Movement for a Democratic Society – A. Embree

I expected the meeting to be more participatory. After all, what is participatory democracy for? Perhaps that was also the motivation of the Haber contingent, but they did not further their position by barking from the back about Robert’s Rules of Order. Most importantly, the younger generation SDSers were rolling their eyes and burying their heads in their hands. When the SDSers addressed us a panel, they advised us that if we did not learn to play nice, we would be of no value to them.

In the morning: Thomas Good gave a run down on SDS activities since February 2006. 46 High School chapters, 140 university chapters; 50 MDS/SDS chapters; 2 in Germany. Mark Rudd spoke, very self critical about his role in dismantling SDS and advocating violence. Manning Marable spoke eloquently and stayed throughout. A student panel spoke. They had a lot of enthusiasm, were clear about their needs, wanted to have Action Camps this summer to cross train on facilitation skills, were clear about their needs from us (money, networking “social capital”). At lunch, I visited with Mark Rudd (who I hadn’t seen since 1968) and his wife Marla. In the afternoon, Barbara Ehrenreich spoke and left. Then, Judith Malina of the Living Theater, a very theatrical anarchist, spoke. Then, there was a structured Board meeting. Interrupted again by the loud advocates for Al Haber as president, but after the yelling subsided, the meeting continued.

The meeting was about setting up a Board structure for MDS, Inc. It was not a venue for memberhsip dialogue. Manning Marable was elected chair. All attending Board nominees were ratified; Al Haber was added from the floor as a Board member; then the Board members present ratified the longer list. From a democratic point of view, it was like being in a room watching a Board meeting with little discussion.

I introduced myself to Manning and gave him greetings from Glenn Scott in Austin who he knows well from DSA. Later, I told Manning that I had expected open discussion. I was most interested in how to form a chapter, what was working in different areas, the MDS relationship with SDS, etc. He said that he hoped they could handle some of this through conference calls to areas. I find him to be an inspirational thinker; I’m glad that he is involved; I have reason to trust him from his long stint in DSA, etc. At dinner, David and Sally Hamilton and I (the Texans) went off to dinner at Katz’s with Mark, Marla, Thomas Good, Starhawk, the lawyer who had incorporated MDS, and some others. This was an opportunity to have some dialogue with Thomas Good and others about organizing.

I came back with membership cards and buttons. We received a message from a student who wants to form an SDS chapter here. I think it is worth forming an “MDS Exploratory Committee” in Austin. SDS and MDS have always defined themselves at the chapter level within the broad outlines of Port Huron, participatory democracy, and direct action. I don’t have illusions that things are perfect at the national level, but I know that the local scene can benefit from a non-sectarian, multi-issue organizing effort. When David and Sally return, we can follow up on this idea.

In solidarity,
Alice Embree

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