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(en) US, The New SDS - Towards a Radical Youth Movement By RON JACOBS

Date Tue, 11 Jul 2006 13:50:08 +0300


"We're not asking permission to stop this war. We're not asking
permission to fight for our freedom. We're not asking for those in power
to do their job right. They are doing their job wrong and we will do
what is necessary to stop them."
We are not a "protest organization," we are a "resistance organization."
If you know a student, if you are a student, if you have ever been a
student, please read this. And, forward. ---- richard myers
>From August 4th through the 7th, a new incarnation of Students for a
Democratic Society (SDS) will hold its first national convention. This
organization will have been around for almost a year when it meets in
Chicago. Obviously taking its inspiration from the famed US student
organization of the 1960s, the new SDS is part an extension and
expansion on the hopes and dreams of the group and also something quite
new. Although by assuming that group's name the new SDS is taking a risk
in a number of ways, the enthusiasm of the new members that I have met;
and their understanding of the mistakes and successes of their
predecessor indicates that this SDS is not a nostalgia buff's toy, but
the genuine article--a left and democratic youth organization dedicated
to effecting radical social change. I was recently at another conference
in New York City and met up with one of the convention organizers
Patrick Korte. We agreed to have an email conversation discussing the
new organization. The transcript follows.

Ron: What are the founding organizers hopes for the new SDS?

Pat: Our founding hopes are to build a multi-issue, multi-generational,
radical coalition that can educate, fight, and build. Rather than build
an organization around a particular political ideology
(anarcho-syndicalism, libertarian communism, Marxism, etc.) we can build
around the need for unity within the Left, the need to actively combat
the oppression in the modern world (US imperialism in the Middle East,
racism in our communities, poor public education, etc.) while building
new institutions that counter the inadequate existing ones. Through our
experiences in tearing down the old, undemocratic society and building
up a new, truly democratic society we can develop an original ideology
that we can call our own.

Ron: Who can join SDS?

Pat: SDS is open to people of all ages, regardless of their enrollment
status. The reason for this is that we are all students of the human
experience, actively learning from one another. For the older members of
SDS, a post-graduate division has been created, the Movement for a
Democratic Society (MDS).

Ron: What is your role in the new SDS?

Pat: Currently I am working on both the local and national level.
Locally, I am working in the Connecticut and New York area, focusing on
the issues of US military intervention in the Middle East and South
America, immigrant rights, student rights, and political
prisoners/prisoners of war. On the national level I have been doing a
lot of office work (answering phone calls, responding to e-mails) and
helping to coordinate the national convention which will be held from
August 5-7 at the University of Chicago.

Ron: In terms of the current organizing group, what is the gender
balance? The racial/ethnic mix?

Pat: It's hard to say since we have grown to be fairly large in a short
amount of time and we don't keep track of that information, but at the
events I have attended there has been a diverse racial/ethnic mix and I
would estimate that the gender balance on the national level is around
50-50. Unlike the original SDS, the issues of racism and sexism are
already being actively addressed and overcome within the organization.

Ron: Are you hoping to recruit students of all skin tones and
ethnicities? What about non-students? You probably know from history
that the attempt to recruit non-students and the debate on how to do so
was problematic in 1968 and 1969. How have things changed since then?

Pat: I believe it is critical for SDS's success to build a multi-racial
coalition, and we have already begun to do so. Regarding non-students,
we understood from the beginning that radical change could not be
brought about in the US (or the world) by students alone, but it is
critical that youth and students lead their own struggles without bowing
at the feet of veteran activists this is why we chose to create a sister
organization (MDS) within SDS.

Ron: Are there certain political expectations that people interested in
joining the organization should have? Do the organizers have certain
political expectations of those that they hope do join?

Pat: There is one political expectation for people interested in joining
SDS, and that is a commitment to participatory democracy (active
participation in the decision making process). Most organizers hope that
new members fall along the libertarian side of the Left (as opposed to
the authoritarian), but for many, SDS is their first experience with
political activism and it is expected that one's ideology will change
through their experiences organizing in the community and in the streets.

Ron: What are SDS' founding principles?

Pat: SDS was founded on the principles of participatory democracy,
community education, and a commitment to action rather than rhetoric. We
seek for both young and old people to participate in a movement that
will tear down the pillars of the old society and build a new world that
is democratic and free of poverty, ignorance, war, exploitation, racism,
and sexism. The Port Huron Statement, although outdated, is still
relevant to this question in many ways. SDS was also founded as a
resistance organization as opposed to a protest organization. We are no
longer going to plead with the people in power, begging them to serve in
the greater interest of the people - they serve corporate interests and
we will do what is necessary to stop them and build a society that puts
people before profits.

Ron: Why SDS and not some other name?

Pat: Over the years, many students have been shafted in the American
Left, and we believe it is necessary for students to lead their own
organization and to determine the direction of their own movement
without isolating themselves from the non-student Left. There is also a
need for a radical, democratic alternative to the authoritarian and
undemocratic organizations dominating the Left and an organization that
is issue based and an inclusive one that allows the participants to
develop their own ideology through their experiences within the
organization. The reason we chose to keep the name SDS is because it
accurately describes us (we are students for a democratic society), the
ideas expressed in the Port Huron Statement, the focus on participatory
democracy, and the militancy and radicalism that defined the original
SDS are much needed in the 21st century.

