leave a comment --Ken Fox
What filmmaker Helen Garvy's oral history of the Students for a Democratic Society lacks in clarity and opposing viewpoints it makes up for with fascinating personal reminiscences of a turbulent time. Begun in 1960 at the University of Michigan and energized by the Civil
Rights Movement, the SDS dedicated itself to making direct, "participatory democracy" part of everyday American life, and grew to become the center of (mostly white) student activity in United States. Garvy interviews many of the movement's movers and shakers, from Alan Haber, Tom Hayden and Todd
Gitlin, all of whom served as early SDS presidents, to many of the women who did much of the organizational work, and who, like Casey Hayden, also helped launch the Women's Movement. The history of the SDS unfolds through their words and a wealth of archive material, beginning with the movement's
initial efforts to organize African-American southerners and impoverished northerners, and continuing through its increasing focus on opposing the Vietnam War. But as the decade and the war wore on, optimism turned to frustration, and protest turned to resistance. Draft board
blockades, university strikes and riot culminated in 1969's traumatic days of rage, when, as the movement disintegrated, SDS splinter group the Weather Underground tightened its ranks and made good on its promise to "bring the war home." Garvy's account of these sad events is a little blurry, even
though she has Weatherman's founders and chief spokespeople Bill Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn and Cathy Wilkerson on hand to discuss their general involvement in SDS. Garvy's unwillingness to dwell too long on the uglier aspects of the movement's legacy is revealing. Her film is ultimately a happy
celebration of a time, a place and a gutsy group of young people, rather than a cogent analysis of a movement.