CHAPTER 2: BETWEEN BERKELEY AND BERLIN, FRANKFURT AND SAN FRANCISCO: THE NETWORKS AND NEXUS OF TRANSNATIONAL PROTEST
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Chapter 2 BETWEEN BERKELEY AND BERLIN, FRANKFURT AND SAN FRANCISCO THE NETWORKS AND NEXUS OF TRANSNATIONAL PROTEST “GERMANY. OH REALLY? We have a sister organization there, also called SDS. We’ll give you the names and you can go and see them over there.”1 This was the information that Douglas Blagdon received in the summer of 1964 when he told the U.S. national Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) office of his plan to spend an academic year in West Germany. What he did not know at that point was that ever since Michael Vester’s visit in 1961/62 the German and the American SDS had kept in touch and continued to enjoy a loose but fraternal relationship. Members of the American SDS such as Blagdon would regularly inquire for contact addresses when traveling to Europe to meet with their German counterparts. Both organizations invited each other for conferences, received each other ’s publications such as the neue kritik or the New Left Notes, and included their transatlantic peers on their mailing lists and international newsletters. As a result, both groups were very much aware of their respective activities and discussions.2 Consequently, it was only natural that after this revelation Douglas Blagdon was looking forward to getting in touch with his German peers. As he wrote in a letter to the Frankfurt SDS, “I am very happy to have found comrades in Germany and am looking forward to learning more about your work.”3 Blagdon subsequently stayed in Frankfurt and later in Berlin and frequently visited the local German SDS chapters. In their discussions, he often illustrated the official American perspective on foreign and domestic policy issues and contrasted it with the domestic critique put forward by the American SDS or other organizations. Blagdon recalls, however, that while most of the discussions in Germany had previously concentrated on New Left politics and civil rights, in 1965 these topics were already being replaced by what was to become one of the prime topics among student organizations in both countries during the second half of the 1960s: the American involvement in Vietnam.4 NETWORKS OF TRANSNATIONAL PROTEST 41 A TRUER INTERNATIONALISM? ATTEMPTS AT INTERNATIONALIZING THE ANTIWAR MOVEMENT By mid-1965, the American SDS had been swept up almost completely by the emerging antiwar movement in the United States. After Port Huron, the organization had gradually become more radical in its views on the state of society, liberalism, university reform, and the role of students as agents of social change. Three factors help illuminate this transformation : First, the massive and violent resistance against the civil rights movements in the South, which was symbolically embodied by the Birmingham police commissioner, Eugene “Bull” Connor, further stimulated the SDS’s search for “new forms of insurgent politics” to actively bring about social change.5 Moreover, the increasing militancy in the civil rights movement fostered by the refusal of the Democratic Party to grant the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) equal national representation , as well as by Stokely Carmichael’s call for Black Power, was a significant factor in broadening the New Left’s basis. Second, the Free Speech Movement (FSM), which started in the fall of 1964 at the University of California at Berkeley and was organized to rally students for the cause of the First Amendment, the right to collect funds, and the right to be politically active on campus, politicized more and more students and inspired them to seek active political engagement.6 For the SDS, the campus confrontations with the administration and the Berkeley police as well as Mario Savio’s inspiring rhetoric provided a model for later conflicts on campus around university reform, the draft, and opposition to the war. Third, the organizational structure and membership of the SDS was rapidly changing. In short, the SDS was on its way to becoming a mass organization. It had grown from 800 members in May 1962 to 1,500 in October 1963 to 2,500 in December 1964, and it would climb to 10,000 by October 1965. The number of its chapters had risen from nine in January 1963 to twenty-nine in June 1964, to eighty chapters a year later, and this number would climb to eighty-nine in October 1965 and to 172, thus almost doubling its size, in June 1966.7 Newcomers were now often recruited through mass media, and so personal recruitment with its socialization process decreased. In addition, they were...


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