Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Hayden to speak about Port Huron Statement at conference

"We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit." Although that first sentence of the Port Huron Statement expressed the angst felt in 1962 by young activists, led in part by U-M students, the unease it expresses still resonates today.

A three-day conference at U-M, "A New Insurgency: The Port Huron Statement in Its Time and Ours," running Oct. 31-Nov. 2, will explore the significance of the legendary document of the New Left movement of the 1960s.

  Tom Hayden

The 75-page manifesto drafted by Tom Hayden, former editor of The Michigan Daily and a civil rights activist, emerged from a meeting of Students for a Democratic Society at the United Auto Workers retreat at Port Huron in June of 1962. Its call for "participatory democracy" became a unifying concept for the many movements — civil rights, peace, labor, and campus reform — that emerged during the 1960s.

Hayden, one of two keynote speakers at the conference, says the principles expressed in the statement can inspire today's students to advocate for a better future.

"Students today face intolerable tuition, a bleak jobs market, and a threatening environmental forecast," Hayden says. "I hope this conference will be a prophetic reminder that students rise up whenever they are written off. Participatory democracy is a model for the future, not a museum antique."

The conference will focus on the early period of the New Left and trace the founding of SDS in 1960, from the reorganization of the Student League for Industrial Democracy, which U-M alumnus Al Haber joined in 1958. Haber was president of SDS in 1960-61.

Also to be discussed are the historic Vietnam Teach-In at U-M in March 1965 and the legendary speech "Naming the System," delivered by U-M graduate student and SDS president Paul Potter in Washington, D.C., on April 17, 1965, at the first major demonstration against the Vietnam War.

Other co-founders of SDS, including Haber, Richard and Mickey Flacks, Bob Ross and Todd Gitlin, also will speak at the conference, to be held at the Michigan Union and the Hatcher Graduate Library.

Ruth Rosen, a journalist and historian of the modern women's movement, will deliver the opening keynote address on Oct. 31. On Nov. 1 there will be a panel of six women organizers of SDS who took part in a women-only secessionist meeting at the 1965 SDS convention — regarded as a landmark in the genesis of women's liberation. Speakers include Casey Hayden, Maria Varela, Leni Wildflower, Sharon Jeffrey Lehrer, Barbara Haber, and Dorothy Burlage.

The conference also examines the civil rights, black nationalist, Chicano and Native American movements of the time.

Howard Brick, the Louis Evans Professor of History and conference organizer, says examining the statement's legacy and call for participatory democracy is especially relevant.

"In the United States, the question of how to fulfill the promise of democracy is a crucial one in the current election, especially amid a raft of state laws limiting access to the ballot box," Brick says. "Concerns like this give the historic, democratic social movements of a half-century ago a keen relevance to our lives today."

The conference is sponsored by the LSA, Office of the President, Office of the Provost, Rackham School of Graduate Studies, Office of the Vice President for Research and numerous academic departments.