When Steve Cozzolino was in high school and still trying to figure out where he stood politically, his sister was participating in Temple’s chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists.
Today, he’s president of the organization.
Cozzolino said it is his goal to make the university a better place for both students and faculty.
He said the group has been successful in years past in addressing issues like student debt and, in 2012, collecting signatures to help push the administration to adopt a tuition freeze.
“As an organization, we believe that education is our right, we don’t believe that you should go into debt just because you want to get a good education,” the sophomore music therapy major said.
At its meetings, held every Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the Student Center, group members discuss what they believe are pressing political and social issues around campus. The group identifies as a grassroots organization and cites Martin Luther King Jr.’s stance on the promotion of a “person-oriented society” as inspiration.
This year, Cozzolino and other members have targeted their agenda to focus on what they call the unfair treatment of graduate students and adjunct faculty.
“Graduate students have a lot of work that they have to get done themselves, and then they’re thrown into the world of academia and they’re between a rock and a hard place in terms of getting their lives together,” treasurer of the organization and sophomore political science major Chris Miller said.
Miller and Cozzolino said that by improving the working conditions of graduate students and faculty members, their group will ultimately benefit the students, as professors can focus on giving them the best education possible. Issues like these are at the core of this organization, members said.
They hope to inspire others at the university to broaden their perception of social needs, members said.
“There are a lot of people, especially more conservatives, who view human rights as a narrow thing,” Miller said. “We want rights to start encompassing education, healthcare – in America, those aren’t thought of as guaranteed rights. We need to have more of the ‘privileges’ moved to the rights category in this country.”
As a branch of the Young Democratic Socialists of America, the group aims to represent the basic principles of socialism and equality, something they said can be misconstrued in the public eye.
“When you’re talking to someone about socialism, the first half of your conversation is explaining to them what you don’t believe,” Cozzolino said. “We don’t want Soviet Russia, we don’t support Mao. At its core, socialism is really economic democracy.”
Issues like LGBTQ rights, healthcare, sustainability and racial and gender equality are all encompassed under the umbrella of things the organization fights to improve through its work.
“Being a part of TDS has really allowed me to use my voice to speak for those who do not have the means or platform to speak for themselves,” Alexis Wright-Whitley, a senior member of the organization, said. “I’m glad to be a part of an organization that deeply cares about and loves others. I’m glad to serve with those who are as humble as I am, fighting the good fight because we should, not because we seek some reward.”
Like Wright-Whitley, Miller said the negativity associated with socialism sometimes blinds people from seeing what good it can do.
“[Socialism] is put down by the very people who need it,” Miller said. “I grew up in a small town, all blue-collar, working poor, and when I first got into socialism I would go around and ask, ‘Hey, why don’t you think this works?’ and things like that, and people would immediately bring up images of Stalin.”
Reforming this image and opening the eyes of the public is another important aspect of what the organization does. Cozzolino said the Democratic Socialists organization gives people who feel isolated in their political opinions a camaraderie they may not have felt before.
“Connecting to a network is a really big part of what we do, but it’s also just fun,” Cozzolino said. “[The organization] is full of amazing people who are really hardworking, and we do a lot of important work that’s satisfying.”
The group has had success so far in getting its message across, Cozzolino said.
“Anyone who is interested in social justice and economic equality – if you are [within] 99.9 percent of this world who wants their voice to be heard and wants a more egalitarian, just society, we’re a group where that is our message,” Miller said.
Alexa Bricker can be reached at email@example.com.