WY Students are “feeling the Bern”

Dillon Jacobson, Sports Editor

United States Senator Bernie Sanders announced his 2016 presidential campaign on May 26, 2015. Although Hillary Clinton still has a lead over Sanders in the latest polls, at least some WY students may be starting to “feel the Bern.”

George Vassilatos ‘15 is starting a new club at WY called the Whitney Young Progressives. The club is affiliated with the national organization Young Democratic Socialists (YDS). The YDS is the youth and student branch of a larger organization: the Democratic Socialists of America. The Democratic Socialists of America is a political and activist organization working to promote the belief that the economy and society should be run democratically to meet human needs, rather than benefit and make profits for a few.

In an interview the four ministers of the WY Progressives, George Vassilatos ‘15, August Greenberg ‘15, Nick Earley ‘15, and  Rachel Clandenning ‘15 tell us everything we need to know about their new club.

What is the name of the club?

George: The club is called the Whitney Young Progressives.

What is the Young Democratic Socialists?

George: They are a national organization representing the socialist youth and they are an international structure with local autonomous chapters that promotes democratic socialism as well as associated ideologies.

How closely affiliated is the Young Democratic Socialists with Bernie Sanders?

George: They aren’t specifically dedicated to Bernie Sanders. They promote his ideas and he has similar ideas to them so they are kind of in the same pool, but still separate from each other.

Do you consider yourself a democratic socialist?

Rachel: I do consider myself a democratic socialist. The democratic part would be that I believe in either people being the government or people electing their representatives for the government. And in terms of socialism I believe in economic socialism which basically means that the control of very large corporations and businesses would be by the government, but there could still be smaller businesses that aren’t owned by the government.

Nick: I would not consider myself a democratic socialist. I don’t think the economic system is effective. I’m more of a regulated capitalist, I believe in a system where the government actually intervenes in the economy, at times, but overall is still a capitalist economy. Bernie Sanders believes the same things even though he describes himself as a democratic socialist. He doesn’t believe in making an authoritarian socialist society. That’s the unique part of this club, we’re a more diverse group that are advancing progressive ideas.

George: We actually split from the national chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists. As of now, I’m actually an anarcho-communist. They basically believe in horizontal power structures so that everything is community based and rather than having government on top; it’s also referred to as libertarian socialism. The people at the bottom form unions and collectives and build society up from the bottom, instead of down from the top. It kind of combats socialism a little bit because we don’t believe in money, we believe in a gift economy. So we’re really crazy.

Rachel: We are really inclusive with a spectrum of different beliefs.

August: I’m like Nick, I am a regulated capitalist. I believe that because I believe the free market does work in some cases, but I do believe it is the government’s responsibility to provide basic services for its citizens and that no one should be kept down or unable to rise up from the lower class.

Nick: What capitalism has been doing in recent years is creating this highly stratified society with the 1% at the top and everybody else at the bottom. This 1% has all of the wealth in the country whereas everybody else is missing out and doesn’t have the same opportunities. This club is meant to open a dialogue, let people know what’s going on, and advocate Bernie Sanders ideas as well as just progressive ideas in general.

Do you support Bernie Sanders and why or why not?

August: Yes, we all do personally support Bernie Sanders, but the club doesn’t directly endorse him. We do support the policies and ideas that he has and we closely align with him on a lot of those ideas.

Rachel: It’s not the Bernie Sanders club, it’s just that within our club our ideologies match with a lot of his and so we may support him, but it’s not the sole purpose of the club.

August: We don’t live and die with the Bernie Sanders campaign.

George: Although, we do still campaign and fund raise for Bernie Sanders and other politicians that exemplify our beliefs.

Why are you starting this club?

August: It was George’s idea. The very beginning was I made a Facebook post about Bernie Sanders and George was like it would be great if we had a club at our school that is for promoting progressive ideologies like Bernie Sanders. I said that’s a great idea and Nick came on board because we needed a Minister of Treasury. We ran into Rachel while we were turning in our club form and said do you wanna jump on board.

Rachel: I kind of came on by accident, but because there are four slots on the club form I got that fourth spot.

Nick: I think it started a little earlier than that though around when he declared his candidacy because you (August) kept pestering me about Bernie Sanders and I didn’t think he could win. I thought Hillary Clinton was going to win the nomination, like every other person. However August started pestering me for the rest of the year and eventually posted a video of a Bernie Sanders speech on my Facebook wall and then George commented we should start a club. These ideas need to be advocated because Bernie Sanders actually can win and has a good chance. We’re here to get the message out and encourage these students to vote.

George: Especially with the demographic here those people can probably, not win Illinois for Bernie Sanders because Illinois is very establishment, especially Chicago, but they can tilt the scales.

What will participants/members of this club do?

August: We want to debate and discuss topics and current events that relate to democratic socialism and progressive ideas. Also we want to do some fundraising and things for any candidate that exemplifies what we believe in. Bernie Sanders is the best example for that because he is on an elevated platform by running for president, but there are other local and state politicians who could exemplify what we believe in so we would want to support them.

Nick: We also want to collaborate with other progressive clubs in the school like Eco Club, Pride Club, a new club called AGE or Acting for Gender Equality. All these clubs we want to collaborate with them, share ideas, try to get speakers to come to school and actually talk to the student body.

George: We are working on setting up, hopefully, an annual tradition of a big conference type event in the theater with speakers and representing all the different clubs. It’s gonna be fun and there’s gonna be food.

Nick: We are thinking about maybe organizing something like an arts festival.

Who should join this club?

George: Everyone.

August: We want to have a diverse range of students, already we have members with political beliefs ranging from anarcho-communism all the way back to progressive capitalism. Even if you’re a centrist or a conservative or a republican, if you have an open mind you should join this club. If you simply want to learn about the issues that we’re debating and discussing, come up with your own opinions, or if you’re not entirely sure about an issue and want to learn other people’s beliefs on an issue, you should also come join this club. Personally, if Donald Trump wanted to join this club, I would love that because I would love to have him speak on some of the issues with us.

What issue do you think is the most relevant to WY students?

All: Student loans and college debt.

George: Although college isn’t the central focus of high school and our education. We also don’t support the common core.

August: But we do realize that college is a place where a lot of people want to go and it’s very expensive, especially for those at the bottom end of the spectrum. Bernie Sanders’ idea is to make the people who have a lot of extra money to help pay for those that don’t have the opportunity otherwise go to college or get higher education or vocational school.

George: We’re advocating for government funded college.