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Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was an organization that began in the early 1960s as part of the New Left political movement and soon birthed many chapters at universities across the nation. SDS sought to break away with the old political left and other traditionally progressive groups, such as labor unions, with the goal of promoting even more forward-thinking national policies. This movement was built upon young, college kids who didn’t have a stake in the system, possessed new ideas, and could become generational leaders. Overall, the group sought to reestablish a democracy that was for the people, and the group was guided by a humanistic vision that embraced nonviolence but also sought to cause tension by way of direct action.


SDS Protestors on the Oval, 1968

https://kb.osu.edu/handle/1811/73579

At some point between November of 1966 and October of 1967, an OSU chapter of SDS was initiated. Meetings were advertised in the Lantern and were hosted in various rooms on the first floor of Page Hall [1], located just outside the Oval near the Student Union. During their time on campus, SDS organized and attended numerous protests on a variety of issues. SDS was involved in some of the larger demonstrations, protesting employment inequality and the Vietnam War, but they also focused on more localized issues, such as using American-grown produce on campus. A group of Ohio State students, which included SDS members, traveled to Washington D.C. [2] to attend a march and to protest against racist employment. They also campaigned to increase student access to part-time jobs on campus and availability to participate in federal work-study programs, which took some time but was ultimately successful. During the produce protest for the American Farm Workers union, members of SDS marched through the Oval carrying a token head of lettuce all the way to the Administration Building. This protest was also successful, with dining services switching to using more local produce shortly after.

           The activism of the club came to a head in November of 1968. It was in this month that, in correlation with a protest put together by the national SDS movement, the SDS chapter at OSU planned to host a massive vote protest on the Oval for the upcoming presidential election.[3] The event, like the nationally staged protest, was extremely grandiose. The protest had three stages: the first was deemed the “funeral mass.” This involved protestors carrying a black coffin around the oval, which symbolized the “death of the two major political parties.” Following this, the main attraction appeared for stage two: the election. Staged “representatives” of the three major presidential candidates gave speeches but were ultimately dismissed by the crowd. SDS then brought out an alternative candidate: a live pig. Finally, stage three, the “festival of life” took place. Protestors gathered once again in the Oval to hear a band perform and celebrate “the birth of the new politics.” This protest took place alongside peaceful demonstrations across the nation.[4]

However, SDS rarely received such a positive response from Columbus citizens and the Ohio State University administration. Local newspapers and officials commonly referred to SDS as radical extremists [5] and members were sometimes arrested on faulty charges [6], such as drug possession, loitering, or wrongful influence. Members were also frequently investigated by The House Committee on Internal Security, formerly known as The House Un-American Activities Committee [7].

SDS would go on to participate in many more protests, even within the next few months. This was seen when the OSU chapter sent a group of students to D.C. to protest Nixon’s inauguration in January of 1969.[8] The chapter is still alive and well today and meets regularly to promote change regarding a wide array of issues. The presence of the club in the 1960s is especially important because it was reflective of the broader change that happened at the national level. The activism and vision for change that the SDS of OSU brought to the university paralleled the ideas of the national movement that took over New Left politics throughout the decade.

[1] “Today On Campus,” The Lantern, 22 October 1968, 6. https://osupublicationarchives.osu.edu/?a=d&d=LTN19681022-01.2.40&srpos=36&e=------196-en-20--21-byDA-txt-txIN-%22students+for+a+democratic+society%22-ARTICLE-----

 

[2] The Lantern, Vol. 92 No. 17, page 2

[3] “Vote Protest Set on Oval,” The Lantern, November 5 1968, 5. https://osupublicationarchives.osu.edu/?a=d&d=LTN19681105-01.2.40&srpos=45&e=------196-en-20--41-byDA-txt-txIN-%22students+for+a+democratic+society%22-ARTICLE-----

 

[4] Sandra J. White, “SDS Protest Election With Pig, Coffin, Band,” The Lantern, November 6 1968, 6. https://osupublicationarchives.osu.edu/?a=d&d=LTN19681106-01.2.45&srpos=46&e=------196-en-20--41-byDA-txt-txIN-%22students+for+a+democratic+society%22-ARTICLE-----

[5] The Lantern, Vol. No. 143, Page 3

[6] The Lantern, Vol. 90 No.80, Page 12

[7] The Lantern, Vol. 90 No.22, Page 1

[8] Christina Walker, “SDS Plans to Protest Inauguration,” The Lantern, November 18 1968, 1. https://osupublicationarchives.osu.edu/?a=d&d=LTN19681118-01.2.4&srpos=52&e=------196-en-20--41-byDA-txt-txIN-%22students+for+a+democratic+society%22-ARTICLE-----