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Students for a Democratic Society

STUDENTS FOR A DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY

STUDENTS FOR A DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY. SDS was the main organizational expression of the campus-based radical movement known as the New Left in the 1960s. An almost moribund organization of about three hundred students at the start of the decade, it grew to the point where probably well over fifty thousand people took part in the activities of local SDS chapters in 1968–1969.

SDS originated as the student department of the League for Industrial Democracy, a mildly social-democratic educational service. In the 1950s, under the name Student League for Industrial Democracy, the campus affiliate consisted of a dwindling number of campus discussion groups. When sit-ins at segregated lunch counters revived student political activism in the South in 1960, SDS began to orient toward the new movement. Gradually, a core of articulate student leaders emerged who were interested in such issues as civil rights and nuclear disarmament and in the relations between them. Under the leadership of Tom Hayden and Al Haber of the University of Michigan, SDS in 1962 issued the "Port Huron Statement," a sixty-four page document that proclaimed independence from traditional radical and liberal formulas. The statement became a manifesto for student activists of the New Left.

SDS's own membership grew slowly until the escalation of American military intervention in Vietnam in 1965. SDS sponsored a march on Washington in April 1965, the first national demonstration against the war, which drew upward of twenty thousand mostly young people. From then on, SDS grew rapidly, although it ceased playing a leading role in the antiwar movement. The organization became progressively more radical in the late 1960s, cutting its ties to the League for Industrial Democracy in 1965. At the same time, SDS members began turning their attention to large problems within American society. Several women who held the first national SDS "women's meeting" in 1965 later became key figures in the feminist movement of the 1970s. Civil rights leaders began turning toward "black power," which influenced SDS members.

By the end of the decade, SDS at the national level was an avowedly revolutionary organization. Its influence within the student movement came largely through its insistence that the alienation felt by many young people had its roots in the same social system that carried on the Vietnam War and oppressed racial minorities in the United States. At many schools, notably at Columbia University in 1968 and Harvard University in 1969, SDS chapters led disruptive protests against university ties with the military and other issues.

The momentum of protests in the late 1960s caused many in SDS to believe that a social revolution was not far away, and this feeling, in turn, exacerbated factional divisions. SDS split into two groups at its annual convention in June 1969. One group, led by members of the Progressive Labor Party, advocated a worker-student alliance, while the other group, led in part by people who later formed the "Weather Underground," placed their main emphasis on support for Third World and black revolutionaries. The former group still existed under the name SDS in 1974, but its following was only a tiny fraction of that commanded by SDS in the late 1960s.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Heath, G. Louis. Vandals in the Bomb Factory: The History and Literature of the Students for a Democratic Society. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1976.

Miller, Jim. Democracy Is in the Streets: From Port Huron to the Siege of Chicago. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987.

Sale, Kirkpatrick. SDS. New York: Vintage Books, 1973.

Unger, Irwin. The Movement: A History of the American New Left, 1959–1972. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1974.

James P.O'Brien/h. s.

See alsoAntiwar Movements ; Civil Rights Movement ; Vietnam War .

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Students for a Democratic Society

Students for a Democratic Society. First organized in 1960 as the rejuvenated student arm of the venerable League for Industrial Democracy, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) burst on the national scene in 1962 with its Port Huron Statement. Comparable to Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto, the statement laid out the organization's analysis of contemporary America and explained how through “participatory democracy” SDS would reform capitalism. The most important and influential of the New Left groups on college campuses in the 1960s, with as many as 400 chapters by 1968, SDS led the first mass Vietnam Antiwar Movement demonstration on 17 April 1965 in Washington, D.C. After that point, despite the fact that the organization strongly opposed the war, U.S. imperialism, and the Selective Service System, its leaders chose not to play a major role in other mass demonstrations. They and their members were deeply involved in many other antiwar activities, however, including Stop the Draft Week in October 1967 and the riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968. SDS self‐destructed in 1969 as a result of sectarian infighting and after the nihilistic and violent Weathermen faction gave the organization—and the antiwar movement—a bad name.
[See also Draft Resistance and Evasion; Peace and Antiwar Movements; Vietnam War: Domestic Course.]

Bibliography

Kirkpatrick Sale , SDS: Ten Years Toward a Revolution, 1973.

Melvin Small

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"Students for a Democratic Society." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Students for a Democratic Society

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 movement, 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.

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