Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


The Rebirth of SDS
January 27, 2006 12:42 PM   Subscribe

Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win: SDS is reborn. Founded in 1959 and imploded ten tumultous years later, the Students for Democratic Society was one of the most dynamic and controversial forces at work in organizing a mass movement against the Vietnam war, particularly among draft-age kids. The group's original manifesto, Tom Hayden's Port Huron statement, still rings prophetic in Bush's America. Now SDS is relaunching and planning its first national convention since 1969, with a new crew of young radicals issuing calls to action to their own supposedly apathetic generation: "We seek liberation from the dominant business interests that have degraded our cities, paved over our communities, drowned out small business, and commodified our culture... Cooperative self-reliance is the only moral and material salvation of our nation, and the only release from a system that demands each of us be an accomplice to its heinous crimes."
posted by digaman (45 comments total)

 
"Students for *A* Democratic Society," that is.
posted by digaman at 12:47 PM on January 27, 2006


cooperative self-reliance? They're talking about hippy communes! Well, another page in the history of social irrelevance.
posted by shmegegge at 12:54 PM on January 27, 2006


They're talking about hippy communes!

Sounds more like many traditional indigenous human cultures to me, but hey, I read too much anthropology to conveniently assign everything its properly glib pigeonhole. But carry on, schmeg.
posted by digaman at 1:00 PM on January 27, 2006


Do students even care about politics anymore, except for Young Republicans? Now, once the draft comes back ...
posted by caddis at 1:03 PM on January 27, 2006


Do students even care about politics anymore, except for Young Republicans?

Thus the FPP.
posted by digaman at 1:04 PM on January 27, 2006


Please let me know when they re-splinter into the Weathemen. Then I'm all for it.
posted by bhance at 1:08 PM on January 27, 2006


"Not only did tarnish appear on our image of American virtue, not only did disillusion occur when the hypocrisy of American ideals was discovered, but we began to sense that what we had originally seen as the American Golden Age was actually the decline of an era. The worldwide outbreak of revolution against colonialism and imperialism, the entrenchment of totalitarian states, the menace of war, overpopulation, international disorder, supertechnology -- these trends were testing the tenacity of our own commitment to democracy and freedom and our abilities to visualize their application to a world in upheaval.

Our work is guided by the sense that we may be the last generation in the experiment with living. But we are a minority -- the vast majority of our people regard the temporary equilibriums of our society and world as eternally-functional parts. In this is perhaps the outstanding paradox: we ourselves are imbued with urgency, yet the message of our society is that there is no viable alternative to the present."


Most '60s-era manifestoes seem dated and kitschy. The Port Huron statement has worn pretty well.
posted by digaman at 1:18 PM on January 27, 2006


Hey, good! Maybe they can organize a mass movement that isn't backed by one of the sectarian socialist groups.
posted by By The Grace of God at 1:30 PM on January 27, 2006


The Port Huron statement has worn pretty well.

Would you expect anything less out of Jeff Lebowski?
posted by COBRA! at 1:34 PM on January 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


Yeah, is The Dude coming back?
posted by Smedleyman at 1:42 PM on January 27, 2006


SDS eventually became the loopy-assed bomb-tossers known as the Weathermen, so that I can do without.

Also, reforming an old organization just shows a lack of originality.
posted by jonmc at 1:54 PM on January 27, 2006


It seems to me that this is a mistake. One of the key benefits of being a small protest group as opposed to a monolithic government agency is that you can adapt with the times more easily. The last thing that protesters should do is use the same 35 year old tactics. If they want to protest, they should come up with some new ideas that the political spin doctors aren't ready to handle.
posted by unreason at 1:56 PM on January 27, 2006


In fact, since my parents were very active in and around the original SDS, and since I happen to be just old enough to remember, the Weathermen were a small, provocateur-infiltrated, media-hungry group within SDS, and so many SDSers were opposed to their antics that it helped fracture the group (which is probably what the provocateurs had in mind from the start.) So, jonmc, your statement is about as accurate as saying, "Democracy schmarocracy -- that system leads to Guantanamo Bay torture chambers."

