“THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country.…
“…[L]ay your shoulders to the wheel; … Let it be told to the future world, that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet and to repulse it. Say not that thousands are gone, turn out your tens of thousands; throw not the burden of the day upon Providence, but “show your faith by your works…”
—Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776
On April 13, 2020, Senator Bernie Sanders urged his supporters to vote for the presumptive Democratic nominee, former vice president Joe Biden. Writing as founders and veterans of the leading New Left organization of the 1960s, Students for a Democratic Society, we welcome Bernie’s wise choice—but we are gravely concerned that some of his supporters, including the leadership of Democratic Socialists of America, refuse to support Biden, whom they see as a representative of Wall Street capital. Some of us are DSA members, but do not believe their position is consistent with a long-range vision of democracy, justice, and human survival.
Now it is time for all those who yearn for a more equal and just social order to face facts. All of us have charged for years that Trump is the leader of an authoritarian party that aims for absolute power; rejects climate science; embraces racism, sexism, homophobia, and violence; holds the democratic process in contempt; bids to take over the entire federal judiciary; represses voting rights; and violates plain human decency on many fronts. These are the grounds for our solemn determination: A common effort to unseat him is our high moral and political responsibility.
In our time, we fought—for a time successfully—against the sectarian politics of the Cold War. We were mindful then of the cataclysm that befell German democracy when socialists and communists fought each other—to death—as Hitler snuck by and then murdered them all.
Now we fear that some on the left cannot see the difference between a capitalist democrat and a protofascist. We hope none of us learn this difference from jail cells.
We have dedicated much of our lives to the fight to extend democracy to more people, more institutions, more places. We continue this work in diverse ways motivated now as then by a spirit of community and solidarity. But now the very existence of American democracy is in jeopardy.
Some of us think “endorsing” Joe Biden is a step too far; but we who now write this open letter all know that we must work hard to elect him. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment.
In 1919, in the midst of the brief German socialist revolution, the great sociologist Max Weber addressed left-wing students about politics. He urged upon them that the best politics must be painfully aware of the consequences of action, not just intentions. Speaking to young men, he prophetically warned them that the cost of ignoring consequences might be their deaths.
We salute Bernie Sanders and our friends and comrades in DSA and in the diverse movements for social justice and environmental sanity that enabled them to rise. We look forward to joining together to build on and defend our accomplishments. And now we plead with all: Get together, beat Trump, and fight for democracy—precious, fragile, worth keeping.
The signers of this letter were founders, officers, and activists in Students for a Democratic Society between 1960 and 1969. Interested persons may contact Robert Ross at [email protected] for further information.
Oliver Fein, MD
Odile Hugonot Haber
Michael Gaylord James
Sharon Jeffrey Lehrer
Charlotte Phillips, MD
Robert J.S. Ross
James W. Russell