“We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit.” With that first sentence of the Port Huron Statement, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) established itself in 1962. Unfortunately, the Port Huron Statement’s opening words remain true for the current generation of students, who legitimately have even greater cause for concern.
Veterans of the civil rights movement created SDS. The bloody struggle for Black Americans’ basic human rights caused students of all races to question for the first time the basic assumptions of American virtue in politics, history, and culture. In 1965, SDS called the first national march against the Vietnam War in Washington D.C. As a result, SDS became the spear point of the antiwar movement on campuses across the country. Membership grew exponentially. The group raged on until 1969 when internal strife caused the organization to self-destruct. But SDS veterans continued to lead the student antiwar movement until the end of the Vietnam War.
UT’s SDS chapter was particularly active. In the spring of 1967, SDS led the first mass student demonstrations at UT. Infuriated, regent Frank Erwin and the university administration threatened six SDS leaders with “disciplinary probation” for having organized a peaceful antiwar demonstration against Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Thousands of students rallied to support the six accused, demanding that free speech be taken seriously at UT. Erwin responded by informing protestors that they were “dirty nothings”. In the spring of 1970, veterans of SDS led the successful week-long student strike at UT in response to the bombing of Cambodia and the National Guard shootings of four Kent State student demonstrators. That week culminated in a 25,000-person march from the campus through the heart of downtown Austin and back—the largest demonstration in Austin history.
In the spring of 2006, reacting to the debacle of the Iraq War and multiple crises within American society, SDS began to regenerate. Today, 246 registered chapters exist and new ones appear daily. (See studentsforademocraticsociety.org) With American public opinion constantly flouted by its own leaders, with American militarism in global disrepute, with ecological issues steadily compounding, with the growth of economic inequality and uncertainty, the deterioration of healthcare, public education, and public services in general, and with a political system corrupted by money, student militancy will continue to grow.
SDS is part of this charge, and is distinct from other groups in several ways. First, SDS emphasizes local participatory democracy. In opposition to universities, corporations, and the U.S. government, we believe that institutions should be run by the people who populate them. Second, SDS promotes direct action. Walk-outs, teach-ins, and non-violent protests give space for dissent inside institutions which try to crush dissent. Third, as opposed to focusing on one specific cause, SDS confronts a global range of interrelated issues. Because the group tackles so many problems, it will likely serve as an umbrella group which connects other activists networks and in turn allows a larger Left Movement to feed on itself and grow.
On Tuesday, March 27th at 7 p.m., we will meet in Parlin 310 to formally reestablish SDS on the UT campus. Join us—whether student or faculty member—to add your voice.