- Students for a Democratic Society (1960 organization)
Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was, historically, a student activist movement in the
United Statesthat was one of the main iconic representations of the country's New Left. The organization developed and expanded rapidly in the mid-1960s before dissolving at its last convention in 1969.
SDS was the organizational high point for student radicalism in the United States and has been an important influence on student organizing in the decades since its collapse.
Participatory democracy, direct action, radicalism, student power, shoestring budgets, and its organizational structure are all present in varying degrees in current national student activist groups. Though various organizations have been formed in subsequent years as proposed national networks for left-wingstudent organizing, none has approached the scale of SDS, and most have lasted a few years at best.
SDS developed from the Student League for Industrial Democracy (SLID), the youth branch of a socialist educational organization known as the
League for Industrial Democracy(LID). LID descended from the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, started in 1905. Early in 1960, SLID decided to change its name into SDS. The phrase “industrial democracy” sounded too narrow and too labor oriented, making it more difficult to recruit students. Moreover, because the LID's leadership did not correspond to the expectations and the mood on the campuses, the SLID felt the need to dissociate itself from its parent organization. SDS held its first meeting in 1960 at Ann Arbor, Michigan, where Alan Haberwas elected president. Its political manifesto, known as the Port Huron Statement, was adopted at the organization's first convention in 1962, based on an earlier draft by staff member Tom Hayden.
Port Huron Statementcriticized the political system of the United Statesfor failing to achieve international peace and critiqued Cold War foreign policy, the threat of nuclear war, and the arms race. In domestic matters, it criticized racial discrimination, economic inequality, big businesses, trade unions and political parties. In addition to its deep critique and analysis of the American system, the manifesto also suggested a series of reforms: it proclaimed a need for reshaped two genuine political parties to attain greater democracy, for stronger power for citizens through citizens’ lobbies, for more substantial involvement by workers in business management, and for an enlarged public sector with increased government welfare, including a “program against poverty.” The manifesto provided ideas of what and how to work for and to improve, and also advocated non-violent civil disobedience as the means by which student youth could bring forth a " participatory democracy." Kirkpatrick Sale criticized the manifesto as “nothing less than an ideology, however raw and imperfect and however much would have resisted this word.” [Sale, Kirkpatrick, "SDS" (New York : Random House, 1973) p. 51.]
The manifesto also presented SDS’s break with the leftwing policies of the postwar years. Firstly, it was written with the same over-all vision all along the document and reflected their view that all problems in every area were linked to each other and their willingness not to lead single-issue struggles but a broad struggle on all fronts at the same time. Then, it expressed SDS’s willingness to work with groups whatever may be their political inclination and announced their rejection of anti-communism, a definitely new radical view contrasting with much of the American left which had always developed a policy of anti-communism. Without being Marxist or pro-communism, they denounced anti-communism as being a social problem and an obstruction to democracy. They also criticized the United States for their exaggerated paranoia and exclusive condemnation of the Soviet Union and blamed this for being a reason of failing to achieve disarmament and to assure peace.
The Port Huron Convention opened with a symbol of this break with the policy of the past years: the delegate of the Communist Progressive Youth Organizing Committee asked for attending the conference as an observer. The people from YPSL objected while most of the SDSers insisted on letting him sit. He eventually sat. Later in the meeting, Michael Harrington, a LID member, got worked up over the manifesto because he found the stand they took toward the Soviet Union and authoritarian regimes in general was insufficiently critical, and because, according to him, they deliberately wrote sections to have liberals fly off the handle. But surprisingly, a liberal, Roger Hagan defended SDS and its policy. After lively debates between the two, the draft finally remained more or less unchanged. Some two weeks later, was held a meeting between the LID and SDS where the LID expressed its discontent about the manifesto. As a result, Haber and Hayden, at this time respectively the National secretary and the new President of the organization, were summoned to a hearing on the 6 July 1962. There, Hayden clashed with
Michael Harrington(as he later would with Irving Howe[Gitlin, Todd. "The Sixties", Bantam; Revised edition (July 1, 1993) ISBN 0553372122] ) and over the perceived potential for totalitarianism among other things. Harrington denounced the seating of the PYOC member, SDS’s tolerance for communism and their lack of clarity in their condemnation of communist totalitarianism and authoritarianism, and he reproached SDS to provide a minor critique of the Soviet Union and to mostly blame the United States for the cold war. Hayden then asked him to read more carefully the manifesto and especially the values section. Hayden later wrote:
"While the draft Port Huron Statement included a strong denunciation of the Soviet Union, it wasn't enough for LID leaders like Michael Harrington. They wanted absolute clarity, for example, that the United States was blameless for the nuclear arms race...In truth, they seemed threatened by the independence of the new wave of student activism..." [Tom Hayden and Dick Flacks, ‘The Port Huron Statement at 40’ in "The Nation", 5 August 2002]
The hearing ended up with the SDS members' leaving because both sides were too angry and disappointed to go on with the meeting.
