Socialist student group continues Bernie Sanders’ ideals on campus

In politics, change starts from the bottom, according to the University of Oregon Young Democratic Socialists, or UOYDS.

“Charlie Chaplin was a socialist; Albert Einstein was a socialist; Helen Keller was a socialist; Tupac Shakur was a socialist,” said Max Hoots, political education coordinator of UOYDS. “We have been purposefully denied in history classes the history of American Socialism.”

The group regularly hosts educational events, teaching students how to know their rights and how to contact their legislators and resist with nonviolence. The group has also helped facilitate several protests, with more planned for the future, including the March for Science on April 22 and a march for climate justice on April 29. 

The group started as a branch of the Bernie Sanders grassroots campaign in 2015. Sanders would often pronounce at rallies, “Change never takes place from the top down. It always takes place from the bottom up.”

UOYDS maintains this idea of emphasizing local politics, according to Berenstein, and the group will be promoting an Our Revolution Lane County Q&A with the candidates running for a position on the 4J school board in Eugene on April 22.

UOYDS formed in April 2015 by Xander Berenstein, a 24-year-old Math and Biology major at the University of Oregon. Berenstein was the student outreach coordinator of a group called Lane County for Bernie Sanders.

“I realized that my job would be a lot easier if there was a UO for Bernie group on campus,” Berenstein said.

Within two weeks of formation, the campus group had gathered 500 likes on Facebook.

“We got so big so quickly because there was a call for an outlet to make positive change,” Berenstein said. The group now has 1,265 Facebook likes.

The UOYDS held a meeting Wednesday. Members want to stress the importance of communicating with legislators. (Frankie Benitez/Emerald)

When Sanders lost the primary, the group wasn’t ready to disband. Instead, it refocused, determined to make a difference on the local and national level. The group renamed from UO for Bernie Sanders to UO Young Democratic Socialists. The group registered as a chapter of Democratic Socialists of America, a nationwide activist organization devoted to expanding democracy to encompass not only the government but also the economy and the workplace.

“The principle of democracy is this idea that a society should be run by the people who live in it — not a small group at the top,” Hoots said.

Last year, UOYDS worked on promoting measure 97, some members protested for student workers losing shift meals and they also helped with the effort to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“After the election went the way it did, I saw it as a sign that we had to get to work right now,” Berenstein said.

At this week’s Wednesday night meeting in Fenton Hall, Berenstein and the other co-chair of the group, Elaina Colussi, led with enthusiasm, celebrating new socialist politicians who had achieved positions in public office in the country. The 19 attendees of the meeting broke into groups to discuss strategies for creating change, and then presented their ideas to the larger group. The topics of the night were environmentalism, socialist feminism and anti-war.

“Fuck yeah! Socialists getting stuff done; that’s what I like to see,” quipped Berenstein.

Berenstein and Colussi presented possible topics to speak to legislators about, and they reminded the members how to contact their legislators.

Nationally, the Democratic Socialists of America’s membership tripled after the election according to the LA Times, and UOYDS’s members continue to grow. The UOYDS recently applied to be funded by ASUO, the university’s student government. Sanders’ campaign may be over, but the democratic socialist movement at the University of Oregon still goes on.


Francisca "Frankie" Benitez

Francisca "Frankie" Benitez

ASUO and breaking news senior reporter. Junior at the UOSOJC and lover of dogs and punk rock.

Email Frankie: [email protected]