Published on
the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal (Pennsylvania)

Reinvigorated SDS Finds Support in Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Susan E. Lindt

LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. - Remember the SDS?

0923 03In the 1960s, the Student Democratic Society was the nation's most influential radical student organization, making noise about civil rights, the Vietnam War and a government perceived as sinister.

On Friday night, they were making noise again.

Reinvented and reignited in January 2006, the new SDS spawned a Lancaster chapter that held vigil on the courthouse steps. And while those steps are the platform for various community groups to protest the Iraq War at least once a week, Friday's group brought energy and vibrancy as only youth can.

"I feel like we can learn a lot from older people, but this is our generation, and we need to work at it now to make a difference," said SDS member Amber Nitchman, a senior at McCaskey, where a handful of students joined the Lancaster SDS chapter at the start of this school year.

Students at six other schools - Penn Manor, Manheim Township, Warwick, Lancaster Mennonite, Hempfield and Lancaster Catholic - also are participating.

Friday's vigil was sort of a coming-out party for the local chapter, which took wing in February. SDS member Nick Martin said the chapter recently elected to join in the Iraq Moratorium, a national monthly time-out of sorts for those opposed to the Iraq War to take action and make their opinion heard whether by protesting, calling an elected official or just putting a sign in their window.

"In the '60s, a lot got accomplished (by SDS) on campus. A lot of students' rights issues have changed since then," Martin said. "Even if we don't end up ending the war, there are a lot of other things that could be changed for the better."

Like the rest of the nation observing the moratorium, local SDS members will mark the third Friday of each month with various events.

Friday's was a different sort of war protest at the courthouse. About 60 protesters came, most of them too young to drive. A handful of longtime protesters joined them.

"Today is the first day of the end of the war!" rallied SDS member John Schreck. "If we all do small things, we can become a force."

Their energy seemed contagious. A woman stood on the East King Street curb holding a sign toward heavy Friday night traffic that read, "Honk to end the war." Drivers not only honked, sometimes they didn't stop honking until the light cycle changed and they drove away.

Their signs were fresh, too: " 'Vietnam II, Relive the Tragedy,' now playing in selected Iraq cities, directed by George W. Bush, starring people you love."

Regular protesters Larry and Susan Kepner of Millersville and Women in Black member Ruth Wenger of Akron joined the younger set of protesters. All three had protested in the '60s.

"Of all the evenings I've stood here, I've never heard the horns like I am now," Wenger said.

Larry Kepner said his bumper car is full of anti-war bumper stickers. In the past year, people's reactions to them have changed dramatically.

"I used to get the finger all the time from people. They'd literally try to run me off the road," Kepner said. "But in the last eight months or so, people are much more supportive. Sometimes they even stop to talk to me in the parking lot. It's a big change from how it used to be."

But in the business of war protesting, even when the group gets bigger or the protesters younger, some things never change: eternal optimism, dogged vigilance and hope.

"We are the change," said 16-year-old McCaskey student Brittany Valentine. "We can make a difference."

For more information about the Lancaster chapter of SDS and upcoming events, visit

Other regularly scheduled war protests on the courthouse steps include: Women in Black every first and third Wednesday from 5:30 to 6 p.m. and Lancaster Friends Meeting every Saturday from 11 a.m. to noon.

© 2004-2007 Lancaster Newspapers

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