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Students for a Democratic Society

The Students for a Democratic Society (or SDS) was a radical student movement founded in 1959 that developed from the youth branch of a socialist educational organization known as the League for Industrial Democracy. SDS held its first meeting in 1960 at Ann Arbor, Michigan, where Robert Alan Haber was elected president. Its political manifesto, known as the Port Huron Statement, was adopted at the organization's first convention in 1962, based on an earlier draft by staff member Tom Hayden. This manifesto criticized the political system of the United States for failing to achieve international peace and failing to address social ills in contemporary society, and it advocated non-violent civil disobedience as the means by which student youth could bring forth a "participatory democracy."

At Port Huron, Tom Hayden clashed with Irving Howe and Michael Harrington, over perceived potential for totalitarianism. Hayden said, "While the draft Port Huron Statement included a strong denunciation of the Soviet Union, it wasn’t enough for LID leaders like Michael Harrington. They wanted absolute clarity, for example, that the United States was blameless for the nuclear arms race...In truth, they seemed threatened by the independence of the new wave of student activism…"

At first, SDS focused on peaceful efforts to promote the civil rights movement and improve the conditions of inner-city ghettos. However, it came to be known for the leading role that it played in student opposition to the Vietnam War. While SDS remained non-violent, it became increasingly militant, and certain splinter factions had a reputation for violent confrontation, including the Progressive Labor Party, the Weathermen (later known as the"Weather Underground Organization"), and the Revolutionary Union.

SDS formed the core of a counter-cultural movement in the 1960s known collectively as the New Left, or simply "The Movement," which was loosely associated with other prominent student activist organizations such as the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, a coalition of student groups at the University of California, Berkeley that was formed in response to a prohibition on political activities on the Berkeley campus. The membership of such organizations consisted mostly of liberal arts majors.

SDS broke up in 1969, with its more radical remnants forming the aforementioned Progressive Labor Party, Weatherermen, and the Revolutionary Union. Many former SDS leaders went on to successful political careers, including Tom Hayden who is still active in politics and writing. Hayden is a former member of the legislature of the state of California and is well known as the former husband of activist Jane Fonda.

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