Saturday, November 17 2007
Contributed by: El Topo
Report back from the first national convergence of the Movement for a
Democratic Society (MDS), with the participation of Students for a
Democratic Society (SDS). It was a hectic week for activists in
Chicago. There was the Select Media Festival, a Teaching for Social
Justice Conference, a SNCC commemoration, the Humanities festival, a
National Convention to End the Death Penalty, and Bob Brown's
law-suit against the corporations. Not least, the Movement for a
Democratic Society (MDS) held its first national convergence at
Loyola University, from November 8 through 11 with the participation
of the newly inspired SDS, Students for a Democratic Society.
CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL!: Report back from the first national
convergence of the Movement for a Democratic Society (MDS), with the
participation of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).
It was a hectic week for activists in Chicago. There was the Select
Media Festival, a Teaching for Social Justice Conference, a SNCC
commemoration, the Humanities festival, a National Convention to End
the Death Penalty, and Bob Brown's law-suit against the corporations.
Not least, the Movement for a Democratic Society (MDS) held its first
national convergence at Loyola University, from November 8 through 11
with the participation of the newly inspired SDS, Students for a
Loyola provided fine meeting rooms in a maze-like setting on
beautiful Lake Michigan. On Thursday night some eighty-plus people
attended Manning Marable's superb talk on South Africa, its
increasing impoverishment and stratification caused by the demands of
U.S. interests and investments. Marable spoke of the prison industry
and observed that 1 in every 5 persons in the U.S. has a prison
record. This has led to a mass disenfrachisement of black voters,
especially in the south.
Friday night SDSers from the '60s greeted old friends and out-of-town
guests at Heartland Café, founded by Michael James & Katy Hogan.
Saturday morning was devoted to workshops and discussions. David
Roediger discussed the miserablist character of the university
system: its conformism, its corporate character, its total
integration into the repressive system, its total inability to
function as a place that can expand the idea of freedom. Franklin
Rosemont spoke of surrealism, and its oppositional character, how it
arose from the ruins of France after the First World War, inspired by
Jacques Vaché a fellow soldier and close friend of André Breton.
Kate Khatib drew on the creative side of surrealism. Amanda Armstrong
who had organized a show of Exquisite Corpse drawings at heartland
café attended. The show was accompanied by a pamphlet that discussed
the effects of crisis of capitalism on the human imagination. Paul
Buhle talked about the current evolution of underground comics into
today's graphic novels. (Buhle's graphic novel on SDS is due out any day now.)
The discussion was fortunate to have present Thorne Dreyer from
Austin, Texas who edited the underground newspaper the Rag for 14
years; Thorne also edited Up Against the Wall, a wall
poster/newspaper that SDS published during the 1968 Democratic
Peter Linebaugh searched for the roots of our ideas of freedom in the
Magna Carta and discussed the basis for his forthcoming book. Our
ideas of community and also mutual responsibility come from that
historic document and Linebaugh gives it all a fresh perspective.
Muhammad Ahmad--who had earlier in the day been interviewed by
Michael James for Heartland radio--did a workshop which centered on
the experiences of the Black Movement in the '60s; in 1968, Ahmad
(then Max Stanford) was in jail facing serious charges. He stayed in
jail for a year before his attorney was able to get the charges
dismissed. Michael Klonsky, Mark Rudd, Bruce Rubenstein, and Penelope
Rosemont discussed th implications for the movement of the
persecution of black radicals with Ahmed.
Paige Phillips showed a film clip on so-called "lesbian girl gangs"
terrorizing Memphis teens. An example of antigay bigotry in the Bible
Belt, it fed the fears of parents but was utterly unbelievable to any
thoughtful person. Andy Thayer, a dynamic spokesman for the Chicago
gay community, urged solidarity and support for each others' concerns
and active support of demonstrations. He noted that the
demonstrations by the black community against police brutality
especially needed our support.
Thomas Good, Bill Ayers, Elaine Brower, Alan Haber, David Hamilton,
Devra Morice and others representing New York, Chicago, Austin, and
Ann Arbor discussed current forms of popular resistance against the
war and then joined a necessary and long needed discussion of the
future of MDS.
Tom Good from NY MDS and editor of Next Left Notes related how NY
MDSers used humor to subvert the dominant paradigm. They held a
"Support Endless War Rally" in Times Square. Tom dress as the Grim
Reaper and carrying a sign "Enlist Now, Pay Later"; others dressed as
"Pro-war Corporate Zombies."
David Hamilton proposed the following founding principles for
discussion and consideration.
Formed in Chicago in August 2006, MDS affirms the Founding Principles:
the expansion of egalitarian and participatory democracy in
politics, economics, and culture.
the restoration and preservation of the earth's robust ecological health.
the extension of human rights to include universal healthcare,
decent housing, lifelong education, fortifying nutrition,
reproductive freedom, and meaningful work.
the eradication of systems of dominant power and privilege based on
identity, including but not limited to race gender, nationality,
sexual orientation, ethnicity, disability or religion.
the growth and development of the commons, the resources that belong
to society as a whole.
the public control of corporate power to meet human needs and the
expansion of workers' authority and rights, including the equitable
distribution of wealth.
the rejection of militarism and war and the enhancement of power and
authority of international institutions capable of resolving conflict
In working for the achievement of these special changes, MDS
believes in working in coalition with like-minded others to create an
interracial, interethnic, intergenerational and international mass movement.
