Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History – Harvey Pekar


“For the blink of an eye in the 1960s, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), was the 900-pound gorilla on the American left, commanding center stage and drawing up the game plans for anti-war and radical activity. And yet by the end of the decade it was more like Franz Kafka’s Hunger Artist: alone, self-isolated, emaciated, a victim of its own delusions and blunders. Even before an explosion in a Manhattan townhouse in March 1970 claimed the lives of three bomb-making members, SDS was a spent force that had squandered its moral credit in street fighting (‘Days of Rage’ in 1969) and incendiarism. That is how History with a big H presents SDS — in light of the stunning meltdown of its splinter group, the Weathermen. But there are other histories, thousands of them that make the movement harder to pin down tidily: the personal stories of individuals who gave their lives to it, and it is those stories that historian Paul Buhle, artist and writer Harvey Pekar, and artist Gary Dumm attempt to capture in their ‘Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History.’ The stories, 27 in all, were donated for the book, to which the editors added material from Columbia University’s Oral History Office. Ranging from the banal to the gut-wrenching, they are laid out on the page mainly by Dumm. The longest is Pekar’s ‘Highlights of SDS,’ a harrowing account of the movement’s penchant for inner intrigue. SDS was founded by Al Haber in 1960 as the student wing of the League for Industrial Democracy (LID), a labor organization that counted Jack London and Upton Sinclair among its founders in 1905. But by opening its ranks to Communists and other Marxist-Leninists, Haber’s SDS challenged its LID sponsors and was quickly orphaned. The Port Huron Statement in 1962, with its call for ‘participatory democracy,’ put SDS on the political map with a fresh vision at a time when anti-war and civil rights movements hoped to be united under a single banner. By 1964, SDS was the banner. … From this combustible mulch of idealism, adventurism, fanaticism and chicanery came a great fission, as women’s groups spun off their own movements, black groups like SNCC and the Black Panthers abandoned it to organize separately, Deadheads and dopers sank deeper into their addictions or headed to the countryside to build chicken coops and septic systems, and the revolutionists took up arms as Weathermen. …”
Saluting peace, love and the heyday of ’60s activism
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About 1960s: Days of Rage

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