Socialist Alternative brings political passion to campus

by Kyle Labe / Beacon Correspondent • September 28, 2016

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spreading knowledge about the socialist movement
courtesy of Michael Vitz-Wong
spreading knowledge about the socialist movement
courtesy of Michael Vitz-Wong
The term “socialism,” makes many people think of George Orwell’s 1984, and the fears of Big Brother and Room 101. So, when coming across flyers for the Socialist Alternative plastered throughout campus, one can only imagine that many students have misunderstandings about the group.
 
The Socialist Alternative is an international organization that has found its way into Emerson’s Walker Building. This organization seeks to fight against the struggles of racism, sexism, homophobia, student debt, climate change, and other forms of what they believe to be capitalist exploitation. By having meetings on campuses across the country, they campaign toward a mass radicalization of young people, hoping to carry the momentum garnered from Bernie Sanders and democratic socialism, which Socialist Alternative bases its foundation on. 
 
The Socialist Alternative is a member of Committee for a Worker’s International, an association of Trotskyist parties, the ideology from the time of Stalin, across 45 countries. They release a print newsletter, organize campaigns, and plan events to advocate their cause.
 
Senior visual and media arts major Michael Vitz-Wong champions the Socialist Alternative at Emerson College.
 
“Movements are only as powerful as the people in it,” he said at the opening of a meeting last Thursday. He went on to describe how he came upon the organization, and how he identified with its message of global opportunity.
 
The meeting was open to the general public, with most of the audience composed of Emerson students. People from Northeastern, University of Massachusetts at Boston, and others were also in attendance. 
 
It had a simple structure, beginning with a speaker that led a discussion lasting roughly an hour. Albeit centering largely around the upcoming election, the discussion also touched on other topics, including the environment, imperialism, minimum wage, taxes, police force, and privatization, amongst other topics.
 
The speaker invited to the meeting was local Black Lives Matter activist and 15 Now organizer Toya Chester. 15 Now is a group in Boston that fights for a $15/hour minimum wage, which, earlier this year, assembled and marched in a rally at the Massachusetts State House.
 
Chester spoke of her path to “radicalization,” from protesting at the Climate March in Washington D.C., to rallying behind a mass vote for Jill Stein of the Green Party. 
 
“Change starts with small meetings like this. Start making change now,” Chester said to the crowd, iterating a metaphor concerning the difference of impact between a fist with fingers spread apart, and of that balled together.
 
Socialist Alternative was founded in the late ‘80s as the Labor Militant. They were active in the anti-globalization movement of the late ‘90s, and later began the Youth Against War and Racism organization to protest against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
 
Garnering popularity in Seattle, Washington, Socialist Alternative spearheaded the 2013 election of Kshama Sawant to City Council, making her the first public socialist to win a city-wide election. As a result of the group’s activism, the city’s minimum wage was raised to $15, and other major cities soon followed their lead. They also marched in the Million Student March of 2015, a student protest against high tuition fees.
 
In Boston, the Socialist Alternative’s most recent drive is a fight against the budget cuts at UMass. They also hope to later hold a mass protest against the blatant racism and bigotry of the Donald Trump campaign.
 
Sam Davis is a freshman journalism major at Emerson whose involvement with the Youth and Government program at his high school piqued his interest with the SA.
 
“A lot of people I spent time with in high school were completely on the opposite side of the political spectrum, like libertarianism,” he said, “[The meeting] was a nice chance to see the other side.”
 
At Emerson, Vitz-Wong hopes to bring attention to more than just the Socialist Alternative. Socialist Students is his recent endeavor, a newly-formed alternative to the sometimes daunting Socialist Alternative.
 
“This being my senior year, I’ve watched [Socialist Alternative] quadruple in its membership,” he said, “But with Socialist Students, I hope it becomes a more accessible platform to unite students from across campuses to express their political rage.”
 
He had no further comment on Socialist Students, nor information on it reaching club status at Emerson.
 
“2016 is the year of potential,” Vitz-Wong said, “There is much more opportunity, and the Bernie Sanders momentum will carry on. We plan to organize the country against oppression, and nobody will fight but ourselves. I urge everyone to join the Socialist Alternative. What better time than now, and where better than here?”