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The New SDS > Letters

Web Letter

A lot of the clamor around the emergence of the new SDS obscures one important fact: thousands of extremely young students coming into social justice movements is a good thing. What seems to be the problem is that there are plenty of movement veterans who want this very positive development to validate their own personal take on the history of the old SDS, past or present politics, and in some cases grudges.

To saddle the youngsters not only with the task of galvanizing their own generation but unpacking the baggage of the previous one is a recipe for unmitigated disaster.

Or rather, in the language of the younger generation, it is bullshit.

Yet history provides a healthy example of how not to walk the path of eventual burnout, cynicism and sectarianism. When the students who would later become the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) first intiated their brave lunch-counter sit-ins, many elders wished to see them brought under the discipline of the established organizations. It was Ella J. Baker who encouraged the youth to simultaneously seek counsel from the older generation and plot their own independent course.

Baker's legacy isn't something that easily fits on a T-shirt, but should be revisited before trying to hoist the entire weight of the past on this generation.

James Tracy

San Francisco, CA

May 31 2007 - 5:22pm

Web Letter

Care to give us any reason why you do not "pin any hope on this generation of kids (at least those with anarcho-leftist leanings)"?

AJ Johnson

Arawak City, Ohio

Apr 17 2007 - 12:04am

Web Letter

I enjoyed (as in "laughed along") with your article on the re-incarnation of the SDS. Several notes to that article:

1. Young people from 18 to 25 simply don't vote, never have, never will. I don't know why. Even at the height of the anti-war involvement of the 60s and 70s, very street-active and campus-active kids did not vote.

2. American kids don't give a shit unless there's a draft.

3. To pin any hope on this generation of kids (at least those with anarcho-leftist leanings) is whistling past the graveyard.

4. The leaders of tomorrow will still come from the pool of greed, self-interest and upper-classes, will be white (in most cases) and will be ardent defenders of declining democracy with some fringe lip-service to reform.

That's what we invested in and what we shall reap.

E. Quevedo

Laguna Hills, CA

Apr 8 2007 - 2:03pm

Web Letter

I enjoyed the article about the resurrection of SDS, and I am hopeful that a new focus on participatory democracy by the youth of this country will survive this war. I have my doubts.

If responsible people fail to participate in politics, then all is lost. Elbridge Gerry, of "gerrymandering" fame, stated during the Constitutional convention that the "excess of democracy" was the problem and that citizens were the "dupes of pretended patriots." It would be hard to find times where that is more true than now. These dupes are led to the polls by their handlers, while so-called responsible people hide behind every excuse, work, school, etc. Participation in democracy MUST be made simpler to accomodate us all. Election day should be made a holiday, or voting should be moved to Saturday and Sunday.

I support the stated goals of SDS/MDS to increase participation, however I was disappointed to see a link of the MDS website to Bruce Rubinstein's law firm. What a clever way to solicit personal injury clients. The McDonaldization of current activism is unnerving. Several weeks ago I witnessed the "Pepsi" peace rally here in Portland. Pepsi wasn't really involved, but it sure felt like it. Nothing says protest like walking around an empty downtown area on Sunday with a police escort.

Good Luck MDS/SDS, but remember to hang on to your credibility.

Shannon D Sims

Portland, Oregon

Apr 5 2007 - 7:04pm

Web Letter

Yes, SDS can. If they have the Constitution for it!

Victor Bruce Anderson

Eagle Lake, Florida

Apr 4 2007 - 8:51am

Web Letter

As excited as I am by the prospect of a revived SDS (even if the core issues and driving forces have changed considerably in the past 40 years), I am disappointed that The Nation has seen fit, virtually from the start, to focus on tactical differences between the two eras' organizations, and to feed on the divisions and strife that we were forced into back in the 1960s. Back then, under Presidents Johnson and Nixon, we were living in a state of fear and paranoia, juxtaposed with a self-fed feeling of empowerment that we could actually "change the world". Then the bullets literally started flying. Kent State. Jackson State. Attica. Fred Hampton and the other brutally murdered Black Panthers. People were actually dying for the cause--on the streets, on campuses, even within the so-called privacy of their own homes and apartments. To paraphrase David Byrne, we quickly learned, "This ain't no party... this ain't no foolin' around."

Unfortunately, the heightened paranoia, alienation, and frustration, led a tiny minority to initiate actions that may have created a lot of noise, but effectively derailed the movement. Bombing Bank of America offices was dangerous, infantile, and counterproductive (never mind the rumored innocent janitor who was blown up along with the BOA office--how many of our own "best and brightest" within the movement were blown up by their own amateur bombs, driven underground for years, and effectively removed from the movement?).

Robbing banks and driving getaway cars was dangerous, infantile, and counterproductive. Standing in the back of a peaceful crowd of demonstrators made up of students, workers, families with baby strollers, and throwing rocks to incite police to attack the innocent crowd of protestors with clubs, tear gas, and pepper spray was dangerous, counterproductive, and infantile. Encouraging high school students to trash their schools, or to cut brake linings in the cars of National Guardsmen before they left on weekend training was, again, infantile and dangerous.

