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(en) US, SDS* National Constitutional Convention Final Bulletin - Who We Are, What We Are Building

Date Sat, 03 Nov 2007 08:42:53 +0200

AS STUDENTS FOR A DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY, WE WANT TO REMAKE A MOVEMENT ­ A YOUNG LEFT ---- where our struggles can build and sustain a society of justice-making, solidarity, equality, peace and freedom. This demands a broad-based, deep-rooted, and revolutionary transformation of our society. It demands that we build on movements that have come before, and alongside other people's struggles & movements for liberation. ---- Together, we affirm that another world is possible: A world beyond oppression, beyond domination, beyond war and empire. A world where people have power over their own lives. ---- We believe we stand on the cusp of something new in our generation. We have the potential to take action, organize, and relate to other movements in ways that many of us have never seen before. Something new is also happening in our society: the organized Left, after decades of decline and crisis, is reinventing itself. People in many places and communities are building movements committed to long-haul, revolutionary change.
SDS can play a vital role by redefining the
student and youth movement and how it
relates to others. Yet we have a choice ahead
of us: We can do what has been done
before ­ reinvent the wheel with the same
old cycles ­ or we can build something new
together, something informed by our past
and grounded in a vision of what the future
might look like. We envision the new SDS in
the light of the second alternative.
SDS will forge itself through its actions
and speak for itself with its own collective
voice. In this statement of organizational
vision, we want to highlight the most hope-
ful ideas and practices in SDS, offering a
sense of what our organization might be and
what it can offer others. The concepts below
are building blocks for our organization.
Here, we begin to evoke our visions for
the movement we want to make, but that is
not enough: As Students for a Democratic
Society, we will work to actually bring it


We are here to win

We really believe we can create a more
just society. It is possible, and we can do it ­
therefore we have a responsibility to do it.
Our activism is not simply a matter of
"fighting the good fight," or of insularity or
purity, but instead is grounded in the day-to-
day reality of what it takes to build a move-
ment that can win concrete objectives and
ultimately transform society.
We are in it for the long haul
Realizing that we can win, we think about
what it means to be involved in long-haul
struggle, and what it really means to do this
for life. We believe there is more to a move-
ment than taking to the streets for a day. We
are building our power over the long haul.
This helps give perspective on our goals and
how we achieve them. We think about how
we want the movement ­ and SDS ­ to look
in five years, in ten years, in twenty years. We
think about what we need to do now to get
there. We will keep our eyes on the prize.
We are organizers
As Students for a Democratic Society, we
will dedicate ourselves not just to activism,
but to organizing. Activists are people who
take action to make change in society.
Organizers are activists who also work to
bring many other people into movements.
They help build organizations and spaces
that engage and activate new people.
Note :
This is a revised and combined version of several vision
proposals that were presented at the SDS Nat'l Convention:

"For a More Inclusive SDS" by Kateri Woestman & Nick
Martin, Lancaster

"What Kind of Movement to Make? A Statement on Vision
and Practice" by Kelly Lenora Lee & Michael Gould-
Wartofsky, Harvard

"Who We Are, What We Are Doing" by Madeline Gardner,
UMN SDS & Joshua Kahn Russell, Bay Area
As organizers, we try to meet people
where they are, listen to their concerns, and
help to amplify their voices. As organizers,
we constantly reach out to new people and
build alliances wherever we can. As organiz-
ers, we strive to see the big picture ­ not sim-
ply our own viewpoint and agenda. We col-
lectively take responsibility for the direction
of our organizations and groups.
SDS will build a culture of organizing, in
which we are always reaching out to people,
working with them, building alliances, and
creating empowering spaces to make change

