Erica Smiley's Bi-Annual Report to the National Council
April 12-13, 2008; Chicago, IL
There are so many things I could talk about right now with regards to the state of education, jobs, housing, and the on-going occupation in Iraq. But these days it would be difficult to mention these things without first discussing the 2008 elections.
At this point, many of us have heard some of our older comrades compare these times to the era that gave birth to Roosevelt and the New Deal, or the movement that forced Johnson to sign the Voting Rights Act.
I cannot claim to know what it felt like to live during those times. But I cant help but recognize that we are living through and making our own history right now.
When was the last time we witnessed a front-runner for the presidency claim that the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to the inequalities that passed on from an earlier generation?
What other viable presidential candidate has refused to see racism as endemicstating publicly how racism holds down white workers as well as Black, Latino and Asian workers?
Who was the last national Democratic leader you heard blame greedy corporations for dividing workers along racial lines?
And have you ever heard a presidential candidate acknowledge the role of discrimination in the disproportionate numbers of Black youth in prison?
The movement surrounding the candidacy of Barack Obama is epic.
What makes this candidacy epic is what it has come to represent. This campaign has wrapped up in it all the hopes and dreams for the betterment of our country and the working people it belongs to. This campaign isnt about a man so much as its about whats possible if we are able to take our country out of the tight grip of the Ultra-right.
Is Obama a Communist? Is this upsurge around Obama a Communist movement?
Of course not.
But who dare say the upsurge around his campaign does not have a working class character? These elections are a pivotal battlefield for us to turn a corner in our struggle for socialism.
No where else would we be able to struggle for such broad unity within the working class in this specific moment.
No where else would we be able to struggle and persuade on our vision for the country and our understanding of the current barriers on so many issues.
In this period, we dont have to wax profound about all of our advanced demands in order to advance the struggle for peace and equality, as some have suggested. Our task is to build and maintain unity in this surge against Bush and the extreme right. We fight for the most advanced demands of our movements center, the most unifying demands against the Right.
And right now, there is unity in struggling within the movement surrounding Barack Obama, especially given the divisive attacks on Obama and the speech of Reverend Jeremiah Wright. This is where the forces of unity are mobilizing.
It is not our job to convince people to be even more advanced than they have currently come to be. We ourselves constantly proclaim that it is through experience in struggle that people are won over.
Right now, the elections are the main forum for that struggle.
The American people are fed up!
We are tired of seeing luxury condos built while our houses are foreclosed or rents increase.
We are tired of seeing tuition rise while the value of a college degree plummets.
We are tired of seeing factories shut down while Bear-Sterns and the big airline companies get bailed out by the federal government.
Where is our bail out? Whos going to bail out the young troops that return home from Iraq?
Labor and people from every walks of life see hope in the Obama presidency, and they see someone who will be responsive to the demands of the broader peoples movement more so than Wall Street. This was exemplified when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi got a letter from big Democratic donors demanding she take back her support of Super Delegates switching their votes based on their Districts.
Now, the interests that make up Team Democrat are very complex indeed; Wall Street on one side and the unions on the other.
The fact remains, Wall Street does not want Obama to win.
We also have to ask ourselves whos victory will the primaries be? the movement of the people or Wall Street?
Its not simply that Obama is a great leader. It is the recognition of the key role between leaders and the movements they represent. The Clinton campaign made some divisive remarks earlier this year, claiming that even Dr Martin Luther King needed a Lyndon B Johnson. What was missed in this remark, which was designed to de-legitimize Obama as more of a great speaker and repeater of rhetoric than a great leaderwas the fact that the movement benefited in having a president that would take a phone call from Martin Luther King, and President Johnson benefited from taking that call.
Forget that little red phone commercial! The united front of American workers, Black communities, immigrants, women, and youth needs a president that will answer the phone when we call.
Lets just look at whats possible if and when that phone call is answered:
The Employee Free Choice Act which strengthens labor laws on behalf of workers and their unions, might not only pass through Congress but actually get signed by the president after being blocked by a Bush veto the last 2 years.
We could win adequate funding for Pell Grants, Gear Up, LEAPall kinds of programs to help us go to college.
