An SDS Convention Flier on a University of Chicago bulletin board. (Photo: Donyal Svilar)
I – Beginnings
The last week before the Chicago convention was a flurry of activity. Having so many loose ends was maddening and finding housing was the most worrying of all. Thanks to Nick Kreitman of Chicago SDS, who secured the Unitarian Church in the final days before the conference, I was able to focus on finishing the buttons and the convention banner on my last day in NYC.
I was still painting, and Brian Kelly was still crimping buttons, at midnight the day before we had to leave. We finished at 1 am, grabbed a little sleep and jumped in my Toyota on Thursday morning (August 3rd). My eleven year son, at the time the youngest card carrying SDS member, traveled with Brian and I – he called shotgun right away. Stopping in Montvale, New Jersey, we picked up D(o)ug Viehmeyer of Bergen SDS. Our SDS Road Trip was underway. And a trip it was: on Day One we ate dinner in Buckhorn, PA. Some former SDSer had told Dug that this was a rockin’ place. Hmm… The only restaurant we could find was called “Steak and Lube”. Charming. We stared at the menu…red meat was the order of the day – with a side of Quaker State? There were cars hanging from the ceiling and gas pumps jutting out of the walls. Not too enthused about the petroleum motif we ordered cheese quesadillas and were happy to gulp and run: getting back on the road in short order.
Pennsylvania is a long state. Finally crossing the Ohio border late that night we needed coffee desperately. We spotted a Dennys in Youngstown. Unfortunately for us, after a thirty minute wait to get a table, we got squat. We got back in the Toyota, suffering from severe caffeine deficiency, and headed east on the Ohio turnpike. We stopped for the night in Cleveland, grabbing a couple of hours of sleep at our friend Tom Nomad’s place. Early the next morning we left for Chi-town with Tom following us in his car. Leaving behind the rolling plains and farms of Ohio, and more of the same in Indiana, we entered Chicago about noon. At the entrance to the Skyway Bridge was a welcome sign. I remember thinking: “2006…Chicago, SDS National Convention, and the mayor’s name is Daley…who woulda thunk it?” I had lots of time to reflect as the Skyway was jammed due to construction.
We eventually exited off the parking lot known as I-90 (the Skyway). I dropped Dug and Brian off at their housing assignment in Hyde Park and my son and I hurried to our hotel so I might have time to finish my comments for the opening plenary. I was to be the closing speaker… At the hotel my phone rang, it was Pat Korte. Alan Haber was running late as his wife Odile had become a US citizen that very day. Would I mind being the opening speaker? Ok…I scrambled to find a computer so I might print an email from Bernardine – she was out of town during the convention and I planned to conclude my remarks with her greetings to the gathering. My son and I did a print and run – hurrying over to the University of Chicago. We were excited despite the exhaustion from lack of sleep and all that driving…
II – Anxiety’s Moment
We parked on 57th and Woodlawn, close to the hall where the opening plenary would be held. Walking west on 57th we searched for the Biological Sciences Learning Center (BSLC) – the hall housing our plenary. I ran into Dug who was concerned that turnout wasn’t as good as he had hoped. We were all more than a little anxious. Nathaniel and I hurried into the plenary hall where we found a frantic John Wilson – the Chicago organizer who had contacted the YDS (Young Democratic Socialists) and secured the University of Chicago for us. John was busy handing out programs and dealing with last minute details. I planted my notes on the podium and helped secure the 2006 SDS National Convention banner to a chalkboard that could be electrically raised and lowered. As we hoisted the banner we had schlepped from New York applause broke out – the convention we had all fretted over for so long was underway. I met Millicent from Tacoma, our MC, for the first time. She is a terrific organizer from a vibrant SDS chapter: she’s enthusiastic, talented and very even tempered… As she and I negotiated last minute plenary program details, I said hi to some comrades – including Dave Lippman from Chapel Hill and Bruce Rubenstein from Hartford. Matt from the Clash Collective presented me with a “fuck Jesse Lemisch” SDS t-shirt: an in joke that wasn’t really mean spirited. My son asked who Jesse was and I said “just a grumpy old SDSer who is still fighting the battle of 1969…although he means well he sees Weathermen popping up in his soup”…I thanked Matt and promised to wear the shirt the next day. The hall began to fill up. Dug seemed relieved – turnout was pretty good after all. And then it was time to speak.