I have no problem with these kids resurrecting the fine name Students for a Democratic Society, and more importantly, seeking guidance from seasoned organizers who were in the original group so they don't make all the same mistakes.

The last thing that protesters should do is use the same 35 year old tactics. If they want to protest, they should come up with some new ideas that the political spin doctors aren't ready to handle.

They're just starting out, unreason. It will be interesting to see what they come up with, given organizational tools like the Internet. I still remember my father with his fingertips blue from working the mimeo machines.
posted by digaman at 2:06 PM on January 27, 2006


jonmc : "SDS eventually became the loopy-assed bomb-tossers known as the Weathermen, so that I can do without."

Some other day, when reading about them and The Brotherhood of Eternal Love (actually about the amazing Leary jail-break story), I got the impression the Weather Underground was a splint from the SDS, not its successor.
posted by nkyad at 2:18 PM on January 27, 2006


Digaman, do you really think the Weathermen were primarily provocateur-inspired? I got the impression from the recent documentary that the core members and leaders were quite clear on their goals and methods...they didn't seem to need any infiltrators to push them as far as they went. But yeah, the SDS was somewhat unfairly tarnished by the Weathermen splitters.

BTW, why am I not surprised that your parents were active in the SDS? (I mean that in a Good Way - as a long-time Deadhead, I've followed your stuff since those Days.)
posted by Banky_Edwards at 2:38 PM on January 27, 2006


Don't tell anyone, but this is the Left's flypaper strategy.
I kid.

The Weather Underground definitely did not form until after the fractious final convention of the SDS. The peak membership of SDS was probably never more than about 10,000, but 2,000 were at that convention, and they were capable of mobilizing demonstrations as large as 100,000.

The Weathermen, by contrast, were only a few dozen actual provocateurs, although perhaps a few hundred people helped them in various ways. Tiny, but they got all the press.

I think digaman makes a great point. For one thing, this is the era of DailyKos and MoveOn. An SDS that does not allow for participatory online agenda-setting is doomed to irrelevance.
posted by dhartung at 2:42 PM on January 27, 2006


I was there, but really can't remember,
posted by hortense at 2:43 PM on January 27, 2006


BTW, why am I not surprised that your parents were active in the SDS? (I mean that in a Good Way - as a long-time Deadhead, I've followed your stuff since those Days.)

Ah thanks, Banky. Yes, my late father was a huge anti-war organizer in New York City back in the day -- I grew up with the grownups chain-smoking in the livingroom while they planned antiwar marches and talked about Marx. I miss him.
posted by digaman at 2:57 PM on January 27, 2006


If you can remember the 60s, you weren't really there.
posted by warbaby at 2:58 PM on January 27, 2006


It really is time to retire that particular joke.
posted by digaman at 3:02 PM on January 27, 2006


I remember Ann Arbor in the 60's. I still have 35 mm slides of campus protests, shots of the local police beating down an African American student for being in the wrong spot, he had done nothing. Had to run like heck to keep my camera.

I lived in student married housing at the time. During one fairly bad protest we had helicopters with searchlights 100 feet over the buildings all night...my neighbor got arrested during a curfew for trying to go to the laundry room to get his last load out of the drier (had to walk outside to get there).

SDS served a critical role in mobilizing a segment of the population... I welcome them back....
posted by HuronBob at 3:08 PM on January 27, 2006


digaman, do ya think this will really take off in the absence of some huge rallying point like the civil rights movement and later Viet Nam? Looking at today's anti-Iraq war protests I see some crazy quilt of anti-WTO, free Mumia, pro-oganic rants. In short it's sort of a mess. Can they get folks to rally behind some sort of ambiguous anti-big business rhetoric?
posted by fixedgear at 3:14 PM on January 27, 2006


fixedgear, if you don't think there are enough "rallying points" in the air to spark a mass radical movement these days, you must read different websites than I do. What Bush is doing makes me miss Nixon. But it's also certainly true that the draft was the Elephant in the American Livingroom that made little Johnny suddenly interested in organized resistance and in building alliances with working people.