We will be relevant.
Our actions will be relevant to a context,
a community, a target, and a movement. We
believe change will be made by many, many
people working collectively, not by an elite
"vanguard" or a crew of professional
activists. Real change is made by mass move-
ments, and we see Students for a
Democratic Society as part of a mass move-
ment for social change. We will therefore
organize around issues that provide tangible,
concrete gains to meet real needs in our
campuses and communities.
In order to be relevant and build power,
SDS must grow. We have to continually
grow in numbers and chapters, as well as in
our capacity and the depth and sophistica-
tion of our organizing. We will continually
reach beyond existing circles, building our
base and expanding our scope. We will not
allow ourselves to become activist cliques,
nor allow our movement to be limited to
one culture or subculture.
We seek to be an organization that stu-
dents and youth from all walks of life can
see themselves joining. We seek to build an
organization with which groups and com-
munities in struggle can ally themselves. We
will strive to be inclusive and accessible.
We will present ourselves and our ideas in
a way that captivates the political main-
stream, instead of alienating it and marginal-
izing ourselves. A large majority of young
people in our society are ready for change.
We will appeal to the positive values already
commonly held in our society and demon-
strate how they are antithetical to our cur-
rent system.
To build the movement, it is crucial that
we maintain humble and open-minded atti-
tudes. Elitist attitudes discourage new voices
and ideas. We take seriously the way activist
language, attitudes, and subcultures have
been alienating and intimidating and kept us
marginal. We can be ourselves while being
mindful and attentive to the needs of others
in their communities, respectfully, without
putting appearances above and beyond the
goals of changing society.

We will be strategic

Our actions will be strategic, fitted to a
collective purpose, a direction, and a need.
Strategy is a lens with which we will
approach our organizing. We will have a
clear sense of our goals, and evaluate how
our actions move us toward them. We will
always act with respect to the community
and context in which we find ourselves. We
will always think about how to build our
organization, develop new allies, and sup-
port other movements.
Strategic action is not a "line" ­ not a
mandated set of rules, but a shared orienta-
tion. Strategic action looks different in dif-
ferent places. Our strategy will guide our tac-
tics ­ not the other way around. Tactics are
like a toolbox. If you are building a house,
you need different tools at different times ­
sometimes you need a hammer, other times
you need a screwdriver. But you need those
tools to be part of a strategy if you want to
build the house. More than any tactic for its
own sake, we are committed to strategic
action to win our goals.

We will all be leaders and mentors

We want organizations and movements
that create the space for new folks to learn
how to organize and take action. Mentorship
must occur intergenerationally between
SDSers and movement elders and veterans,
as well as internally among SDSers of vari-
ous levels of experience. We especially value
such relationships between people of
diverse backgrounds and perspectives. We
view every new member of our group as a
peer-mentor, someone to learn from, as well
as encourage and teach.
We believe in collective leadership. We
reject leadership that centers on individuals
whom others blindly follow. Instead, we will
strive to create a space where everyone can
develop the skills and analysis to be an
empowered change maker. We will strive for
leadership development that pushes every-
one up. We can all be leaders in a way that
the different talents, skills and experience we
each bring will be used for the good of the
If we are all leaders, we must each take
responsibility for our choices and think
about the group as a whole, not just our-
selves. It is on us to develop each other's
leadership ­ to see the potential in one
another and encourage it. We will build one
another up, and we will support each other
in becoming leaders and taking on responsi-

We are learning from the past.
We will reinvent our movement.

Younger generations, without realizing it,
often re-invent ways of organizing and
thinking about change that have been tried
before. As SDS, we will ground ourselves in
a real sense of our organizing history, valu-
ing the lessons of the movements that have
come before us.
We are committed to a process of asking
questions about past social movements and
organizations. We will ask why and how the
movements of the past have succeeded or
failed. We will study each situation so that we
are ready to build a stronger movement than
ever before. To this, we will add our creativ-
ity and our own insights. If we hope to win,
our generation must engage in a process of
reinvention, on its own terms.
We can mobilize the collective memory of
generations of organizers, dissidents and
revolutionaries, living and dead, "Old Left"
and "New." We will not try to imitate and
relive the past, but we will learn from it,
improvise and imagine new meanings for
our time and place.
We will also give our movement a new
creativity in its form and direction, in its
adversity to oppression, and in its construc-
tion of another kind of politics that hastens
a better and more beautiful world. We will
reimagine a politics of liberation, liberating
our own imagination from the constraints
imposed on it by the present system and by
the past. If we hope to win, our generation
must engage in a process of reinvention, on
its own terms.


