Students for a Democratic Society Hosts 7th Annual National Convention

By Michela Martinazzi

Gainesville, FL - 70 student activists from all over the country arrived in sunny Gainesville, Florida to attend the annual Students for a Democratic Society National Convention Oct. 27-28. The activists arrived from as far as Utah and Minnesota.

The convention began bright and early with opening statements by Robbey Hayes and Skye Schmelzer from the host Gainesville Chapter.

Stephanie Taylor, a national leader of SDS, reported, “It was awesome. SDS continues to be the largest anti-war student group, to organize for education rights, and there is a growing trend of struggle supporting women’s and LGBTQ issues. SDS invited the Dream Defenders who spoke about immigrant rights, justice for Trayvon Martin and exposing the Republican Party’s voter suppression in Florida. A Gainesville member of Students for Justice in Palestine spoke about boycott, divestment, and sanctions of Israel.”

Students attended different workshops, such as “Bad Acting Theater” and “Basic Organizing Skills.” SDS affiliate the Revolutionary Students Union presented “Turning Red States Red.” Other workshops included “Organizing Immigrant and Farmworker Rights Campaigns on Campus” and “Combating Male Chauvinism within Your SDS Chapter.” These workshops aimed to offer progressive solutions or evolve a political direction that SDS activists can take.

The plenaries were designed to address issues that are vital for every SDS activist. SDSers learned about the struggle of the LGBQ and trans community in “Gender & Sexuality: Further Than the Binary” and heard from different campus campaigns in “Voices from the Left Student Movement and Continuing the Fight for Education Rights.”

Noor Elashi, an award winning author, journalist and an advocate for her father and the Holy Land 5, spoke on the SDS plenary “Fighting Back Against Political Repression.” Elashi went through a timeline of the Holy Land 5 trial and how she had dealt with the repression - both politically and personally. Elashi read a touching excerpt from her father-daughter memoir where she described the time she visited her father and the harsh and cold treatment she received from the prison guards.

Tom Burke, of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, was also on the panel. Burke is one of the 23 anti-war activists raided by the FBI in 2010. He echoed Elashi’s point about how the FBI targeted the anti-war 23 and The Holy Land 5 for political reasons.

Afterwards, Burke said, “Speaking to the SDS Convention was a powerful experience. I spoke about the FBI raids and grand jury repression, including members of SDS. I relayed my student experience with the Divest Now! campaign to smash racist Apartheid in South Africa. Then, with the Progressive Student Network in the 1980s, we organized campus protests against CIA recruitment. We acted in solidarity with the revolutionary movements of Nicaragua and El Salvador. In 1991, the PSN helped organize mass rallies to oppose the first U.S. Gulf War on Iraq.”

Burke continued, “Today’s student activists have known nothing but the U.S. always being at war. I spoke and emphasized the importance of supporting liberation struggles in Colombia and Palestine today, to stop U.S. intervention. Our effective organizing to stop U.S. funding of war and oppression is the reason Assistant U.S. Attorney Barry Jonas is continuing his investigation of the 23 anti-war activists, especially focused on Hatem Abudayyeh in Chicago.”

The second day of the SDS convention began by remembering Laura Elizabeth Langley from Alabama SDS and Andrew Stapleton from Tampa Bay SDS who died during the previous year. The room was quiet as emotional speeches were made to commemorate their dedication and commitment to activism, to create a better world.

To guide each chapter in the year head, SDS passed resolutions. Most were a call to action, like “Close the School of the Americas” (the U.S. school that trains military death squads), and vowing to join the protest Nov. 16-18 at Fort Benning in Georgia. Another one, “Education Rights Days of Action,” plans to demand funding and access for education in the first week of March 2013. “SDS - Demand an End to All Wars and Occupations” calls for the end of U.S. war and occupation in Afghanistan and an end to the covert war and U.S. sanctions against Syria and Iran. It also demands an end to U.S. drone attacks. Another unanimously supported resolution, called for “Justice for Trayvon Martin.” Lastly, the SDS passed a resolution “Oppose U.S. Government Political Repression,” as part of the push back against the growing political repression by the U.S. government and police forces.

The day ended with each SDS chapter reporting back on the actions they organized in the past year and relaying their lessons and victories to the rest of convention attendees.

The closing of the convention was a boisterous and loud “otro golpe,” a Gainesville SDS tradition, which represents “another strike” against U.S. imperialist war and racism in the U.S. - and looking forward to the next victories for Students for a Democratic Society!

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