We could end the war in Iraq.
Now, some of you have been noticeably uncomfortable during my entire presentation up until now. And I know that all of this can be hard to take in over one sitting, so take your time. You might ask yourself how Smiley could possibly give a report like this when our policy is not to endorse any candidate outside of the Communist Party and YCL. You might even think that this is an over-simplification.
Its true. We do not endorse Obama or any other presidential candidate.
And the post-election struggle will probably be more complicated than it is now.
Capitalisms slip is showing, and its becoming more and more difficult for traditional economists to fix it each day. The global economy is going through massive shifts and transitions, with countries like China and India rising to economic dominance. Workers in the United States are grappling with how these changes will affect us while being bombarded with the options of China-bashing over that of showing solidarity with working people around the world.
I cant give you a perfect prediction of what the post-election period holds. Id only be proven wrong in January 2009.
But I would argue that it is those who say we shouldnt participate in the movement surrounding the elections that are over-simplifying. The complexities of the post-election period are not an excuse for us not to engage in the process right now.
Will these elections be the final step towards socialism?
Not even close.
And it is important to note that only through socialism can we win real democracy, lasting peace and equality for everyone.
But why should we be cynical about it? Why should we entrap ourselves on the sidelines demanding the election of a Communist president right now? Were not going to elect a Communist president right now. Thats not where we are at.
Aside from electing a Communist president, running a Communist presidential candidate for the purposes of raising our advanced demands would also be un-strategic in this period. Again, our goal is to remove the Ultra-right from power right now, and currently we can only do this through the Democratic Party.
Does this mean we do not put forth issues we care about?
Again, the answer is a resounding NO.
But the way in which we do this must be connected to the main forum of struggle for the majority of people in our countrythrough the elections, and in particular the Democratic primaries.
We certainly have a vision for the way things should be. And, of course, we should share that vision with othersespecially when we can do it in a way that moves people to act right now. This is why the Youth Bill of Rights is such an important tool for our organization. It gives youth a vision for how things could be, and it allows us to mobilize ourselves into action.
Even when engaging in the Democratic primaries, we have to remember that we cannot judge the current candidates as Communists. They are not Communists; not even close. Instead, we have to assess the momentum of the movement that has grown out of the entire process, and continue to build unity against McCain and the Ultra-right.
Here we have one of the most historic opportunities to build unity and elect a president generally responsive to peoples needs.
Let cynics be cynical. We are not cynics.
Let us remain known for our optimism; for our love of working people, and for our desire to improve the conditions for everyone.
Let us rightfully see these elections as an incremental step towards the achievement of these broader goals; goals which require the support and commitment of the overwhelming majority of the working class to accomplish; support that we have to continue to build and fight for.
Now I have said a lot about the campaign of Barack Obama. But there is one thing I do not want to get lost in this discussion.
Even if Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination, the Ultra-right will suffer a massive defeat.
A Clinton Administration would still govern to the Left of McCain, and arguably further to the Left of the first Clinton Administration. By necessity, it would be more beholden to the will of our movement. Even if the Wall Street interests within the Democratic Party would rather see Clinton over Obama, they dont want to see a landslide victory of either. They want business as usual, and a landslide victory would be a mandate for change.
Therefore, a landslide victory by either Obama or Clinton would be a striking blow against racism and sexism in the United States; it would be a blow against the Ultra-right. We have to make this clear, especially if Clinton wins, in order to ensure unity against McCain and the extreme right wing.
Look at the times we are living in!
We have a woman who is Speaker of the House, and the Democratic presidential candidates are Black and female. And these leaders were not put forth opportunistically by the Right as some had once projected.
Obama is no Uncle Tom.
These leaders are entering the electoral arena at the will of working people.
I say this here because just as there are some of you who have either cringed at my remarks or begrudgingly and critically accepted the current situation, there are others of you who are guilty of bad-mouthing Clinton supporters and even supporting the idea of sitting it out if Clinton wins. There are some of you in the room who have been such cheerleaders for Obama that youve temporarily abandoned the need for unity and antagonistically chastised those who werent yet convinced.
This is not the role of Communists in this election.
