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Harvey Pekar, Gary Dumm and Paul Buhle, 'Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History'

Hill and Wang, 2009; ISBN 978-0-809-089-39-0; 224pp; £10.99

Harvey Pekar, Gary Dumm and Paul Buhle, Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History (Hill and Wang, 2009; ISBN 978-0-809-089-39-0; 224pp; £10.99).

Espousing participatory democracy and direct action, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the iconic American New Left group of the early 1960s, played a key role in organising the first major demonstration against the Vietnam War in 1965.

Recognising that it was necessary to change the political and economic systems in order to stop “the seventh war from now”, it tried and failed to organise an “interracial movement of the poor” before disintegrating, destroyed by various Marxist-Leninist groups.

The bulk of this “graphic history”, however, focuses on individual stories: the white Jewish student organising an interracial “Jocks for Peace” group at Columbia; the anarcho-surrealist struggling with Maoists, drug-addled “freaks”, and sexual liberation in Iowa; and the Madison students brutally beaten by police for protesting the presence of napalm-manufacturer Dow Chemical on campus.

And while there are plenty of lessons for today’s activists, there is also plenty to inspire, not least the heady atmosphere, successfully captured in both words and pictures, of a time in which radical social change seemed possible and perhaps even likely.