During mid day, Loyola provided a lavish buffet, coffee and free
parking to the convergence attendees. Many visiting parents were
offered the Spartacist newspaper and the Charles H. Kerr Publishing
Company catalog. Campus tours got to enjoy the book tables of New
World Resource Center and Charles H. Kerr. The Loyola Phoenix ran a
large ad for the MDS/SDS Convergence, a story on the eight people
killed in El Salvador in 1989 "defending the defenseless" and an
expose of Loyola investments. We would not be surprised if new
students chose Loyola because the Convergence made it seem like a lively place.
The afternoon session was held in another building. A bright casual
room was filled to capacity and some late- comers were turned away
because of no seats. An estimate of the audience would probably be
100 plus. The panel on peace chaired by Kate Khatib and Katy Hogan
began with Kathy Kelly recounting her experiences in an Irish court
when arrested for peace activities. After talking of the many
innocent victims of war (especially children), she pointedly asked
the audience "What will it take to make you stop the war?"
Carl Davidson explained the political means of ending the war by
cutting the funding to the war budget and urged voting for peace
candidates. He also noted there was plenty of room for work on civil
disobedience, GI resistance, and that a popular upsurge of sentiment
against the war was necessary. Muhammad Ahmed spoke about the effects
of war and poverty on the black community.
The "1968 Confidential" panel was chaired by Beau Golwitzer. Michael
James spoke on the Berkeley Revolt, his early work with JOIN and
community organizing. Michael Klonsky recounted the first days of his
arrival in Chicago as national secretary of SDS as the West side
erupted in flames and fury after the assassination of Martin Luther
King. He mentioned that none of us expected to live to see 30.
Klonsky has a forthcoming book on those days.
Franklin Rosemont spoke of his meeting with André Breton and how that
inspired him to begin a surrealist group in Chicago. Rosemont spent
time in the streets and helping at the SDS National office during the
days of the Democratic Convention. Bob Brown of SNCC recounted some
of the national and international dimensions of those years. The
contacts with the Zengakuran, German SDS, and French groups. Penelope
Rosemont who worked in the SDS office in 1968, speculated on the
importance of history and mentioned that remembering our history will
effect what happens in the future: we must examine those days, what
we did, how we organized to be able to develop new strategies and
avoid old mistakes; support a movement with a large left spectrum;
and support young anarchists in their efforts and not abandon our
In the audience were many who had played a significant role in
1968–Mark Rudd, Thorne Dreyer, David Hamilton, James Retherfort,
Wayne Heimbach, and others. After a short period of questions the
discussion moved to the Red Line Tap to continue in a more casual
atmosphere. Mark Rudd mentioned that there are indications that an
attempt at recuperation of 1968 and the rebels of '68 was just around
the corner as universities and museums plan their commemorations.
This sort of recuperation happened in Amsterdam quite a while ago as
ex-Provos unexpectedly ended up with state power. It is indeed a
concern of ours. We want ours struggles and the story of our
struggles preserved, but we do not want them contained, sanitized,
consigned to the permanent irrelevancy of something from another
time, another place. We had only just begun to formulate and imagine
what needed to be done in the urgency of those years. There have been
stunning technological revolutions since the '60s, but the social
revolution that we envisioned, the vision of equality and freedom is
in many ways is further away now then it was then. What is to be done?
The session on Sunday began at 10am. Amy Partridge began with perhaps
the most thoughtful and theoretical document on the concerns of the
conference that considered the attitudes toward themselves and to
power that college students and young people have developed in recent
times. She argued that most students think that the powers-that-be
will recognize and redress their grievances without much effort on
their part. Further that they already identify themselves as
activists because they donate to or march for AIDS or breast cancer.
They do not identify themselves with the struggles of the oppressed
and do not see themselves as oppressed. Partridge argued that we are
seeing the end of identity politics, and if we can somehow find and
address the concerns of young people today, enable them to understand
their situation, a new movement has real possibilities. This summary
does not do justice to that paper or the discussion that followed.
Bruce Rubenstein discussed unknown slave revolts in the US before the
civil war and the legal evolution of rights for blacks and people of
color. Kate Khatib talked of building a community around Red Emma's
Bookstore in Baltimore where social services of the city are failing
the needs of the people. Tamara Smith spoke about organizing another
gathering. Gale Ahrens reported on the vast investment in the prison
industry which constitutes the reinstitution of slavery. Penny Pixler
of the IWW spoke about some parallels between today and the 1960s.
Young SDSers from Columbia College, Art Institute, and University of
Chicago spoke about what they were doing, what their concerns were
and how the new hyper-repression effects the high schools. When asked
why they identified themselves with SDS, one of them quipped "It's
got fucking great name recognition!" And I must say we should be
proud of that; that SDS has come after 40 years to mean a fighting
organization; an organization of resistence; one that never sold out.
The situation at Morton West H.S. in Berwyn was discussed. Students
there who had protested against the war were threatened with
expulsion even though their protest had been a non-violent and peaceful sit-in
Alan Haber, a founder of the original SDS was there, listened and
contributed his passion for peace and justice to the discussion.
Someone expressed how exhilarating it was to be a room full of people
who were really serious about social change. And it was! About 50
people were present. Everyone participated. Penelope Rosemont added
"if you kept doing exactly what you are doing now, we are going to
have a movement!" We called it quits about 2pm as everyone was
hungry. Most of us walked from Loyola to Heartland Café where we
again dined on some good, healthful food and parted ways. All in all,
we left thinking that some bridges had been built, some good thinking
had been done, and that we had an outstanding core of people.