by Julia T
Whit Strub has played a major role in shaping the chapter as North New Jersey DSA’s co-chair following an increase in membership in 2016. A professor at Rutgers University and department representative for AAUP-AFT, Whit was on the frontlines when faculty went on strike for better working conditions and common good reforms just a few weeks ago. This profile is part of a series spotlighting longtime organizers with a wealth of knowledge and experience on the U.S. left.
How long have you been an active member of the NNJDSA chapter? What has your experience been like?
I joined DSA in either late 2016 or early 2017, but I had basically grown up on “the left.” Previously, I had experience with the Green Party and was radicalized by Ralph Nader’s campaign. I later be- came involved with the Socialist Workers Party, but eventually became disillusioned by their insistence on 3rd party politics. Prior to the “Bernie Bump” of DSA when an influx of members joined in 2016, DSA was mostly read by young people as a book club. However, the night of former President Trump’s Muslim ban in 2017, I was living in downtown Newark and jumped over to get to a protest. There was quite a large DSA contingent, and I was really impressed by how they mobilized for such a large direct action. I have been a member since and was also an active part of the #AbolishICE campaign to get migrants out of detention. What I like about DSA is that it’s not a 3rd party structure and the least sectarian version of what I’d encountered in the past. My experiences in DSA have overall been very positive: even though there are real tensions and disagreements, we’ve been able to work through them as members and I’m a big booster of the organization.
I owe my socialist politics to Kurt Cobain from the band Nirvana, who led me to punk rock, which through liner notes (especially Propagandhi and J Church) and zines like Punk Planet and Maximum Rocknroll led me to AK Press, PM Press, Noam Chomsky, etc. These all helped shape the inchoate class resentments I felt growing up working-class in rural Alaska into something closer to class analysis.
What other organizations and movements have you been part of?
I am a member of the Rutgers faculty union and, in many ways, I am very lucky because union politics can be very challenging The last few weeks of the strike were pretty intense after bargaining was taking place. Thankfully, Rutgers-Newark has a remarkably left-leaning union with 100% participation.
We are inspired by the work of the Chicago Teachers Union in bargaining for the common good along with better contracts. Our union supports Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, recognition and liberation of Palestine, and asking unions to not endorse politicians who do not support these policy positions. When I was on the executive council of the union, we drafted a proposal to end ICE contracts, which was a pretty radical resolution for a mainstream trade union to take on. We have active members in DSA who help uphold our values, and I see DSA and our union as working in tandem with each other in a symbiotic relationship.
I am a big believer in our union’s leadership. I was part of the bargaining committee sequestered at Governor Murphy’s office in the Trenton State House for a week, and I think it was a sweeping win by the standards of labor rights. We won a 40% raise and longer contracts for adjuncts, which is a great victory against the neoliberal, gig economy reality of contingent workers. I think you’re going to see this inspiring faculty at other colleges and universities.
What kind of organizing work do you primarily take part in?
I was active in the anti-war movement in the Bush years more as a foot soldier than an organizer. Since coming to Newark, I’ve been involved in the LGBTQ+ community as a member of the Rutgers Queer Newark Oral History Project and the LGBTQ+ Community Center board, which ties deeply into my academic work in Gender Studies and History. I learned more about solidarity from this experience than anything else I’ve done– I was very aware of my positionality amongst a group led by Black, queer women, but also used this opportunity to practice solidarity over allyship. I put in a lot of sweat and work and learned a lot about the value of shared struggles within a local, grass-roots organization. I believe these experiences are really helpful for those who are of more privileged identities.
What are some issues you hope our chapter will take on?
The task of the left is to perform an impossible double gesture: be realistic and pragmatic, but also challenge what is possible. We cannot succumb to hegemonic ideals and must do our part to make real changes. Calibrating pragmatism and militism has been challenging– as we have seen, Biden’s administration offers a unique set of challenges vs. the ones presented under Trump. My own personal vision for DSA would be continued electoral organizing and strident militarism in rank and file unions. The most immediate challenge for our chapter would be to reinvigorate and re-engage our members. I would like to continue our strategy of mobilizing ourselves through external external campaigns like Right to Counsel that are radical, but still doable and help bring new people in.
Check out Whit’s article on the Rutgers strike at https://www.dsausa.org/democratic-left/rutgers-strike-ends-com-mon-good-wins/