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"Democracy Is in the Streets": From Port Huron to the Siege of Chicago

"Democracy Is in the Streets": From Port Huron to the Siege of Chicago

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Rating: 4 stars
Summary: More SDS History
Review: This is another history concerning the SDS, or the Students for a Democratic Society. Miller admits in the introduction that he was a member of SDS and is sympathetic to what they did or tried to do. Not only is this book shorter than Kirkpatrick Sale's excellent history of SDS, but its focus is different as well. Where Sale focuses on the group as a whole, Miller provides more of an intellectual history of SDS. Miller provides exacting detail on the early period of SDS, especially the convention that produced the Port Huron Statement. For a much more thorough and detailed history of the SDS, please refer to Kirkpatrick Sale's SDS.

I still really enjoyed reading Miller's book. I like books that discuss intellectual development, and this one certainly accomplishes that. There is even an entire chapter devoted to C. Wright Mills, the radical sociologist that so many in the New Left idolized. Mills's idea of publics and his concerns about technology spoke directly to the alienation many young leftists felt. Miller points out that both Mills and the New Left shared a crucial weakness; both articulated problems without posing any effective solutions. This is most apparent in the idea of participatory democracy, the cornerstone of Port Huron. This idea, much touted by SDS members for most of its history, was never adequately defined in the document. Miller shows that many of the SDS projects, such as ERAP, were attempts to put participatory democracy into practice. The end result was failure because a concept such as this would probably only work on an extremely small level. As more people are brought into the mix, participation becomes problematic because so many different ideas are brought forth. Process and decisions become arthritic and meetings drag on for hours without results.

Miller seems to bog down considerably when he moves into the second half of his work. He provides four accounts of four separate members of SDS, one of whom is of course Tom Hayden. The problem with this technique is that none of these members had much to do with SDS after 1965. The later struggles of SDS are subsumed under these four accounts. Therefore, not nearly enough detail is given to the PL-SDS and Weather split in 1969. For description of the old guard of SDS, Miller is an excellent source. Just don't expect to find out much about late 1960's SDS.

Rating: 5 stars
Summary: Outstanding account of SDS and Tom Hayden
Review: While Miller is notably weak in is treatment -- and I would say understanding -- of the impact of the counter-culture and the civil rights movements, this is probably the most authoritative account to SDS, the student dimension of the anti-war movement, and the intellectual history of the New Left. His treatment is highly critical but born of a sympathetic hopes. He vastly overestimates the impact of the 1960s on American politics, and misses out of the opportunities to demostrate the lasting impact which developed through the "new social movements" of the 1970s and the present.

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