A group of students held the first Students for a Democratic Society meeting at the University since 1969 on Sunday.
Forty-eight years ago, Ann Arbor resident Alan Haber helped organize SDS.
For ten years, during the turbulent 1960s, the activist group fought against the draft and the Vietnam War with rallies and protests.
Ann Arbor was a hotbed of SDS activity throughout the 1960s, especially in the later part of the decade.
The group’s manifesto, the Port Huron Statement, was written by University alum and former Michigan Daily Editor Thomas Hayden.
Fittingly, Haber was there to lend his encouragement. About 20 students attended the meeting in the Michigan Union in hopes of reviving the University’s SDS chapter, enough for the group to be recognized by the University as an official student group.
The University chapter joins the more than 250 SDS chapters across the nation that have been re-established since January 2006.
LSA junior Matt Roney led the meeting, though he stressed the non-hierarchical structure of SDS.
“Members have democratic access to all levels of decision-making so that people control their own lives,” he said.
SDS decides which issues it will address by group consensus.
“Utopian as it sounds, it’s working out really well,” Roney said.
Despite nearly four decades of dormancy, students were enthusiastic and hopeful.
“SDS is not here to raise awareness,” said LSA junior Kelly Simmons, one of the group’s organizers. “We’re here to do something.”
At the meeting, Haber spoke about SDS’s past. Vietnam became a focus because it had become a menace to student life, he said. SDS’s work against the Vietnam War began with protests against the draft like teach-ins.
Haber called for a nationwide activist movement because the war in Iraq “cuts through every issue.”
But Roney was quick to correct a misconception about SDS.
“We are not the anti-war group here on campus,” Roney said, referring to the newly-formed Anti-War Action. “AWA has that title and we don’t want to step on their toes.”
Instead, he described SDS as a labor union for students that will organize around a variety of issues.
Other student groups including – By Any Means Necessary, Anti-War Action and Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality – were also represented at Sunday’s meeting.
In addition to issues dealing with the Iraq war, members agreed to work for University temporary workers rights.
Two University temporary workers said that under the current policies they could be laid off at any time for any reason.
They claimed they could then be hired back weeks later to maintain their status as temporary workers, denying them benefits and higher wages that the University would be forced to grant them after working for a certain period of time.
The workers refused to reveal their names because they said they were afraid of being fired.
Calling their situation “indentured servitude,” they asked for the group’s help in gaining recognition from the University.
The audience agreed that University workers’ rights would be a good starting point for the renewal of SDS activity on campus.
The group also discussed taking on issues like monopolies in the student housing and textbook markets in Ann Arbor.