By Michael Graham
Students for a Democratic Society held their Third National
Convention this summer in College Park, Maryland. The event drew over
120 students from across the country. At the top of the agenda was
the need to pass and implement a national structure. In the past
three years SDS has grown into one of the largest student and youth
organizations in the U.S., with over one hundred chapters. Most focus
their activity against the U.S. war in Iraq. For example last March
over 90 SDS chapters and endorsing student groups participated in a
SDS-initiated week of action against the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
This became the largest coordinated student antiwar protest since the
This year's SDS Convention saw unprecedented unity around the need
for a workable structure. Cheers erupted as the main proposal was
passed during a plenary. This decision will help SDS step on the
scene in the U.S. as a major force of the anti-war and radical
movements. The proposal calls for a National Working Committee made
up of representatives from each region, working group, and caucuses
representing oppressed groups. It marks a huge step forward.
Students also discussed proposals such as supporting the upcoming
September 1st March on the RNC, including a united student
contingent. Another campaign proposal to "Protest McCain!" seeks to
build a movement amongst college and high school students who oppose
the U.S. war and occupation in Iraq and understand that McCain is
committed to "another 100 years" in Iraq.
Chapin Gray from the University of Alabama SDS said, "This year's
convention highlighted the positive changes SDS is making. After
three years of working hard on our campuses, we're ready to take the
next step - putting together a national organization. A student
movement that connects students and young people with the movements
against war, and for peace, against racism and for full equality,
against poverty and oppression, standing up for economic justice and
liberation!" Chapin Gray and other leaders of her SDS group from
Tuscaloosa, Alabama, plan to take what they learned back to their
campus. "Our experiences in local organizing teach us the importance
of coming together on a national level and having a structure in
place that can help us make a huge impact both locally and nationally."
According to many participants, the convention highlighted the
advances that SDS is making. Freddy Bastone, a student at Hunter
College in NYC, commented, "I think when you look at the difference
between last year and today you can see, politically and
methodologically, that there have been leaps and bounds in
consciousness, and increased practical understanding of class and
oppression as it relates to nationality. We are seeing more emerging
discussion of class, nationality, and oppression."
Finally, SDSers had difficulty agreeing on a plan for action in the
coming year, but one proposal proved highly popular. The campaign
proposal adopted by the 2008 convention is called "Student Power for
Accessible Education". The ultimate goal of this campaign is to have
free and accessible higher education, which SDSers hope to achieve by
fighting tuition increases on campuses and addressing issues like
student debt and fees. SDSers from dozens of chapters are already
building this campaign.
Overall, the third national SDS convention was a resounding success,
moving both SDS and the student movement forward. The challenge of
the coming school year will be to use the newly-adopted national
structure to build a powerful national student movement that moves
tens of thousands to take action against the Iraq war and support the
struggles for peace, justice, and equality.