A Vision for SDS II

The following by was coauthored by DC and presented at the inaugural convention of SDS II

In the broadest sense we understand Students for a Democratic Society to be an organization working to promote democracy through creative organization, discussion, and engaged political activism. Past this broad statement of purpose we want to communicate our thoughts on the particulars of how this is all done.

Organization as Tactic:

We feel that the name says a lot. To us there is crucial distinction to be made here; we want a democratic society and not a democratic state. While the state stands as a symbol of authoritarianism, hierarchy, and uniformity, to us society is all forms of association built around both community and individual interest, common need and common solutions. The democratic society exists outside of – if not against – the state. SDS then exists as an arena to refine and demonstrate the workings of a democratic society even as it is at odds with the state.

Through the SDS mailing list and E-RAP discussion board, we have heard SDS referred to as a national organization, we have heard talk of a national office with official positions, and we have heard of statements being made to the press that ostensibly represented this national organization. We find all of these things to be antithetical to our conception of a democratic society. SDS is made up of as many different people with just as many different values and ideas and we believe that no national group can accurately and ethically represent all of these. On another level, we find the concept of “nations” to be problematic and prefer to not cooperate with that abstraction as much as possible. We would suggest that the chapters be linked through networks of bioregions, which we find to be less arbitrary, more practical, and also more conducive to democratic organization. This is not to say that we abruptly refuse to participate in national SDS conventions, mailings lists, discussion boards – a national organization could be effective in organizing to confront national laws, wars, and other issues that affect a particular nation – but we would urge the primacy of the local as opposed to various forms of  reified organization.

Regions can begin when two or more local chapters federate within the region they feel related to and with whom they share similar concerns and interests. Some chapters may feel they are in the middle of two regions and find it beneficial to be related to both. We encourage SDS members conceptions of regions to transcend state and national boundaries as they see fit.

However, assuming that SDS will be a global organization we would like to see bioregions in turn linked to each other through a global network. We also encourage the creation of all other networks that facilitate the interaction between individuals and chapters ( e.g. language, gender, and professional) but we would like to see them develop organically instead of being implemented as organizational policy. Another side of this is that we believe that any form of SDS organization can only represent the individuals that formally consent to any decisions that are made. Formal consensus is the most effective and most democratic form of decision making because it offers each individual member the ability to fully take part in the politics that directly affect them. Therefore, we feel that chapters will be the main, if not the only, level of organization in which decisions are made and SDS’s work will occur.

The sole purpose and raison d’etre of SDS’s  supra-local organization is the enfranchisement of its chapters. And likewise, the sole purpose and raison d’etre of the chapters is the enfranchisement of its individual members. We conceive of the “supra-local SDS” as a network of chapters that will help each other establish websites, email addresses, listservs, online forums, and other means of communication so that the chapters and individuals without these resources are capable of acting to create democratic societies in their own manner and according to their own ideas. Local chapters should be completely autonomous. Insisting on the autonomy of each chapter fosters an aggregation of various creative activism tactics, social experiments, and ideas. It also gives chapters the chance to come up with solutions that best match their local concerns.

Even if the convention this August decides on setting up a strong national structure to the organization, we feel it will inevitably become obsolete. Chapters and the individuals that make them up will determine the goals and tactics that are most appropriate for their particular circumstances. Democracy has a will to decentralize. SDS members should be conscious that SDS is itself only a temporary organization. We should be ready to dissolve it at any point because the last thing this world needs is another organization which spends more time on keeping itself running than doing what it set out to do in the first place.

Organization is a tactic. The style of organization that we employ will reflect on the ends that we achieve. We think every level of SDS’s organization should exist with safeguards against bureaucratic inefficiency, authoritarianism, and institutional bankruptcy while at the same time promoting grassroots participation. To us, a minimal supra-local structure with absolutely no decision making power is the only way to fulfill this commitment to our conception of democracy.

The Media: Ours and Theirs:

We outlined earlier that the many networks that comprise the supra-local organization can be connected online. We feel that the internet is not a perfect tool in aiding democratic processes so we believe that to as great an extent as is possible, decisions should only be made when a group meets in person. A group of SDS members could conceivably conduct formal consensus online in an acceptable way but we realize that this will not work for everyone. The internet is just not easily available to everyone.

Real life publications in the form of zines, newsletters, and booklets could be a useful and fun form of alternative media. Those with access to publishing equipment and or funds can exchange those with groups without these means so that a variety of voices are heard in the world of publishing. One main function of the supra-local organization could be to be a place where these various publications could be exchanged. A supra- local website could also link to chapter sites, accumulate news and share contact information. Online forums and listservs can produce constructive discussions and help refine ideas. We want to make clear that they are not an alternative to putting those ideas in to place.

Corporate and outside media are problematic. To eliminate confusion about SDS in the media we expect that there will be no national spokesperson who will represent SDS members who have not formally consented to it. The media can be dealt with by each individual and group on a case by case basis but we hope that it is made clear who one is speaking for.


We feel it is imprudent to set hard and fast guidelines for who deserves membership in SDS. As far as we are concerned, SDS chapters should form out of common interest in changing social and political circumstances and should be open to new members as they see fit. We have purposefully left out any ideas of rules for the organization because we believe that these will be made and implemented by chapters who have reached formal consensus regarding them.

Of course we are speaking only for ourselves but we hope that we will be listened to and that our ideas be given consideration by those at the national convention.

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