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04.30.08

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Phaedra

Students for a Democratic Society

A Graphic History

By Richard von Busack


FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover once denounced the Students for a Democratic Society as "self-deluded liberals and radicals." Illustrator Gary Dumm and author Harvey Pekar agree with the "liberals and radicals" part and occasionally with the self-deluded part as well. The political '60s could be said to have begun at a United Auto Workers summer camp in Port Huron, Mich. In 1962, a group of student activists drafted a platform of ideals that began the decade's most powerful student organization. Protests, riots and schisms galore followed. Much of the book is given to denouncing the Progressive Labor Party: earnest, suit-clad Maoists who declined to partake in the sex, drugs and rock & roll that made all of this political organizing colorful. The personal histories presented here are more compelling than the political histories; when this book goes into first-person accounts, Dumm and Pekar are working in a field that's served them well over the years. Highlights are the Terkel-style narratives: Paul Buhle's story of getting out of the Army is a lesson for young people who might face a revived draft someday. Nick Thorkelson's account of the mining strike in Hazard, Ky., is as funny as it is valuable, and so is Sandy Lillydahl's story of emerging feminism within the SDS. Santa Cruz's Wes Modes illustrates two violent moments in the days of student activism: the massacre at Kent State and the Weather Underground's participation in the November 1969 riots in Washington. Penelope Rosemont, once a radical publisher, quotes her own left-wing grandfather's rules for living: "Never join the National Guard, you might have to kill your brother," and "You're not a real American until you've seen jail from the inside." (Written by Harvey Pekar and illustrated by Gary Dumm, edited by Paul Buhle; Hill and Wang; 212 pages; $22 hardback)


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