A Report from the New SDS Confab in Detroit

The national meeting of Students for a Democratic Society in Detroit, July 27 to August 1, marked the second annual National Convention since the New SDS was born at the start of 2006.

Since then, hundreds of demonstrations inspired by SDS have occurred nationally-- on and off the college campus. Detroit was the environment wherein a revolution was birthed just forty years ago. Today, that same atmosphere would seem to offer SDS a historically rich and inspiring backdrop. Wayne State University is in the heart of the political labyrinth that is Detroit, where Anarchists, Communists, and closet Libertarians met to evaluate how their budding participatory democracy can hold up to yet another year of the Bush/Cheney regime.

Clad in clever t-shirts and an abundance of corduroy, our 200 radicals spent most of their four day trip to WSU in “Work-Shops” and Caucuses learning the nature of religious, class, and racial oppression. Out of an itinerary of four days, 16 hours were dedicated to these workshops.

Not a single one of these same workshops was dedicated to the Iraqi War, Israeli apartheid policy in Palestine, the deterioration of Democracy in the US through King George W’s Pro Big Business agenda, or even what it means to be “radical.” At a national level, hour upon hour was spent arguing over “what defines a member” and “what defines a chapter” and how will these newly defined chapters and members communicate with each other.

Robert “Alan” Haber was present for most of the convention where students 40 years his junior were tweaking a political movement that he created in 1962. After a grueling four-hour session of the plenary, I spoke with Haber outside of the De Roy Auditorium where the battle was taking place. “I feel really disconnected” said Haber of the New SDS. “What they’re doing is great. Dialogue is great. But it’s just so tedious.”

Tedious is right. Many of the planners of this year’s convention refused to sponsor an Iraq War protest one mile down the road from WSU. Several students wanted to travel to the downtown square and hold a march on the prominent Big Business crossroads where all of commerce comes together. But, showing dissent in today’s SDS can unfortunately cause problems, as when the hosting SDS chapter planner said “If we protest, WSU is going to have to deal with the consequences” when everyone else goes home. Little does this radical know that Democracy is in the street and the consequences of protesting the Iraq War would be to say to the city and nation that “We are SDS and this is what we stand for.”

While defining an organization is imperative for direction and consensus, attention exclusively devoted to structure and not action is narcissistic. This convention is the second since the new SDS movement was created, and it’s apparent that more members are interested in talking about their own disdain for the US government than acting for change. SDS should act as an inspiration for all non-political students conscious of the terrible direction our country has taken. Instead of concentrating on how “each chapter should retain its regional identity” SDS should be trying to bolster their numbers as they did in 1962-69 in the SDS of Haber’s day.

Out of the four-day assembly of nearly 200 radicals in the same city, more time was spent on the theory of oppression than the application of resistance to the oppressive forces of US imperialism in the Middle East and on its domestic population. Members of a radical organization such as SDS don’t require an education; that’s why they’re students. They require a vehicle of resistance such as an SDS to be their voice.

With over $600 billion in taxpayers’ dollars spent on the military and with the US occupation of Iraq approaching the trillion dollar mark, the time for action is now. SDS should concentrate less on their structure and more on their purpose. Leaders in the Pentagon and Wall Street would be happy to see that the best the US population has to offer in resistance is a group of kids more concerned about their own identity to the outside world than their effect on the masses which could potentially give them a political bargaining chip.

From UCLA, NYU, Harvard, Hunter College, University of Florida, and more, “radicals” came together to decide “where will SDS go?” in the coming year. A less optimistic but more pertinent question can be asked of this year’s National Convention: Where did SDS go?

James Neshewat is a senior at the University of Central Florida. He’s been an active member of UCF SDS since October 2006. He can be reached at

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