Early years: 1962–1965
In the academic year 1962-1963, the President was Tom Hayden, the Vice President was Paul Booth and the National Secretary was
Jim Monsonis. There were nine chapters with, at most, about 1000 members. The national office (NO) in New York Cityconsisted of a few desks, some broken chairs, a couple of file cabinets and a few typewriters. As a student group with a strong belief in decentralization and a distrust for most organization, the SDS did not have a strong central bureaucracy. The three stalwarts at the office, Don McKelvey, Steve Max, and National Secretary, Jim Monsonis worked long hours for little pay to service the local chapters, and to help establish new ones. Even during the Cuban Missile Crisisin October, little could be accomplished. Most activity was oriented toward civil rightsissues and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee(SNCC) played a key role in inspiring SDS.
By the end of the academic year, there were over 200 delegates at the annual convention at
Pine Hill, New York, from 32 different colleges and universities. It was then decided to give more power to the chapters, who would then send delegates to the National Council (NC), which would meet quarterly to handle the on-going activities. Also, in the spirit of participatory democracy, a consensus was reached to elect new officers each year. Lee Webb of Boston Universitywas chosen as National Secretary, and Todd Gitlinof Harvard Universitywas made president. Some continuity was preserved by retaining Paul Booth as Vice President. The search began for something to challenge the idealistic, budding activists.
It was at this time that the
Black Panther Movementwas first gaining some momentum (although Stokely Carmichaelwould make the movement more mainstream in 1966). The movement made it impolitic for white activists, such as those in SDS, to presume to lead protests for black civil rights. Instead, SDS would try to organize white unemployed youths through a newly established program they called the Economic Research and Action Project (ERAP). This "into the ghetto" move was a practical failure, but the fact that it existed at all drew many young idealists to SDS.
At the summer convention in 1964 there was a split between those who were campus-oriented, and the ERAP supporters. Most of the old guard were ERAP supporters, but the campus activists were growing. Paul Potter was elected president, and by the end of summer there were ten ERAP programs in place, with about 125 student volunteers.
C. Clark Kissingerof Shimer Collegein Illinoiswas elected as National Secretary, and he put the NO on a much more business-like basis. He and his assistant, Helen Garvey mailed out the literature list, the newsletters and the news of chapter's activities to a growing membership list. Kissinger also worked to smooth the relationship with the LID.
A small faction of SDS that was interested in change through conventional electoral politics established a program called the Political Education Project (PEP). Its Director was Jim Williams of the University of Louisville, and Steve Max served as its Associate Director. This was never very large, and it was opposed by the mainstream SDSers, who were mostly opposed to such traditional, old-fashioned activity, and were looking for something new that "worked". The Johnson landslide victory in November played its part, as well, and PEP soon withered away. A Peace Research and Education Project (PREP) headed by Paul Booth, Swarthmore, met a similar fate. Meanwhile, the local chapters got into all sorts of projects, from University reform, community-university relations, and now, in a small way, the issue of the draft and
Then, on October 1, the
University of California, Berkeleyexploded into the dramatic and prolonged agony that was the free speech movement. Led by a charismatic Friends of SNCC student activist named Mario Savio, upwards of three thousand students surrounded a police car in which a student, arrested for setting up a card table in defiance of a ban by the University, was being taken away. The sit-down prevented the police car from moving for 32 hours. The demonstrations, meetings and strikes that resulted all but shut the university down. Hundreds of students were arrested, the pundits analyzed, and the establishment foundered with incomprehension. Future SDS members all over the country watched and learned.
