SNCC and the YLP: Student Activism Then and Now

Throughout my college research on the 1960s Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), I learned a lot about what allows groups to function and succeed, and what contributes to major organizational problems. Within SNCC, members considered Martin Luther King, Jr.’s idea of a “beloved community” integral to their organization. This ideal community was based in liberalism and personalism, and used nonviolence to achieve its goals. Its ultimate goal was integration and the creation of loyalties that would transcend race, tribe, class, and nation.[1] As time progressed and the organization evolved, however, commitment to the beloved community ideology waned, and instead SNCC emerged with a separatist ideology in 1966, calling for the expulsion of all non-black members, and a new commitment to black power.

When Iris Morales spoke to the Class, Race, and Gender students last week, I realized many similarities as well as many differences between SNCC and the Young Lords Party (YLP), which she was a member of. Also composed of mainly young people, ages about 17-26, the YLP worked towards social and economic equality.[2] A major difference, though, was their inclusion of all types of people into their organization. While SNCC struggled with women’s issues, among others, the YLP presented many platforms, not only concentrating on rights for Latinos, but also for homosexual and female latinos. Additionally, the YLP seemed to encourage anyone to join their ranks–females and non-Puerto Ricans were among members in the highest ranks, and they were never expelled from the organization.

Photo courtesy of UPenn.edu

Reflecting on these groups from the 1960s made me wonder: How do students organize now? As Iris Morales said last Tuesday, there are still causes to fight for, but it’s almost harder because issues are not quite as obvious in many cases. People may have prejudices, they tend not to voice them as loudly as in the past. So how do we deal with this? A lot of organizing is now done online, and funds can be donated to organizations and causes by simply texting a number on your phone, and paying the donation off when you pay your phone bill. Is this as effective? What’s happened to people really getting out there and personally talking to people about the issues? It seems like a Catch-22–while more people than ever are able to get involved in social and political issues via the online community, there also seems to be less person-to-person action. There’s less opportunity for group politics to get in the way of political and social action, but activism also takes a hit by not being as blatantly obvious and present.

[1] Kenneth L. Smith and Ira G. Zepp. Martin Luther King’s Vision of the Beloved Community. Christian Century (April 3, 1974): 361-364.

[2] Iris Morales. “Organizing for Revolution” in Power to the People.

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