The following story by Isabella Shaya appeared in The State News on June 14, 2012.
On June 15, 1962, members of the Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS, gathered in Port Huron, Mich., to combine voices and opinions in the creation of a statement which still holds relevance almost 50 years later.
What followed from this meeting of the student activist group was a 124-page manifesto called the Port Huron Statement.
“The Port Huron Statement has had a life of its own,” Tom Hayden, one of the founders of SDS and primary writer of the Port Huron Statement, and now director of the Peace and Justice Resource Center in Culver City, Calif., said. “It has been reprinted dozens and dozens of times in high school and college textbooks and it keeps coming back — I think that that’s the evidence for why it continues to be relevant.”
Hayden wrote the original draft of the statement, which he brought to the convention where at least five groups of 10 students contributed and revised Hayden’s draft to create a final product.
Hayden said there are two reasons the Port Huron Statement still holds relevance today.
“It spoke about our lives in terms of frustrated dreams and the sea of student apathy all around us — that just hasn’t changed that much. The sections on student life unfortunately remain similar, if not worse because of tuition increases,” Hayden said. “As a solution we thought of participatory democracy as a means of an end … it was about more than the right to vote, it was about making life more accessible and more participatory in the family, in the workplace, in the neighborhood, and the school and the university — the people had a right to a voice in any decision that was affecting their lives.”
A better society
After being a student and serving as the first president of SDS, Alan Haber said he was looking for a way to contribute his natural activism to the community. Haber, an Ann Arbor resident, said he is involved with the SDS revival, which began in 2006.
“(We wanted to) undertake the unattainable for a better society,” Haber said. “It’s because we want to avoid the imaginable.”
Haber is working on creating a new manifesto, using the same method used to write the Port Huron Statement, by putting together submitted ideas about the state of the world.
“What do you think are the critical problems, the most difficult questions?” he said. “We are going to invite them onto the table as they were and see how we can shape those for further sharing and work to produce some kind of working product, manifesto, statement.”
Finding relevance today
For Carl Davidson, who held positions as vice president and interorganizational secretary of SDS during the 1960s, he did not join SDS until after the statement was written, but the manifesto still plays an important role in his life of activism.
He received a copy of the statement in 1965, after already being an active peace advocate on Penn State University’s campus.
“I was particularly impressed by the first 12 (points), which most people don’t (often) read,”
Davidson said. “(It) defined politics as generational. (It was) written by my generation — baby boomers.”
Davidson said the ideas of participatory democracy and generational politics are two points of the statement which still hold relevance today.
“(These ideas) still resonate with young people in Occupy and similar things today,” he said. “(They) find a lot that they can connect to.”