A Hard Left Hook:
        Students for a Democratic Society works both within, outside system


September 24, 2008

Lord Acton wrote, "power tends to corrupt, and absolute power 
corrupts absolutely." Although he definitely wasn't a member of 
Students for a Democratic Society, Lord Acton's well-known phrase 
goes a long way toward responding to questions raised in Erich 
Hiner's column for The Post last Tuesday. Hiner accused the group of 
working outside the established political system and seeking only to 
provoke students' rebellious attitudes. In so doing, Hiner asserts, 
the organization is undermining any chance it has of bringing about 
change in our political system. Some of Hiner's criticisms may have 
been fair, including questions he raised about organization and the 
group's decision not to institute elected leadership. But there were 
also flaws in Hiner's argument.

To begin with, while Students for a Democratic Society offers serious 
criticism of the political establishment both on this campus and 
nationally, it is factually incorrect to say that the group will not 
work within the system. The truth is that the group's members have 
attempted to work within the university political system on numerous 
occasions. Will Klatt, probably the most prominent member, ran for 
Student Senate president during the 2006-2007 school year. Klatt and 
many other members were instrumental in organizing The Birthday Party 
ticket during last year's Student Senate election. It was members of 
this group, including yours truly, who presented a resolution to 
Student Senate last year condemning the OU Board of Trustees' 
then-impending decision to limit constituent input in the president's 
evaluation. This is only a small sampling of the work that the 
organization has done within the university system as it currently exists.

Yet it is true that many members are extremely critical of entrenched 
political systems and seek their complete overhaul through a 
nonviolent, thoroughly democratic revolution. This brings us back to 
Lord Acton's famous phrase. Many members keep the national political 
order in particular at arm's length precisely because they recognize 
that the absolute power enjoyed by our two-party corporate government corrupts.

Yes, sometimes working within the system is necessary. But it is also 
necessary to repudiate the notion that our system as it currently 
exists cannot be changed, that we must accept political domination by 
two parties beholden to corporate interests and the 
military-industrial complex. Capitulation to working permanently 
within this system can only prolong the problems facing our country, 
like putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. There is also the chance – 
Lord Acton might say the inevitability – that too much participation 
in this system of absolute power will corrupt those who participate in it.

Students for a Democratic Society is an extremely multi-faceted group 
with members who may identify variously as socialists, communists, 
anarchists, progressives, perhaps even as Democrats. Many members 
reject labels entirely because they consider their views individually 
unique. Perhaps the one principle that unites those members is the 
conviction that our system is inherently flawed and must be changed 
through a nonviolent democratic revolution. They believe that while 
we may work within the established system at times to bring about 
incremental change, history has shown us that real and lasting change 
is brought about in dramatic ways.

Our founders didn't work within the British system to bring about the 
change they thought was needed, although many encouraged them to do 
so. They chose violent revolution against the British crown. Students 
for a Democratic Society repudiates all forms of violence, but in the 
spirit of those who founded our country its members are working 
toward the day when a grassroots democratic revolution of ideas and 
words rather than guns and bombs can create an America that is truly 
free and in which all are truly treated as equals.

Nate Nelson is a junior studying political science and a member of 
Students for a Democratic Society. Send him an e-mail at [EMAIL PROTECTED]


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