Ron: Who funds your organization? If it is an outside group, do you
think that that connection will affect SDS' independence? (As you know,
the original SDS was originally funded by the League for Industrial
Democracy--an anti-communist leftist group. Despite this, they struck
out on their own )

Pat: SDS received no outside funding with the exception of donations we
have received from individuals. The majority of funding comes from our
own pocket. In the spirit of the original SDS, we have continued the
tradition of having a shoestring budget.

Ron: What do you see as the biggest task facing you in the group's early
stages?

Pat: Our biggest task is to create a national and local structure that
allows maximum participation of all members of the organization without
jeopardizing the need for action.

Ron: As you know, many folks believe that one of the primary reasons the
original SDS disintegrated was because its membership policies and
structure allowed groups with relatively small memberships to control
the organization's agenda. What are your thoughts on that historical
take and does the new SDS anticipate such a situation occurring this
time around?

Pat: We want to remain inclusive and we believe that the best way to
combat sectarian takeovers of the organization is to create a structure
that on a local level allows chapters to function autonomously and on a
national level allows maximum participation of the organizations
membership in the decision making process, rather than a select few
individuals making decisions on behalf of the membership.

Ron: If so, how do you think it will be handled?

Pat: It is likely that individuals advocating totalitarian principles
will infiltrate SDS and attempt to push the organization in a specific
direction, but if the membership is actively involved in national and
local decisions, then it would be difficult for individuals to take over
SDS.

Ron: There are other organizations out there in the US that are
organizing around some of the same issues that SDS is organizing
around--the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, immigration, civil
liberties--how is SDS different from these groups? And, how are they
similar?

Pat: SDS is different because we are focused on student-worker power, we
are multi-issue, and we are offering the opportunity for individuals to
shape, build, and define an organization. We are similar in that we are
against a common enemy (imperialism) and for the Left to successfully
fight the Right, we must unite with these other organizations. Unity is
critical, SDS is not asking individuals to leave their organizations
because we offer a better platform or theory we exist for the purpose of
offering a democratic alternative to authoritarianism without asking
individuals to commit to a particular political ideology or party line.

Ron: Do you see the group calling national demonstrations in the future?

Pat: Currently all demonstrations are called for on a local or regional
level. I would like to see SDS create a national structure that allows
for the majority of the membership to participate in calling for
national mobilizations. If we can't create a democratic process to call
for national mobilizations, then we'll stick to local actions - many
which have already proven to be more effective than many of the mass
anti-war demonstrations called for by the big organizations in the Left.
If we could call for national mobilizations that had the potential to
shut down entire cities and cause the war machine to stop functioning on
the military, political, and economic level, then national mobilizations
would be worth the effort. We need to break away from the stereotypical
anti-war mobilization where thousands of people go to Washington, DC or
NYC, listen to a long list of speakers touch upon issues most of the
audience is already aware of, march around for an hour, then go home -
all of this being done after the organization has begged for permission
to do so from the very power they are opposed to. We're not asking
permission to stop this war. We're not asking permission to fight for
our freedom. We're not asking for those in power to do their job right.
They are doing their job wrong and we will do what is necessary to stop
them. We don't want to rock the boat, we want to sink the motherfucker!

Ron: Tell me about the convention. How many people have registered already?

Pat: Currently we have only 120 people registered but we expect many
more to be attending, especially since many SDSers plan on bringing friends.

Ron: What's the agenda? Etc.

Pat: The convention will be a mass gathering of SDSers collaborating in
workshops to discuss issues of structure, local organizing, national
organizing, and the issues that affect us today (US involvement in the
Middle East/US imperialism, immigrant rights, student rights and power,
the prison-industrial complex, racism, sexism, homophobia, poverty,
AIDS, etc.). We want it to be a participatory convention where those in
attendance will play an active role in the discussion, rather than a
seminar where only a select group of individuals have the floor. We want
much of the focus to be on how to effectively combat the problems we are
up against (such as how we can sever ties between the military and the
education system). The agenda will be available here.

Ron: Are there any plans beyond the convention?

Pat: Yes - in New York we are planning "Iraq Week", an event focused on
the US war in the Middle East. The event will be a mass teach-in
followed by a resistance campaign throughout the city. On a national
level, we hope to put our goals and values into words and begin
developing a national structure. I don't foresee SDS calling for a
national action in the immediate future, but expect teach-ins, sit-ins,
takeovers, and acts of resistance on high school and college campuses
across the country starting this fall. We also hope to build an
international solidarity network so that SDS can begin fighting US
imperialism on a global scale.

Ron: I see SDS as part of a broader movement. Although history will
certainly decide the answer to this next question I would be interested
in your thoughts before history takes over. Do you see the group as part
of a united front or as an organization that works parallel to other
left-leaning organizations?

Pat: I believe SDS is part of a united front against exploitation and
empire; part of a broad coalition of radicals that understand change
cannot be achieved by working within the imperialist system. Although we
have differences regarding internal structure and have varying
definitions of democracy, we are all in the same struggle against an
enemy that is far to the right of even Nixon.

(For those interested in attending the national conference, a
registration form can be found on the SDS website.)
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