[sixties-l] Rebels with a Cause-quick review

From: Ron Jacobs (rjacobs@zoo.uvm.edu)
Date: 11/06/00

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    Witnessing the Paradox-
    A Quick Review of Helen Garvy's Rebels With a Cause
    I watched the recently released documentary Rebels With a Cause last night.
     This is an informative and concise video history of the largest (mostly)
    white radical student organization in the 1960s-the Students for a
    Democratic Society (SDS).  The organization's story is told via a
    compelling collage of film clips from the time, voiceover narrative, and
    recent interviews with several former SDS members-many of them women, both
    from the national leadership and less known local members.  I found the
    interviews the most informative and refreshing, while the narrative and
    film clips serve as an effective vehicle for substantiating the
    interviewees' recollections and comments.  Perhaps the most refreshing
    aspect of all, as regards the interviews, is that none of those interviewed
    regretted their participation in the organization and only regretted that
    SDS was unable to do more to end racism and the war in Vietnam.
    	Unlike many Sixties flashbacks, there is very little glossing over of the
    group's mistakes, such as the leadership's turn towards armed struggle in
    1969-1970 in the form of the Weatherman/Weather Underground Organization.
    Just as importantly, the film discusses the disintegration of SDS in a
    context that acknowledges the mistakes of sectarianism and terrorism while
    simultaneously expressing the anger at (and frustration with) the perceived
    lack of progress in the struggle against racism and the war that led to
    those two trends becoming the dominant trends of the dwindling membership.
    	Additionally, the film addresses the role the government
    counterintelligence operation known as COINTELPRO played in the unmaking of
    SDS and other New Left groups. In recent years there has been a failure
    among certain historians to seriously deal with the effects of COINTELPRO
    on the radical movements of the 1960s, despite the revelations concerning
    that operation's unconstitutionality that eventually freed, among others,
    the former Black Panthers Geronimo ji Jaga Prat and Dhoruba bin Wahad.  As
    Bernardine Dohrn and Carl Oglesby remind the viewer, although the attacks
    by law enforcement on the Black Panther Party and other non-white
    organizations were apparent to white radicals, the infiltration and
    disruption of predominantly white organizations like SDS was not taken
    seriously among many activists, even after the police riots at the Chicago
    Democratic convention in 1968 and the subsequent indictments of the eight
    radicals known as the Chicago Conspiracy on a gamut of federal charges.
    	If the film has a drawback, it is that its length is to short to provide a
    more detailed history.  Despite this, the director, Helen Garvy, has done a
    fine job putting this film together.  The style and content are accessible,
    agreeably done, and, as noted before, refreshingly unapologetic.  Rebels
    With a Cause supplies something needed to counter the current mainstream
    revisionist telling of Sixties history-a retelling that has Bill and
    Hillary Clinton as the "best" of that generation. This documentary is
    appropriate to the university and high school classroom, as well as the big
    screen.  I hope it gets the large audience it deserves and this country needs.
    -Ron Jacobs
    Author, The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground(Verso,

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