Young Democratic Socialists of America hold strong presence on campus

The Young Democratic Socialists of America hold a strong presence at the University as they propose radical and structural changes through activism.

Photo Courtesy of YDSA

The Young Democratic Socialists of America hold a strong presence at the University as they propose radical and structural changes through activism.

By Aidan Finn, Staff Writer

On the occasional stroll past the Illini Union, the concert walkway on the building’s south entrance has been the scene of various student protests, organizational fundraisers and even Taiwanese dance demonstrations. Every so often students will pass a little red table, situated in the center of the walkway with Bernie Sanders flyers and petitions in tow. This group is the UIUC YDSA, a chapter of Young Democratic Socialists of America.

The YDSA is a nationwide political activism group affiliated with several colleges across America. Their mission is to fight for the immediate needs of workers and students while proposing radical and structural changes through activism.

The group collaborates with labor campaigns to organize student workers, defend immigrant rights and various other ventures from anti-poverty activism and discussion on reducing fossil fuel investments.

In the Champaign-Urbana area, the University chapter sports more than 50+ active members and hundreds of social media followers. The team has embarked on various similar initiatives to support their political cause, including a recent venture on Support for Workforce Training.

Niko Johnson-Fuller, sophomore in LAS, is the acting co-chair of the University chapter and participated in a routine quad-table outreach with fellow YDSA members. He elaborated on the group’s mission.

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    “Standing up for those who are most marginalized,” Johnson-Fuller said. “The most marginalized, whether that be through racial discrimination, low incomes, class discrimination, gender discrimination and any other forms of inequality.”

    Johnson-Fuller made note of the group’s recent efforts on the Support for Workforce Training movement. SWFT is a program that aims to provide job training in high-demand areas like IT, construction and health care — all positions with high-paying wages. Johnson-Fuller argued that the cities of Champaign and Urbana should contribute funds delivered to them through the American Rescue Plan, a funding program made in response to the pandemic outbreak and resulting economic loss, to SWFT’s funding.

    “It will help improve the financial situation of Urbana-Champaign,” Johnson-Fuller said. “Use the money that was received from this American Rescue Plan positively, investing in the community and improving the lives of people in it.”

    The team constructed open letters and hopes to spread awareness of the cause by campaigning in the middle of the Main Quad.

    The UIUC YDSA is made up of students from various walks of life. Lexi Vogel, senior in Media, described what brought her to join such a political organization and the commitment a political group has on student life.

    “I’m naturally pretty politically oriented,” Vogel said. “I wanted to do more activism in our community and get involved. I attended a YDSA meeting, and they had a bunch of different campaigns I could join or even start myself.”

    Vogel went on to detail how being a part of the massive organization has played out and the commitment needed to get involved in a student organization of such affiliation.

    “It’s been kind of heavy because I wanted to be involved, so I give away 15 hours a week, each week probably,” Vogel said. “It’s like another job, but I love it.”

    The social nature of the organization was a compelling element for Vogel, providing new friends and making the workload more manageable.

    Manny Stewart, freshman in LAS, helped participate in the quad outreach and described his desire to get involved and what it meant to him.

    “Honestly, I thought it looked like a cool club,” Stewart said. “I saw some Bernie signs and thought they were my people. Decided to go and flock to them, and I never regretted the decision.”

    Stewart is studying political science, and his work in academics falls in line with what the group participates in, making his commitment to such feel seamless.

    “You can commit as much as you want here,” Stewart said. “I met a lot of cool people here, so it’s pretty cool.”

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