It is important that in all the excitement, we continue to strive for unity with young people and others who support either candidate.
Clinton supporters are not the enemy.
Even some McCain supporters are not the enemy, as many of them are currently voting against their own best interests.
The enemy for us remains the extreme right, and it is our responsibility to build unity in the struggle against them. If we stick to this, the McCain supporters will eventually join us. If we hold unity above all else in our discussions, it will not be as difficult for us to win Clinton supporters over to Obama if he wins the nomination and vice versa if Clinton manages to pull it off.
This election is not about progressive Democrats vs Blue dogs, and it isnt even about how progressive Barack Obama is or can be. This election is about an overwhelming majority of Americans frustration with the direction the Ultra-right has taken our country into. This election is about turning a corner in the fights for working people. And working people understand we can do that best with a Democratic majority in Congress and a Democratic president.
No one can contest the massive youth voter upsurge that has occurred in the 2008 Democratic Primary elections. In so many states, the youth voter turn out tripled, and even quadrupled in Tennessee. The upsurge has been for the most part from the ground upmeaning that no one organization can really take credit for what is happening, and no concrete national formation seems to have developed as of yet.
This is the spontaneous element that qualifies it as an upsurge.
An overwhelming majority of these young people cast their vote for Barack Obama, organized loosely through the Obama Campaign, temporary campus formations usually called Students for Obama, and through neighborhood mobilization efforts.
The Obama Campaigns use of internet tactics also drew in younger demographics across racial lines. These practices allow for faster list generation for phone calls and neighborhood walks, materials that could be downloaded and up-to-the-minute information about campaign activities and events.
But characterizing the upsurge as spontaneous alone does not paint a complete picture. It was caused by a combination of 3 interconnected conditions.
The first condition rests in the amount of resources that the non-profit foundation world put into youth voter mobilization in 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2006. This gave life to the original Youth Vote 2000 coalition and eventually the League of Young Voters. All were able to aggressively mobilize youth into the electoral arena, funding young people to register and turn out youth voters in target districts.
Obviously, youth along with other generations have been inspired by the selection of candidates and the sense that this 2008 election will be historic regardless of the outcome. Everyone wants to be a part of history in some way, and Obama in particular seems to be galvanizing a vision for historic change.
But the Democratic candidates are also capitalizing on a historic climate shift in the youth movementa generation pushed to the edge of revolt by the war in Iraq, lack of quality education, and over all economic insecurity.
This final condition, the insecurity of people under the age of 30 is the most significant factor in the recent upsurge.
The status of American youth is worse than it has been in decades.
With the continued erosion of workers rights to form and join unions, young workers remain the least likely to be in a union at below 5%. Young people often get stuck in temporary, dead-end employment that requires them to take on multiple jobs in order to support their families and/or their education.
Federal Aid to attend college is at an all time low, forcing many to go straight into the temporary job market after high school.
Last year, Pell Grants, a federal grant given each year to over 5 million students with family incomes of $40,000 or less, only covered on average one third of the cost of a 4-year public university. Even on the tails of a current Congressional debate about increasing the Pell Grant, some are worried that the increase, expected to rise up to $4600 per year, may be too little too late.
And young people, particularly young people of color and working class youth, suffer most from the on-going war in Iraqboth with our lives and our livelihoods.
All of these things just begin to scratch the surface. They are in many ways a part of why youth have unstable housing in the declining economy, the lack of healthcare, and increasing prison populations of Black and Latino youth.
In this context, the youth upsurge is a consequence of efforts made in the past decade combined with the overarching youth insecurity and precariousness that exists during this election.
Status of Youth Organizations
It is important to note that this surge has not taken on a strong organizational form nationally. In looking at the status of national youth organizations, you will see a situation in transition.
This does not cast a dark shadow on the before mentioned developments. And it will actually explain why the YCLs approach to engaging in the elections and strengthening the youth movement is so different this year.
In 2004 there were a massive amount of youth voter organizations popping up seemingly out of no where. There was Rap the Vote, P-Diddys response to Rock the Vote that had been started earlier on. There was the initiation of the League of Young Voters.
