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SDS founder hopes for new revival on campus

BY MELISSA BENTON
Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 11, 2004

More than 40 years after Students for a Democratic Society was
first formed in Ann Arbor, the organization’s original
president is urging students to bring it back to campus.

Ann Arbor resident Alan Haber and other community members
discussed last night how to create an “association of
comradeship” and promote the ideals that gave the group
nationwide attention decades ago.

Haber, who founded SDS in 1959, encouraged students to get
involved in the progressive and liberal organization because, he
said, college students can make a difference in politics.

Despite scant attendence, participants discussed ways to solve
problems ranging from fascism to the economy to business
conglomerates.

“I’m just searching for avenues and trying to find
different communities that are interested in these issues because
they are very important issues,” LSA freshman Paul Abowd
said.

Haber said he would like to see changes in the Bush
administration’s war policy, the liberation of Palestine and
a fight against poverty.

“It’s the big picture that is the focus rather than
one of these in particular. All of these issues hang
together,” Haber added.

The ultimate goal of SDS is to produce a world free from
violence and poverty., Haber said. “I want to see if these
memories of old struggles can forge a culture of peace and
nonviolence for the children of the world,” Haber said.

SDS committed itself in the 1960s to resolving many important
issues — such as racial injustice, poverty, and imperialism.
Yet they are most known for their 25,000-person march on Washington
protesting the Vietnam War in April 1965.

History Professor Matthew Lassiter said SDS represents an
opportunity for college students to come together and make a
difference in American politics.

“SDS proved that students had the potential to be in the
vanguard of social change,” he said.

SDS grew out of the League for Industrial Democracy, established
in 1905. Haber joined the organization as a University student in
the 1950s.

By 1959 the organization was named Students for a Democratic
Society. In 1962, several SDS members wrote a list of goals, which
later became known as the Port Huron Statement.

“There were a number of University students involved in
the Port Huron Statement, particularly Thomas Hayden who was the
main writer,” Lassiter said. Hayden, later a state senator in
California, attended the University from 1957 to 1961 and was
editor in chief of the Michigan Daily in 1960.

According to a recent article called “ The Port Huron
Statement at 40” written by Hayden and posted on his website,
the original ideas spread very modestly at first and then quickly
grew much stronger.

“SDS represented the first defections from the mainstream.
The student government leaders and campus newspaper editors who
came to Port Huron asserted the notion of student
“rights” for the first time,” Hayden stated in
the article.

Lassiter stressed the group’s connection with the Vietnam
War. “SDS had a broad, progressive critique of foreign and
domestic policies. However, Vietnam was so huge that almost all of
SDS’s energy went into fighting the war. They were fairly
successful in creating a protest movement, but the larger vision
got lost,” Lassiter said. SDS disintegrated in 1968 at the
height of its power.

“By the end of the 1960’s and Vietnam there were a
lot of internal differences and a lot going on for one organization
to handle,” Haber added. But, Haber said he feels that it is
time to bring back SDS.

“I had the opportunity to meet with people from groups
(that developed out of SDS) and I proposed that we reconnect our
networks.”