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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Teixeira: The Students Are Revolting!

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, politics editor of The Liberal Patriot newsletter and co-author with John B. Judis of the new Book “Where Have All the Democrats Gone?,” is cross-posted from The Liberal Patriot:

The current wave of student demonstrations/occupations/encampments around Israel-Gaza has drawn some comparisons to the large protest wave of 1968. To be sure, there are some similarities…but also some very large and important differences.

To understand this, we need to get in the Wayback Machine and revisit the era, not just what happened, but “the vibes.” So put down your placards or that angry email you were going to write supporting or denouncing the student demonstrators and curl up with some of the best books for getting a feel for the glory and madness of 1968.

Here are some of the books I recommend.

There are couple of good general histories of SDS and the associated youth rebellion: Kirkpatrick Sale’s history—simply called SDS—and Todd Gitlin’s, The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage. See also: Maurice Isserman and Michael Kazin, America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s for much useful context.

I’ve always had a soft spot for James Miller’s, Democracy Is in the Streets: From Port Huron to the Siege of Chicago. Really excellent on the spirit of the times and the world view of student radicals.

Given the prominent role of Columbia in these protests, why not take a dive into Mark Rudd’s, Underground: My Life with SDS and the Weathermen? Rudd has had second, third, and fourth thoughts about everything he did so that adds another dimension to this fascinating memoir. See also: Robert Pardun, Prairie Radical: A Journey Through the Sixties, for more of a heartland perspective and Carl Oglesby, Ravens in the Storm: A Personal History of the 1960s Anti-War Movement, for the perspective of an early SDS leader who watched that movement go from mass-based to self-destruction mode in just a few years.

Speaking of self-destruction, there is no better guide to the level of self-destruction the student radical left reached than Bryan Burrough’s, Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence. Truly amazing levels of lunacy were reached; I think most people these days have forgotten, if they ever knew, how completely crazy things got.

And surely we must take a quick visit to the ur-events of May, 1968 in France. The spirit of those events and the student radicals who led them is well-captured in Daniel and Gabriel Cohn-Bendit’s, Obsolete Communism: The Left Wing Alternative. Be realistic: demand the impossible! (Incidentally, “Danny the Red” is still around, but now he agitates for eco-socialism as a Green politician in the European parliament.)

I hope you find your journey back to 1968 in the Wayback Machine instructive. You should be in a better position to judge whether it really is 1968 all over again. Or for that matter, whether you’d even want it to be!

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