YDSA cuts first meeting short after large opposition turnout
New youth chapter of U.S. socialist organization formed on campus this semester
The Young Democratic Socialists of America, the youth wing of the larger Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), held its first meeting Tuesday. It ended after less than a half hour due to the presence of members of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) and others.
The UB branch of the YDSA formed this semester amid a growing nationwide interest in socialism, especially in the wake of the presidential election and the Bernie Sanders campaign. The group’s first open meeting featured roughly 20 participants, more than half of whom were described as “detrimental to our group” by Laura Kerrigan, a founding member of the YDSA.
“It would be hard to have any reasonable observation of what happened in that classroom as being any sort of random act by [YAF] members,” said Kerrigan, a second-year graduate student in American studies. “About 10 of them came in all at once, with someone who seemed to be their leader saying, ‘let’s go boys,’ as they entered the room.”
Kerrigan began the meeting by going over a set of ground rules for the club. All in the room verbally agreed, but during individual introductions, the meeting ran into issues.
“I asked everyone to introduce themselves by their name, pronouns, major and anything else they wanted to say. Many of them complied civilly, but the leader – the same person who said ‘let’s go boys’ before… said that he had no pronouns because in his country there were no pronouns,” Kerrigan said.
Timothy Weppner, a senior computer science major, said he went to ask questions about socialism. Weppner, who declined to comment on his membership status with YAF, described the meeting as uneventful.
Weppner said the meeting discussed primarily the TA stipend increase movement. He questioned the statistics discussed but said that was “the only interaction anyone had the whole meeting.”
“YAF had nothing to do with this. We didn’t come as a group,” Weppner said. “Just because people are members of the club doesn’t mean you represent the club.”
Alexa Archambault, president of YAF and a senior political science major, agreed with Weppner. She said the events of the meeting were “not a YAF-organized ‘protest.’”
“Those who attended went as individuals, independent of any specific club or label. To my knowledge, many simply wanted to see what the club was all about,” Archambault said in an email. “YAF will continue to advocate for traditional American values such as limited government, individual freedom and free enterprise.”
Kerrigan said the anti-socialist students at the meeting acted in a deliberate way to be able to “specifically deny their actions being construed as a protest.”
The YDSA decided to end the meeting early as many felt uncomfortable with the atmosphere in the room.
Ernest Starzec, founder of the Pan-Slavic Association and a senior political science major, attended the meeting. Starzec’s family history in Poland made him wary of socialism and the DSA.
“My uncle was beat to death [by Soviet soldiers] when they heard he was talking about the socialist regime,” Starzec said. “We wanted to see what they’re trying to spread here in order to prevent them from expanding further. We feel kind of offended that socialism - especially this brand of socialism - is able to exist on campus without regard to people’s feelings.”
Starzec also felt that Cubans, Russians, Ukrainians and others who lived under “socialist regimes” would echo his sentiment.
Victoria Wolcott, professor and chair of the Department of History, explained that the Cold War made distinctions between communism and socialism irrelevant.
“Socialism wasn’t always such a ‘dirty word’for many Americans,” Wolcott said in an email. “American socialists were part of the anti-Stalinist left who spoke out against the worse abuses of the Soviet state while advocating for civil rights and labor.”
Moving forward from this meeting, YDSA said it plans to build a welcoming community of socialists.
“DSA is here to support one another,” Kerrigan said. “We’re trying to build a sort of ‘dictatorship of the teens;’a well-organized group we can hand off to the undergraduates who come after us.”
For now, UB’s YDSA chapter hopes to move past the events of their first meeting. On Nov. 11, YDSA is hosting a talk on campus by Timothy Faust, a health care correspondent for the leftist podcast “Chapo Trap House,” to discuss healthcare.
Sarah Crowley contributed reporting.
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