from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania also sent delegations of old and new members excited to organize. Vassar College YDS in Poughkeepsie, New York sent the most people, with a total of 12 members attending the conference. These facts underscore that YDS and DSA are growing organizations and that the current national organizer and Coordinating Committee are doing strong work.
The Women-Identified Women’s Caucus at the YDS winter conference
Overall, the conference went very smoothly and was greatly enjoyed by those who attended. Most importantly though, the conference left YDS members with clear ideas for campaigns and events to take back to their chapters that they will take on in the upcoming semester.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Get involved in DSA’s new student debt national campaign, for non-student and student activists alike, by signing up here: http://dsausa.org/get_involved/.
Jackie Sewell is the national organizer for the Young Democratic Socialists