Student Activism

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SDS in the News - How to Count Chapters

The new SDS is in the news with articles in

The Nation


Left Turn

The Nation claims that SDS has over 100 chapters. Left Turn says 250. In fact I'd guess that SDS has between 15 and 50 chapters (by which I mean chapters with regular meetings). This number is particularly important for SDS as the organization is already built upon historically based hype - so being grounded in reality is good.

Students For a Democratic Society - An Update

The New Students for a Democratic Society is a paradox. It benefits from a huge name appeal that is attracting a considerable number of new people and groups, but it also hurts from nasty organizational in-fighting and from a lack of structure.

This past summer, the new SDS held its first national conference. However, they chose to not develop a national structure or values - leaving that up for the next national conference (which I expect in the summer of 2007, or perhaps that fall). In the mean time, SDS has organized several regional conferences.

For instance, the SDS 2007 Northeast Regional Conference sounds particularly impressive according to Thomas Good's account. Getting 90 people from around 20 chapters is impressive for a new organization without a budget or staff. Particularly if these chapters actually hold regular meetings and aren't just paper chapters. It's also impressive that groups are starting with the SDS name.

Democratizing Education Network - A (Relatively) New Growing Network

I've been terribly amiss in failing to report on the development of the Democratizing Education Network (DEN) which has organized several conferences and is launching a Week of Action - April 16-20, and a month of Tent State Universities and Teach-Ins.

Their main focus is on democratizing education by fighting tuition hikes and for broader access to education. They're doing so within the context of a pro-democracy / anti-corporate analysis.

This effort is being sponsored by the Liberty Tree Foundation, and is in some respects a rebirth of the 180 - Movement for Democracy and Education which died a couple years ago. MDE-180 grew out of an analysis of corporate power and the takeover of higher education, advocating real grassroots democracy as the alternative. Democracy was seen as a common goal that could unify people working on all types of different issues. Ben Manski was a key figure in starting MDE-180 and is now very active in the Democratizing Education Network (through Liberty Tree).

Campus Climate Challenge - Making History

The Campus Climate Challenge is perhaps the largest student activist campaign in a long time - possibly since the Sixties. This is particularly true if you consider the level of organization which is high and proportionate to the high level of funding (over a million dollars/year). At a bare minimum, it is the largest US student environmental activist campaign.

I don't like using terms like "largest campaign" because it is hard to compare this campaign with things like the hundreds of local campaigns that diversified the student body, faculty, staff, programs, and academic courses of colleges and universities (ex. ethnic studies). You could call the establishment of a thousand student lgbt groups a campaign - in which case it'd be larger and more succesful than the Campus Climate Challenge. I guess the difference is that these grassroots movements for diversity where generally not coordinated at a national level.

Young People For - Their Network

Young People For (is that name proper grammer?) is an interesting organization in the field of student activism, by which I mean they are well-funded and thus powerful.

They have an insightful breakdown of

who is in their network

The states they chose look random to me, other than perhaps they are going for larger states.

The good thing is that they are going for continuity - hopefully that will help campuses with turnover which is one of the main difficulties that student activists face. Advocates Militarism

The fact that recently chose to feature a pro-militarism article about US volunteers joining the Israeli army fits with its moderate version of student activism.

Get Me A Draft Card

They let almost anyone write. But to feature an article requires an editorial decision. And to not just advocate Zionism (and support for a racist religious sectarian state) but to also advocate for the use of military force, and even in the wake of the disasterous attacks on Lebanon and Gaza -- makes you really wonder what kind of "progress" they stand for?

Mother Jones 13th annual student activism review

Mother Jones did their

13th annual review of student activism

It's really hard to get a good sense of student activism as you really are looking at over 2000 universities (to say nothing of the 20,000+ other schools). So it's a tip of the iceberg situation. This time instead of trying to list the top ten activist schools, they went with a humour sample that is funny - but doesn't say so much about the harder movement building work that is going on.

They missed out on SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), partially because the SDS founding conference was after their deadline.

Re-Forming the New Students for a Democratic Society Conference - Aug 4-8, 2006, Chicago - ATTEND!

Today Students for a Democratic Society reached 1000 members (note: not paid members, people who self-identify as members)! They also have over 120 people registered for their conference. They've held several regional gatherings, have active chapters (how many is hard to say as many of the chapters are recent start-ups), and a very active email list (perhaps more active than any other student activist email list that I'm on).

They don't have any paid organizers, nor much of a budget. So their current progress is impressive!

I strongly encourage any student (or campus activist) interested in national networking to

Progressive Alums

The Associated Press recently reported that the President of the Un of Richmond, William Cooper, was pressured into resigning early because he made some comments that students and alums of the school found offensive. These students and alums combined forces with the University faculty and began a full-scale campaign against Cooper--complete with a website, online petition, and anti-Cooper paraphernalia (

Reading about this campaign I was reminded of efforts by a group of Berea College students last spring. These students put together a well-organized a campaign [called “10x10” to reflect its goal of meeting 10% of BC’s energy from renewable sources by 2010] to convince the BC administration to begin placing solar panels on its buildings and to begin planning for the future procurement of renewable energy. As part of their efforts, the students scheduled individual meetings with administrators, organized an energy conservation campaign to help offset the additional initial costs of renewables, and solicited donations from BC staff, students, and faculty. While the administration eventually agreed to pay for the remainder of the solar array, and to place the array on the central “Alumni Building,” it balked at the rest of the proposal, including budgeting for future alternative energy installations and establishing an ongoing campus committee to study and implement renewable energy.

Recreating Students for a Democratic Society (SDS 2.0)

A small, but apparently growing, number of students have been trying to create an organization with a historically-charged name: Students for a Democratic Society.

I suspect this happens every five or so years, with starting national student activist organizations becoming an increasingly popular/easy thing to do because of the existence of the internet which both facilitates real connections and the illusion of connection.

I recall being on an email list, perhaps about eight years ago, where another small group was trying to start SDS. They didn't get nearly as far as this effort though.

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