I don't doubt that the draft may be revived -- the armed services really are stretched to the limit, as anyone but Rumsfeld will tell you. What we have now is a de facto economic draft, and when I spent some time at Fort Sill last year, most of the kids on their way to Baghdad were fleeing a future working at McDonald's and Wal-Mart. But if a compulsory draft were reinstated, I think the membership groups like SDS 2.0 would quintuple overnight.

The more pervasive problem is the media traction that conservatives have these days, to the point where they can utter the most egregious nonsense -- Abramoff is a "bipartisan" problem, Saddam's role in 9/11 is still unclear, the scientific jury is still out on global warming, spying on Americans is legal -- and have it be dutifully parroted as truth by the Russerts and Courics of the world. The Democrats also seem determined to prove their own irrelevance again and again, though I also think that my thinking that is partly a Rovean "implant."

One of the reasons why I FPP'd this is that I think it's important for the nascent new-new-left among the young to be able to get the word out there without a chorus of glib hipsters immediately chiming in with how hopeless or pathetic or retro it all seems. I know they would chime in here, but figured the links would also get around, and might speak to people who haven't yet totally surrendered to being a hopeless tool of the GOP's expert memetic manipulation. I'm tired of seeing the catastrophic irresponsibility of Bush and his ilk passed off as toughness and confidence. I wish these kids luck.
posted by digaman at 3:33 PM on January 27, 2006


Law students standing up against the Bush Administration's legal distortions.
posted by homunculus at 3:37 PM on January 27, 2006


That's great, homunculus, thanks.
posted by digaman at 3:41 PM on January 27, 2006


A toast to youth and it's idealism...
Now let's see if they actually get any traction.

If the whole thing leads to free-flowing LSD and naked Be-Ins in Goldengate Park, I'm all for it.
posted by doctor_negative at 3:43 PM on January 27, 2006


In short it's sort of a mess.

Uh, did you ever read about the protests in the 60's? It's always a mess when you get scads of people together. The sad thing is how much the media plays it off like the mess is all there is. I've been at lots and lots of the antiwar protests, and if they're not outright ignored, they're marginalized, and there's never never any footage of speakers on the news.

The main difference from the 60's is that the media was not quite yet bought and sold by the same people who buy and sell our legislature.
posted by lumpenprole at 4:26 PM on January 27, 2006


SDS is back?

I can dig it ... besides, it's about fucking time.

I want to see a much more muscular libralism. I want to see people like Henry Rollins smacking that bitch Hannity around.
posted by Relay at 4:40 PM on January 27, 2006



From the "call to action":

No longer can we voice protest to the wind. "Ten steps away no one hears our speeches." Symbolic acts will not guarantee our survival. Desperate appeals to politicians, whose only constituency is corporate, will never lead to real change.... We will take to the streets, and show our strength through civil disobedience. But SDS also seeks to build enduring social institutions to secure a broad, permanent base of power for the people.

This was written out of recognition of what lumpenprole was saying - that a lot of the tactics used so effectively in the 60s will not find a sympathetic media today. One of the reasons the Left (if the Democratic Party can be called that) has failed so miserably is that it has no social institutions to draw power from.

Fundamentalist, evangelical churches serve as the social arm of the Republican Party, a kind of nominal party that provides constant, active community participation in places like the Midwest where community is wanting. These churches have massive youth groups and build stadiums for their basketball teams, have bake sales, take people camping or on mission trips to Mexico, clean up highways, put on plays, you name it.

While the Church is not an explicitly political organization, it is implicitly so, and gives its followers a worldview that they take to the voting booth. The socialist parties in their heyday were similarly structured - you had socialist bingo clubs and socialist reading libraries, etc.