I took my son with me to the podium, introducing him as an 11 year old SDSer. I was quite the proud papa. Nat was at my side as I recounted some of the amazing achievements of the new SDS, then only 7 months old. I spoke about our Beloved Community as a place where multigenerational struggle included greens, anarchists, progressives, socialists and wobblies all working together, where we argued passionately all the while bearing in mind that our Movement is an essential part of the struggle to prevent the US Government from inflicting barbarism on the rest of the world. I stated my personal goals for the convention: healing the wounds of 1969 and developing an action agenda for the next year. I looked around the audience and saw some familiar faces and the faces of some who I had never met but knew well: one example being Carl Davidson who responded to my shoutout to him with “I’ve waited 37 years for this meeting”. I had some fun listing all of the claims of the naysayers who accused us of every conceivable charge: many mutually exclusive. The claim, from some DC IndyMedia posts, that we are a front group for the RCP drew a big laugh, my comrade Bruce Rubenstein yelling out: “that’s the best line so far”…as I was speaking I saw Al Haber enter the Hall. I couldn’t contain my joy – Alan is a beloved figure in SDS. I greeted Alan from the podium and received a raised fist in reply…Despite the weariness I felt blessed to be amongst so many SDS comrades. I closed my remarks with a greeting to the SDS convention from my friend and sister in struggle, Bernardine Dohrn, who was unable to attend. BD said:
Welcome to Chicago, Sisters and Brothers. The world you inhabit is daunting but you represent the spirit and hope of resistance and imagination – the insistance that what people do together can transform history – that we can make a difference. Here in the heart of empire, you represent a vital spark, a clear visision of the major forces at play and the determined vision to name our situation and to act to transform our circumstances.
Although I cannot be there in Chicago, we have your back. May you stay clear about the challenges of movement- building: strengthening and connecting the widespread organizing work already underway, reaching out to engage new forces, and contending with principle and unity. As the great chicago poet laureate Gwendolyn Brooks said, “Live and have your blooming in the eye of the whirlwind.”
III – Lowdown
My son and I left the podium and Pat Korte spoke about new SDS and our commitment to participatory democracy and direct action. Pat was very good – those of us who work closely with him knew how tired he was but he is a trooper and his comments were focused and on target.
Pat was followed by chapter reportbacks. This, for me, is always the best part of an SDS conference. I get to see the faces of the comrades I’ve corresponded with and hear about all the great work being done in their communities and on their campuses.
Brian Kelly, John Cronan and Lauren Giaccone spoke of all the great struggles they have been a part of at Pace University in New York – heckling Bill Clinton, the fight for recognition from Pace and the struggle of students to support the staff’s union organizing drive.
Sarah Trapido and Daniel Meltzer of CC Left SDS (Connecticut College) spoke about their experience joining SDS as a chapter and organizing a huge May Day march in New London.
Rob Korobkin of STAND in Philadelphia spoke about working with SDS as an “unofficial” affiliate – giving a nod to the SDS tradition of local autonomy.
Brandon King of Virginia spoke about repression at his school and the need for SDS to support the struggle of BCP. Lee Speight and Becka Van Derlaske, of William and Mary – another Virginia campus – also spoke about difficulties getting recognition from their university as well as the effort to get the local community to allow students to vote on local issues.
Phil Jasens, Alison Van Doren and Jeff Grim of UCF SDS spoke about SDS helping to defend Food Not Bombs, under attack from the Orlando City Council.
From DePaul Students Against the War, Scribbler and Alejandro spoke about distributing non-Coca Cola products on campus, May Day in Union Park and a wide array of other actions including SUV: Students for Unfueled Vehicles.
