by Marc Rome / March 2005
It's accurate to characterize the overall student and youth radicalization in the United States today as uneven and erratic. Without a clear political program, it has not been able to sustain the consistent action necessary to fight capitalist globalization, attacks on women's rights, rising tuition costs—and most important, the U.S.-led imperialist war.
However, in these difficult times, the potential for a new and dynamic youth radicalization exists, stemming from the sharpening contradictions of capitalism. On the one hand, the federal government can provide billions of dollars for profit-motivated, racist wars, not to mention trillions of dollars in tax cuts to the ultra-rich; on the other hand, young workers and students are faced with slashed funding for health care and education and must struggle to purchase their basic necessities.
Under capitalism, youth bear the brunt of economic and social deterioration. With an ascending number of layoffs, unstable work opportunities, and unemployment rates higher than those of their adult counterparts, individual solutions to social problems don't seem rational anymore.
Young people are increasingly questioning why the status quo is unable to meet basic human needs. That's why a new generation is seeking anti-capitalist solutions.
From its modest beginnings in 1997 in Ashland, Wis., Youth for Socialist Action (YSA), has steadily built a layer of young socialists nationwide.
Based on V.I. Lenin's tenet, "without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement," education has always been the cornerstone of YSA's work. In addition, YSAers have participated in and led a broad range of fights on their campuses and high schools, at their jobs, and in the streets.
From Ohio to the Northern Great Lakes region, YSAers have helped initiate union-organizing drives at their workplaces. They've learned first-hand about the impotence of organizers entrenched in the union bureaucracy (a comrade working full time while going to school was left to do the ground work for the union while the official organizers sat on their haunches), the treachery of bosses (a comrade was fired as a result of his organizing efforts), the violent role of police against organized labor (an off-duty cop attacked a labor solidarity rally), and the need for sustained organizing among the rank and file.
Following the 2001-2003 HERE Local 99 organizing campaign in Duluth, Minn., gains were won, including some improved working conditions and modest wage raises for Canal Park hotel workers. The unionizing drive was headed off by the bosses. However, as an important component of the struggle, YSAers earned respect and credibility from workers and community.
In 1999, the Northland College campus, in Ashland, was the stage for a bitter battle over a resolution calling for freedom, justice, and new trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal. Right-wing elements in the student government sought to block its passage, but YSAers were able to form a broad united-front-type coalition (Northern Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal), whose consistent efforts led to the student government voting to pass the resolution.
Riding the wave of victory, the Northern Mobilization organized a hugely successful benefit concert, "Jams for Justice," in 2000 and 2001, which raised money for Mumia’s defense fund and proved that concerts could be politically charged.
Youth for Socialist Action gets around. They sent a delegation to Cuba to meet with the UJC (Cuba's revolutionary youth organization). When Israeli attacks on Palestine reached a fever pitch, they organized pro-Palestine rallies. Attacks on the democratic rights of gays and lesbians were met with YSA rallies defending gay marriage. YSAers around the country were active in building coalitions to organize protests against the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Wal-Mart stores saw YSA picket lines.
However, not everyone appreciates the YSA’s determined work for social change. In May 2001 two YSAers were kicked off the UW Superior (in Superior, Wis.) campus by a cop for holding a forum there on police brutality called, "The Role of Police."
The American Transmission Company, an energy corporation, has had to reckon with YSA. Last month, YSA dove headlong into a fight by group of upper Midwest farmers from SOUL (Save Our Unique Lands) and various student groups to halt the building of ATC's 345,000-volt Arrowhead Weston transmission line. And they won.
Finally, after eight years of organizing and education, Youth for Socialist Action will hold its founding national convention at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Minn., on April 2.
Socialist ideas are becoming increasingly attractive for those who want to make a better world. But YSA goes further, fighting to build a different world that does not subordinate human needs to capitalist profit. The goal is socialism, a system based on meeting human needs, and Youth for Socialist Action will keep fighting because not only is that goal realistic, it is necessary.