Magazine article In These Times

SDS, New and Improved

Magazine article In These Times

SDS, New and Improved

Article excerpt

OVER THE FIRST weekend of August, more squirrels were scampering through the Quads at the University of Chicago than students or professors. But from Aug. 4 to 7, students adorned with political pins and T-shirts transformed the drab front hall of Cobb Hall into a scene reminiscent of a political rally. For the first time in 37 years, the newly re-formed Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) exchanged ideas and strategies at a national convention, one that contained both contention and hope for the modern student left.

Beginning in 1960 and lasting through the next nine years, SDS pioneered the teach-in as a means to examine and protest the Vietnam War and organized an estimated 100,000 students. The sectarian downfall of SDS at their national convention in Chicago in 1969 led to the disintegration of almost 200 active chapters and created a void on college campuses that many think remains unfilled. "The demise of SDS was so disastrous that it left many suspicious of any form of a national organization," says Maurice Isserman, a history professor at Hamilton College, former member of SDS and the author of three books about the New Left.

But hope springs eternal. In January, a group of students and SDS veterans, led by Pat Korte, then a senior at Stonington High School in Connecticut, and SDS's first president Alan Haber, decided to reestablish the group. In just eight months, more than 1,000 students registered as members and 150 local chapters have started up.

The 100 or so students who attended the convention shared war stories from local campaigns. Chapters from various schools, such as Pace University, the University of Central Florida and the New School, also organized diverse workshops on broader topics ranging from "The Student Syndicalist and Unionist Movement" to "White Privilege and Gentrification," allowing members to exchange tactics and organizing methods. The most passionate exchanges, however, were reserved for the larger brainstorming session on how to develop a provisional national structure for the group, which included discussions on its purpose, voting processes and maintaining both democracy and the decentralization of power.

By practicing participatory democracy, direct action and chapter autonomy, the new generation of SDS organizers has embraced many of the idealistic values expressed in its predecessor's seminal manifesto, the Port Huron Statement. Members hope to create a viable, multi-issue movement that will effect radical social change and reinvigorate the student left. "SDS is a valuable organization because it gives students an opportunity to define and direct their own movement," says Korte. "It also allows us to build a movement that will utilize dual power, create alternative institutions and is modeled after a society we collectively envision. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.