a reflection from the students for a democratic society convention,
detroit, friday-monday, july 27-30, 2007
an altogether beautiful experience.
yes, with some rough edges
altogether positive and encouraging.
the new sds that had promise a year ago
has now opened with a chapter based,
student and youth led, bottom up
local, regional and national council structure
with people of color, women's, working class, queer identified and high
caucuses, and working groups for particular projects and campaigns.
when caucuses meet, "auxiliaries" also meet: white skin privilege,
males privilege, class privilege, heterosexist privilege, age
150-200 students engaged each other in the course of the 4 days.
i sat at the registration table for a while.
my presence seemed appreciated.
there was a solidarity in democratic struggle among them.
they sang the song, "the union makes us strong"
it was facilitated by a women working with 2 men,
one a white, war resisters league activist,
the other an african american organizer, working with the rain forest
none had a prior relation with sds and worked as volunteers, though a
collection was taken for them at the end.
this was as good an expression of democracy as i've seen in a political
meeting of this size.
i'd be tempted to say, "this is what democracy looks like." a little
messy, not perfect, much time on process and listening,
still, peoples concerns were expressed, pros and cons stated,
amendments offered, votes taken, decisions made,
with everything going back to the chapters, as the basic unit, for
ratification, or revision.
many of the proposals presented in the 66 page convention resolution
book were blended together for voting,
especially those on vision and political perspective, and on local,
regional and national structure.
some action campaigns were adopted, to be recommended to the chapters,
as on the iraq war moratorium actions, no war-no warming, direct action
on september 28, participation in republican and democratic party
convention protests in 2008,, and a "break the chains" solidarity
immigrant rights campaign. a proposed campus walk out in the fall was
time was, as ever, too short: some resolutions were not considered at
all, as on the middle east,
and those about relations with mds and the foundation which we have set
that the later were ignored reflected the general feeling to ignore or
put off these relational questions.
mds/fds were in poor repute, to be gentle, more for the failure to
produce, and the undemocratic character of what people saw as going on.
while a few critics in the critics circle got plenty of criticism for
how they behaved, the substance of the criticisms of how we have
functioned, not democratic enough, was acknowledged. basically, the
feeling was, "get you're own scene in order and then we'll see how, if
we relate." they did not embrace the "two wings of the same bird"
model; closer maybe was "2 birds of the same flock" these impressions
are from a few conversations and open ears; as i said, there was no
the strongest reality was that this was a youth meeting. at the
opening of the largest plenary, (saturday evening) the facilitators
asked, "everyone under 20 stand up." half or more than half the hall
stood up. the next question, after they sat down, "now everyone over
30 stand up." there were maybe 7 of us, including devra and mike
morice, stringing for next left notes. we were welcomed, but there was
no doubt about who was in charge, so to speak.
the idea of a "weighted stack" was adopted to guide speaking: balance
women and men, and students first, before non-chapter members and mds
or observers, if there was limited time.
this created a problem in one caucus group, "the working class," when
ray zwarich, our worker par excellence, wanted to say something at the
end, after listening through the hour of discussion, and was told
"students first," there were only a few minutes left to decide the
question of whether and how to continue this caucus, so ray was bumped
off the list, and complained. "i drove 700 miles and don't get to say
a word." and grumbled, "700 miles!" michael albert who was sitting
beside where ray was standing, said something intended to be quieting,
like "be quiet" to which ray angrily replied, "i'm tired of people
telling me to shut up" and he didn't like it either when i said, "cool
it" he had a parting word with the student who had invoked the
students-first preference, and left, not to be seen again at the
convention, at least by me.
in my view, the incident was unfortunate. i'm sure ray would have had
something interesting to say on "class," he having heard all the
students; he didn't have to be bumped. but then having been told no,
his angry response put outsiders in a bad light. after he was gone
there was some talk, but no agreement or action, about asking him to
leave, which would, had he been there, have been a good occasion to
bring the questions of exclusion and decorum to the peace table, which
i had brought from ann arbor.
i am sorry that ray didn't stay through to the end. i think he would
have come away with a better appreciation of the consensus based
democracy these students are working out. i'm not privy to any of the
inner groupings, though there did happen an impromptu party at our
house, before the convention. certainly there are differences among
the people and strong feelings, yet, having seen it from beginning
registration through last photographs, it seemed to me, that people
really liked each other and were respectful, and glad for the path they
i did have a chance to tell quite a number of people the story of the
peace table and the political action of "art for peace," represented by
the megiddo peace project. i has pleased and gratified by how
interested and receptive were the people with whom i talked. the
imagination was alive in this new sds, that is the best news of all.
one further comment: in the discussion that described members as
students and youth under 30, who at the local level could invite older
people, faculty, staff, community members, workers into chapter
membership. the older people would not be designated as representatives
in regional or national structures. leadership under 30. and among
the duties of a member is to organize a chapter or to join and work in
an existing chapter. at this point there is no idea or accommodation of
"at-large members." members who are not yet in a chapter should
organize a chapter, and they will get help from near by chapters, and
regional and national support and encouragement. while these
"decisions" have to be ratified and discussed at the chapter level,
there was the idea that current at-large members have 3 months to get
together with 2 others, if theirs is a small school, or 4 others if a
large school, and make a chapter. whether this will rise a protest
from at large members not in chapters, or will spur the organization
of new chapters is yet to be seen. over an again it was said, these
are beginning formulations; nothing is set in stone.
no doubt all these decisions will soon appear on the sds web site or
i felt honored to have been present and greatly moved. they also sang
me a happy birthday song on sunday evening.
i introduced myself at the end as from sds past, present and future,
in solidarity in democratic struggle, in behalf of seniors for a
democratic society, survivors, seekers, strugglers, scholars,
socialists, sociologists, satirists and singers, semites and even
sickos. good for a laugh and a few hugs.
the thoughts i offered for a closing press statement was that "in every
generation there arise those ready to take up the tasks of remaking
society for the future. these sds-ers are taking the challenge for
now." and "in the final conflict, let each stand in their place, these
students are defining their place" winning is on their minds. they
can use all the help they can get.