From protest to resistance: 1965–1968
In February 1965, United States President
Lyndon Johnsondramatically escalated the war in Vietnam by bombing North Vietnam in Operation Flaming Dartand introducing ground troops directly involved in fighting the Viet Congin the South. The draft became a very real factor in the lives of students in America. Campus chapters of SDS all over the country started to lead small, localized demonstrations against the war and the NO became the focal group that organized the March against the war in Washington on April 17. Endorsements came from nearly all of the other peace groups and leading personalities, there was significant increase in income and by the end of March there were 52 chapters. The media began to cover the organization and the New Left. However, the call for the march and the openness of the organization in allowing other groups, even communist front groups, or communists themselves, to join in caused great strains with the LID and some other old left organizations.
teach-inagainst the war was held in the University of Michigan. Soon hundreds more, all over the country, were held. The demonstration in Washington, DCattracted about 25,000 anti-war protesters and SDS became the leading student group against the war on most U.S. campuses.
Representing its move into the heartland, the 1965 summer convention was held at
Kewadin, a small camp in Northern Michigan. Moreover, its National Office, which was previously located in Manhattan, was moved to Chicagoat about the same time. The rapid growth of the membership rate during the preceding year brought with it a new breed with a new style:
cquote|"For the first time at an SDS meeting people smoked marijuana;
Pancho Villamustaches, those droopy Western‑movie addenda that eventually became a New Left cliché, made their first appearance in quantity; blue workshirts, denim jackets, and boots were worn by both men and women. These were people generally raised outside of the East, many from the Midwest and Southwest, and their ruralistic dress reflected a different tradition, one more aligned to the frontier, more violent, more individualistic, more bare‑knuckled and callus‑handed, than that of the early SDSers. They were non‑Jewish, nonintellectual, nonurban, from a nonprofessional class, and often without any family tradition of political involvement, much less radicalism. They tended to be not only ignorant of the history of the left and its current half‑life in New York City, but downright uninterested: ..."cite book
last = Sale
first = Kirkpatrick
title = SDS
year = 1973
publisher = Random House
location = New York
isbn = 0-394-47889-4
pages = 204-205]
The convention elected an
Akron, Ohiostudent, Carl Oglesby, President and Jeff Shero, Vice President. The convention voted to remove the anti-communist exclusion clauses from the SDS constitution, declined to provide for any national program, and increased the reliance on local initiatives at the chapters. As a result, the National Office's leadership fell into ineffectual chaos.
Nationally, the SDS continued to use the draft as an important issue for students, and over the rest of the academic year began to attack university complicity in it, as the universities had begun to supply student's class rankings, used to determine who was to be drafted. The University of Chicago's administration building was taken over in a three day sit-in in May. Rank protests and sit-ins spread to many other universities.
The summer convention of 1966 was moved even farther west, this time to Clear Lake,
Iowa. The "prairie people" continued to increase their influence. Nick Egleson was chosen as President, and Carl Davidson was elected Vice President. Greg Calvert, recently a History Instructor at Iowa State University, was chosen as National Secretary. It was at this convention that members of Progressive Labor Party(PL) began to make their presence known for the first time. PL was a Maoist group that had turned to SDS as fertile ground for recruiting new members. SDSers of that time were nearly all anti-communist, but they also refused to be drawn into actions that smacked of red-baiting, which they viewed as mostly irrelevant and old hat. PL soon began to organize a Worker Student Alliance.
The 1966 convention also marked an even greater turn towards organization around campus issues by local chapters, with the NO cast in a strictly supporting role. Campus issues ranged from bad food, powerless student "governments," various "
in loco parentis" manifestations, on-campus recruiting for the military and, again, ranking for the draft. Campuses around the country were in a state of unprecedented ferment and activism. Despite the absence of a politically effective campus SDS chapter, Berkeley again became a center of particularly dramatic radical upheaval over the university's repressive anti-free-speech actions, and an effective student strike with very wide support occurred. Even Harvard endured an upheaval engendered by a visit there of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.