What unites the "Red States" and the "Blue States," a largely fictional dichitomy anyway, is that both are yearning in their own ways for a restored sense of community. We assume that in the age of television nobody wants to leave the house. Everyone wants to leave the house. Americans languish in utter boredom. I grew up in Texas - people are desperate for something to do. The Church gives them something to do. Why doesn't the Left?

Scoff at "hippie communes" all you like, but people are more willing to fight for their friends and neighbors than they are for Nancy Pelosi. If any Left organization hopes to be successful, it should start by teaching people how to come together and get to know one another on a daily basis, and not just for an ineffectual protest once or twice a year.
posted by bukharin at 5:01 PM on January 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


It's always a mess when you get scads of people together.

Absolutely. Mess is good (says this quirky anarchist); mess shows people are alive and reacting. I miss the mess of '60s radicalism, and I'll be thrilled if this revival catches hold. Great post, digaman; ignore the sullen snarkers.

(And using the Weather Underground as a stick to beat SDS with is just pathetic.)
posted by languagehat at 5:24 PM on January 27, 2006


In fact, since my parents were very active in and around the original SDS,...

(And using the Weather Underground as a stick to beat SDS with is just pathetic.)


you misunderstand me, hat. I respect the ideals of the SDS, but to deny that the idealism of that era curdled into the wigginess of the Weathermen is to deny the lessons of history. And yeah, I admit I'm coming from a different historical perspective than you and digaman, but it's not one to be blithely dismissed. My parents were from the opposite ends of the sixties: high school-to-Nam Kennedy Democrats who were deeply cynical about zealotry in general, and I guess I've inherited that. And I had to find out everything about that era on my own as an outgrowth of music fandom and history buffery, so I don't have as much personal investment. But I respect the commitment.
posted by jonmc at 5:50 PM on January 27, 2006


(my slightly younger uncles & aunts did explore the sex-drugs&rockandroll side of the 60's, but the politics of the era didn't penetrate to a lot of demographics until musch later and they did so in a very different form from my observations).
posted by jonmc at 5:53 PM on January 27, 2006


SDS is an established brand with strong name recognition. Better to revive it than to create some new acronym with which to label a mass youth organization. But, as my right wing friends always tell me, this ain't the 60's. The new SDS has its work cut out for it.
posted by bonefish at 6:16 PM on January 27, 2006


SDS is an established brand with strong name recognition.

But as this thread illustrates, the associations of that brand aren't entirely positive ones. If you createda new miracle drug, would you call it 'thalidomide?' (I'm exaggerating but you see my point).
posted by jonmc at 6:23 PM on January 27, 2006


well said, bukharin, well said.
posted by stirfry at 6:26 PM on January 27, 2006


Point seen. But the SDS is more like 'tylenol' than 'thalomide' - it can transcend the Weathermen legacy, which in this day and age is a whole nuther brand.
posted by bonefish at 7:01 PM on January 27, 2006


The SDS is back. That might be very good. Just at the same time that Hoffman's Best is starting to show up again around the scene. Very very good. Perhaps too late but perhaps things can get a little mixed up again.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:02 PM on January 27, 2006


It was explained to me by a parent that worked in the intelligence field, that the SDS was the one communist backed student organization. This is what the government thought at the time. Anyone that signed up, came under scrutiny. The "new SDS" is just a trolling expedition. So when the big protests start up, impeachment talk and etc, it can be blamed on Castro, or whomever is handy, anything but cause and effect.

I think that joining the SDS in this information age is a sure way to start that personal dossier that will follow you in an unhappy way, now that we no longer have an elected government, but a government by offshore corporations.

Don't forget that No Child Left Behind, gave the military unlimited access to the private information of all high school and college students, including well anything, grades, clubs, psych records, anything. Recent legislation has given the military and other investigative branches even more leeway to investigate student outcomes.

Volunteer, get involved, lobby your state legislators, and make it hurt if they don't listen. Use the web, use the opinion pages of the papers. Put some energy out there to make the world better in a personal way. Know that what you do is beneficial to the world.

