(Rock Hill, S.C.) — On a Wednesday evening at Winthrop University, in Bancroft Hall room 339, work is happening. The Socialist Student Union and the four students and faculty adviser who make up the organization are working diligently to make it through the meeting agenda that is a full-page long.
They open the meeting by discussing current events — including the election cycle, the New Hampshire primary and Bernie Sanders — until Dr. Stephen Smith, the group’s faculty adviser and a political science professor, stops and posits a question.
“If you knew that another candidate had a better chance at beating (President Donald) Trump than Bernie (Sanders), who would you vote for?”
This sparks new discussion and although not all members are always in agreement, they allow each other to defend their positions without much crosstalk among the group and each person gets a turn to voice their thoughts.
The organization has been around since the mid-1990s, but has experienced a lull in activity since around 2016, according to Smith.
“Like every organization, it has its ups and downs. During the Iraq War it was very active, when it first started it was very active. Now it’s kind of in a bit of a low point, like most leftist movements at this point are at a low point,” Smith said.
At its most active points, the SSU organized lectures, invited guest speakers and protested on the front steps of Byrnes Auditorium.
Josh Simon, a freshman political science and history major, is attempting to restart the organization after learning about the SSU when he came to campus last semester.
He said there was not a lot of interest for the organization last semester, but now it has three more members to help get the SSU up and running again.
Unlike other political organizations on campus, such as the College Republicans and College Democrats, the SSU focuses on ideologies rather than party politics, according to its members.
“We’re not Republicans. We’re not capitalists. College Democrats are largely capitalist, I think almost completely capitalist, and they are specifically focused on party politics. We’re focused on pushing socialism,” said Simon. “Socialist policy is transitioning the working class to where they have dominion over their own lives.”
Jadden Bergholm, a senior English major and member of SSU, said organizations that are dedicated to political parties are okay, but it’s good to have groups that focus on ideologies.
“There’s some overlap with the College Democrats but we are not dedicated to a party, so we have the ability to constantly fight for what we believe in and not necessarily have to be kind of egalitarian in how we treat the different candidates,” Bergholm said.
To build momentum and reestablish themselves on campus, the SSU has several projects in the works.
“We plan on working with the Muslim Student Association. We want to do some kind of event that helps us show solidarity with them,” said Bergholm.
While nothing has been solidified yet, Simon said the SSU hopes to “build a large network of solidarity and trust and relationships” with other student organizations on campus.
The SSU also plans a campaign of awareness for Blackmon Road, an extremely impoverished area in Rock Hill.
“There’s a lot of poverty there and a lot of neglect from the city government. We want to bring attention to that and potentially make a campaign to get students aware of that area and aware of the different programs and ways that they can help that area,” Bergholm said.
Simon said the organization was eager to assist with the vote of no confidence petition against Winthrop’s Board of Trustees, created by senior political science major Nathan Crunkilton, but the SSU is not officially associated with the petition.
“We were recently told that they wanted the movement to be…non-polarizing. We’re a very left-wing group and I think that (Crunkilton) did not want us being too visible, because he didn’t want it being associated with like, ‘this is a socialist movement, this is a democratic movement, this is a republican movement,’” Bergholm said.
Simon made it clear that the SSU believes the Board of Trustees are an “unjust” organization.
“We feel that the Board of Trustees is an inherently unjust organization with unjust amounts of power over a student body that has no check from the student body,” Simon said.
Protests are also a goal of the SSU and Bergholm said if presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg were to visit Rock Hill, they would plan to protest.
“We have a lot of problems with the way he’s running his campaign and how he’s funding it and the artificial support that it has. It’s antithetical to what we believe in as an organization, so that’s definitely something we would protest and organize, if it happened,” Bergholm said.
When the Winthrop student religious organization Ratio Christi held a screening of controversial pro-life film “Unplanned,” Simon was there protesting.
Simon reached out to Ratio Christi following the event to plan a debate with the Christian group.
“There’s nothing concrete yet, but we did challenge (Ratio Christi) when they did the showing of ‘Unplanned,’ because we felt it was propaganda and we felt that if they did have a moral…and a philosophical sense that abortion is murder, that abortion is wrong, that they could defend it in a rational debate,” Simon said.
Begholm said the SSU was divided over the decision to interact with Ratio Christi.
“There are some members of the organization that have fears about legitimizing these people, because we don’t want to engage with them with an academic debate and then make it seem like their arguments are academic when we don’t think that they’re founded in any kind of scholarship or anything that’s well thought out,” Bergholm said.
“That being said, I personally do have good relationships with people in RUF (Reformed University Fellowship) and BCM (Baptist Collegiate Ministries) and we’ve reached out to the MSA (Muslim Student Association), so we do not have a problem with religion as a concept and we actually think that it’s a good way to show unity,” he said.
The Socialist Student Union is open to students of all backgrounds and religions. The SSU invites those who are do not consider themselves socialists or are not interested in socialism to attend a meeting.
“I think if you’re not a socialist or you’re not interested in becoming socialist, I would encourage to come if you want to just discuss. We are about ideas,” Simon said.
Bergholm said in a time that can leave people feeling lost, the SSU helps him feel in control.
“We live in a time that is very alienating. A lot of people feel lonely and a lot of people feel powerless. Personally, for me, being a member of the SSU is an exercise in feeling some form of control over the way things operate in the country,” Bergholm said.
“I think that joining an organization like the SSU, or even the College (Democrats), gives you some feeling that you’re doing something to take control over your life.”