Students organize the first YDSA chapter at UK

By Ethan Cantini

A new political group has made its way to the University of Kentucky. The Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA), a left-leaning political group, has been organized by several UK students. 

YDSA is the student section of the national Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) organization and has a number of chapters across the country. The group is primarily active on high school, college and university campuses. DSA already has a chapter in Lexington, but this is the first time a YDSA chapter has successfully formed at the University of Kentucky.     

“There is no left-wing voice on campus, whatsoever” said YDSA co-founder and sophomore at UK, Luke Ison. 

The initial group at UK consisted of sixteen dues-paying members with around 50-65 affiliates and persons interested, with those numbers steadily growing. The group is being promoted in a variety of ways on campus and online through flyers, word-of-mouth and social media.

“We want to give people a little direction and say ‘you are valued in ways that society doesn’t tell you’” Thomas Priest said, who is a YDSA member and junior at UK.

Their early stages included forming a constitution and being recognized by the national YDSA as an official chapter. They had a few interest meetings for dues-paying members before scheduling the first official meeting for everyone. 

YDSA has a GroupMe that students interested in the group can be invited to. Official members pay a monthly or annual fee; however, this is not required. Students from BCTC and Transylvania University are also welcomed to join the chapter.      

“Our goal is not to be a leftist book club or a generic service organization” Logan Kuegel, YDSA co-founder and UK sophomore continued. “We want to be actively socialist and empower the community.”

General meetings are held one Sunday each month at 6:30 p.m. on Zoom with specific project and education meetings held every other week. Most activities are currently online due to the pandemic, but the group is working with the university to gain access to an in-person meeting space next semester. 

YDSA held their officer elections a few weeks ago, after dissolving the organizing committee, which includes two co-chairs, a vice chair, secretary and treasurer. Committees in the group focus on issues such as political education, labor and housing.

The group has already been involved in a number of projects around Lexington with several other leftist organizations, such as the Lexington Housing & Justice Collective. The Lexington Tenants Union is one group that YDSA works closely with to help all home renters, including students, receive fair treatment around the city. 

“College students are some of the most exploited tenants there are. It’s considered among landlords a very low-risk endeavor” Ison said. 

Other missions of the group include opening a conversation with the UK Black Student Union to discuss issues such as police brutality and inequality in the United States. This also includes dialogue and organizing protests with the UK United Campus Workers (UCW).

When asked about the stigma surrounding socialism, the organizers shared their thoughts on what the word means to them.

“I think it means community empowerment, solidarity and action” Kuegel said. “A lot of people are being oppressed in many ways.”

“One of the core aspects of socialism, to me, is community” Priest said. “This materializes into other things like growing a more sustainable world.” 

According to YDSA, their general goals and principles include:

  • Promoting equality and justice through socialism on campus and in local communities.
  • Educating and training YDSA members to prepare them for a lifetime of organizing in the service of a socialist future. 
  • Being a non-sectarian, anti-capitalist organizing space.