Students for a Democratic Society

New Book:

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Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History

Students a Democratic Society still exists, although it is not the SDS of the youth of your parents (or, to some, your grandparents). Actually they do not so much still exist, as exist after reformation in 2006. Famous for their Port Huron Statement in 1962, followed by increasingly radical activism amongst the heady politics of the 60s (the original incarnation did not make it to the 70s).

To many – I can think of a couple of my departmental colleagues – SDS were a great example of why/how hippie political lefties aren’t to be feared: they are simply too fractious to maintain any sort of unified front for long (anti-war marches of the recent past an excellent example, and we still miss Steve Gilliard).

Among the SDS’ fatal goals was the multivalency of them all – stopping a war (when, as we all know, such things cannot be done), pushing a class revolution, a ghetto revolution, ending racism. All while having a non-exclusionary membership, and while the ‘anti-red’ crap was out in full force.

To me, not surprisingly, not so much. They were an excellent example of just how difficult to manage properly devolved democracy actually is (the IWW a better example of relative harmony). The real fault that I have with ‘hippies’, loosely defined, is the lack of follow-through. All they seemed to do, ultimately, is galvanise the conservative movement (who really brought the fight and, ultimately, won a stranglehold that still exists) but not maintain their own fight/energy. Along the way they boomed as an ecologically unsustainable middle-class, sold out during the 80s and raised kids with too few rules or respect for ordinary classroom civics (although this complaint applies to both sides of the supposed divide).

It’s still cool to read about people who lived their beliefs – something that’s only mildly easier to do, these days, in many ways, and harder in others. If you live in NYC, Strand is selling it for around $11 or so, hardcover. From Publisher’s Weekly (or so I’m told):

American Splendor’s Pekar has been incredibly prolific in the last few years, and more recently he has taken on nonautobiographical projects to varying degrees of success. This newest effort works on a variety of levels. For one, Pekar is not the sole author. He constructs a narrative of the history of the Students for a Democratic Society, but frequently steps aside to allow actual participants in that history to tell their own stories, using his casual first-person model of storytelling. The narrative moves through the decade of SDS history and then moves into the participant accounts, offering both a macro and a micro vision of the times.

The artwork is mostly by frequent Pekar collaborator Gary Dumm, whose crisp, neutral realism may not be thrilling but does move the story along and does a fine job of conveying the various settings. As a whole, the book acts like a sophisticated handbook on an often misunderstood organization. It’s good comics and excellent history.


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