Author: Vivien Reece
At the time of its publication, the Port Huron Statement
determined the central problems of society to be racial discrimination, democratic apathy and economic inequality. Fifty years
later, this document still resonates in our society. Tom Hayden, the
principle author of the document and longtime journalist and activist, will come
to Occidental College tomorrow, Thursday, Nov. 29 at 7:00 p.m. in Weingart 117, to discuss the future of American politics while looking back at the 1960’s. Besides reflecting on movements of the past,
Hayden will discuss current movements such as the aforementioned Occupy movement and
the ongoing role of students in confronting injustice, overcoming apathy and
getting involved in democratic change.
The Port Huron Statement was the manifesto of Students for a Democratic
Society (SDS), the student-activist organization that best represented the New Left. With the
adoption of the Port Huron Statement as SDS’s own political manifesto in its first convention, they broke away from the old left,
emphasized direct democratic involvement, and offered
progressive and even utopian alternatives to society. Above all the Statement
advocated for the idea of participatory democracy: “As a social system,” reads
the document, “we seek the establishment of a democracy of individual
Although some major changes came
about as a result of Hayden and other activists’ work, such as the defeat of
legal racial segregation, other goals of theirs remain unsolved relevant problems,
such as poverty and student apathy. Citizen apathy seems to be an issue which comes up again and again.
Hayden initially was a follower of the absurdists and
the Beatniks, both parts of intellectual society cast with nihilism and a kind of apathy. His favorite characters among
the Beatnik and absurdist tradition included Holden Caulfield from Catcher in
the Rye, the Chief from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Carl Solomon
of the poem “Howl.” “I was drawn to them because they had it right that life seemed
completely irrational and absurd,” said Hayden.
Rather than losing himself in similar passive expressions of madness or disillusionment, Hayden became inspired by
some of the people he interviewed as a young journalist who also recognized the
absurd injustices of society but decided to make changes. “I just met people who had
found a purpose in their lives that was worth dying for if necessary and [who
were] willing to put their bodies on the line. They were very compelling. They
didn’t have to recruit me; I fell for them,” Hayden said.
Although he is best known as the writer of the Port
Huron Statement, some of Hayden’s other distinctions include serving as editor of the
Michigan Daily as a student at the University of Michigan, being a
defendant in the Chicago Eight trial, community organizing in Newark, New Jersey before the Vietnam War, serving on
the California State Assembly and the State Senate, and of course continuing to write numerous articles and speak to students about American politics.
The Departments of History, Politics
and Urban & Environmental Policy are presenting this event.
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