Non-profit funding poured in from every direction for groups like Black Youth Vote and the US Student Association to have extensive on-ground voter mobilization operations. It seemed like everyone had some kind of youth voter infrastructure. This continued a bit in 2006, with more Congressionally targeted races.
But, national non-profit foundations are fickle. And as the interest of top dollar philanthropists shifted away from youth voter mobilization on to the next happenin constituency group, so did the money that funded a lot of the groups I just noted. Money just dried up! And many of these organizations, though still active on other issues and programs, were forced to shrink their youth voter mobilization programs.
One positive consequence of this is the Generation Vote coalition, which has allowed many youth organizations to come together to develop statewide tables for elections work where they have members. Later in the report, Ill note how the YCL is able to be a part of this.
Youth organizations in the peace movement are struggling. The Student Peace Action Network, which at one point was the primary national formation campus peace organizations connected with, barely has a base anymore. The Campus Anti-War Network, or CAN, which had replaced SPAN for a while, is now relatively inactive except for on some campuses. And little has been heard from SDS, which was championed as such a force from many Leftists less than a year ago.
The YCL made the strategic decision to push the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition to re-focus on garnering broad-based support for peace initiatives from groups that do not focus primarily on peace when opportunities arisea shift from its previous attempts to serve more as the primary voice of youth on peace issues. This change is not as dramatic as it may seem. The original intent behind the creation of the coalition in 2001 was to do just this.
None of these developments automatically indicate that there isnt an organized peace movement on campuses nationwide. Very rare do we come across a university campus that doesnt have an anti-war group of some kind. And many of these groups have been active for years, at least since September 11th.
Likewise, and movement-wide, recognizing the lack of national organization in the youth movement does not automatically infer that the youth movement is un-organized. Rather, we are witnessing a period of widespread local activity and organization where the youth involved have little to no relationship with a national network.
The increase in local youth organization combined with the varied transitions in stable national youth organization presents its own challenges and possibilities for strengthening youth action over allbringing us to another battlefield in the ideological debates of movement building.
In some circles, a negative trend is developing where national organizing is seen as bureaucratic, irrelevant, or worseundemocratic, with only local, community or campus groups being seen as real movement building.
Much of this is based in a valid frustration with national non-profit organizations that claim to speak for youth without having a real connection to any base of young people whatsoever. But it is still a dangerous trend, as we all recognize the importance of coordinating actions to move a national agenda. We came head-to-head with this trend most potently within the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition, where some member groups insisted that the coalition develop its own membership base separate from the membership bases of the organizations involved in order to engage the coalition in real organizing. Those proposing this either lacked an organizational base of their own, or failed to see the relationship between a responsive national leadership and local organizations.
On the education front, the US Student Association, had seen nearly 2 decades of membership decline after an aggressive judicial campaign by the Ultra-Right that attacked student fee autonomy. Student fee autonomy is defined as the ability of students to determine how to allocate their student fees. After an exhausting fight back effort, USSA is now beginning to stabilize their membership base and outline potential expansion plans again.
USSA is funded almost entirely by student fees. So, for example, a university may run a referendum during campus student government elections saying that $1 per student would go to USSA, and students would vote on it in order to have their school join.
Despite the youth upsurge and national student movements turn-around, some have sharply criticized our generation as lazy and apathetic, citing the decline in campus organizing as proof.
The American Prospect magazine published an article by Courtney Martin this past November entitled The Problem with Youth Activism. It claimed most pompously that Students seem to join sanctioned, existing clubs, rather than launch their own radical actions, without much resistance or critical questioning. It goes on to claim that students are not interested in real action, but only resum building.
The article grossly overlooks the change in the student demographic, let alone a change in tactics. Working class youth are becoming much more the minority on college campusesoften being relegated to community and/or junior colleges.
Some incorrectly translate the new demands on young people, having multiple jobs, going to school, raising familiesas apathy.
Campus Progress, an on-line youth publication published a spirited rebuttal to Martins sentiments in a piece by Tim Fernholz which notes Martins first mistake is to restrict her view of young people to those who attend universitiesthe ones she has met.  only 21 percent of all 18-29 year-olds currently attend college; even fewer are enrolled at the elite institutions at which Martin speaks.