Why dwell on the infantilism (at best) and government infiltration (at worst) of the Weatherpeople? How small a handful of agents provocateurs did it take to destroy a vibrant and powerful student movement? And why do that work for them now that some brave high school(!) students have seen through the bullshit and looked back into history to find all that was good about the true objectives of Students for a Democratic Society?

More useful would have been coverage of the original aims of the Port Huron Statement and what this new generation SDS might have up its sleeve for a modern version of that manifesto.

Where is the coverage of the issues and the politics, and of the forces that led to the necessity for a new student-based movement? Why this obsession with the lunatic fringe that did its best to paint the movement of the 1960s as ineffective, laughable, and (dare I say it again) infantile?

If we're going to obsess, let's obsess about the other 99.9% of the Vietnam War era movement, how it grew out of the civil rights and ban the bomb movements, how it spawned a spate of liberation movements, and how it inspired millions of people of all ages and walks of life to walk away from the comfort of their living rooms and television sets, and hit the streets to yell out loud, "We're Mad as Hell, And We're Not Gonna Take It Anymore!"

I, for one, cannot even begin to express how inspiring it is to know that aging Weatherpeople are walking around with t-shirts proclaiming "Fuck [insert name of your favorite co-movement member]". Oooh. How progressive. How astute. How effective.

How infantile. Can we move on now?

Bill Siegel

Bill Siegel

AMherst, NH

Apr 3 2007 - 9:09am

Web Letter

I enjoyed reading this article overall, but I would like to respond to this:

"'Propaganda by the deed doesn't work," says Yale's Landau. "They probably alienated far more people than they inspired with the Capitol rush, especially the graffiti on the steps of the Capitol.'"

It is hard to define propaganda of the deed, but if we are saying it means an illegal action intended to inspire rather than alienate people, judging from the crowd of excited faces I recall seeing at the Capitol building I don't think there can be any doubt that it did work. Why else would so many people have flocked over there?

Consider this passage from JoAnn Wypijewski, a former senior editor of The Nation, who witnessed the event,

"As we were approaching [the Capitol building] there came the one unscripted moment of the march. The anarchist kids, the revived SDS, a youthful band bearing red and black flags, one saying 'An Army of None', swept up the stairs of the Capitol. We joined them and for a brief time the whole thing felt like it should--electric and raw, impolite."

Far from concluding that we had gone too far she wishes we had done more, adding,

"At one point there were very few police. Had there been waves of thousands coming up those steps, it would have been hard for the men in blue to do much. It's not as if, in practical terms, 'taking' the Capitol steps would have been any more meaningful on that lovely winter afternoon than marching in a well-behaved box, but it would have been symbolically potent. It would have been an exhibition of a fierce anger, in the fifth year of Guantanamo, the fourth year of the war in Iraq, in the awful march of euphemized torture, legalized detention, authorized aggression, constitutional trampling, death and pain and sadness and acquiescence. It would have been apt. Not much really, just somewhat commensurate with the horror of the times, a performance of fury and a warning of more."

(http://www.counterpunch.org/jw01292007.html)

I agree that "for a brief time the whole thing felt like it should." We were testing the limits, and if nothing else those actions changed us. Even if it is true that the police were ordered to go easy on us, we didn't know that at the time. I was sure we were going to be clubbed, and I think many had similiar anxieties. The satisfaction we derived from facing our fears was not diminished by the fact that they weren't realized. It was even better. We left D.C. emboldened and unscathed.

I sent away for my SDS membership soon after returning home.

Matthew Provonsha

Toledo, Ohio

Apr 2 2007 - 5:51pm

Web Letter

A question for Maurice Isserman, who writes, "As a historian, I found it a little offensive. It's like, could I be in the Sons of Liberty tomorrow if I started it, claimed lineal descent from Sam Adams?"

Are you aware of a group called the Zapatistas? Do you know that Emiliano Zapata died many years ago, and neither he nor anyone in his circle could be said to endorse the EZLN?

Steven Sherman

Carrboro, North Carolina

Apr 2 2007 - 5:35pm

Web Letter

Glad to see that The Nation provided its readers with news about SDS and MDS in the 21st-century.

Apparently another elected member of MDS's board is Jeff Jones, who did a lot of great anti-war campus organizing during the late 1960s as a member of the New York SDS Regional Office.

The original MDS was formed by this office and one of MDS's co-founders, a 1968 Columbia Student Strike leader named David Gilbert, is still imprisoned at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York (although a recent court decision apparently finally overturned his 1983 trial verdict because of trial procedure irregularities).

Readers of The Nation who are interested in 1960s SDS and MDS history might also find some of the historical material posted on the www.bfeldman68.blogspot.com site of interest.

Bob Feldman

Boston, Massachusetts

Apr 2 2007 - 11:09am