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Students for a Democratic Society Makes Progress

by Michael Graham |
August 27, 2008
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(Fight Back! News)

Students for a Democratic Society held their Third National Convention this summer in College Park, Maryland. The event drew over 120 students from across the country. At the top of the agenda was the need to pass and implement a national structure. In the past three years SDS has grown into one of the largest student and youth organizations in the U.S., with over one hundred chapters. Most focus their activity against the U.S. war in Iraq. For example last March over 90 SDS chapters and endorsing student groups participated in a SDS-initiated week of action against the U.S. occupation of Iraq. This became the largest coordinated student antiwar protest since the Vietnam War.

This year's SDS Convention saw unprecedented unity around the need for a workable structure. Cheers erupted as the main proposal was passed during a plenary. This decision will help SDS step on the scene in the U.S. as a major force of the anti-war and radical movements. The proposal calls for a National Working Committee made up of representatives from each region, working group, and caucuses representing oppressed groups. It marks a huge step forward.

Students also discussed proposals such as supporting the upcoming September 1st March on the RNC, including a united student contingent. Another campaign proposal to “Protest McCain!” seeks to build a movement amongst college and high school students who oppose the U.S. war and occupation in Iraq and understand that McCain is committed to “another 100 years” in Iraq.

Chapin Gray from the University of Alabama SDS said, “This year's convention highlighted the positive changes SDS is making. After three years of working hard on our campuses, we're ready to take the next step - putting together a national organization. A student movement that connects students and young people with the movements against war, and for peace, against racism and for full equality, against poverty and oppression, standing up for economic justice and liberation!" Chapin Gray and other leaders of her SDS group from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, plan to take what they learned back to their campus. "Our experiences in local organizing teach us the importance of coming together on a national level and having a structure in place that can help us make a huge impact both locally and nationally."

According to many participants, the convention highlighted the advances that SDS is making. Freddy Bastone, a student at Hunter College in NYC, commented, “I think when you look at the difference between last year and today you can see, politically and methodologically, that there have been leaps and bounds in consciousness, and increased practical understanding of class and oppression as it relates to nationality. We are seeing more emerging discussion of class, nationality, and oppression.”

Finally, SDSers had difficulty agreeing on a plan for action in the coming year, but one proposal proved highly popular. The campaign proposal adopted by the 2008 convention is called "Student Power for Accessible Education". The ultimate goal of this campaign is to have free and accessible higher education, which SDSers hope to achieve by fighting tuition increases on campuses and addressing issues like student debt and fees. SDSers from dozens of chapters are already building this campaign.

Overall, the third national SDS convention was a resounding success, moving both SDS and the student movement forward. The challenge of the coming school year will be to use the newly-adopted national structure to build a powerful national student movement that moves tens of thousands to take action against the Iraq war and support the struggles for peace, justice, and equality.