In 1830, The Industrial Revolution was in full swing, spreading from Great Britain and other parts of Europe to the United States of America. It was a time when factory workers were growing poorer, as factory owners accumulated more and more wealth. This was a time when capitalism continued to evolve, and people had begun to despise it. A new word was increasing in popularity, as men like Robert Owen and Charles Fourier, along with many people in the American working class, started to talk about an alternative to capitalism. The word was socialism. Today, there is a large handful of teenagers at Berkeley High School (BHS) who have read the works of socialist activists and have come to support the theory.
Ellery Hoffman, a junior in Academic Choice (AC) and a self-identifying socialist, said, “Socialism, in its base form, is taking away the power from the people who have the most capital … and putting it back into the working class.”
This process would mean that the people who build our cities and our means of production have ownership over the things they build. “Take the power away from the few and into the many,” Hoffman said.
Socialism has been linked to many different political and economic systems throughout history, which is part of the reason why people have strong and divisive opinions about it. Socialists today believe that all of the issues in the world — such as climate change, mass incarceration, and poverty — can be traced back as a direct result of capitalist structures. This theory appeals to many young people around the world who have begun to understand just how important it is to rethink how we live.
Raven Fonseca Jensen and Talia McMahon, two juniors in AC, are the founders of the new Youth Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) at BHS, which is a chapter of the youth sector of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). McMahon said to the Jacket, “I was learning more about socialism and leftism and how that kind of intersects with community organizing and activism, so I wanted to make a community of leftists at BHS.”
Medina Lam, a sophomore in AC, sees YDSA as a way to become more involved and informed in the process of change. Lam said, “This year specifically, I’ve been getting more into politics on a local level, and so it seemed like a really good opportunity to learn more about politics and activism.”
So far, YDSA meetings have consisted of reading the works of different radical liberals, such as Angela Davis. McMahon said, “We usually do some kind of political theory or some kind of reading, and then we discuss … our thoughts.” She also emphasized that the club welcomes anyone who is curious. “The club is for everyone; you don’t have to be a communist or know anything about political theory … we want everyone to come.”
McMahon also discussed the importance of diversity within YDSA. “There is an issue in leftist spaces where white voices are largely promoted, especially in the larger organization of DSA. We are gonna try to recruit all kinds of people at [BHS]”
Members are passionate about different social justice issues, which is part of the reason they wanted to join YDSA. Lam said, “What is at the heart of my activism is climate justice. Getting involved with the YDSA and other groups at BHS is a really good place to start looking for ways to solve issues like climate change.”
Hoffman sees mass incarceration and the flawed prison system as a capitalist issue. According to him, “The prison industrial complex … profits off of how many people are in their jails, and they also get free labor from it. Prison labor is a terrible thing that is going on, that’s just basically budget slavery.”
YDSA is dedicated to educating students who otherwise might not learn about political theories. Theory can be hard to approach for young people due to dense language and inaccessibility. “Political education is something that everybody needs so that they can make decisions for themselves and know why they believe what they believe,” said Hoffman.
The YDSA at BHS is also campaigning to make Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) tests free. They strongly believe that education should be more accessible to all students. According to McMahon, “We are trying to pay for AP/IB testing for as many people as we can. We’re in the process of applying for some grants through the Berkeley High School Development Group (BHSDG).”
At first glance, this campaign might not seem related to socialism, but Hoffman explained how it is. “AP and IB tests cost a lot, [which is] an example of how the capitalist system works. It’s a test that is generally needed for higher education … and the people who take those tests are going to get a leg up,” said Hoffman. “It’s another way that our whole society wants to systematically keep the lower class in the lower class … This is a little, small thing that we hope to accomplish so that people can get into the college of their choice.”
In the future, YDSA hopes to continue to educate BHS students, as well as change policies at BHS and beyond to lift up the working class. Socialism and its persistence in countries across the globe show its lasting appeal to many. For young socialists at BHS, socialism holds a promise of a more equal and just society.
Disclaimer: Raven Fonseca Jensen is a Jacket editor.