Title media by
Taylie Kawakami

When I was nine years old, I was a cookie-cutter kid. I went to school every day, I jumped rope at the playground during recess, and I annoyed my brother at every possible chance. My mundane life was a product of the area I grew up in: a predominantly white, upper-middle-class town in a quiet New Jersey suburb. Just like every other kid in my town, I would go to school, participate in sports teams, and go to sleepaway camp every summer. Although it was only a two-hour drive from home, my sleepaway camp, Camp Shomria, felt like a separate world. I know it’s cheesy, but when I first arrived I immediately knew something was different: Camp Shomria was far from the cookie-cutter mold I had grown to know. Every morning, each age group would be given a task to maintain the culture and atmosphere of the camp. The younger children would water the plants or collect chicken eggs, while older children would clean the bathrooms or pick up trash. Age groups would take turns to help serve food or wash the dishes at every meal, and within each age group all the individual kids’ snacks and money would be compiled and shared as a collective. 

What made this camp different was that it represented something greater than itself: it fueled the camp's daily practices and educational goals. Camp Shomria is part of a worldwide Jewish youth movement called Hashomer Hatzair, which prioritizes education and youth leadership, and holds these pillars at its core. While I became highly critical of a few of the movement’s beliefs, such as zionism, I grew to cherish socialism’s values and practices. It taught me to willingly share and to contribute to society for the common collective, rather than for my own gain.

A camp where we watched “Bring It Com”, a communist spoof of “Bring It On”, was probably not what my parents were expecting when they sent me to upstate New York every summer. While they may have expected my counselors to teach us archery or bring us banana boating, we instead sat in circles discussing modern labor unions and the manipulation of second amendment rights. The movement taught me to expand my worldview: I began crafting my own opinion on issues rather than agreeing with the mainstream opinions around me. The gift of perspective made me see the world from an entirely new, socialist lens. Camp Shomria taught me that nothing is as powerful as lived experience, and I still carry the lessons of the camp to this day. I am incredibly lucky to have been introduced to socialist life and education at such a young age. I have been an anti-capitalist since I was thirteen years old. When I revisited camp, I would complain about the invasive nature of advertisements and the unnecessary, but constant, strive for profit. As I grew older, I began to further align with socialist principles: I was drawn to Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign and its promises to tax the rich and make higher education tuition-free. By sixteen, I had become a dedicated socialist. 

Illustrated by Taylie Kawakami

Despite my newfound view of politics, I never felt like I could be a socialist publicly. I never wanted to cause any trouble or make waves outside of my camp, so I hid my leftist views to fit in. I would politely agree with my friends and family during political discussions. I pretended to love big Democratic politicians, like Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama, because I felt I had to keep my true beliefs a secret. But at camp, I could freely express myself. 

Through the years, I watched socialism integrate itself into American politics. I felt the echoes of Camp Shomria and its socialist principles when Bernie first ran for president in 2016. When multiple DSA members were elected into American government in 2018, I had hope that socialism could one day take hold in American politics. Slowly but surely, socialism became a credible talking point in political conversations. For once, I saw my political beliefs reflected in mainstream politics. And then, when COVID-19 took hold of the world, I witnessed the largest surge of DSA members in my life: membership swelled from 60,000 to over 90,000 seemingly overnight. It seemed that, in isolation, we could finally take a step away from the world to think critically about our daily lives. As the pandemic exposed government incompetence and systemic oppression on a grand stage, political beliefs radicalized immensely, giving way to a surge of socialist and communist views. Friends that had once discredited my socialist rhetoric now prompted leftist discussion with me. My friends at home, who were Hillary supporters during the 2016 election, started preaching the necessity of revolution to enact real change. 

The popularization of leftism solidified my socialist beliefs and gave me the courage to speak out. Now, at 19, I have found socialist communities that echo the comfort of my camp. In my first year at Northeastern, I joined Huskies for Bernie to volunteer for his 2020 presidential campaign. Through the campaign, I met countless like-minded leftists, who I learned so much from. When Bernie dropped out of the presidential race in April 2020, the most active members of Huskies for Bernie transitioned our socialist efforts to found a new YDSA chapter at Northeastern. Now, in 2021, we are one of the largest and most active political groups on campus. Being able to connect with other leftists outside of Camp Shomria exponentially increased my confidence in my beliefs and allowed me to actualize them. Seeing our chapter and other DSA chapters across the country freely organize has shown that socialist action is possible in everyday life. Through every leftist we campaign for, or every tenants union we canvas for, my DSA comrades and I solidify our socialist vision. I used to think that socialism could only exist in a youth movement-made bubble, but participating in socialist organizations has proven to me that socialism isn’t just an ideal, but a tangible goal to work towards.