By Evan Marczynski /The AS Review
On a Saturday afternoon, four members of the AS club Socialist Alternative met in a barely lit corridor on the first floor of Miller Hall for a weekly study meeting.
They were locked out of the room they reserved for their meeting, so instead they pulled a wooden table underneath a single florescent light. Ignoring the sounds of the building’s ongoing construction rattling through the concrete hallway, they sat down and began a discussion about the global economic crisis.
Western junior Michael Morgan, the club’s outreach coordinator, said the club exists to promote the idea that socialism can serve as a realistic alternative to capitalism.
The club is one of 18 branches in the Socialist Alternative organization, which is headquartered in Brooklyn, N. Y. In Washington, there are also branches in Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia.
The club began in September 2009 and it currently has nine members who pay membership dues and around 17 people who regularly attend meetings, said club organizer Ramy Khalil.
According to the Socialist Alternative Web site, the organization views capitalism as the source of global problems such as terrorism, poverty and environmental destruction. It seeks to create a mass workers’ party and shift the largest American corporations into public ownership.
Morgan said the club supports democratic socialism, a term that has been given multiple definitions throughout history.
Morgan defined democratic socialism as a system that allows people to control their workplaces by themselves and combine their money and resources for the benefit of everyone.
Both Khalil and Morgan said they were aware of the negative undertone the term “socialist” carries in today’s culture.
Morgan said he thinks mainstream media corporations have purposefully created the negative stigma of socialism because they are threatened by it.
Khalil said he thinks if Americans understood the true meaning of socialism, a majority would call themselves socialists. He said Socialist Alternative supports policy measures to raise the minimum wage, support universal health care and spend money on education instead of war.
“Those ideas are vastly popular and they’re socialist ideas,” he said.
Khalil said the club is planning a protest on March 4 against Gov. Gregoire’s proposal to cut funding for higher education to close the state’s multi-billion dollar budget deficit.
Khalil said he thinks the potential cuts are completely unacceptable and would negatively affect thousands of young people who are struggling in today’s difficult job market. The cuts are especially hard when coupled with rising education costs, he said.
“Tuition’s been going up and it’s making it so that middle class and working class families can’t get a college education,” he said. “We’ve got to stop that trend.”
He said the governor should instead tax large Washington-based companies such as Boeing or Microsoft to raise funding levels rather than take money away from public schools.
Khalil said the March 4 protest will likely involve a public forum or a debate with a state lawmaker or university administrator.
The club has experience organizing mass demonstrations.
On Dec. 1, 2009, they organized a protest against President Obama’s plan to send 30,000 additional American soldiers to Afghanistan. They began with a rally in Red Square and then marched down to U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen’s office in downtown Bellingham.
Khalil said the marchers tried to get Larsen’s staff to speak with them, but were unsuccessful. They instead delivered a letter to the congressman criticizing his support of the troop surge.
The Bellingham Herald reported that over 100 people attended the demonstration.
Club member Nicole Casper was roommates with Khalil before she moved to Bellingham. They started the club to get more people involved in creating political change, she said.
“We want to get as many people involved in activism as possible,” Casper said.
Morgan and Khalil disagreed with the right-wing accusations calling Obama a socialist.
Khalil said he thinks the president’s domestic agenda has saved a few jobs and delivered some aid to states that are bogged down with budget deficits. However, Khalil believes Obama’s main goal is to stimulate consumer demand in order to strengthen the private sector, not to help out working people.
Khalil said the increasing anger over the nation’s economic crisis has been fueled by a growing gulf between the rich and poor. Now that the federal government has stepped in and taken control of a number of large companies, Khalil said he thinks U.S. politicians are now stuck clinging to failed economic policies.
“So anything else they see they label socialist, but Obama is not implementing socialist policies,” he said.
The Socialist Alternative meets regularly on Mondays at 6:30 p.m. To find out meeting locations or for more information on Socialist Alternative, contact Ramy Khalil at (713) 458-0366.