A small kitten scampers up the steps of ivy-laden Cobb Hall at the University of Chicago. Nearby, a mohawked student attempts to spear a stale, “dumpstered,” bagel mid-air with a PVC pipe. He’s surrounded by dozens of other young radicals mingling in the school’s immaculate green courtyard, chatting about music, activism and revolution. Just inside the hall a complicated and exasperating argument rages over national organization and the delicate challenges surrounding differences in race, sex, class, sexual orientation and gender identity. Welcome to the 1st National Convention of the reborn Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).
The New and the Old
Held August 4th-7th (2006) and attended by an estimated 200 students and activists from as far away as Washington State, Vermont, and Arizona, the convention was the first national event held by SDS since its re-inception just 7 months ago on Martin Luther King Day. The original SDS of the 1960s, before it collapsed into various competing factions (the final, disastrous convention in 1969 was also held in Chicago), is remembered as part of a powerful movement that funneled thousands of young students Southward to the front lines of the struggle for Civil Rights, and as one of the first and steadiest voices demanding the unconditional withdrawal of U.S. troops from a place called Vietnam. 40 years later, while the nation is embroiled in a conflict over the civil rights of immigrants, and the American military is trapped in yet another foreign quagmire, a sentiment of disinterested cynicism, even hopelessness, has thus far maintained a firm grip on much of America’s youth. Meanwhile, the national organizations leading the fight against the rising tide of imperialism have been a regrettable combination of internet-based lobby groups soliciting funding from wealthy donors, along with sectarian groups stuck in the mid-60s strategy of massing bodies to clog city streets for one afternoon.