The term socialism is generally seen as taboo here in the United States—and perhaps even particularly on Boston College’s campus—where capitalism reigns absolutely. However, the stigma that surrounds socialism is undoubtedly lifting, as 2016 presidential contender Bernie “Feel the Bern” Sanders recently brought socialism, and in particular democratic socialism, to the leading edge of the political conversation.
Socialism, in its most basic form, stands for the belief that a group of people can work together for the betterment of all of the members of that population, rather than just for the benefit of the few. This theory of social organization is not about how much the government controls, but that its people control and share its resources. Thus, democratic socialism is the enactment of socialist principles through the means of the democratic process. Democratic socialists believe that the government and the economy should be run by the people it is representing, as opposed to a small handful of people working against the interests of the majority.
In light of recent events, the small population of democratic socialists have experienced the necessary growth to build on Sanders’ momentum. As a result of unhindered capitalism, major political parties have failed to reform serious issues that occur throughout the nation, such as the opioid crisis, high rates of child poverty, income and wealth inequality, and affordability of healthcare. Thus, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and its collegiate cohort, the Young Democratic Socialists (YDS), have ignited an inclusive movement that seeks to foster progressive solutions. Now the fastest growing political organization in America, the DSA has created a comprehensive space for national participation that relies on its network of chapters to guide action on a local level.
Catalyzed by the progression modeled by Sanders’ campaign, a group of Boston College students, known as the Young Democratic Socialists of Boston College (YDSBC), seeks to implement their own chapter of the YDS as a registered student organization on campus. Joshua Behrens, MCAS ’18 and creator of the club, was originally motivated to bring democratic socialist ideals to the BC community after the election in November. Although initially supporting Sanders during the primaries, Behrens states that he “had faith that Hillary and the Democratic Party could defeat the racist orange monster that is Donald Trump. Their failure made [Behrens] question [his] allegiance to the Democratic party and to capitalism as a system.”
Like Behrens, many millennial college students were disillusioned by the seemingly dependable political institution that ultimately failed. Many believed and trusted in a democratic system that promised to protect our nation against neo-fascism. Now more than ever, students and other young people are realizing that the future lies not in the hands of politicians and legislative elites, but in their own. Earlier this semester, Behrens met other students who were equally disheartened by the outcome of the election while attending a Young Democratic Socialist Conference in Brooklyn, New York. “It provided me with the tools I needed to start a YDS chapter,” Behrens explains, “and that final push of motivation compelled me to take the final step and just do it.”
On becoming a registered student organization (RSO), Boston College’s chapter of YDS looks to provide an alternative to the capitalistic discourse on campus. The club’s mission is to educate the student body about democratic socialism and promote progressive dialogue on campus about pressing political issues. It is devoted to standing in solidarity with those who are oppressed economically, politically, and socially. The group is currently gauging interest and collecting information with a Google Form that they’ve been posting through Facebook. The club’s page expresses the spectrum of political affiliation that defines the organization, and encourages political and democratic curiosity.
Behrens explains the need for such a political activist organization on campus: “Aside from a select few sociology classes, an anti-capitalist approach is rarely discussed at BC. YDS of BC wants to engage the student body in a campus-wide discussion about capitalism and its effects on us and our country at large. It’s not that we are trying to turn everyone into a socialist, but rather that we’re trying to provide a space to discuss issues that often aren’t even talked about, like the root causes of economic inequality, capitalism’s place in institutionalizing white supremacy, and the corporatization of college campuses, among many others.”
The Young Democratic Socialists of Boston College plan to inspire and connect BC students with the greater Boston activist community. Due to recent political circumstances, there has been a surge of activist passion on campus and throughout the city of Boston. From demonstrations at the Women’s March to Muslim Ban Protests, Boston College students have clearly displayed an interest in standing for what they believe in.
“There is a lot of energy but not a lot of direction, and so there are many students out there who want to protest and make their voice heard, but don’t necessarily know how or where to start,” Behrens says. “YDS is going to be that link between passionate students and the activist opportunities in Boston and beyond.”
YDSBC is making connections with various Boston campaigns, such as Fight for 15, Black Lives Matter, and the Democratic Socialists of America. Just in the past week, a number of members were able to see Noam Chomsky speak at MIT. In the event of a protest or rally, the club intends to send out information to all members in order to efficiently disembark either on the T or by splitting rides with Uber. “Once we get RSO status and are able to post posters and hold events, making these connections and connecting to the student body will be much easier,” says Behrens.
According to Behrens, there is a need for a democratic socialist organization on campus that is unique from other left-leaning clubs because of the plan of action it intends to instill. “We need an actual resistance who has solutions, a blueprint for the future and not just the exact same neoliberal policies that destroy the middle class,” he explains. “YDS and DSA are actually providing a blueprint for the future.” Thus, facilitating a progressive dialogue at Boston College about crucial political issues and connecting BC students with the greater Boston activist community will promote a devotion to fighting for justice.
“We are the future,” Behrens continues.“And for many of us, we realize the future is in a different economic system, a system that puts people over profit, a more ethical system that actually fights the impending doom of climate change, a system that lifts up historically marginalized communities and dismantles institutionalized white supremacy within our society.”