Alana Markowitz of Salve Regina in Newport talked about her chapters’ work – it was the first time it really sunk in for me that SDS Newport has been in existence for three years.
Tristyn and Betty DeVoe from Chicago spoke next, recounting their successful “Counter-Coulter” protest at Loyola – which resulted in Coulter being unable to speak.
Tom Nomad from SDS Cleveland spoke about building new chapters in his area, marching with SDS NYC on A29 and the “no class but class war” march in Kent, Ohio. He was followed by SDSers from Athens and Columbus. Athens was the site of the largest anti-war march in Ohio since the American War in Viet Nam and Athens University is home to an IWW organizing drive (amongst faculty) and an SDS initiative for a “peoples election” next semester – a move to make a real student government. Columbus SDS (at Ohio State) is active and working with Food Not Bombs, Critical Mass and FreeGeek.
Vanessa Ung of Howard Community College in Maryland reported on their efforts to get recognition, the effort to bring in speakers, counter-recruitment actions and some community organizing around a Free Store.
Brendan Dunn of Olympia SDS spoke about the blockade of the Stryker convoy: multiple arrests of some SDS members (including Brendan) during the ten days of resistance, the formation of Olympia SDS only a week before the action, the diversity of political views in the various Affinity Groups and the value of being a part of a national organization that’s multi-issue.
Patrick Edelbacher of Tacoma SDS spoke about the support they are receiving from progressive faculty and campus staff (some former SDS), doing a die-in, publishing a zine and meeting Mark Rudd – who was very supportive. Pat reported that Tacoma now has two SDS chapters: one based at Puget Sound and a second chapter at Tacoma Community College.
Adam Sanchez of Portland SDS spoke next and talked about plans for upcoming actions in Oregon including at Lewis and Clark where he attends school.
Davey Vacek of Pratt SDS read a reportback from Aaron of WSU SDS where a struggle against tuition hikes is underway. Davey followed this with a summary of all that is underway at Pratt: tabling, banner drops, soapboxing, die-ins and the formation of a book club.
The plenary concluded with comments from Alan Haber, founder of SDS. Alan spoke about the emotional impact of seeing a reformed Students for a Democratic Society that is vital and vibrant. He addressed the issue of patriarchy urging SDSers to let the women speak – and spoke about the need for intergenerational struggle to resist fascism. It was an inspiring speech and Alan eloquently summarized the hopes and aspirations of many who were present at the opening plenary of the first SDS convention in 37 years. After dinner with Bruce, Nat and I returned to our hotel room where we found my wife and 4 year old daughter – they had flown in to Midway during the Plenary. Hugs and then some much needed sleep.
IV – Dialogue
Saturday morning we were to convene at Cobb Hall – on Ellis between 56th and 57th Street in the middle of the UC Quad. The tablers had arrived and were setting up. While my family slept in, I picked Paul Buhle up at Midway Airport (he flew in from Providence) and we headed towards the Quad.
My phone was ringing off the hook: people looking for Cobb Hall, tablers who wanted to setup and media people. Soon Paul and I found the UC campus and before long we were sitting at the SDS table which was a busy place. We spoke with a great many comrades, young and old: Carl Davidson, Elliott Adams (of Veterans for Peace), Geoff White from Tucson SDS and many, many more. Paul and I tabled for much of the day, interacting with a wide variety of interesting people – many of whom I had corresponded with but never met face to face. There were some press in attendance who asked for interviews from some of us and I had lots of opportunities to take photographs of groups of SDSers who were not often in the same locale. It rocked.
My first panel of the convention came late in the day. The Legal Defense panel was in room 102 and was scheduled for 4 PM…we started on time. I was joined by Bruce, who lawyers in Hartford, and Melinda Power, a Chicago resident who is an activist attorney and member of Prairie Fire. Anthony from KC SDS sat in as a recent law school graduate and NLG member.
Our panel covered a range of issues: I spoke about the need to include legal considerations in action planning; doing nonviolence training; reaching out to the National Lawyers Guild for legal observers; dealing with arbitrary police orders; court room solidarity, and; issues surrounding court appearances. Melinda described the situation in Chicago: the false arrest of protesters police use as a tactic to preempt protest; the reality of racism in Chicago courtrooms; the need to be empathetic towards economic prisoners (who might resent singing, etc.); the (mis)use of nylon flexcuffs; decisions to post bond or not; the necessity defense (to prevent the greater evil) and the importance of collective decisionmaking in matters that may have legal consequences. Bruce discussed his experiences in using the prisoner of war defense when he represented political prisoners; the strategy involved in the pow defense and its limitations. Bruce also spoke about the efforts to build an SDS legal defense entity. The workshop attendees participated in the discussion, offering insights (one that sticks out is the notion that you want to get in as much detail as possible in your statements because it may help you win on appeal) and it was a pretty good panel overall. The concluding remarks were interrupted briefly when my four year daughter Nadja popped in to give her friend Brian Kelly a peace sign and a raised fist.
V – Saturday In The Park
At 6 pm, Chicago time, a number of us ventured over to the Henry Moore Sculpture for a Hiroshima Day commemoration. A longtime local organizer named Brad Little (a friend of many first iteration SDS) was holding a vigil at the Moore Sculpture at the same time we planned to vigil. We joined forces and several SDSers read passages from a book of survivors’ recollections. The silent part of the vigil followed the readings – marking the time the bomb fell in Japan (8:15 am, August 6th, 1945). This moment of silence was coordinated with a War Resisters’ action in Greenwich Village (7:15 PM NY Time) and an event in Tacoma, Washington (midday in the northwest).
During the vigil one or two (non SDS) individuals issued fliers that contained passages some of our people later reported were antisemitic – these people were confronted by a few SDSers in the know, while the remainder of our group continued their silent vigil. From a slightly raised area, Jay Jurie, Glen and Bridget (from Monmouth SDS) and I surveyed the scene as we held the SDS banner. It was impressive. SDS filled the steps leading up the little platform. I remember thinking that every campus needs to host similar events – it was very striking: all the young activists bearing witness, a dramatic sunset…it was quite moving.
After the vigil we marched back to Cobb Hall as SDS. It was a nice feeling marching with SDSers from across the country.
After the panels concluded for the day MDS held a business meeting in Cobb Hall. We hammered out a plan to help SDS by generating funds to be used for legal defense, conferences and the Radical Education Project. After the meeting Paul, Bruce, Paul Krehbiel from L.A. and my family and I visited a local Middle Eastern restaurant to conclude our evening…on our way home after dinner we passed the Unitarian Church where a number of young SDS activists were sitting on the lawn talking politics. For me this was yet another archetypal image – it had a real Port Huron flavor to it. We all agreed that this is a face of SDS that the public needs to see.
VI – Questions 67 and 68
Early Sunday I met Bruce in the lobby of the hotel we were both crashing at. My family slept late (again!) but Bruce and I had to be at Cobb Hall first thing…we journeyed down 59th Street and as we passed the 900 block I pointed “SDS Hardware” out to Bruce.
I had an early panel – 10 AM – so on arrival at Cobb I hooked up with Paul and Jay and we found our room. It filled quickly (this is always a worry, there were so many good panels you never know how well attended any given session would be). We were joined by a number of younger SDSers as well as Monty Kroopkin from San Diego and Carl Davidson. Brendan D of Olympia taped the event. As Jay pointed out later, the original definition of the Radical Education Project (REP), the subject of our panel, was a bit narrow. The workshop would broaden it considerably. What emerged was a strong desire to see: a print newsletter of some sort; a centrally available collection of pamphlets created by local chapters – very useful for exchanging ideas and printing materials for tabling; custom/individualized radical orientation guides for chapters; an SDS organizer’s guide; MDS materials for community workplace organizing; a central graphics repository. At one point, responding to Paul’s notion of a limited MDS function I argued, a bit passionately – I got worked up as I went along, for an MDS that is not a paper organization. I pushed for a MDS that was in the streets and for a revitalized Radicals In The Professions (RIP) that would allow graduates to radicalize their coworkers and challenge things like the paternalistic attitude so prevalent in social workers (my own field). The panel ended well and I hurried over to Carl Davidson to get my copy of Toward A Student Syndicalist Movement autographed. One day I will pass this on to my son.
After the panel a number of SDSers went over to the parecon talk being given by Michael Albert. I tabled for awhile, trying to get my notes together for the upcoming national structure panel at which Bruce and I were to present the MDS business meeting decisions. I ran out for some aspirin and lunch with Charles from Albany SDS and then hurried back, arriving just in time for the next event which promised to be lively.
VII – Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?
At 2 PM it was time for the National Structure panel…we crowded into a room way too small for our number (at least 70). I began to worry that 90 minutes was way too short a time for what we had to discuss – and I had to leave early to take Bruce to Midway Airport. Things started out ok, Brendan Dunn of Olympia SDS taping, Aaron Petcoff of Wayne State SDS recording on the chalkboard…Pat Korte took notes on his computer and Alan Haber sat next to Pat, smiling – the “next meeting of sds” had finally arrived for our founding member.
Unfortunately this meeting was reminiscent of earlier SDS conventions: there was no consensus forthcoming on how to structure SDS. Issues included: an online voting system; a provisional constitution; whether SDS should be a confederation of chapters or an organization of individual members and whether individuals should have full autonomy or function in a cooperative way, sacrificing some autonomy. Alan argued for chapters to act locally for as long as necessary, allowing a national entity to emerge slowly. This seemed sensible but animated discussion continued without much agreement – in fact it was not possible to agree on what process should be used in the meeting itself. There were some tense moments. In the midst of this debate, a number of comrades arrived very late – it soon became apparent these folks were the People of Color caucus and they had a grievance to raise. They read a prepared statement, described feeling alienated at the convention and a discussion ensued – the key point being that POC issues must be addressed at all levels of SDS. At this point Bruce elbowed me – time to take him to the airport, he had trial the next day. We left, grinding our teeth, frustrated that the panel was not going well. At the airport, I hugged Bruce, the old Weatherman who clearly loved our project and he said: “I had a good time Tom,even though that last panel was a bit rough”. It seemed clear that there was nowhere near enough time to resolve so many contentious issues in a 90 minute panel…
VIII – Make Me Smile
After Bruce caught his flight, I stopped at the hotel to grab my wife and children…we hurried back to Cobb, hoping that someone had pulled a rabbit out of a hat in terms of saving the national structure panel. No such luck…Paul called and he said that the panelÂ had pretty much disintegrated. I said ok, we’ll carry on…
On arrival at UC, I picked up Paul and our new friend from Los Angeles, Paul Krehbiel. All of us hopped on Lake Shore Drive which we jokingly called LSD. Not that any of us had ever indulged, back in the day. Traffic was about as intense as a four way trip. Nonetheless we eventually arrived at the Heartland Cafe, well north of the U of C. Our friend and SDS comrade Mike James met us at the door. Penny and Franklin Rosemont were already there so we all sat down for a beer. Paul and I were exhausted, emotionally and otherwise. But we soon perked up when a steady stream of young SDSers began filing in. I saw Alana from Newport sitting with Mandy from Arizona. Davey (everyone in NYC loves Davey) and Daniel from DC sitting with Tristan and Sarah from New London…I got a second wind and Paul and I got a second beer. Soon it was time to leave the Heartland proper to visit the No Exit Cafe where several “SDS Seniors” were to speak.
We walked acouple doors down Glenwood and found our host Mike James behind the bar at No Exit. A Rolling Rock later I was bullshitting with Penny and Franklin: very excited to be with two fellow workers who also shared my enthusiasm for surrealism. Penny and Franklin signed my Surrealist Arsenal and a copy of Dancin’ In The Streets and then the panel started. Paul MC’d, Jay Jurie spoke about Colorado SDS, Penny spoke about SDS organizing and Carl Davidson stole the show with an recounting of how he had come “full circle” back to SDS and participatory democracy after having traveled “all over the political map” since leaving SDS. Carl spoke about how “politics derive from (your) values” and how SDS must use PD as its organizing principle. It was a very moving speech. After the speeches came Dave Lippman, aka George Shrub the singing CIA Agent, who sang his anthem “Fuck U-S imperialism” (after asking if he could swear in front of my kids – who were delirious at this point). I enjoyed Dave’s song and then grabbed Paul B and was off – we dropped Paul at the International House and found our way back to the hotel tired but in good spirits.
Thank god for Mike James and the Heartland…it really took the edge off a tough day.
IX – Poem For The People
Monday we didn’t know what to expect. I was anxious…the Sunday panel had been very tense.Â Brian called while we were enroute and asked if I was ok. I said yeah…he asked if I would present the MDS reportback at the final plenary. I was hesitant to do it without Bruce but agreed to try. Arriving at UC, my family and I parked the car and made our way to Ida Noyes Hall.
I missed the first panel by design – I was worried about the final plenary. We all moved into the Cinema Room and Paul Buhle was elected to facilitate. Paul was all business and kept us moving. The tone was so much improved that I was absolutely floored. Brian, Pat Korte and others had prepared some general rules for process and after a relatively brief debate the rules were accepted.
We got through a mountain of business very quickly thanks to Paul and Alison, our recording secretary, and the good vibes in the room. Brendan D recorded the session for posterity. I presented the MDS report back (with a big assist from Jay Jurie and Monty Kroopkin) and the students seemed pleased that MDS would be forming a foundation to do fundraising for SDS. I also pitched a proposal to support the Starbucks Workers Union by boycotting Starbucks on campus. It was gratifying when it passed by acclamation. It was a great day. Several other motions passed with little discord, including a call to have regional conventions that would lead up to a constitutional convention. The final plenary ended and we broke for lunch. Some SDS members would reconvene on the lawn outside Ida Noyes for discussions with the environmental and LGBT caucuses while many would head to the airports and train station.
As things wrapped up my family and I walked Alan Haber to his van to grab the SDS table materials that he had safeguarded on Sunday – watching over the SDS table while I drove Bruce to Midway. Saying goodbye to Al we picked up our “two Pauls”: Krehbiel and Buhle. Joining us for a quick Middle Eastern lunch were Jim Zarichny and Jay Jurie. After falafel I drove Paul K to the blue line so he could make it to O’Hare in time for his flight and then dropped Paul B off at Midway. Back at the hotel my family and I collapsed…exhausted but gratified the final day had been productive…
X – While The City Sleeps
Tuesday morning Pat and Brian flew back to New York and Dug hopped on Amtrak. I drove to Hyde Park one last time: I had to pick up a box of books that had been meant for the convention but not arrived on time. As I drove down 59th Street I stopped at SDS Hardware. I had stopped quickly once before, to grab a photo, but this day the store was open. I walked in and introduced myself to Sam Wilson, the proprietor. I gave Sam a handful of sds buttons and explained I was from New York, here for a Students for a Democratic Society national convention. “New York City”, he said, shaking his head. He gave me two different business cards…it turned out he was the chairman of a neighborhood social service agency, totally volunteer run. “I help the local kids”, he said. I beamed. “So you moonlight – doing what I do for a living – that’s excellent”. We shook hands and I headed out shaking *my* head: at the amazing synchronicity.
After pouring over my map of Chicago my family and I headed out to Cicero…I was looking to pay my respects to Emma Goldman. Eventually finding Forest Park, we located the Forest Home (“Waldheim” in the original German) Cemetary. Oblivious to the sign stating “Emma Goldman” (I’m from the “Don’t Ask For Directions” school of thought) I drove around the good sized boneyard for some time before finally deciding to ask the administrators where to go. At the front gate I did a double take…I saw Brendan Dunn of SDS Olympia approaching the cemetary. I ran over and shook hands. Brendan was with a large group of SDSers including several UCF comrades. The gatehouse staff had a flier showing the main points of interest in the cemetary and it wasn’t long before we all found the Haymarket Memorial and Emma. We took a number of pictures and left sds badges on the Goldman statue then we all headed out. The SDSers were off to the airport. My family and I had one more day in Chicago.