The Winter and Spring of 1967 saw an escalation of the militancy of the protests at many campuses. SDSers and self-styled radicals were even elected into the student government at a few places. Demonstrations against
Dow Chemical Companyand other campus recruiters were widespread, and ranking and the draft issues grew in scale. The FBI (mainly through its secret " COINTELPRO") and other law enforcement agencies were often exposed as having spies and informers in the chapters. Harassment by the authorities was also on the rise. The NO became distinctly more effective in this period, and the three officers actually visited most of the chapters. As well, "New Left Notes" became a potent vehicle for promoting some coherence and solidarity among the chapters. The Anti-War movement really began to take hold among university students.
The 1967 convention took an egalitarian turn by eliminating the Presidential and Vice-Presidential offices and replacing them with a National Secretary (20 year old Mike Spiegel), an Education Secretary (Texan Bob Pardun), and an Inter‑organizational Secretary (former VP Carl Davidson). A clear direction for a national program was not set but they did manage to pass strong resolutions on the draft, resistance within the Army itself, and they made a call for immediate withdrawal from Vietnam. Furthermore, a
women's liberationresolution on the issue of male chauvinismwas passed by conference attendees, for the first time.
That Fall saw a great escalation of the anti-war actions of the
New Left. The school year started with a large demonstration against university complicity in the war in allowing Dow recruiters on campus at the University of Wisconsin in Madisonon October 17. Peaceful at first, the demonstrations turned to a sit-in that was violently dispersed by the Madison police and riot squad, resulting in many injuries and arrests. A mass rally and a student strike then closed the university for several days. A coordinated series of demonstrations against the draft led by members of the Resistance, the War Resisters League, and SDS added fuel to the fire of resistance. After conventional civil rights tactics of peaceful pickets seemed to have failed, the Oakland, California Stop the Draft Week ended in mass hit and run skirmishes with the police. The huge (100,000 people) October 21 March on the Pentagonsaw hundreds arrested and injured. Night-time raids on draft offices began to spread.
Climax and disintegration: 1968–1969
In the spring of 1968, National SDS activists led an effort on the campuses called "Ten Days of Resistance" and local chapters cooperated with the Student Mobilization Committee in rallies, marches, sit-ins and teach-ins, which culminated in a one-day strike on
April 26. About a million students stayed away from classes that day, the largest student strikein the history of the United States. It was largely ignored by the New York City-based national media, which were intensely focused on the student shutdown of Columbia Universityin New York, led by an inter-racial alliance of Columbia SDS chapter activists and Student Afro Society activists. As a result of the mass media publicity given to Columbia SDS activists such as Columbia SDS chairperson Mark Ruddduring the Columbia Student Revolt, the organization was put on the map politically and "SDS" became a in the United States for a few years. Membership in SDS chapters around the United States increased dramatically during the 1968-69 academic year.
SDS members from Austin,
Texasparticipated in a mass demonstration in San Antonio, Texas in April 1969 at the "Kings River Parade". San Antonio SNCC members called the demonstration to protest the killing of Bobby Joe Phillipsby San Antonio Police Officers.
In the summer of 1969, the ninth SDS national convention was held at the
Chicago Coliseumwith some 2000 people attending. Many factions of the movement were actually present, and set up their literature tables all around the edges of the cavernous hall. The Young Socialist Alliance, Wobblies, Spartacists, Marxists and Maoists of various sorts, all together with various law-enforcement spies and informers contributed to the air of impending expectations.
Each of the delegates were given the convention issue of
New Left Notes, which contained a manifesto, "You don't need a Weatherman to know which way the wind blows." This manifesto had been first presented at the Spring, 1969, SDS National Council Meeting in Austin, Texas. The document had been written by an eleven-member committee that included Mark Rudd, Bernardine Dohrnand John Jacobs, and represented the position of the Revolutionary Youth Movement(RYM) wing of SDS, most of which subsequently turned into the Weather Underground Organization. The "New Left Notes" issue distributed at the convention was full of the language of the Old Leftof the thirties; and was thus impenetrable and irrelevant to the majority of SDSers.