I think that what seems like a resurrection of the SDS, is actually a ploy to identify dissent. Everything leaves a cyber trail these days. The big boogey man for the thrashing corporations that missed the boat, and are now flailing about to find footing, is the upwelling of Socialism, when they thought they had made it impossible.

The cyber information officers all have the same talking points.

1. Depleted Uranium is okay
2. Socialism is a failed experiment
3. Iraq had to happen and everyting is going great
4. Iran is going to happen
5. Iraqis love us
6. If you have nothing to hide, and you behave,
then why do you need privacy?
7. Everyone can't wait for abortion to be illegal
8. George Bush is smart
9. We only eavesdrop on terrorists
10. Rich people give as much as they can to poor people.
11. Your dossier was started the day you were born
because your parents were in the SDS.
posted by Oyéah at 10:42 PM on January 27, 2006



a ploy to identify dissent

No need, I'll identify it for them.
posted by bukharin at 11:18 PM on January 27, 2006


It was explained to me by a parent that worked in the intelligence field, that the SDS was the one communist backed student organization.

Well, this sentence is wrong, for starters. There were communists in SDS -- my father was one -- but SDS was not "communist-backed," whatever that's supposed to mean (funded with checks from the Kremlin?). SDS was a grassroots organization that contained leftists of many stripes, including Marxists, Trotskyists, Maoists, civil rights folks, union organizers, gay liberationists, Quakers, Yippies, and good old plain antiwar lefties who didn't subscribe to any programmed dogma. There were Marxists of various flavors in many student organizations of the time. I'm not sure what your parent was trying to say.
posted by digaman at 11:23 PM on January 27, 2006


> SDS is an established brand with strong name recognition. Better to revive it than
> to create some new acronym with which to label a mass youth organization. But,
> as my right wing friends always tell me, this ain't the 60's. The new SDS has its
> work cut out for it.

In the face of all that actually does need to be accomplished, why would you pick a brand that so aggressively says "Our Heads Are Stuck In The Sixties. Forward Into The Past"?
posted by jfuller at 9:01 AM on January 28, 2006


There's nothing wrong with having a sense of continuity with the radical mass movements of the past, which includes learning from their mistakes and welcoming seasoned warriors into the ranks. Frankly, "in the face of all that actually does need to be accomplished," sitting around fretting about whether the group should call itself the Students for a Democratic Society (a name that has the virtues of having an accurate and modest literal meaning as well as an archetypally American sound) or the New Blogolutionaries or the Society of Radical Youth or what-not seems pretty shallow. Given that most of the new SDSers were 15 years or more away from being born during the Days of Rage in Chicago, and grew up swimming like native fish in the bitstreams, I doubt their heads are "stuck in the Sixties." I'm excited to see what they come up with that has the cultural signature and radical priorities of their own time.
posted by digaman at 9:28 AM on January 28, 2006


This description of how the relaunching of the national SDS organization was the idea of an articulate highschool senior named Pat Korte is very much to the point:

"'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...

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."
posted by digaman at 9:44 AM on January 28, 2006


SDS is an established brand with strong name recognition. Better to revive it than to create some new acronym with which to label a mass youth organization. -- bonefish

This sounds right to me. Good packaging is what counts today. With any luck this new package will produce some good packagers, ie leaders, a resource somewhat lacking on the left. I think the right leader making the talk show rounds can do a lot more good than a 100K march, although the march can't hurt, either.
posted by Hobbacocka at 1:13 PM on January 28, 2006


Good point, hobba. Another way to say "packaging" is framing. See that link for a fascinating analysis by George Lakoff of why conservatives have been successful in dominating public discourse.

Also, a thought-provoking essay from The Nation:

The New Face of the Campus Left.
posted by digaman at 2:05 PM on January 28, 2006


« Older Plan59's Demoinc Tots and Deeply Disturbing Cusine...  |  Best of the Web American Idol:... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments