[Marxism] Report on SDS convention, July 27-30, Detroit, by Alan Haber

Sayan Bhattacharyya ok.president+marxmail at gmail.com
Sun Aug 5 20:33:32 MDT 2007

 By Alan Haber


 a reflection from the students for a democratic society convention,
 detroit, friday-monday, july 27-30, 2007

 an altogether beautiful experience.
 yes, with some rough edges
 altogether positive and encouraging.


 150-200 students engaged each other in the course of the 4 days.
 i sat at the registration table for a while.
 my presence seemed appreciated.
 there was a solidarity in democratic struggle among them.
 they sang the song, "the union makes us strong"

 it was facilitated by a women working with 2 men,
 one a white, war resisters league activist,
 the other an african american organizer, working with the rain forest
 action network.

 none had a prior relation with sds and worked as volunteers, though a
 collection was taken for them at the end.

 this was as good an expression of democracy as i've seen in a political
 meeting of this size.

 i'd be tempted to say, "this is what democracy looks like." a little
 messy, not perfect, much time on process and listening,

 still, peoples concerns were expressed, pros and cons stated,
 amendments offered, votes taken, decisions made,
 with everything going back to the chapters, as the basic unit, for
 ratification, or revision.

 many of the proposals presented in the 66 page convention resolution
 book were blended together for voting,
 especially those on vision and political perspective, and on local,
 regional and national structure.

 some action campaigns were adopted, to be recommended to the chapters,
 as on the iraq war moratorium actions, no war-no warming, direct action
 on september 28, participation in republican and democratic party
 convention protests in 2008,, and a "break the chains" solidarity
 immigrant rights campaign. a proposed campus walk out in the fall was
 not approved.

 time was, as ever, too short: some resolutions were not considered at
 all, as on the middle east,
 and those about relations with mds and the foundation which we have set

 that the later were ignored reflected the general feeling to ignore or
 put off these relational questions.

 mds/fds were in poor repute, to be gentle, more for the failure to
 produce, and the undemocratic character of what people saw as going on.
 while a few critics in the critics circle got plenty of criticism for
 how they behaved, the substance of the criticisms of how we have
 functioned, not democratic enough, was acknowledged. basically, the
 feeling was, "get you're own scene in order and then we'll see how, if
 we relate." they did not embrace the "two wings of the same bird"
 model; closer maybe was "2 birds of the same flock" these impressions
 are from a few conversations and open ears; as i said, there was no
 formal discussion.

 the strongest reality was that this was a youth meeting. at the
 opening of the largest plenary, (saturday evening) the facilitators
 asked, "everyone under 20 stand up." half or more than half the hall
 stood up. the next question, after they sat down, "now everyone over
 30 stand up." there were maybe 7 of us. we were welcomed, but there was
 no doubt about who was in charge, so to speak.

 the idea of a "weighted stack" was adopted to guide speaking: balance
 women and men, and students first, before non-chapter members and mds
 or observers, if there was limited time.

 this created a problem in one caucus group, "the working class," when
 ray zwarich, our worker par excellence, wanted to say something at the
 end, after listening through the hour of discussion, and was told
 "students first," there were only a few minutes left to decide the
 question of whether and how to continue this caucus, so ray was bumped
 off the list, and complained. "i drove 700 miles and don't get to say
 a word." and grumbled, "700 miles!" michael albert who was sitting
 beside where ray was standing, said something intended to be quieting,
 like "be quiet" to which ray angrily replied, "i'm tired of people
 telling me to shut up" and he didn't like it either when i said, "cool
 it" he had a parting word with the student who had invoked the
 students-first preference, and left, not to be seen again at the
 convention, at least by me.

 in my view, the incident was unfortunate. i'm sure ray would have had
 something interesting to say on "class," he having heard all the
 students; he didn't have to be bumped. but then having been told no,
 his angry response put outsiders in a bad light. after he was gone
 there was some talk, but no agreement or action, about asking him to
 leave, which would, had he been there, have been a good occasion to
 bring the questions of exclusion and decorum to the peace table, which
 i had brought from ann arbor.

 i am sorry that ray didn't stay through to the end. i think he would
 have come away with a better appreciation of the consensus based
 democracy these students are working out. i'm not privy to any of the
 inner groupings, though there did happen an impromptu party at our
 house, before the convention. certainly there are differences among
 the people and strong feelings, yet, having seen it from beginning
 registration through last photographs, it seemed to me, that people
 really liked each other and were respectful, and glad for the path they
 were on.

 i did have a chance to tell quite a number of people the story of the
 peace table and the political action of "art for peace," represented by
 the megiddo peace project. i has pleased and gratified by how
 interested and receptive were the people with whom i talked. the
 imagination was alive in this new sds, that is the best news of all.

 one further comment: in the discussion that described members as
 students and youth under 30, who at the local level could invite older
 people, faculty, staff, community members, workers into chapter
 membership. the older people would not be designated as representatives
 in regional or national structures. leadership under 30. and among
 the duties of a member is to organize a chapter or to join and work in
 an existing chapter. at this point there is no idea or accommodation of
 "at-large members." members who are not yet in a chapter should
 organize a chapter, and they will get help from near by chapters, and
 regional and national support and encouragement. while these
 "decisions" have to be ratified and discussed at the chapter level,
 there was the idea that current at-large members have 3 months to get
 together with 2 others, if theirs is a small school, or 4 others if a
 large school, and make a chapter. whether this will rise a protest
 from at large members not in chapters, or will spur the organization
 of new chapters is yet to be seen. over an again it was said, these
 are beginning formulations; nothing is set in stone.

 no doubt all these decisions will soon appear on the sds web site or

 i felt honored to have been present and greatly moved. they also sang
 me a happy birthday song on sunday evening.

 i introduced myself at the end as from sds past, present and future,
 in solidarity in democratic struggle, in behalf of seniors for a
 democratic society, survivors, seekers, strugglers, scholars,
 socialists, sociologists, satirists and singers, semites and even
 sickos. good for a laugh and a few hugs.

 the thoughts i offered for a closing press statement was that "in every
 generation there arise those ready to take up the tasks of remaking
 society for the future. these sds-ers are taking the challenge for
 now." and "in the final conflict, let each stand in their place, these
 students are defining their place" winning is on their minds. they
 can use all the help they can get.

 best wishes

 alan haber

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