This fails to recognize that the young people that do make it to college are often forced to work multiple jobs and still take out student loans to stay afloat. According to the Project on Student Debt, over two thirds of students graduating from 4-year universities will have debt, a statistic that, over a decade ago, was less than one half.
Its difficult to be active when so focused on everyday survival. Knowing youth in this state of existing makes it easy to understand why so many feel they will benefit so potently from a defeat of the Ultra-right in the 2008 elections.
Of course youth are getting active in these elections! And we should encourage this through whatever formation it may takebe it Students for Obama, a Youth Voter Collective, or the Young Communist League.
Campus Progress goes on to accurately note that despite the new difficulties facing young people, youth activism has actually increased, citing on-line activism and increased youth participation in the electoral arena as examples.
Student groups that focus primarily on economic justice and labor, including the Student Labor Action Project, the United Students Against Sweatshops, the Student Farmworker Alliance, etc are active on various campaigns.
Few of these campaigns seem to be as nationally unifying as the anti-sweatshops and anti-globalization campaigns that swept the country at the founding of USAS years ago. The last one that came relatively close was the Student Farmworker Alliances solidarity boycott of Taco Bell with the Immokolee workers in Florida.
But these groups remain active, and were united for the 2008 Student-Labor Week of Action, called by the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP) March 29 through April 4th. The YCL engages with these groups through the Student Economic Justice Action Coalitionled by SLAP, and several YCLers participated in local actions last week.
Exciting are the developments to unify local organizations and union locals that engage in (or want to engage in) organizing young workers. The key to success for this potential surge around young worker mobilization will be the ability and desire for young workers to take it on as their own. Many labor leaders recognize that this is one of the main reasons past attempts to organize young workers have failedbecause they were not organized by young workers. I will discuss our efforts within the YCL to help in this process in a moment.
I would expect Ultra-left youth organizations to be a part of calling for demonstrations at the DNC and possibly the RNCsuch as FISTs Re-create 68 action at the DNC. But I wouldnt expect more than that right now, and I definitely dont see these types of events drawing much of a turn out. I dont see them gravitating towards Nader or any other independent candidate. At this point, they seem relatively isolated while everyone focuses on the elections.
Issues Youth Care About
When possible, youth are becoming more and more active and involved in issues we care about.
According to a poll by the New Voters Project, the issues youth most prioritize in the 2008 elections are global warming, college affordability, healthcare and financial security. Other popular youth publications such as Campus Progress and Wiretap indicate a strong interest in fighting student debt.
Look for debt, in general, access to education, and jobs as the primary issues uniting the youth movement after the 2008 elections. The war in Iraq will most likely top the discussion early in the year. I would expect to see either a new set of organizations and coalitions arising around these issues or new life given to existing groups that have sense been dormant.
As always, we have to keep our ears to the ground to ensure we are engaging youth in these rapid developments.
If we are able to elect a new Congress and President in 2008 and some of the current burdens youth face are lifted, we should expect to see and expect to struggle for an increase in youth activity, locally and nationally, both within organizations and around other, more spontaneous, formations.
In this post-election period, it will be our continued role to maintain unity within the movement, focusing ourselves on unifying issues and continuing to drive forward. There will be challenges to unity at every front, and it is our responsibility to ward them off in order to maintain a climate that mandates change in the new government.
ROLE OF THE YCL
The YCL is a part of this youth upsurge, and our clubs are growing steadily member-by-member. We have 17 active YCL clubs, mostly in urban centers but also on some campuses and in rural settings.
The YCL is moving into a new stage of organizational development. We are growing, and need to create the infrastructure to sustain a much larger organization. While we were small, it was okay to focus our work primarily around building coalitions and inserting our approach into broader discussions. Now, we have to both do that AND initiate our own independent programming.
Communists are known for repeating, A body in motion, stays in motion. We have to keep the youth movement moving where it is stagnant, and create movement where there is none. We cannot ONLY jump on board another groups campaign, nationally or locally. We have to initiate our own projects and campaigns to bring more youth into the struggle.
