Clarksville, TN - Over 100 student activists from across the country convened here the weekend of Oct. 12-13 to participate in Students for a Democratic Society’s (SDS) 8th annual National Convention. This year’s convention included a diversity of topics which included organizing to stop the U.S. war on Syria and fighting for affordable education. Of great importance this year was the participation of anti-war leader and International Action Center co-founder Sara Flounders and political hip-hop group Rebel Diaz.
Workshops at the SDS convention are one of the easiest ways for members of SDS and other participating organizations to talk about the successes and challenges of the work they are doing on their campuses and in their communities. This year, there were nearly 20 workshops highlighting important work and issues happening on campuses. Topics included opposing U.S. drones and U.S. war, student organizing and avoiding the perils of student government, combating male chauvinism and rape on campus, “Beyond Student Organizing: Graduation and Continuing The Struggle,” solidarity with Korea against U.S. war and occupation, and many others.
Marisol Marquez, an SDSer from Tampa Bay, Florida, describes one workshop, “The ‘Tuition Equity for Undocumented Students’ workshop by Gainesville SDS as very inspiring. To know SDS is against wars but also stands for undocumented immigrants is something I have never heard or seen by any other national student group. We fight for full equality for the good of all and we are led by the best youth in the country.”
One of the highlights of the convention for many attendees was hearing Sara Flounders speak about her experiences traveling to countries caught in the crosshairs of U.S. imperialism. Flounders, of the International Action Center, is a writer for Workers World newspaper, and a longtime anti-war leader. Recently, Flounders had the opportunity to travel to Syria and see the death and destruction caused by the U.S.-sponsored Free Syrian Army. She spoke of the importance of U.S. anti-war activists traveling to countries under attack by U.S. imperialism as an act of resistance from the left. She raised the importance of self-determination for the Syrian people - that it should be the Syrians, not the U.S. imperialists, who determine the future of Syria. She also pointed out many contradictions between the countries the U.S. decides to attack and our own system. For instance, Flounders pointed out that in Syria, housing, education and healthcare were not treated as commodities, but rather as a right of the Syrian people. She continued that U.S. citizens do not have these essential rights, and if the U.S. succeeds in overthrowing the Syria government, likely the first things to go would be these public goods that we are fighting for here at home.
Rebel Diaz hosted a workshop called “Hip Hop and Immigration” and performed on campus Saturday night. Rebel Diaz is a political hip-hop group founded in Chicago, but now based in the South Bronx of New York. Chilean brothers Rodstarz and G1 of Rebel Diaz perform at many activist events, from the 2006 immigrant rights mega marches in New York to the NATO protests in Chicago last May 2013. In their workshop, Rebel Diaz gave a history of hip-hop and showed how its very foundation was a result of immigration in New York. Through this, Rebel Diaz makes the case that all hip-hop artists have a responsibility to also take a stand for immigration rights in this country and internationally. Rebel Diaz’s work around education rights and radical politics plays out in their work as musicians as well as founders of the Rebel Diaz Arts Collective in the South Bronx, http://rdacbx.blogspot.com.
Finally, at the end of the convention SDSers met to debate and vote on resolutions that guide SDS chapters around areas of primary concern for the upcoming year. Those resolutions include continuing the fight for education rights, demand an end to U.S. wars and war threats, end political repression and spying on activists, endorse the ongoing national campaign for immigrant rights (Legalization 4 All), end the targeted repression of black and brown youth by law enforcement and vigilantes, and most happily, recognize U.S. political prisoner and people’s lawyer Lynne Stewart, currently demanding compassionate release to fight a deadly cancer, with an honorary membership in SDS. These resolutions can be read online at www.newsds.org.
In all, SDSers felt excited and motivated about the work that continues to happen. Matthew Boynton of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities SDS chapter expressed, “The SDS convention this year did a great job integrating student activism into a broader analysis of imperialism, racist war and capitalism. The work to make these connections is particularly useful for younger activists and new SDS members, and an important reminder for all student activists.”