Founded in January 2006, the “new” Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) derives its name, inspiration, and mission from the original SDS of the 1960s. The new SDS consists of more than 150 chapters based in high schools, colleges, universities, and cities across the United States.
Describing itself as “a radical, multi-issue student and youth organization,” SDS’s goal is to initiate “a broad-based, deep-rooted, and revolutionary transformation” of an American society that currently “depends upon multiple and reciprocal systems of oppression and domination for its survival.” Among those systems, according to SDS, are: “racism and white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy, heterosexism and transphobia, authoritarianism and imperialism.” Asserting that “another world is possible,” SDS aims to “amplif[y] the voices of oppressed communities and their allies,” and to turn America into a “society of justice-making, solidarity, equality, peace and freedom … a world beyond oppression, beyond domination, beyond war and empire.”
To achieve these objectives, SDS seeks to overhaul school curricula at every level of the education system — and to thereby radically transform the worldview and character of America’s younger generations. Toward this end, the organization “affirm[s] the necessity of Ethnic, Women’s, Queer, and African/a studies departments as correctives to the historical bias of academia.”
Asserting that “[a]ccess to education and higher education … are not privileges but rights,” SDS’s Student Power for Accessible Education campaign advocates “reparations [i.e., affirmative action] for bias in admissions owing to [longstanding] systems of oppression.” According to SDS, every American student should have access to “universal, free, equitably-funded schools at all levels.” As SDS sees things, schools should not be places “of merely getting skills and training for future jobs,” but should provide students with opportunities to engage in activist projects where they “can participate in making our society better.”
Unlike its ideological forebears of the 1960s, the new SDS eschews a militant approach to advancing its revolutionary aims. Rather than engage in unruly street confrontations replete with images of counterculture defiance, SDS members have elected, in the tradition of Saul Alinsky, to “present ourselves and our ideas in a way that captivates the political mainstream, instead of alienating it and marginalizing ourselves.” They view such an approach as the “tactic” or “strategic action” that will best facilitate their quest to “build a million student movement.”
The idea to re-create SDS originated with two high-school students — Jessica Rapchik of North Carolina and Pat Korte of Connecticut — who first met on an antiwar phone hookup in the autumn of 2005. Korte solicited the help of some older activists, including several members of the original SDS, to provide logistical support for the new group. The first original SDSers to answer the call were Alan Haber (who served as president of the group from 1960-62), Thomas Good (who was also a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, or IWW), and Paul Buhle (a labor historian co-edited a history of the IWW). On January 16, 2006, Korte, Good, and Buhle announced the creation of the new SDS in a press release that quoted Good saying: “It seemed appropriate to make this announcement today, on the observed Martin Luther King day. We have an anti-war movement that is addressing the issue of stopping the bloodletting in Iraq but the civil rights issue remains unaddressed.”
The new SDS is “entirely student- and youth-led,” with the vast majority of its members being under the age of 30. Some members are older than that, but they are permitted only to “vote on the chapter level” and “cannot be considered for any positions in SDS other than at [that] level.”
In April 2006, former Weather Underground leader Bernardine Dohrn was invited to speak at the first new SDS conference (held in Providence, Rhode Island), where she received a rousing ovation. Four months later, the first SDS national convention (in Chicago) opened its proceedings with a written greeting from Dohrn.
SDS’s Anti-War Working Group (AWWG) has organized and participated in numerous actions against the Iraq War, against the possibility of a U.S. military strike in Iran, and against military recruitment efforts. By means of leaflet/flyer campaigns and campus demonstrations, AWWG works “against the violent tactics used by the United States government to repress and exploit people around the world.” In a number of its efforts, SDS has worked collaboratively with International ANSWER.
SDS also has set up a number of caucuses and auxiliary groups that work, on behalf of designated victim groups, against “institutional oppression in our society.” Among these entities are the Class Privilege Working Group, Hetero Allies, the People of Color Caucus, the Queer Caucus, the Trans/Genderqueer Caucus, the White Privilege Working Group, the Womyn’s Caucus, and the Working Class Caucus. Moreover, SDS works in favor of expanded rights and amnesty for illegal immigrants.
In August 2007, SDS launched its first National Action Camps in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. These camps featured workshops in such disciplines as: “anti-oppression/collective liberation,” “media skills,” “meeting facilitation,” “direct action,” “organizing basics,” and “campaign strategy.”
SDS receives tactical guidance and financial support from the Movement for a Democratic Society (MDS). Through its MDS connection, SDS is closely tied to such high-profile radicals as Paul Buhle, Noam Chomsky, Carl Davidson, Angela Davis, Bernardine Dohrn, Barbara Ehrenreich, Tom Hayden, Jeff Jones, Marilyn Katz, Michael Klonsky, Manning Marable, Frances Fox Piven, Cornel West, and Howard Zinn.