Students assemble new committee, revive old name

Justin Horwath

Sitting amid approximately 30 students in a crowded room Monday in Coffman Union, Dave Bicking relived his days as a member of the leftist student group Students for a Democratic Society.

“There were a lot of cops on campus back then,” said Bicking, who attended Michigan State University at the height of the anti-war movement in the 1960s. “Every rock was removed from campus when I got back junior year.”

Now, it’s the same name but a different war. The new University SDS chapter was added to the growing national organization that has 148 university chapters and 58 high school chapters nationwide.

SDS reached its zenith in the mid-1960s, only to disband in 1969.

In 2006, Connecticut high-school student Pat Korte resurrected SDS with the help of old SDS members, taking an old name to a new era to help fight the war in Iraq and promote student activism.

“Having a name means something, and SDS is a hell of a name,” Bicking said.

Many of the students stuffed in the room Monday were former members of the Anti-War Organizing League, a student group that dissolved about a month ago after unanimously voting to morph into a chapter of SDS.

Kyle Johnson, a first-year visual art student and SDS member, called Monday’s meeting a “coming out event” for the group.

“SDS gives us the legitimacy to work on other issues, but the war is the No. 1 issue nationally, period,” Johnson said.

The former AWOL members said they want a more “broad-based,” inclusive group that concentrates on many political and social issues, including the Iraq war.

The group aims for a larger, more effective student organization that can work with other student groups on “the issue of the day,” SDS member Erika Zurawski said. 

Zurawski, a global studies senior, said being multi-issue will be one of the biggest challenges the group will face.

“There’s a lot of issues to work on,” she said. “The tendency is to do it all.”

This was a concern at Monday’s meeting, as students debated on how to pave a future for a group modeling itself on the old SDS, which fell apart after different factions with clashing ideologies peeled away from the national organization at the pinnacle of the anti-war movement.

President of the University Pro-Choice Coalition, Caitlin LaFlash, spoke at the meeting with concerns on the organization of the group.

“Leadership would be important,” the art history junior said.

Reflecting the old SDS cooperative approach, Zurawski’s responded by saying anyone who attends meetings will be the leaders, envisioning the group as the “movers and shakers on campus.”

LaFlash and the coalition are considering working with the student group.

Nationally, SDS chapters have been making some noise. A founding member of the University of North Carolina Charlotte’s SDS chapter, Kosta Harlan, who graduated last spring with a philosophy degree, said six SDS members were arrested at a sit-in at North Carolina Rep. Dave Price’s office. The students will go to trial in two weeks.

Harlan said the multi-issue approach is working “very well for the group that formed last September” because the group focuses on doing work instead of “sitting around in meetings and endless debating.”

“It’s crucial for us to act practically first and ideologically second,” he said. “We might have our political differences, but in the end we’re looking to build the anti-war movement.”

Johnson said the group will officially register as a student organization next fall. But for now, they are concentrating on raising funds for a national SDS convention in Detroit in late July.