The entire socialist movement is in a state of flux. We are still reeling from the defeat of Bernie Sanders and the collapse of normalcy brought upon by the coronavirus. Students, much like the working poor, have been hit nearly the hardest. Chapters all over the country are struggling to recruit new members or even retain the ones they have. However, some chapters, like Columbia, are evolving. They have made alliances with groups all over the world and have galvanized people towards tactics like their tuition strike. Just like Columbia, North Carolina is in a unique position to try something new. UNC is the dominant school system, it is owned and managed by the state, and at least 6 schools have existing YDSA chapters. We have many common problems across the entire state, from Wilmington to Boone. Tuition is too high, corruption is rampant, and racism is becoming ever more blatant. What we propose is the formation of a North Carolina YDSA federation, a state-wide organization united by a common program and strategy. This will allow every chapter to work together towards common goals, help diminish the tendency of student organizations to dissolve after some members leave and work to make the DSA nationally more effective.
This federation will be built around a common program. This program must of course give our vision of the future: free college for all, Medicare for All, the works. However, there must be an immediate list of demands we put forward. This list of demands are things that are local and within our power to change. I would like to use two examples from UNCW’s program: our demand for free parking and no required years on campus.
The former is a common demand of the workers and students on all campuses statewide. There is no reason why students should have to pay upwards of $450 for the right to park on campus. At some universities (UNC, if I’m not mistaken), there are parking spots that cost upwards of $700. In much of North Carolina, especially in more rural or isolated places, there is little public transportation. In Wilmington, half the major streets don’t even have sidewalks. The absolute need to own a car in the modern-day makes this $450 effectively an increase in already absurdly high tuition. Workers must also pay out of pocket for the right to work, effectively lowering pay for those workers. It is a state law that parking rules are decided by the board of education. This is a struggle that is within the scope of possibility without massive societal change and does not require the state legislature to change anything. As this struggle is present in every UNC system school, this can be a point of unity for the federation.
I am not sure about the conditions on other campuses, but at UNCW freshmen were required to spend a single year on campus paying for rent and a meal plan. Due to many poor financial decisions by our university, they quietly changed the policy to make it required for all incoming freshmen to do this for two full years. This is absolutely unacceptable. This effectively increases tuition by more than $15k, making higher education even more unattainable. This federation must represent all constituent parties and the problems they face. Adding local issues like these will make our entire effort more powerful.
The biggest weakness of student organizations, in general, is the incredibly high turnover rate of members. We cannot fix this, but we can try to mitigate this. If there were a central organization that was aware of the on-the-ground struggles on each campus, not only could they direct and coordinate chapters all over the state, they could help train and maintain new members. The biggest boon to having a statewide federation would be its ability to take the burden of recruitment and political education off of individual chapters and disperse it statewide. To help both existing and new chapters, there could be state recruitment meetings that describe the DSA and the united program and demands of North Carolina YDSA chapters. Political education events could take place as well on a statewide scale, minimizing the effort each constituent chapter must put in. A statewide federation would make the recruitment of new members and political education easier for everyone.
The pandemic limits the amount of material support that can be shared, especially in the form of manpower, but there are other ways to share resources. A big one is in the form of propaganda, both physical and online. A statewide federation could save resources from all chapters by having joint social media campaigns. It would not only centralize the production of propaganda but with a proper strategy, we can more effectively use a united platform.
A successful federation cannot be a loose alliance. It must be a new organization with a proper constitution, representation of the membership of each constituent chapters, and a leadership committee of its own. There must be direction and centralized leadership if we wish to maintain any sort of statewide actions and our chapters past a generation or two of students.
I propose this structure for the group:
- Once a year there is a mass member convention to discuss and agree upon the strategy of the federation.
- Officers are elected from the membership to lead the political education and help direct joint projects of the federation. Several members of this central committee may include a joint social media manager, a political education coordinator, and a state strategic coordinator.
- During the school year, a committee of the chairs/co-chairs of each chapter along with the central committee meet regularly to report on their chapter and collaborate.
This federation is designed to take much of the effort of theorizing, planning, and education and make it a collective effort of all chapters. National DSA does some of this, but it is not as locally focused as this is. The concept of a geographical federation beyond the local level but smaller than the national level is required in the coming years. There must be pre-planned, coordinated, and respected means by which socialists can organize on a larger scale. The conditions of the UNC system do not necessarily apply to Columbia or UC Berkeley. There may be events that occur, for example, Silent Sam, that shake the entire university and state. Having a pre-organized federation would allow coordinated struggles at all universities, not just at UNC. If we work together, we will not only lower the amount of labor on each chapter but increase the effectiveness of that labor.
This federation must come together as soon as possible. We should have a convention to draft a constitution, agree upon a program, and elect officers. The convention will be on Zoom, but in the future we should try to have it in person. The conditions of universities around the country continue to deteriorate for everyone. It is more expensive than ever to go to school and good jobs are hard to find. Working conditions of educators and workers of all kinds on campus continue to get worse. Socialists around the country are fighting back against this in every way they can. We have to play our part in and organize on our campuses, together.
By Connor Willis, Editor-in-Chief