NY Times profiles SDS organizer Brian Kelly

A new version of Students for a Democratic Society formed recently. They appear to be decentralized, grassroots, and somewhat anarchistic in outlook.

Quotes by Kelly from the NY Times interview.

“Society is made up of institutions, and institutions are built on consent And if you get people to say, ‘We withdraw our consent, we want new institutions, we want better policies,’ that’s how movements are built.”

“I actually think violent action isn’t radical at all,” he said firmly. “Radicals go to the root of the problem, and they want to change society. Violence doesn’t change society, and if it doesn’t go to the root of the problem, it’s not radical.” Mr. Kelly paused. “I don’t know what it is,” he added, “but it has nothing to do with what I want to do.”

Violence is counter-productive as it just invites massive retaliation by the authorities. And no, increased repression will not cause the people to become outraged and then rise up as a mighty fist. More likely it will cause the people to become scared, apolitical, and result in the organizers get tossed in prison. Besides, as Saul Alinsky famously said in the 60’s about the Black Panthers, it is idiocy to say all political power grows out of the barrel of a gun when the other side has all the guns.

Besides, Chairman Mao (the originator of the quote) was wrong. There are plenty of instances in history where unarmed people forced change against an armed state. Power ultimately comes from people not from whoever has the biggest gun.

Besides, if you genuinely want to build a mass organization, then violence can’t be a tactic because the masses won’t go for it. Without genuine masses on your side, you can’t build those new institutions.

Update: Brian blogs at Walking Butterfly.


  1. I have always stated and truly believe that all a radical can do is try to spread their ideas in as many ways and in as many places as possible, show solidarity where genuine struggle erupts, try to live your ideas honestly and openly, try to create alternatives to the state by circumventing or undermining its institutions. The next revolution has to be a revolution of consciousness within the vast majority of the people in society. We don’t want leaders to take us to the promised land, we’ve had a barrow load of them but never the promised land.

  2. > The next revolution has to be a revolution of consciousness within the vast majority of the people in society.

    That would appear to be the about the only way to get everyone working together in the same direction.

    So, (big question) how do we do it?

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