[sixties-l] Re: SDS film

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Wed May 30 2001 - 17:28:33 EDT

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    Date: Wed, 23 May 2001 12:17:33 -0600
    Sender: jafrost <jafrost@bentley.univnorthco.edu>

    I've been reluctant to comment on the discussion of the SDS film, "Rebels
    With a Cause," because I haven't been able to see the film in its final
      I did view it in rough cut in November 1999, however.

    Because I saw the film as a collective memoir, the reflections of a group of
    SDS members about their experiences in the Movement, I didn't expect the film
    to provide the kind of historical analysis I expect of scholarly works on the
    New Left. As Lemisch and Hogan remind us, Helen Garvy explicitly states that
    she is telling "our" story and, we can only assume, to that "truth" she is
    faithful. I approach the film as I would any memoir, autobiography, or oral
    history: understanding that it is a subjective view of history, that silences
    can be just as revealing as what is said, and that such personal testimony
    ought to be subject to critical interpretation--as Lemisch and Rossinow have
    done convincingly. Still, I do think that in portraying the motivations and
    commitments of this group of sixties activists in a positive light the film
    is an important intervention in a public discourse too long dominated by
    conservatives and "Forrest Gump"--even as that public discourse influenced
    the tone and content of the film.

    All that said, I strongly endorse Lemisch's interest in problems and
    disagreements in SDS, Hogan's interest in "what worked, what didn't and why,"
    and Berry's interest in a "usable past." Like Rossinow, in my work on SDS's
    experiment in community organizing, the Economic Research and Action Project,
    I encountered some resistance from participants to my analyses and
    interpretations. Yet, perhaps because ERAP was so obviously a failure, the
    participants I interviewed tended to be fairly critical of various aspects of
    this attempt to organize "an interracial movement of the poor" and their role
    in it. Thus, it was not too difficult for me to present ERAP's negatives.
    What became my challenge was the opposite: to present what was valuable about
    ERAP, particularly the lessons learned about community organizing, without
    romanticizing this effort. For me, this debate about the SDS film has only
    reinforced how important--and difficult--it is for us as historians to strike
    a balance between criticism and affirmation of the New Left, particularly
    when our aim is to write history that is both accurate about past
    radicalism and
    relevant to future struggles.

    Jennifer Frost
    Assistant Professor
    Department of History
    University of Northern Colorado

    From: "Hogan, Wesley C." <hoganw@countryday.net>
    Date: Sat, 26 May 2001 08:30:50 -0400

             While people on the list have raised many important points about the
    purpose of a critical history of social movements on the left, I'll just
    make two corrections. As Lemisch correctly points out, I erred in my
    citation of him. I first came across his criticisms of _rebels with a
    cause_ on the rad-hist list, then read the "film and history" piece someone
    posted to rad-hist, then read the _Nation_ piece. This led to two errors.
    First, I used "stunningly uncritical" and "triumphalist" when they were
    posted in "Film and History," whereas "archaic" and "triumphal" appeared in
    the _Nation_. Further, because of the order in which I came across these
    arguments, I associated Lemisch, and not Lemisch and Weisstein, with the
    tone of dismissal.
             I've written to Lemisch off-list, but I wanted to mention one other
    important correction to radhist list: I think it was a protective blind
    spot not to include Weisstein in my letter, rather than a lack of mutual
    respect. I first came across something Weisstein wrote about SDS and sexism
    she encountered at UChicago when I was searching through the SDS files at
    The State Historical Society of Wisconsin. Her powerful presentation and
    stories about how she found her voice and kept on keeping on in the 1960s,
    through all the intense societal and personal experiences of sexism she
    encountered, has made her someone I honor as a foremother, someone whose
    struggles, along with others, made it possible for me and other women to
    enter graduate school in greater numbers in the 1990s, have kids while also
    considering myself a scholar, and in general pursue a life of the mind that
    I (and others) could take seriously. None of this would have been
    conceivable before her, and others like her, paved, eased the way for me and
    others in a subsequent generation. A small example to conclude. When
    pregnant with my first child, several of professors I knew (men and women)
    told me that it was a mistake, I'd be on the "mommy track", and never make
    it through graduate school. While a major incident for me at the time,
    compared to Weisstein's struggles with sexism in the academy, it paled in
    comparison. It was this kind of knowledge that made it possible for me to
    continue: she did it, I could too. So I feel I owe her and others like her
    a huge debt: of gratitude, of respect, of honor. It's hard to criticize
    someone whom you feel this way about, and I think this is what happened
    here, why I didn't include her in my response. Yet given the history
    Lemisch and she have lived through, I see why it is possible for Lemisch to
    perceive it as sexism on my part. Another irony of postmodern debate,

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