Up Against the Wall: Transition of the Students for a Democratic Society from Youth Protest Movement to Violence


  • Autumn Lawson Wichita State University


Students for Democratic Society (SDS), American Communist Party, Student League for Industrial Democracy (SLID), student activism


The end of World War II changed the face of the world and American society in very profound ways. The United States grew from an isolationist country, economically downtrodden by the Great Depression, into a Superpower with far reaching political, military and economic means. Following the war, the United States enjoyed a period of growing affluence as the world began to rebuild itself from an earlier decade of devastating military conflict. Fear of communism weighed heavily on the cultural mind, often leading to the oppression of ideas and limits on freedom of speech. Soviet-style Communism also rose in stature in the world following World War II. The United States and Western Europe fought a war of ideas primarily through political means, which created armed conflict in isolated cases. Globally, the United States fought the Communist threat in limited military conflicts that often resulted in a high number of American military deaths and apprehension among the American public as to their necessity. The children of the World War II generation did not share the blind loyalty and faith in government of their parents. This led to student movements in the 1960s that challenged the conformity of the previous generation. It spilled into several arenas of thought that included the Civil Rights Movement to end racial injustice, anti-government speech and resistance to military involvement around the world. The Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was one of the largest youth organizations to arise out of the New Left Movement. Starting out as a simple protest organization, the SDS quickly developed into a militant group that found itself in trouble with not only various university administrations but also with the law.