XI – Fancy Colours
We made the most of our final day: we visited the Museum of Science and Industry, rode the El around The Loop, took photos outside the Art Institute and visited the famous Central Camera Shop. At the Science Museum I got dogtags that said “Movement for a Democratic Society SDS NYC”. The young guy who made them said: “so I guess this means you’re in favor of the Iraq War?” We laughed and I gave him the url of the SDS website. He planned to attend the University of Illinois at Chicago this coming semester. I urged him to visit a UIC professor named Bill Ayers – and to hook up with SDS Chicago.
At the Camera Shop I bought a few items I had trouble finding elsewhere: one of my SLRs is an old Soviet box, a Zenit 35mm (XP 12) with a Helios 44M-4 58mm lens – it’s not easy to find accessories. While in the store the owner, Don Flesch, took a photo of my son and I. When it dried he handed me the fuji instant photo. Apparently this is a custom at his shop. It was great to be in a real camera shop, pretty much a thing of the past since digital has taken over. We spoke about the SDS convention and a few customers and staff jotted down the website. Walking around downtown Chitown we found the Art Institute and took a few photos of the kids goofing around with the lion statues and then we headed over to Millenium Park. There was a free (classical) concert but we stayed only long enough to see the Cloud Gate and then headed over to the El to take one last look at the Loop from an elevated perspective. Chicago was pretty dramatic at night, as seen from the train. We knew we’d miss it.
XII – So Much To Say; So Much To Give
Thursday morning we checked out and headed east. The Skyway was wide open, a good omen? We passed a large billboard as we passed through Indiana: Out of Iraq Now. My wife grabbed a picture as we drove by. No time to stop. A few hours later, we rolled into Toledo, Ohio, at about dinnner time. I showed my kids where I grew up, went to school and raised hell during the 70s. Then we headed north to Ann Arbor. We arrived in A-Squared late but had time for some conversation with Alan and Odile Haber in their lovely home. We talked about the convention and the future of SDS…the next day we said goodbye to our friends and, after eating at my favorite vegetarian restaurant (“Seva” on Liberty in downtown Ann Arbor), were back on the road. I carried a great treasure in my trunk: a stack of original SDS documents that Alan had loaned me – I was excited about being able to scan and upload a 1967 copy of NLN as well as a number of original REP documents, greatly enhancing the online SDS document archive.
XIII – State of the Union
The trip home was bumpy – a nasty accident between an SUV and tractor trailer delayed us in PA and we were obliged to spend one last in a hotel – arriving home early the next day…since then I’ve had time to reflect on the convention, its meaning, its shortcomings and the surrealistic side journeys. Although the national structure meeting was tough all in all it was a great convention and many good things were set in motion by it.
The fundamental thing that came out of the national convention in my view was that SDS will take its time defining itself and any future course will be the result of a deliberative process based on the old New Left Notes masthead slogan: Let the people decide. I can live with that…it sure beats some conventions I’ve seen where the outcome was a foregone conclusion. None of us in SDS know what the future holds but we are fired up. I can’t help but think of my favorite quote from Bernardine: be certain enough to act and to doubt simultaneously… In many respects, my original goals for the convention were generally met: the old wounds from 69 were mostly healed and we have an agenda for the next year at the end of which is a constitutional convention. Until then, each chapter will fight the good fight against the myriad injustices visited upon the world by the US government. It doesn’t get any better than that for an activist organization.
About The Chapter Headers…
I couldn’t resist titling each section after a great (i.e. early) Chicago song. I grew up listening to Chicago and once received materials for organzing students from Terry Kath, the former guitarist. The Carnegie Hall album in particular, recently rereleased by Rhino, was a very political – and rocking – album.