Students for a Democratic Society

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Related to Students for a Democratic Society: New Left

Students for a Democratic Society

(SDS), in U.S. history, a radical student organization of the 1960s. In the influential Port Huron (Mich.) Statement (1962), the organization, founded in 1960, presented its vision for post–Vietnam War America and called for students to join in a movement to establish "participatory democracy." It was not until later in the decade, however, with the growth of the anti–Vietnam War movementanti–Vietnam War movement,
domestic and international reaction (1965–73) in opposition to U.S. policy during the Vietnam War. During the four years following passage of the Tonkin Gulf resolution (Aug., 1964), which authorized U.S.
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, that the organization became well known. SDS demonstrations against the war drew thousands of protesters. In 1968, SDS sponsored a protest at Columbia Univ. that was ended by the arrest of more than 700 protesters. In that same year, increasingly divided by factional disputes, the organization collapsed, leaving behind a small faction, known as the Weathermen, that advocated violent revolutionary action.

Students for a Democratic Society

The Students for a Democratic Society led the first of the mass demonstrations protesting against the Vietnam War and organized the first campus “sit-ins.” What began in idealism disintegrated into chaos when too many divergent voices of protest arose within their ranks.

From June 1962 to June 1969, the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) constituted the institutional strength and hope of the New Left. In June 1962 fifty-nine SDS members and like-minded students gathered in Port Huron, Michigan, and drafted a sixty-three-page platform that criticized the government’s cold war policies and reproved the materialistic attitudes of postwar American culture. It seemed logical to those who composed the Port Huron Statement that colleges and universities should serve as the conduit through which a new movement of “participatory democracy” would flow to the broader facets of American society. The SDS ideal of shifting power from the established representative institutions to communities and individuals seemed unrealistic and impractical to a nation already indoctrinated to a central federal government.

In 1963 SDS formed the Economic Research and Action Project as what they hoped would be an effective demonstration of participatory democracy in action. In the summer months of 1964, SDS volunteers in nine cities worked among the poor, striving to mobilize the disadvantaged to march toward a new insurgency. Little was accomplished among those who relied upon the government for welfare and who had long since come to understand that things improved only when they worked with the “man,” not when they rebelled against him.

The SDS had gained a reputation as revolutionaries and extremists, and the majority of students on campuses across the United States regarded them as radical kooks. However, when the SDS turned their attention to antiwar activism, they touched a chord to which fellow students responded in droves. On April 17, 1965, the SDS led the first of a number of mass demonstrations against the Vietnam War when they managed to rally fifteen thousand protestors in Washington, D.C. In November 1965 they cosponsored a demonstration that drew fifty thousand to signal their disillusionment with the government’s policies in Asia and the world.

Perhaps the image of the SDS that comes most readily to the memories of those who are old enough to remember the 1960s is the protest at Columbia University when the students occupied campus buildings and staged sit-ins in the academic administrative offices. The protest occurred in April 1968 and was directed at the university’s participation in war-related research. At the same time, many academically attuned students protested Columbia’s appropriation of a public park as the site for a new athletic building. University administrators finally sought police help in ending the student occupation of campus buildings and facilities. There were scuffles and resistance, and over 200 students were injured and 712 arrested.

The archetype for student demonstrations and protests had been born in the occupation by SDS of Columbia. Within days of the arrests, students took over buildings and conducted sit-ins in academic and political administrative offices on at least forty other college and university campuses across the nation.

With that great explosive triumph of revolutionary excess at Columbia and the other campus occupations it inspired, the SDS had succeeded too well in their expectations. Membership swelled so rapidly that no central control or direction could exist. New members brought different concepts and ideas for protest, and soon the SDS was broken apart by divisions within its own ranks. The organization that had sought participatory democracy as its ideal had been destroyed by too many participants with vastly differing concepts of what their focus should be.

In July 1969 what remained of Students for a Democratic Society had morphed into an even more revolutionary sect known as the Weathermen.

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In May 1970, he reported to Nixon that the Students for a Democratic Society had threatened to burn down his house in Cambridge and that his family had gone into hiding.
She spent time in Newark, where Tom Hayden of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was trying to forge an "interracial movement of poor people and students in northern cities.
That part carried the National Guardian in plain view as I walked to school, joined Students for a Democratic Society to protest the government's role in Vietnam, and believed that as soon as I found the right woman I would live happily ever after.
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