The convention quickly fell into disarray as the PL
Worker Student Alliancefaction, which was about evenly divided with the Revolutionary Youth Movement forces at the convention, moved to exert its power over SDS as a whole. When the Black Pantherrepresentatives attacked PL but at the same time proved itself inclined towards sexismby advocating "pussy power," the entire convention fell into something approaching chaos, or, worse, farce. [Sale, Kirkpatrick (1973). "SDS" p. 566]
The RYM and the National Office faction, led by
Bernardine Dohrn, voted by about 500 to 100 to expel the PL, and then walked out of the conference hall with that 500. By the next day there were two SDS organizations, neither of them recognizable to an older SDSer, nor to the bulk of the members back on the campuses. In the Fall of 1969 many of the SDS chapters also split up or disintegrated. The Weatherman faction evolved into a small underground organization that first took to street confrontations and then to a bombing campaign. There were no more national conventions. SDS was fully defunct by 1972. On June 26, 1972, the U.S. Supreme Courtgave a unanimous opinion, in the case Healy v. James, stating that members of the SDS had been unconstitutionally deprived of their First Amendmentright to freedom of assembly when a group was denied permission to form on the campus of Central Connecticut State Collegein New Britain, Connecticut.Findlaw us|408|169|Healy v. James|year=1972]
A few early SDS leaders went on to careers as Democratic Party politicians, including
Tom Hayden, who is still active in politics and writing. Hayden is a former member of the legislature of the state of Californiaand is well-known as the former husband of actress Jane Fonda, a prolific author, and a former candidate for offices such as Governor of California, Mayor of Los Angeles, and United States Senator.
* "Students for a Democratic Society (S.D.S.), Records, 1965-74". May 4 Collection -- Box 107.
Kent State UniversityLibraries and Media Services. [http://speccoll.library.kent.edu/ Department of Special Collections and Archives] . [http://speccoll.library.kent.edu/4may70/box107/107.html Online guide retrieved April 12, 2005] .
* "Students for a Democratic Society Period : 1962-1970". Period : 1962-1970. Total Size : 0.5 m. [http://www.iisg.nl/ International Institute of Social History] . [http://www.iisg.nl/archives/gias/s/10770684.html Online guide retrieved April 12, 2005] .
* Alper, Mark. [http://actiontendency.net/EW/current/sds.shtml "The Legacy of S.D.S. and Its Relevance to Today's Activists"] . "Electronic Worker". Direct Action Tendency,
Socialist Party USA. Retrieved April 12, 2005.
* Bookchin, Murray. [http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/Anarchist_Archives/bookchin/leftletterprint.html "Anarchy and Organization: A Letter To The Left"] . Reprinted from "New Left Notes."
January 15 1969. Retrieved April 12 2005. "The essay originally was written in reply to an attack by Huey Newtonon anarchist forms of organization."
* Maines, Billy. [http://orlandoweekly.com/features/story.asp?id=11151 "Second Coming : The Infamous SDS is Back, and Now It's Local"] . "Orlando Weekly". November 23, 2006
* [http://www.indypendent.org/?p=562 SDS in the 1960s: From A Student Movement to National Resistance, The Indypendent]
* [http://www.indypendent.org/?p=561 SDS: The signature organization of the 1960s student left has been reborn, The Indypendent]
* [http://1968ineurope.sneakpeek.de/index.php/home/showSite//0/8 Tom Hayden, "The Future of 1968's 'Restless Youth'"] in: Martin Klimke and Joachim Scharloth, [http://www.1968ineurope.com 1968 in Europe] (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 325-331.
* Adelson, Alan. "SDS". New York, Charles Scribener's Sons, 1972 ISBN 0-684-12393-2.
* Frost, Heather. "An Interracial Movement of the Poor: Community Organizing and the New Left in the 1960s." New York: New York University press, 2001 ISBN 0814726976.
* Heath, G. Louis, ed. "Vandals in the Bomb Factory: The History and Literature of the Students for a Democratic Society." Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1976 ISBN 0-810-80890-0.
* Halstead, Fred. "Out Now!: A Participant's Account of the Movement in the United States Against the Vietnam War" Hardcover edition. Anchor Foundation; Reprint edition 1978 ISBN 0-913460-47-8.
* Klatch, Rebecca E. "A Generation Divided: The New Left, the New Right, and the 1960s." Berkeley : University of California Press, 1999 ISBN 0-520-21714-4.
* Pardun, Robert. "Prairie Radical: A Journey Through the Sixties" Shire Press, 2001 ISBN : ISBN 0-918-82820-1.
* Sale, Kirkpatrick "SDS". New York: Random House, 1973 ISBN 0-394-47889-4.
