Tom Hayden, social activist, writer, and the initial drafter of the Port Huron Statement returned to the birthplace of the manuscript Aug. 28 in celebration of the statement’s 50th anniversary.
What first was an e-mail that Jim Soto, SC4 Instructor of English and Philosophy, sent over 2011 Christmas break asking Hayden to speak at the college evolved into an event that filled the Fine Arts Theater to the legal limit of people, with faculty bringing in chairs to accommodate those left in the lobby.
This was Hayden’s first time returning to Port Huron since 1988. Hayden spoke in depth about the origins of the Port Huron Statement and the impact in the modern era.
The document, written 50 years ago in Lakeport State Park by a group of student-led activists under the name of the Students for a Democratic Society, was considered by many a rallying cry for students looking for social change in the United States government.
“It became a launching board for a great deal of the Civil Rights Moment. Without the Statement, we might not have heard of Martin Luther King Jr. or others from the era,” Eric Gottler, a SC4 alumni who attended the event, stated.
Covered in the statement is a variety of different political and social issues that existed in the 1960’s, including the desegregation of the South, the threat of nuclear war, and a general sense of apathy the American public held towards the government.
The latter, a lack of involvement in public affair, is said to be the basis of inspiration for the concept of what Hayden calls “participatory democracy,” an ideal that focuses on the public’s role in the government and stresses the importance of proper forms of representation in a political forum.
But is participatory democracy a remnant of one generation’s dream? Does it hold weight to today’s society and problems we face?
The Occupy Movement believes the concept does indeed have a place in the modern times.
“One of the few things that they could agree on was participatory democracy was their transcendent principal,” Hayden said in his address at the campus.
Hayden also expressed his hope that the youth would pick up the torch of social activism and encouraged students to form their own groups for change.
“The youth is the key to the future,” Hayden said, “my hope lies in that they will learn from what we did back in the sixties and build upon our ideas and learn from our mistakes.”
Celebrating the Port Huron Statement, 50 years later