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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

‘Radical Transformation’: The International Socialism Organization making waves at UMB

Keegan O’Brien and Stasha Lambert

[Updated Tuesday 21/2/2012 11:07 p.m.]

What student group has dozens of members, has held a multitude of events on campus in the past five months, spent $3,750 during that same period, and has only been an official organization on campus for a year? The answer is the International Socialist Organization (ISO).

“We as the ISO seek to involve ourselves in all the movements and struggles going on today,” said Keegan O’Brien, an American studies major and elected organizer of the group. “At the same time, we have a longer-term vision, and we want to fight for a completely different society and a radical transformation from how our society is organized.”

The core people behind the ISO have been active on campus well before they officially registered as a student group, attending and organizing protests on campus and in the Boston area as far back as 2007. Last spring break, for example, O’Brien and 18 other people from the Boston area drove to Madison, Wisconsin to join protests against the state’s dramatic cuts to education and other social services, particularly the collective bargaining rights of unions.

The rising cost of education is an issue the ISO is passionate about. They recently organized an event called “The Global Revolt Against Privatization; The Student Movement for Public Higher Education.” Held on Feb. 15, this event brought speakers from the University of California to UMass Boston.

According to the budget request, the meeting aimed “to make the connections between budget cuts, privatization, and capitalism. We want to be able to cover the speaker’s travel fees along with pay [sic] them for speaking.”

The Undergraduate Student Government (USG) allocated $1,250 for this event out of their funding, which comes from student fees.

“Like us, the USG and other groups on campus have made statements which oppose student fees in the past, but still continue to use these fees to fund their activities,” said O’Brien. “There is no alternative. Students are forced to pay for their own education because the government won’t do it for us. That’s precisely why we aim to eradicate student fees.”

Having spent $3,750 since October of last year, the ISO’s expenditure is the seventh largest of all student groups on campus. By comparison, the Haitian American Society spent $6,642, the highest amount reported.

Members of the ISO were also involved in the planning of Occupy UMB, which branched off from the Student Union.

“Within the student union, the ISO and other allies were arguing for an occupation on campus,” explained Kyle Forrester, occupier and ISO member. “A number of members didn’t feel comfortable with that. There was a split.”

According to Forrester, five ISO members together with 15 other students planned the occupation, which started on the first day of this semester, Jan. 23.

“Out of this developed a misguided stigma about the ISO controlling things and dismissing the Student Union, as if it was their pet project. But this is simply not true, the ISO is a minority within the occupation,” said Forrester.

Other students disagree. Jason Mizula, a political science major and Iraq veteran who was arrested twice for trespassing in Dewey Square, characterizes himself as an “extremely passionate advocate for the occupy movement,” but has stopped his involvement with Occupy UMB because of the ISO.

“I think they give socialism a bad name,” Mizula said. “I think that they have really good ideas, but they’re not good at getting their ideas across. I agree with 99 percent of the things they say, but not the way they go about it.”

This is not an isolated notion in politically active circles on campus. Biology major Michael Spinnato recently sparked a 3,000-word debate on Facebook, after posting this status: “Sad to see the ISO ruin another potential movement at UMass Boston. Oh, too harsh? Not sorry.”

The debate included Mizula, O’Brien and other ISO members, as well as UMass Boston students involved in Occupy UMB.

According to the USG website, the ISO’s next event, “Capitalism Is Failing: The Case for Socialism,” will be held on Feb. 28. The event, which will cost $1,000, will feature Khury Peterson-Smith, a long time member of the national ISO, and an anti-war activist who has written on issues like racism and capitalism for the International Socialist Review and SocialistWorker.org.

Corrections: This article previously stated that the ISO held four events in the past five months. The ISO holds weekly public branch meetings, tables on campus twice a week, and has held many more events over the past year. The four events previously mentioned in this article are ones that were funded by the USG. This article also misleadingly stated that the ISO has six members. According to the organization itself, there are dozens of regular participants in the UMass Boston chapter of the ISO. The group has six dues paying members, who also belong to the national branch. More details about the ISO’s activities on campus can be found at http://umass-socialism.blogspot.com/. The Mass Media sincerely apologizes for these errors.

About the Contributor
Osahh Aim served as opinions editor for The Mass Media the following years: Spring 2012; 2012-2013; 2013-2014; 2014-2015 Aim also briefly served as Managing Editor in Spring 2015.