Where nothing exists, we might build a Youth Voter Collective to engage more young people in the elections. Where there is a loose formation, YCL clubs should jump on board. For example, YCLers at Michigan State University are getting on the bus to Pennsylvania this month with the Students for Obama campaign. This is an example of YCLers keeping the youth movement in motion! We have a unique role to play. We can bring youth together from so many different backgrounds in a way that no other organization can. We have the flexibility to take initiatives within the youth movement where the Party cant.
With the guidance of the Party, we have a special approach. Our efforts will provide a stabilizing and unifying foundation for more advanced demands.
This is where the impetus for the Youth Voter Collective and the Young Workers Collective are based.
At our last National Council meeting, we knew that the 2008 elections would be our priority this year. We presented some brief ideas of how to do this, mainly through coalition workbut did not over-specify. This left us open to shifting to meet the new demands of the youth voter upsurge.
The Youth Voter Collective is an organization of youth activists from across the country that mobilizes youth and college students to participate in the elections process, as well as garnering a united vision for a youth agenda in the post-election period.
We helped to found the YVC in December of 2007, after determining that the national youth organizations that, in the past, had coordinated local efforts to register and mobilize youth were not going to be able to do put in the same amount of resources for the 2008 elections.
When our usual youth voter coalition allies were slow in mobilizing due to a wide range of reasons from lack of resources to lack of motivation, our clubs decided to step up to the challenge in developing local youth voter collectives. These collectives, in many cases led by YCLers, allow us to mobilize young people where they are, having direct face-to-face contact with more youth who want to participate in what is bound to be a historic era.
To be clear, this is not a substitute for YCL clubs engaging in voter registration and mobilization. Where feasible, YCL clubs may do the work just as well.
At times we may be called on to engage directly with a campaign. At other times, we may need to register and mobilize young voters in general. Clubs can collectively decide what is more appropriate at any given moment given the circumstances in that area.
We are going to spend a great deal of time this afternoon discussing the Summer Youth Elections Camp that the YCL is organizing with the Youth Voter Collective in July. This will be an excellent opportunity for us to train those who are new to elections organizing, while contributing to a campaign friendly to the YCL in Missouri.
Just last year, the idea of helping to build a Young Workers Collective, when raised at our National Council meeting, seemed too ambitious. We even modified it in our 2008 Plan of Work to say we would simply research what was possiblewithout taking much action.
But again, the objective conditions demonstrated a need for far more than research, and we have been launched into the middle of new developments from within the labor and allied movement to organize young workers.
Now there is at least one functioning Young Worker Collective in Chicago led by YCLers, but open to non-members. And we hope to help develop collectives in San Jose and one other city before the end of the year.
Young Workers Collectives are supposed to provide a space for organized and un-organized young workers to discuss their role in the labor movement, interact with area labor leaders, and provide a forum for future young worker organizing within local unions and the labor movement over all.
These organizations are independent of the YCL, though we play an active role in participating and in many cases leading. These groups link us more directly to mass struggle, and some of the members involved may eventually go on to join the YCL.
Consider, for example, the role of YCLers that helped to found the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP) or the Southern Negro Youth Congressjust to take a step back in history. Young communists were among the founders and initiators.
None of this is to say that the YCL is adopting an approach of not working with our mass allies. We are not isolationist, nor are we abandoning our dedication to coalition building. Coalitions are an absolute necessity in building a united youth movement. In fact, both of the collectives just discussed also have heavy coalition components.
To be concrete, the YVC is allowing young communists to participate in the Generation Vote coalition where we were not permitted to participate directly as the YCL. Many non-profit youth organizations worried that inviting young communists would be too biased in the absence of right-wing youth groups and would hurt their ability to get funding.
However, the Youth Voter Collective was introduced into membership of the coalition. The YCL is now able to play a role in that coalition as a part of the Youth Voter Collectivewhere we were not before.
Likewise, the Young Workers Collective and the Student Labor Action Project were successfully able to call a national strategy session for organizations and trade unions that organized young workers hosted by Jobs with Justice at their national conference this May in Providence, Rhode Island. Young communists are able to participate as members of the Young Workers Collective, where we may not have been able to participate before.