We affirm that our organization will be:

1. An Organization that Makes Connections

Students for a Democratic Society will
make the connections between students and
peoples' struggles, and between "issues" and
the bigger systems of which they are a part.
We will ground our work in an understand-
ing of how our issues intersect, how our
struggles are connected, and how to actively
question and creatively approach those
things that separate us. We recognize the
importance of fighting injustice on multiple
fronts. We know that individual struggles are
never won alone.
We are struggling to change a society
which depends upon multiple and reciprocal
systems of oppression and domination for
its survival: racism and white supremacy,
capitalism, patriarchy, heterosexism and
transphobia, authoritarianism and imperial-
ism, among others. In order to create endur-
ing change in such a society, SDS will take
on these systems by nourishing intercon-
nected and mutually sustaining struggles of
liberation. We will consciously and effective-
ly target systems of oppression through col-
laborative struggle rooted in concrete organ-
izing. We will expand our understanding of
issues often viewed as singular to include a
more complex analysis of how peoples'
struggles are related and interdependent.
As we fight to end the wars we see every
day, we will also fight against the unseen
wars of empire, power and profit against
people, especially poor and working people.
Our common life will only be reclaimed
through organized resistance, through local
struggles linked together. We will come to
know our friends and allies, and make our-
selves real friends and allies to the struggles
of other peoples.

2. An Organization for Collective Liberation

Oppressed people are at the forefront of
movements for liberation. We understand
that our work must target structures of
domination in order to build powerful
diverse movements for change. We realize
that lines of power cut deep in our society,
and we must be grounded in the work of
combating systems of white supremacy,
patriarchy, capitalism, imperialism, hetero-
sexism, transphobia, and the many other
forms of oppression thoughtfully and
We realize that having a verbal commit-
ment to this work is not enough. We must be
doing this work. We are committed to learn-
ing how oppression operates and how we
can transform it. We are committed to lever-
aging whatever resources we as students and
individuals have, thoughtfully, respectfully,
and transparently, for the benefit of larger
communities and movements.
We are committed to listening to, learning
from, and amplifying the voices of
oppressed communities and their allies. On
our campuses, we will prioritize workers'
rights, gender justice, affirmative action,
defense of Ethnic, Women's, Queer, and
African/a Studies Departments, and other
issues relevant to oppressed members of
our communities.
We know that peoples not traditionally
recognized as part of the student movement
have always been and still are organizing, at
the forefront. We recognize that activism
and knowledge is not the sole province of
peoples of certain colors, languages, nation-
alities, or genders, and that our movement
must equally and accountably nurture and
connect the struggles of all.
We will not let ourselves be limited by
standards and scripts of activism and action
that do not account for the experiences of
peoples engaged in struggle, and will give
action power by recognizing the diverse and
significant ways in which people resist and
combat oppression daily. Ordinary people
are continuously resisting in extraordinary
ways. We will recognize and support acts of
resistance that empower people, whether or
not such acts fit nicely into an activist mold.

3. An Organization in Solidarity and with Accountability to Others

As Students for a Democratic Society, we
see our work as grounded in strong human
relationships. We seek to build relationships
on solidarity and trust, standing together and
recognizing others' struggles as our own.
SDS will not simply proclaim itself in soli-
darity, but actively practice solidarity with
communities, workers, oppressed peoples,
and all allied movements in struggle.
We will build strong movements where
we live that can both combat oppression at
home and offer meaningful support to other
movements and communities, here and
around the world. Our solidarity will be
locally rooted and nationally/globally linked.
It will be solidarity across borders, and soli-
darity against borders.
Our solidarity will be horizontal, shared
below. It will subvert and transform the
present relations of power. It will build
mutual aid between movements, communi-
ties, and peoples in revolt, and freedom and
autonomy from the powerful. In order to
win, we have to be able to rely on each
other's solidarity.
As Students for a Democratic Society, we
will also strive to be an accountable organi-
zation, one that recognizes, respects, and
responds to the collective agency of those
struggling for liberation. We affirm our
commitment to making our organizing
actively accountable to the communities it
occurs in and to the people organizing from
within these communities. We declare our-
selves ready to respect the experience, recog-
nize the leadership of, and actively support
the struggles of those directly affected.

