This was originally published in New Ground 59, July — August, 1998.
by Bob Roman, Charity Crouse and Joan Axthelm
From May 28 through May 31, the University of Chicago Youth Section chapter of DSA played host to more than sixty delegates from the International Union of Socialist Youth (IUSY). The first two days of the event were devoted to a meeting of the American Committee of IUSY. Like most such meetings, its main utility was not so much in formal resolutions and organizational policy as in the exchange of ideas, experience and political information that takes place as a part of both the formal and informal proceedings. Given that the affiliates of the IUSY are the youth groups of the major left parties in their respective countries, there was probably at least one future prime minister at the meeting.
Arguing with the Right
One of the highlights of the week was a left-right debate on Thursday evening. Intended partly as an outreach to the UofC student community and partly as an exercise, nearly a hundred students crowded into the Ida Noyes library to watch Lisa Pelling, IUSY Secretary General from Sweden, and DSA Youth Section International Chair Daraka Larimore-Hall defend the affirmative of “Does Socialism Have a Future?” against a representative from the University of Chicago College Republicans and a representative from The Criterion. A severe ideological arsenal from the left was not called for, as the right thoroughly buried itself without any assistance from the socialists, but the University of Chicago’s Ida Noyes Hall resounded with the applause of many as the left challenged the right’s notions of equality in a capitalist system that thrives on disparity.
Globalization for the Rest of Us
Saturday and Sunday were devoted to an ambitious conference, “Globalization from Below”. The conference was held at the University of Chicago’s Biological Sciences Learning Center and it was cosponsored by the DSA Youth Section, IUSY, European Community Organization of Socialist Youth (ECOSY), and Progressive Challenge. The stated goals of the conference were to bring together progressives from all over the world and from many generations to talk about globalization; to help draw clear distinctions between their idea of internationalism and ours; to increase the public’s awareness of the connections between their lives and lives of people in other countries. Some 150 people registered for the conference, though many just sampled portions of it.
The conference format was the usual mix of plenaries and workshops, with the usual mix of strengths and weaknesses that such a format is prone to. Among the better plenaries were “Immigration and Organizing” on Saturday and “Global Unionism” on Sunday as both had speakers of particular interest.
Hector Torres, of the Latin Kings and Queens, spoke at the plenary on “Immigration and Organizing”. He spoke mostly about how what had been a street gang turned away from crime and toward political and community organizing with consequent increased problems with the police. Lefty gangs may be unusual today, but politicized gangs are not a new phenomenon, an early example in Chicago being Mayor Daley the Elder’s Hamburger Social and Athletic Club. They were not at all unusual during the 60s, when the ideology du jour was various forms of marxism-leninism. Mr. Torres’ presence brought to the conference several Hispanic students from the Chicago City College system. They reacted with enthusiasm to what he was doing in New York and with skepticism about its possibility in Chicago.
Elaine Bernard, of the Harvard Trade Union Education Project, spoke at the “Global Unionism” plenary. If you’ve never heard Ms. Bernard speak, you should take advantage of your next opportunity. She sounds a bit like Julia Child, but instead of recipes for French cuisine she provides, well, recipes for a union movement. Articulate, full of ideas and very much in touch with what seems to be working and what is not, Elaine Bernard’s presentation was quite the feast.
The workshops and training sessions at the conference might have been average for a conference but for the international participation. In this respect, participants from outside the States may have gained the most; U.S. politics often seems inscrutable to those outside of it. The workshops provided them with an in depth look at various aspects of it.
Organizing as Education
For members of UofC DSA, the conference provided exceptional experience in the behind the scenes aspects of organizing a large-scale event. Along with illustrating the necessity of proper outreach to national and local activists, the conference taught the imperative of respecting the democratic process in organizing and executing any sort of event.
Though most of the members of UofC DSA were preoccupied with the exhausting and mundane duties of administration, the conference was a great opportunity to expand one’s sights beyond one’s own borders and to truly challenge one’s ideas of socialism and solidarity. Few moments can compare with witnessing fifty Latin American socialists singing Spanish labor songs in chorus aboard the CTA train, or seeing people visiting America for the first time communicating whole heartedly with Chicagoans whose language many UofC DSA members cannot speak. If nothing else, the conference both forced us to re-evaluate our perceptions of ourselves as socialists in America and reminded us just how much about the world, our own homes and each other we still have to learn.
Some Next Steps
The range of youth leadership brought together by the Globalization from Below conference made it an ideal opportunity to discuss the creation of an “EU of the Americas”. In a meeting held after the Conference officially ended, representatives of the MERCOSUR countries, ECOSYS, the United States discussed how an open dialog between our countries is important as our economies become global. In order to begin and to further facilitate a dialog between the countries of the Americas, it was decided that a representative from ECOSYS, the Mexican PRD, and DSA (our own Daraka Larimore-Hall) would create a publication that would facilitate the exchange of experiences and ideas concerning the world economy. This publication would then be discussed at the next American Committee meeting of IUSY.