The YCL national leadership did not think this would be possible so soon. But the demand from other organizations for someone to do something was too great, and we were able to rise to the challenge.
All this demonstrates how our approach within the YCL has not simply changed, but advanced. We have developed our coalition model to be more comprehensive and more connected to the work we are doing on the local level.
YCL clubs are excited because they have concrete tools to develop local action. Helping to build these collectives gives some clubs a focused program, reach out to area youth, and through the Youth Bill of Rights, begin pushing for more advanced demands based on local issues impacting young people.
People join when they see us in action, and this has nearly all of our club leaders excited! On our most recent Membership Committee conference call, the first after nearly 2 years, 14 of our 17 clubs were represented. This alone indicates that we are moving in the right direction.
Just like we have not turned away from coalition-building, we do not believe we alone are the enlightened ones who must lead the ignorant masses to glory. Our understanding of our role lays emphasis on our actions. We lead by fighting side-by-side with others in the struggle for peace, jobs and education. We lead by recognizing the issues mobilizing the largest numbers of young people in our country and in our neighborhoods, and helping identify unifying demands and ways to act on them. We do not lead by talking about socialism, and we dont lead simply by handing out another piece of literature in the back of a crowded room.
Does that mean we never do these things?
Of course not. But we have a much bigger role to play.
Our clubs are based primarily in large cities or on or near a campus, with the city-wide clubs having larger memberships and more advanced structures (like exec committees). Men make up 60% of the membership, with women at 39%. We have a balance of youth of color and white youth, and we have about the same amount of college students as we do young workers. Our base among high school students does not trail that far behind.
In building our clubs, we have a scientific approach to recruiting and retaining members; developing club leaders at our schools and mobilization activities, having a special, more attentive relationship with new clubs, and keeping existing clubs engaged in every level of our work.
We have a solid leadership development model that actually maps out the general activities desired for someone that has just joined versus someone that has been around for a while.
One area that we are trying to strengthen is to transition more YCLers into the Communist Party. We have discussed potential programs with the New York District, such as a reading group for older youth, that we may be able to develop in other Districts as well. This is something we will have to devote more time to flushing out.
Nevertheless, our clubs are of course the building blocks of our great organization. When members join or build a club, they are far more likely to stay around and become active than those who join as individuals.
Imagine if every member of every club recruited just 1 person to the YCL this year! That alone would double our size, and that is the basis for our membership drive this year. 1 Member: 1 Recruit.
Of course clubs collectively recruit new members. Yes, it is the clubs that are responsible for membership development and engagement. But everyone is responsible for introducing new youth to the YCL. We cannot rely too heavily on the vague collective to do it. All of us, as individuals, must bring new people into our collectives; into our clubs.
From the national office, we are doing our part to identify new and potential clubs in our expansion plans. In the first 2 months of 2008, we have already developed new YCL clubs in Montana, New Haven and now at Michigan State University. We have potential clubs in San Antonio, Los Angeles and San Diegoall in need of identified strong leadership in order to really pull things together.
Although all staff and leaders are responsible for YCL growth, we would be remiss not to mention the impact Docia has had in coming on board as membership coordinator.
Already we have workshops and video presentations specific to helping new club leaders build a strong collective. We have an approach to stronger clubs, focusing more on leadership development and increased actions on the local level. We have an approach to building YCL unity and a unique YCL identity through specific trips like our delegations to Cuba with the Venceremos Brigade and our eventual contingent to Belarus for the 17th World Festival of Youth and Students.
I say all of this because we feel we have done and are currently doing a lot in order to meet the demands, and help our allies meet the demands, of the new youth upsurge. But we have a long way to go.
We will never be the same after this experience.
In fact, one day we will be the old comrades in the corner, telling stories about the glory days of our movement, of the growth of the YCL and of the Communist Party.
Radical Ideas. Real Politics.
Articles » UNITY & THE STRUGGLE OF POLITICS
UNITY & THE STRUGGLE OF POLITICS
Erica Smiley's Bi-Annual Report to the National Council
April 12-13, 2008; Chicago, IL