From Chicago to the Bronx: Campus Socialists Raise Students’ Political Consciousness

By Zoe Fanzo

A poster seen at Socialism 2017 in Chicago. Photo by Zoe Fanzo.

Lehman’s International Socialist Organization (ISO) is promoting leftist politics on campus, with plans to hold radical discussions every other week building on a summer trip that deepened students’ political awareness. [Full disclosure: the author of this article is an ISO member.]

The weekend following Independence Day, ISO members Ellie Hamrick, a professor of anthropology, and Carlos Perez, a computer science major, arranged for five Lehman students to attend the annual Socialism Conference in Chicago, where over 2,000 people participated in discussions and plenaries given from a Marxist perspective. With 160 discussion topics to choose from over the weekend, like “The Combahee River Collective and the Black Feminist Tradition” and “Act Up, Fight Back: The AIDS Crisis and the LGBTQ Movement,” attendees were able to engage in discussions that peaked their specific interests.

“History tells us time and time again that it doesn’t matter who is sitting in the White House, but who’s sitting in.”

- Carlos Perez, computer science major

Students left Chicago with a better understanding of their own political identities, as well as a desire to become politically active. Lehman student Aileen Pelegrin, a theatre major, explained, “Throughout my first Socialism Conference, I learned more than I ever did throughout my entire education. I learned about all the injustice that goes on in different job markets. I learned that oppression goes so much further than just a racial issue. The entire country needs help and needs to be modified.”

Lehman student Christian Machuca, a psychology major, decided to become a member of the ISO after his experience in Chicago. He recalled, “The Chicago trip helped me in multiple ways, such as increasing my competence on certain issues and ideas. It allowed me to interact with people who share similar views or enlighten me if their perspectives were different. It was informative, but also fun.”

Lehman students wait for their flight to Chicago. From left to right: Richard Orta, Zoe Fanzo, Aileen Pelegrin, Christian Machuca, Carlos Perez. Photo courtesy of Ellie Hamrick.

ISO members are eager to see leftist politics blossom on campus. The club began on campus last fall, and given the formation of the LGBTQ+ Alliance and the Intersectional Feminist Club within the last few months, it seems leftist politics are having their moment at Lehman. Hamrick, who serves as the Lehman ISO branch coordinator, hopes to see students become politically energized this fall. “I think it is crucial that Lehman students not only understand why the world is the way it is, but how it can be changed, and that we as workers have the power to change it,” said Hamrick. “Capitalism causes untold misery all around the world. If things don’t change very, very soon, not only will human suffering continue, but we may not even have a planet to live on much longer. The left must get organized. I think that’s what students got out of this conference, and I hope they’ll be working to make that perspective a reality on campus this fall.”

ISO Member Carlos Perez echoed the sentiment that student involvement is integral to organizing the left. “Bringing a new layer of students who are politically engaged and see the necessity of an active struggle for a better world was paramount,” Perez noted. “The majority of people have been inculcated with a passive, fatalist conception of politics…which is expressed as the false choice between Democrats or Republicans…My goal with our trip to Socialism was to show students an alternative to these politics, and show them how people and social movements make history, not the custodians of power who often do their best to shut them down.”

The ISO plans to hold a public meeting every other Wednesday of the semester, with each session tackling the Marxist perspective of a relevant issue. Through such events it hopes to continue its mission of spreading political consciousness within the student body, and building solidarity amongst the campus’ leftist organizations.

“History tells us time and time again that it doesn’t matter who is sitting in the White House,” Perez remarked, “but who’s sitting in.”