New York, NY – February 17, 2007. A bitter cold day did not prevent the Movement for a Democratic Society (MDS) from holding a well attended conference at New York City’s New School University. The event was held in the Graduate Center, 65 Fifth Avenue, and about 100 participants were in attendance. The meeting featured several speakers who are well known figures on the US Left and an agenda that centered around electing a board of directors for MDS, Incorporated – the non-profit arm of MDS that was founded last August in Chicago, at the national SDS convention. Its purpose is to provide SDS’ student activists with a legal defense fund, monies for the Radical Education Project and a general fund for meetings, conventions and other SDS functions. Organizers were pleased with the turnout and excited about the election of Manning Marable as Chair of the new Board.
The new board, elected by acclamation, includes: Mark Rudd, David Graeber, Judith Malina, Jesse Zearle, Kate Khatib, Roderick Long, Alan Haber, Manning Marable, Muhammed Ahmad, Charlene Mitchell, Starhawk, John O’Brien, Barbara Ehrenreich, Gideon Oliver, Jeff Jones and Bert Garskof. Elected as officers, in addition to Marable as Chair, were three Vice Chairs: Paul Buhle, Judith Malina and Jesse Zearle. The board is remarkable for its diversity and organizers describe the conference as “historic.”
Paul Buhle served as Master of Ceremonies and introduced Pat Korte of New School SDS who spoke briefly, welcoming the participants. Oz Frankel also welcomed the attendees and then Buhle introduced MDS, Inc. Secretary Thomas Good who gave a detailed report on “SDS, The Last Year”. Good introduced ex-Weatherman and former leader of the 1968 Columbia student strike, Mark Rudd. Rudd spoke about the need for new, creative strategies for nonviolent resistance, commenting at length about the errors he and others made in 1969 – paying particular attention to the decision to disband SDS, a decision he still regrets. Rudd noted that “the state is violent, we are not” and made a general call for a “100% commitment to nonviolence”, “purely on practical grounds”. Rudd also spoke about the need to foster resistance within the military as a means of ending the US war in Iraq. Commenting on the rancor that sometimes afflicts MDS internet mailing lists, Rudd noted “(we) old people need to get our shit together” and eliminate the listserv problems which appear to be “some sort of Maoist virus, long dormant”. “Let’s just do some work that needs doing,” he urged.
Manning Marable, one of the USâ€™s most influential and widely read scholars, spoke next. Since 1993, Dr. Marable has been Professor of Public Affairs, Political Science, History and African-American Studies at Columbia University. By all accounts his speech was the highlight of the conference. Marable blasted neoliberalism, globalized capitalism and what he termed “global apartheid”. Marable called neoliberalism a “war on the public” whose stated goal is the elimination of all programs that seek to address poverty. He listed Iraq, Iran and Syria as targets/victims of globalized imperialism which has an insatiable appetite for profits. Marable spoke at length about the “global apartheid” system of racial segregation the US practices at home – and looks to export to every corner of the globe. He pointed out that apartheid in the US consists of mass unemployment in the African American community which leads to mass incarceration and subsequently mass disenfranchisement of Blacks – as felons are unable to vote in most states. “Why are we building so many prisons?” he asked. “To warehouse redundant labor,” he concluded. Marable pointed out that prisons are usually located in Republican districts as they bring in tax monies, provide slave labor and create jobs in surrounding communities. The system of oppression, what he termed the prison industrial complex, is something MDS must address he noted. “The most effective thing SDS can do is to join with other abolitionists to close prisons,” he said. He also spoke of the need to fight privatization which he called “a tool of those who promote global and domestic apartheid.” In conclusion, he observed that neoliberalism is nothing more than a philosophical fig leaf for global apartheid and imperialism and must be resisted. Marable left the podium to sustained applause.
An SDS student panel that featured Jenna Peters-Goldman, Josh Russell, Senia Barragan and Brian Kelly outlined the need for an intergenerational organization but stressed the need for cooperation and an end to sectarianism. After the panel, Senia Barragan told NLN: “SDS’ relationship with MDS could be really something that is very beautiful, and functioning and radical. We’ve got to put our shit away. Move on. New era, new generation. Let’s make this happen.”
After a lunch break, Barbara Ehrenreich, noted feminist author, lecturer and MDS Board nominee, spoke about her new book which chronicles the role of the festive tradition in resistance to empire. She compared what she termed “the carnivalization” of recent protests to “planting the maypole” in historical European revolutions and called drums a “symbol of collective power”. She also called Lenin “one of the leading killjoys of all”. Arguing that the festive tradition fosters individual creativity as well as communal solidarity, Ehrenreich urged MDS to consider “raising the possibility of taking the festive tradition seriously”. Ehrenreich was followed by Judith Malina, director of the Living Theatre in New York. Malina spoke about street theatre, a festive tradition in its own right. She argued for a joyous revolution calling it “essential” if MDS is to be able to present alternatives to the larger movement. Malina pledged to attempt to “make peace, in my life, in my family, for the rest of my life.” She concluded her remarks with a poem that listed reasons why the Living Theatre had returned to New York after a stint in Europe citing, amongst other things, that “metaphors can be lethal” and must be resisted. “We’re back!” she exclaimed to enthusiastic applause.
The business portion of the meeting followed with each board nominee introducing themselves to the conference. The board, a very diverse group, was voted in by acclamation after some very inspiring introductions. Jeff Jones said reading “the Port Huron Statement changed my life.” Starhawk stressed the urgent need for a national network of resistance and pledged to help make MDS that network. Board nominees where were not able to attend the conference were included in the appointment by acclamation. The list included Elliott Adams, Panama Vicente Alba, Tariq Ali, Stanley Aronowitz, David Barsamian, Rosalyn Baxandall, John Bracey, Jr., John Brittain, Robb Burlage, Noam Chomsky, Jayne Cortez, Carl Davidson, Angela Davis, Bernardine Dohrn, Barbara Epstein, Gustavo Esteva, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Stephen Fleischman, Bill Fletcher, Jr., Tom Hayden, Gerald Horne, Florence Howe, Michael James, Robin D.G. Kelley, Alice Kessler Harris, Rashid Khalidi, Michael Klonsky, Elizabeth (Betita) Martinez, Ethelbert Miller, Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz, Barbara Ransby, Patricia Rose, Michael Rossman, Studs Terkel, Charlene Teters, Jerry Tucker, Immanuel Wallerstein, Cornel West, Leonard Weinglass and Howard Zinn. Following the vote, Paul Buhle nominated Manning Marable for Chair of the Board. Alan Haber was also nominated from the floor. The vote for Marable was a landslide, however, and he accepted the post offered him by his fellow board members. Three vice chairs were also elected: Paul Buhle, hip hop artist Zearle and Malina. Marable spoke briefly, following the elections, urging the audience to “keep our own quarrels under control”. Parliamentarian Bruce Rubenstein introduced a motion at this point – calling for a bylaw change that would allow for a direct election of MDS Inc. officers by the general membership at the next national convention (instead of the board electing officers). This carried and with that, the business meeting was concluded.
Social Naturist (Nudist) Judy Williams spoke about the affinities between her movement and MDS and then Alan Haber ended the conference with a recitation of an original piece entitled “SDS, a poem”. The event ended on time – and organizers expressed satisfaction with the work accomplished. “Now we can set to work building a movement for a democratic society,” said Paul Buhle.