This paper examines the “culture of protest,” and the resultant violence of the 1960s, as a by-product of the rise of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). The focus of the investigation is on the origins of the student movement, its grass roots growth and its subsequent transformation from an ideological declaration to a nation-wide anti-war movement dominated by direct action protest.
At its inception, the student movement was the product of a group of student leaders challenging the apathy of the American public towards the inability of poor and disadvantaged ethnic groups to enact grass roots social change under the current system of political action.
In the Port Huron Statement, SDS articulated a national agenda for ideological social reform. The moral issues addressed in the Statement were intended to raise national consciousness of the problems at hand and inspire the public at large to enact change commensurate with the ideals presented. The vagaries of the language were calculated to be broad enough to enlist a variety of groups in support of a united front. At the same time the language was left open to constant ideological and logistical debate.
What brought about the transformation of the movement which resulted in the violent upheavals of the late 1960s? The changes seen in the direction of SDS’s efforts were the result of (1) changes in personalities in key positions and their shifting ideological positions, and (2) factionalism brought on in part by the organization’s rapid growth as a result of national tensions over the war in Vietnam.
Michael Wright, ’99 Southampton, NY
Majors: History, Philosophy
Sponsor: Richard Thomas