Progress in the PSU

How this student RSO is focusing its efforts during Covid, and concerns are amongst its members.

This week, the ledger focused on the Progressive Student Union, a political Registered Student Organization on campus. We spoke with Ronan Houston, a Co-Chair of the PSU, and Ruba Shahbin, the Outreach Officer. We discussed their roles, the future of the PSU and its politics.

“The PSU is a group of students interested in collectively organizing for more progressive policies and providing mutual aid in the Tacoma Area,” Houston said. 

Shahbin explained that one of the main goals of the PSU is to bridge connections between the school and community of Tacoma. “Our organizing isn’t solely with our students because our students also belong to a larger community,” she said. 

When discussing who is involved with their efforts, Houston said the “Progressive” in Progressive Student Union referred to anyone who supported the people, and not the rich or powerful. 

Shahbin had more to say on the matter. “Progressive referred to an all-encompassing label for anyone wanting to progress and move society forward, she said. She then explained that the title was generic and the pitfalls of having one, “ [Progressiveness] isn’t sustainable … there is no theory behind progressiveness.” 

While they aren’t organizing many of their own projects right now, they have become increasingly plugged into local aid networks, such as the Tacoma Mutual Aid Collective.

Shahbin told us that, “A couple of projects will come out of that coalition, including hosting laundry days for our homeless folks (as well as students) … within our community is a top priority.” 

Houston explained that as a student organization, campus issues are important. Especially making students feel safe on campus. “This includes changing the place of Campus Police,” Houston said.

Houston then explained how the club works from a political perspective. “Progressiveness only seeks to question the status quo, not abolish.” Ultimately the PSU’s underlying focuses to Shahbin, are “Anti-racist work, Land Back, fighting for our undocumented folks, and much more.” 

According to Shahbin, the PSU became a Youth Democratic Socialists of America chapter roughly a year ago. “Progressiveness is very limited and we wanted to work with a group we aligned more closely with,” she said. Houston emphasized that, despite being a YDSA Chapter, they have a lot of different leftist views. 

Shahbin expanded on this to note that despite the YDSA having issues, especially around class reductionism, they have elected to stay together because of their shared goals in unionization. 

Houston says they see the ideology of Democratic Socialism as compatible with American values. “Leftist policies have long been focused on investing in working people,” Houston said “Not people who have more than what they know what to do with.” 

Shahbin offered an alternative conceptualization. She explained that America at its core was founded on capitalist and racist values. 

“Of course Democratic Socialism is at odds with American values,” she said “The very foundation of America is undemocratic,” she said. Shahbin holds America’s capitalist economy as a culprit. “[America] grew as a global superpower by exploiting and murdering Black, Brown, and Indigenous bodies home and abroad,” Shahbin said. 

Shahbin said that the classic American values of capitalism and racial discrimination, are not ones worth maintaining. “Do we want to continue as a country with these values?” she asked. “Is that what we pride ourselves on?”