The 2020 summer convention of the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA), held July 31–August 2, demonstrated remarkable political maturity for such a young movement. YDSA, DSA’s student section, holds an annual convention to elect leaders and set priorities as well as an annual educational and outreach conference. This year, even though pandemic circumstances forced us to convene online, YDSAers came ready: members put together slates of candidates, resolutions, and articles for the 130-plus delegates to debate. This was the largest delegation in YDSA’s history, and this new generation of socialists is a sign that our movement is here to stay.
At the 2019 YDSA convention, delegates passed every resolution put forward. As a result, members were stretched too thin to commit wholeheartedly to YDSA’s main priority, which was College for All—a program based on eliminating student debt and providing free public university education. Motivated by the economic crisis and the pandemic, alongside the already-existing regime of austerity in higher education, we decided to dedicate this year to organizing around demands to cut tuition, housing costs, and fees; change grading standards; protect essential workers; and disempower campus police. Labiba Chowdhury and Neah Havens were elected co-chairs for a one-year term. They share a vote on DSA’s National Political Committee.
We also decided to hold national reading groups so that members can study and strategize with each other across the country, and to form a rank-and-file pipeline so that interested soon-to-be graduates can find union jobs in order to rebuild a militant labor movement. Many of the discussions at the convention took for granted that it is essential for the socialist movement to “merge” itself with the layer of militant workers who have taken action in recent years. Without these organic connections, even our elected officials won’t be able to get much done.
Four years ago, YDSA had no more than a dozen chapters. Now we’re quickly passing 100, as organizers focus especially on forming chapters at high schools, community colleges, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities. A key question as the organization grows is, “What should YDSA be?” Should it remain a student section or aim to organize all the youth in an area regardless of enrollment? How much should YDSA be integrated into DSA? These questions have existed in the organization since its founding. As members organize online and in person, they continue to fight for themselves and the teachers, professors, grad students, and support staff at their schools.