June 17, 2019 | 78° F

Democratic Socialists chapter holds first post-election meeting at Rutgers

Photo by Dimitri Rodriguez |

In their meeting on Saturday, the Central New Jersey chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America discussed Sanctuary protests, President Donald J. Trump's executive orders and plans for moving forward.

On Jan. 28, the Central New Jersey Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) held their first meeting since the presidential election.

The DSA was founded as a branch of the Socialist Party of America when it merged with an organization from the Students for a Democratic Society and the New Left in 1982, he said. The DSA is not a political party, but a non-profit, social welfare organization.

As a multi-tendency organization, many of the members hold different definitions of socialism, but they share the common goal of functioning as democratically as possible, he said. Socialism is the fullest realization of democratic values.

Since the election of President Donald J. Trump, the organization has grown from 6,000 to 15,000 nationwide members, Alper said. Networks have formed through the Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) campaign and campaigns for a minimum wage increase, he said. The focus of the meeting and the DSA’s most current project is the "sanctuary campus" and "sanctuary city" movement.

Christopher Bowe is chair of the Central New Jersey DSA. Their main goal is to emerge as the opposition front to Trump, he said.

“Our role as a national organization is to create (a) historic contrast between neoliberalism that has failed and just lost this election and defeating the more fascist elements of Trumpism,” Bowe said. 

The sanctuary movement is both defensive and offensive in that it aims to protect people while also finding opportunities to expand into campaigns for universal health care, paid sick leave and wage increases, he said.

José Sanchez, a Rutgers Class of 2016 graduate, gave a presentation on the sanctuary campus movement at the University. Sanchez was involved in the sanctuary march at Rutgers that took place the week after the election.

Being a sanctuary campus means the administration at a college or university campus will not turn in undocumented students and will protect their privacy and pursuit of an education, Sanchez said. 

The march was a success both with pro- and anti-Trump students participating, Sanchez said. There was a CNN live stream of the march, coverage by the Star Ledger and Spanish-language media.

Rutgers has since adopted policies that are generally present in a sanctuary campus to protect undocumented students, Sanchez said. Such policies include not allowing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents onto campus without a warrant, refusing to share information on student's’ citizenship status with ICE agents and refusing to collect such information in the first place..

University President Robert L. Barchi recently sent a letter to the Rutgers community calling upon students to advocate for the protection of undocumented students. While Barchi said Rutgers University would be a “safe haven for immigrant students,” he has stopped short of calling it a sanctuary campus, Sanchez said.

Students’ rights organizations across the country have organized national days of action in support of sanctuary campuses, he said. 

This is a pressing issue at universities because there are estimates of 200,000 to 225,000 undocumented students across the country, he said. 

"This is a large population of educated (and) skilled people who face deportation," Sanchez said.

Stanford and Rutgers University were the first universities to support the movement, Sanchez said. Rutgers students who support the movement have been urging Barchi to refer to the university as a sanctuary campus outright, as a demonstration of solidarity with students and defiance of anti-immigration federal policies being rolled out.

Sanctuary is at the heart of the DSA, said Russell Weiss-Irwin, an organizer for the Central New Jersey DSA. Their current mission is to fight back against the current federal administration on matters concerning immigration.

Beyond sanctuary campuses, the Central New Jersey DSA is focusing on organizing support for sanctuary counties in New Jersey, Irwin said. Incarceration happens at the county level, so the ways counties decide to enforce immigration law are decisive to the security of undocumented immigrants residing in New Jersey.

The DSA plans to organize counties by targeting county freeholders, who pass laws by majority vote and county executives, who decide how county laws are enforced, Irwin said. 

"They will canvass counties to build resident support to pressure executives and freeholders to protect undocumented residents," he said.

Irwin then led a canvassing workshop, demonstrating how a canvassing interaction might proceed and best practices for building support.

Nicky Steidel, co-chair for a newly founded branch of the Young Democratic Socialists of Princeton University (YDS), was also present, and hopes students might take on the cause of starting a Rutgers University branch of the YDS.

“The government right now is unilaterally right-wing, so there really is an attack on all fronts here so the only hope, given that the federal government is like that, is local organizing,” Steidel said. 

Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber has enforced some of the legal aspects of sanctuary campus but also refuted the idea of being a sanctuary campus, so Steidel hopes to organize YDS to push Eisgruber to explicitly use the term sanctuary campus, he said.

“A lot of our organizing right now is more reactive than proactive simply because every day there’s new things that happen that warrant a response,” Steidel said. 

Princeton is currently suing the state of New Jersey to lower the amount of required affordable housing units, and the YDS is trying to pressure the municipal council to reverse that decision, he said. 

“That ties into all sorts of issues. Obviously, it’s an economic justice issue but also racial justice, that's how racial segregation continues to be maintained in society all over the place,” he said.

Gabriela Amaral is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in political science. She is a staff writer for The Daily Targum. See more on Twitter @sentientfog

Gabriela Amaral

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