4. A Democratic Organization for a Democratic Society

As Students for a Democratic Society, we
believe that it has to be up to people them-
selves to decide what their common life and
their society is going to look like, work like
and act like. In a society where all power
over people's lives has been taken out of
their hands and placed in the hands of the
few, the rich and the powerful, this may seem
like an impossible dream, but it can and
must be made a reality.
As Students for a Democratic Society, we
demand and practice nothing less than direct
democracy in which everyone participates
and nobody dominates. We reaffirm libera-
tion movements' historic call for "All power
to the people." We reclaim power, in the
feminist sense, as "power with," not "power
over." People must be free, and have the
resources they need, to democratically deter-
mine the conditions and shape the possibili-
ties of their lives.
We understand that we cannot really be
free until all are free, until the means of a
free life belong to everyone. We will there-
fore fight for autonomy and self-determina-
tion, alongside the communities most affect-
ed, for all of us who have been systematical-
ly denied it: For workers' power in the work-
place, for youth and student power in the
schools, for empowerment of communities
of color, of all genders and sexualities, and
for peoples' control over their own lands
and the policies that affect them and their
own lives.

5. An Organization That Practices Participatory Democracy

In SDS, participatory democracy is syn-
onymous with direct democracy. We under-
stand direct and participatory democracy to
mean that all members of SDS have a right
to meaningful participation in decision-mak-
ing within their organization.
People have a right to participate in deci-
sions proportionate to the degree they are
affected by them. Everyone is encouraged to
access channels to decision-making, and
those who do access them will be held
accountable to the rest of the organization.
We are committed to a process that
ensures that all voices get heard. We are
committed to setting up our organization in
such a way that those with limited time and
limited resources can all participate. If our
organization is open only to those who can
sit in endless meetings, it is not a participato-
ry organization. If our spaces do not nurture
diverse voices, they are not democratic
spaces. Accountable, recallable delegation
can be democratic. Roles and responsibilities
can be democratic.
Participatory democracy must be hori-
zontal, empowering, and organized.

6. An Organization that Values Autonomy & Accountability Among Ourselves

Autonomy and accountability go hand in
hand. Local chapters know their needs and
communities best, and they can best
respond to their local conditions. We affirm
a value of self-determination and self-gover-
nance. Autonomy is about building room for
local experimentation and diversity.
Autonomy means little, however, without
accountability. Without accountability,
"autonomy" becomes reactionary. We are an
organization because we are stronger togeth-
er than individually.
SDS chapters are accountable to one
another and to SDS collectively. Being
accountable means consulting with each
other and offering positive, constructive cri-
tique, in a way that assumes the best about
every SDSer. It means respect, and it means
compromise for the good of the group. It
means approaching one another as allies to
build with.
In SDS, we will organize locally according
to our own needs and the needs of our com-
munities. At the same time, we will organize
them in a way that is conscious of, and con-
tributes to, the larger collective project we
are engaged in together as Students for a
Democratic Society.
We will be accountable to our common
goals, values, and commitments. We will be
accountable to each other. Only through col-
lective struggle will we win.


Beyond our shared visions and principles,
we are striving to build a certain culture in
SDS. A culture can't be written down on
paper and approved at a convention. It must
be made every day, every time we interact
with each other.
If we really do want to win a new society,
and really are committed to long-haul strug-
gle, our organizations and movements must
support us as whole people. They must be
fun, nurturing, accepting, and positive.
We commit to supporting each other in
our work for personal and collective trans-
formation. We will see one another as allies,
even when we disagree, and we will work to
find common ground. We understand that
we are on the same team, one that welcomes
debate and dissent, and one that's responsi-
ble to itself and to others.
We commit to building mutual support
and trust in one another. That can be diffi-
cult, but we are up to the task. We recognize
that politicization is a process. We know we
all come into this organization with different
kinds of understanding and experience. We
will support each other in this process. We
will meet one another where we are, and
move forward together.
As Students for a Democratic Society, we
will launch a project of renewal and reinven-
tion. We will renew the Left and reinvent the
way we organize. We will make our organi-
zation useful, accessible and intersectional.
We will make our organization relevant to
people's lived experiences, easily understood
and widely applicable, and aware of the
complexity and interconnectedness of peo-
ples' struggles.
We will practice solidarity and work
towards freedom and self-determination for
communities and peoples. We will strength-
en a revolutionary form of unity, from
below and to the left, that recognizes our
differences and builds our collective power.
Every positive change that appears to
come from the powers above actually comes
from below, through the struggles of "ordi-
nary" people, writing our own history. We
will draw our ink and prepare to write a new
history together. Our generation does not
have the luxury of cynicism. We do not have
a scarcity of imagination. Resisting and
rebuilding, remembering and reinventing,
we will help make the world anew.
* An antiauthoritarian anticapitalist network

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