A Forum on The Port Huron Statement at 50

Port_huron_statement_37.2_bookIn the Boston Review, Tom Hayden, Kim Phillips-Fein, Bill Ayers, Angus Johnston, Eric Mann, Kirkpatrick Sale, Danielle Allen, Jennifer Hochschild, Trevor Stutz and Bernardine Dohrn discuss the Port Huron statement. Hayden:

Spirits of the ’60s keep appearing before me.

I see the spirit of the 1961 Freedom Rides in today’s bold undocumented undergraduates fighting for the Dream Act at the risk of deportation. These young people are putting their bodies on the line, as so many students did in the ’60s when facing segregation, the draft, and the university-turned-knowledge-factory. I see the same ’60s spirit reborn in the one million strong protesting for immigrant rights on the streets of Los Angeles. I see it in the students being dragged away or pepper-sprayed as they assemble to fight escalating tuitions. I see it in the movement to confront global warming, where, in the words of the Port Huron Statement, if activists “appear to seek the unattainable, let it be known that we do so to avoid the unimaginable.” And I see it in the Occupy Movement, whose own September 17 manifesto’s first principle demands a “direct and transparent participatory democracy.”

The Port Huron Statement is, in other ways, irrelevant and retro today. It was written before the Kennedy assassination; before the Vietnam escalation; before the modern women’s movement, the farm workers’ union, the peace, anti-draft, and GI movements. But its call for participatory democracy echoed through all those struggles. For example, the late community organizer Carl Wittman saw the student, civil rights, and anti-poverty movements as a collective realization of the Statement’s vision and, furthering that belief, wrote the first gay liberation manifesto during the Stonewall riots in 1969. Millions of people like Carl were in the closet one way or another in the early ’60s. Participatory democracy was a great coming out by everyone.