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Obama's first fulltime employer, Business International, had substantial SDS ties in the 1960s.

After graduating from Columbia in 1983, Obama's first fulltime job was to work for an international business newsletter firm, Business International. From all accounts (including Obama's), it appears that this company was business-oriented and mainstream politically, unlike his other fulltime employers before law school.

For that reason, it is a strange coincidence that in the 1960s, Business International also appears to have had closer ties to the SDS than any other American business firm. Yet, because Obama's college concentration within political science was in international relations, the coincidence may not be as strange as it first appears.

I learned this yesterday when, for a project I'm doing, I had occasion to read Carl Oglesby's memoir of his days as a leader of the SDS in the 1960s, Ravens in the Storm: A Personal History of the 1960s Anti-War Movement. Oglesby, who was President of SDS in 1966 and 1967, led the largely nonviolent wing of the group in its battles with the violent revolutionary wing (which became the Weathermen). SDS at the time had three national secretaries, two of which were Bernardine Dohrn and Mike Klonsky. Dohrn and Klonsky led the attack on Oglesby and his radical (yet liberal) vision. Although the broad difference in philosophy was the overarching reason for the split, the chief bone of contention at the time was Oglesby's development of SDS contacts with Business International, a business information and consulting service led by Eldredge Haynes. Indeed, Haynes or Business International are discussed on over 25 pages of Oglesby's memoir, and they are part of the subtext of many more pages.

As part of a joint "project" with SDS (p. 170), Oglesby arranged meetings with Haynes and Business International clients as part of their "round-table meetings," allowing SDS to explain their opposition to the war (p. 171). New York SDS members continued to meet regularly with Business International even after Oglesby left New York.

Haynes "had come to agree with SDS about the war, racism, and urban poverty." (Id.) Haynes, who died in 1976, told Oglesby that if he had been in the same generation as Oglesby, he might have joined SDS. (p. 170) After Robert Kennedy died, Haynes even called up Oglesby and urged SDS to riot: "Get your people out and tear the goddamn place into pieces." (Oglesby, p. 188)

According to Oglesby, the Dohrn/Klonsky wing was highly suspicious of SDS's joining in any programs with Business International. Oglesby's memoir recounts long discussions and interrogations of Oglesby — led by Dohrn, Klonsky, and Arlene Bergman — over Oglesby's development of SDS links with Business International.

Of all the firms in all the world, Obama had to walk into the one that years before had closer ties to SDS than any other mainstream business in the world. What luck!

If you worked for Business International in the 1980s, feel free to leave comments here.

UPDATE: In researching the background for this post, I discovered that most online timelines of Obama's employment history are incorrect. Obama began working for Business International in 1984, not 1983. His resume doesn't list anything for the 6-7 months after his probable graduation date, which if he graduated at the usual time would probably have been in May or June of 1983.