* Davidson, Carl. "Toward a Student Syndicalist Movement or University Reform Revisited." Chicago: Students for a Democratic Society. ca. 1967. Mimeographed. 7 p.
* Gilbert, David and David Loud. "U. S. Imperialism." Chicago: Students for a Democratic Society, 1968. Wraps. 33 p.
* Haber, Al and Dick Flacks. "Peace, Power and the University: Prepared for Students for a Democratic Society and the Peace Research and Education Project."Ann Arbor: Peace Research and Education Project, 1963. Mimeographed. 12 p..
* James, Mike. "Getting Ready for the Firing Line: Join Community Union". Chicago: Students for a Democratic Society, March 1968. Stapled softcover. 8p. Photos by Nancy Hollander, Tom Malear of the Chicago Film Coop, Todd Gitlin & Les Jordan, SCEF. Reprinted from "The Activist," Spring 1967. Introduction for this pamphlet by Mike James.
* Lemisch, Jessie. "Towards a Democratic History." Ann Arbor & Chicago: Radical Education Project/Students for a Democratic Society, (1967). Radical Education Project Occasional Paper. 8 p.
* Lynd, Staughton. "The New Radicals and "Participatory Democracy"." Chicago: Students for a Democratic Society, 1965. 10 p.
* Oglesby, Carl. "The Speech Given by Carl Oglesby, President, Students for a Democratic Society, at the Nov. 27, 1965 March on Washington to End the War in Vietnam." Chicago: Students for a Democratic Society, ca. 1965. 8 1/2 x 11 in. Mimeographed. 8 p.
* Olinick, Michael. "The Campus Press." Distributed by Students for a Democratic Society for the Liberal Study Group,
National Student Association, 1962. 13 p.
* Oppenheimer, Martin. "Alienation or Participation: The Sociology of Participatory Democracy". n.p.: Students of a Democratic Society (S.D.S.), 1966. 7 pages. 1st edition. Stapled booklet.
* Students For A Democratic Society [S.D.S.] . "Fight Racism!" Boston: Students for a Democratic Society, n.d.  . 28pp. 1st edition. Stapled softcover.
* Students for a Democratic Society. "New Left Notes". Chicago. [?] Vol. 1 # 1 1965 [?] - Vol. 4 # 31
October 2, 1969.
* Students for a Democratic Society [Progressive Labor] . "SDS New Left Notes", Vol. 5, No. 15, July 6, 1970 - [?] . Boston, 1970.
United States Government publications
* U.S. House of Representatives. "Investigation of Students for a Democratic Society, Part 2 (Kent State University): Hearings Before the Committee on Internal Security, House of Representatives; 91st Congress, 2nd Session, June 24 and 25, 1969". Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1969.
* U.S. House of Representatives. "Investigation of Students for a Democratic Society, Part 3-A (George Washington University); Hearings Before the Committee on Internal Security, House of Representatives; 91st Congress, 2nd Session, July 22, 1969". Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1969.
* U.S. House of Representatives. "Student Views Toward U.S. Policy in Southeast Asia; Hearings Before an Ad Hoc Committee of Members of the House of Representatives; 91st Congress, 2nd Session, July 22, 1969". Washington: U.S. Government Printng Office, 1969.
* U.S. President. "Commission on Campus Unrest". Report. This publication is often referred to as the "Scranton Report", issued in 1970.
* [http://www.antiauthoritarian.net/sds_wuo/ New Left Archive at NLN ] SDS and Weather Underground Documents compiled by [http://nextleftnotes.net Next Left Notes] , a journal edited by several former and current SDS members
* [http://www.sds-1960s.org SDS Historical Documents and other links]
* [http://martinrealm.org/documents/radical/sixties1.html "Shut It Down!"] Includes Port Huron Statement, "SDS: The Last Hurrah" (an account of Chicago 1969 written by an undercover federal agent), and the
Revolutionary Youth Movementmission statement.
* [http://content.lib.washington.edu/protestsweb/index.html University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections - Vietnam Era Ephemera] This collection contains leaflets and newspapers that were distributed on the University of Washington campus during the decades of the 1960s and 1970s. They reflect the social environment and political activities of the youth movement in Seattle during that period.
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