4 generations of SDS activists are working to link the local chapters that have sprung up independently since the Iraq War began into a national organization. SDS founder Alan Haber likes to say he is "waiting for the next meeting of SDS". He won't have to wait long...the next SDS national conference, the first since 1969, is planned for this summer.
Several chapters of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) announced today, Monday, January 16, 2006, their intent to form a national organization and hold the first SDS national convention since 1969. "It seemed appropriate to make this announcement today, on the observed Martin Luther King day", said SDS regional organizer Thomas Good. "We have an anti-war movement that is addressing the issue of stopping the bloodletting in Iraq but the civil rights issue remains unaddressed", he added. The national convention is scheduled for Summer 2006 and will be preceeded by a series of regional conferences occurring on the Memorial Day weekend.
The newly formed SDS national organization was the idea of a student anti-war activist who contacted other student and veteran organizers. Good joined SDS when Stonington High School (Connecticut) senior Pat Korte contacted him with the idea of linking nascent SDS chapters into a national structure.
"Although I have been an active participant in the anti-war and student activist movement, I have become frustrated with the groups collective inability to unify enough people under a common goal/vision to address the overall problems with our society. Historically, SDS was able to address many of the issues pertinent at the time through Tom Hayden's Port Huron Statement. This document has stood the test of time, thus several fellow activists from across the country and myself decided to form a national SDS movement, only to discover that chapters already exist! Because of this we decided to hold a national conference", said Korte.
At his request, members of Korte's informal network of student activists from across the country began contacting Good and very quickly the informal network was replaced by a national structure that now includes a website, discussion forum and mailing list, all of which are now based at studentsforademocraticsociety.org.
Korte, realizing that the original SDS suffered from not having alot of veteran activists, WHO UNDERSTOOD THE IDEA OF STUDENT POWER, reached out to some older activists, including several members of the 1960s era student organization, to help ground the project and provide logistical support.
The first original SDSer to come on board was Alan Haber, president of SDS 1960-62. Haber speaks of "re-membering SDS" rather than eulogizing it. Never giving up on the Dream, Haber is looking forward to the "the next meeting of SDS". And the next meeting will be a national event linking any and all SDS chapters interested in taking part.
Today chapters exist at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island, at the New School in New York City, at the University of Michigan and at Eastern Michigan University. In the western part of the US chapters that sprang up independently in Santa Ana, California and at Reigs University in Denver, Colorado have signed on to the national organization. Connecting these chapters and their organizers proved less difficult than Korte and Good initially thought. Technology was the key.
"We should reconnect our networks. We should reassert the continuity of the radical movements in American politics. The new technologies of communication and independent media make this more possible than ever", said Alan Haber. Korte and Good took this advice and ran with it.
- Paul Buhle, author of numerous books on the Left
As the project coalesced, Good, a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) contacted labor historian Paul Buhle, co-editor of a graphic history of the IWW ("Wobblies") and former SDSer from the Madison, Wisconsin, chapter. The timing was right on. Buhle, who teaches at Brown in Rhode Island, is working on a new project: a graphic (i.e. comic bok) history of SDS from the perspective of the individual chapters. Working with artist Gary Dumm, Buhle looks to avoid the usual history of the SDS national office by focusing on the street activists and their local branches. Buhle is asking that members of the original SDS with stories to tell contact him via e-mail at pbuhle (at) studentsforademocraticsociety.org
In addition to the book, Buhle has a personal interest in SDS. Describing himself for a recent article in Next Left Notes (www.nextleftnotes.net
) he noted: "Founder and publisher of RADICAL AMERICA, Paul Buhle was active in Champaign-Urbana, Storrs and Madison SDS chapters, 1965-1969. He hasn't been all that happy since, but he teaches at Brown." In the piece on NLN Buhle talks about the historical parallels between the 1960s and the present noting that the US empire is over-extended, liberal Democrats are not the answer to vexing problems and the Port Huron Statement remains as vital today as it was in 1962 when Tom Hayden presented it to the third SDS national convention.
"Today, students of all backgrounds can be shown the need to mobilize, to help prevent the ongoing devastation of our world, to help empower the lowly as students learn to empower themselves, and to set out a vision of a really democratic society. There's the key. The Industrial Workers of the World had it long before. Decentralized democracy, democratic decision-making at all levels is the most radical idea ever hatched in North America and the only one with real lasting appeal", said Buhle who has joined the new SDS.
The new SDS plans to continue the independent radical tradition in America: political education and demonstrating, advocating and organizing for democracy and justice, unions, civil liberties, peace and freedom. According to Korte the meetings this spring and summer will focus on building an infrastructure that facilitates these goals as the new SDS, like the old, is an organization of activists. Friends of peace and justice, those students who want a voice, a say in their own destiny, should visit www.studentsforademocraticsociety.org
where regular updates will be posted and contact information is now available.
SDS is an education and social action organization dedicated to increasing democracy in all phases of our common life. It seeks to promote the active participation of young people in the formation of a movement to build a society free from poverty, ignorance, war, exploitation, racism and sexism. Visit www.studentsforademocraticsociety.org
for more information.