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We The People

Social Consciousness in a Terrifying New World

The Port Huron Statement:

Participatory Democracy 40 Years Later

"As a social system we seek the establishment of a democracy of individual participation, governed by two central aims: that the individual share in those social decisions determining the quality and direction of his life; that society be organized to encourage independence in men and provide the media for their common participation."

- The Port Huron Statement, 1962

The Port Huron Statement was drafted in 1962 by university students who had organized themselves into a group called Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS. Anyone with an inkling of the history of the 1960s will remember the SDS as being one of the more radical revolutionary campus groups of that time. In 1962, however, the SDS was visionary and innocent, not yet tainted – as everything else came to be – by America's war in Vietnam.

One founding member of the SDS who helped draft the statement was Tom Hayden, former state Senator from California. Hayden wrote an article for the Nation Magazine on August 5th, 2002, noting the 40 year anniversary of the Port Huron Statement and describing the purpose behind its inception.

" The original idea," wrote Hayden, "conceived at a winter meeting in Ann Arbor in 1961, was modest: to produce an organizing tool for the movement we were trying to spread through SDS. Then the statement became more audacious. The roughly sixty young people who finalized the statement during a week at a United Auto Workers retreat in Port Huron, Michigan, experienced what one could only call an inspirational moment. As the words flowed night and day, we felt we were giving voice to a new generation of rebels.

"Like today, 1962 was a time when many students were waking up, but the vast majority were smothered in apathy. We couldn't resist racism and war, we realized, without first piercing this freezing indifference bred by affluence, conformity and the legacy of McCarthyism. The vast majority of students internalized the message of their elders that they were too young, too inexperienced, too unqualified to make a difference. Most students could not vote, and the universities acted as our substitute parents under the doctrine of in loco parentis. Nor was there much record of student activism in American history to bolster us. In the class discourse of the traditional left, students amounted to nothing. But now the black student revolt in the South was setting an example of a different way to see ourselves in history. On some campuses, professors and students were questioning the cold war arms race. There were stirrings on the fringe, too, where students were listening to Bob Dylan and rock and roll. SDS represented the first defections from the mainstream.

"It was no wonder, then, that the statement was inspired by participatory democracy. Participation is what we were denied, and what we hungered for. Without it, there was no dignity. Parents and professors lectured us, administrators ordered us, draft boards conscripted us, the whole system channeled us, all to please authority and take our place in line. Now it was our turn. What became a worldwide youth revolt began, it should be remembered, in the multiple failures of the elders."

What Hayden and the SDS sought with the drafting of the Port Huron Statement was the creation of a New Left in America. The Old Left was dead, murdered by associations with Stalin's perverted version of Communism and by Joe McCarthy's Red Scare jihad. This New Left would be based upon the idea of participatory democracy, a revolution within the social fabric of America that would bring the people once and for all into a functional marriage with the government that purported to represent them.

The SDS saw the bedrock of this revolution based on the campuses of America, within the hears and minds of young people who needed to be convinced of their strength within the society. The Port Huron Statement pointed to a variety of social ills permeating America in 1962 – the civil rights struggle, an economy based upon war, the grinding apathy that gripped the citizenry, and the gulf between laborers and the economy they worked to improve – as areas that participatory democracy would help to cure.

The ideas espoused by the Port Huron Statement were torn to shreds, as was much of the American social fabric, by our bloody war in Southeast Asia. "But we could not imagine," wrote Hayden in The Nation, "that Vietnam was just around the corner. The Port Huron Statement made just a passing reference condemning aid to the South Vietnamese dictatorship. Unexpectedly, the American commitment deepened in the year following Port Huron. When the moment of choice arrived in 1964-65, the Democratic administration sent 150,000 troops to Vietnam, guaranteeing that the commitment to ending poverty and racism would ebb. The visionary promise of Port Huron died on a battlefield that triggered a radical polarization instead of reform at home."

Many dreams were destroyed in that turbulent time. The promise of the Port Huron Statement was one. The concept of a New Left was another – the anger and strife created by Vietnam rent the Left into a thousand pieces, wounds that persist to this day. Yet the relevance of the Port Huron Statement lives on, both in our everyday lives and in this Manifesto.

"The Port Huron Statement claimed to be articulating an 'agenda for a Generation,'" Wrote Hayden. "Some of that agenda has been fulfilled: The cold war is no more, voting rights for blacks and youth have been won, and much has changed for the better in the content of university curriculums. Yet our dreams have hardly been realized. The Port Huron Statement was composed in the heady interlude of inspiration between the apathetic 1950s and the 1960s' sudden traumas of political assassinations and body counts.

"Forty years later, we may stand at a similar crossroads. The war on terrorism has revived the cold war framework. An escalating national security state attempts to rivet our attention and invest our resources on fighting an elusive, undefined enemy for years to come, at the inevitable price of our civil liberties and continued neglect of social justice. To challenge the framework of the war on terrorism, to demand a search for real peace with justice, is as difficult today as challenging the cold war was at Port Huron. Yet there is a new movement astir in the world, against the inherent violence of globalization, corporate rule and fundamentalism, that reminds us strongly of the early 1960s. Is history repeating? If so, "participatory democracy" and the priorities of Port Huron continue to offer clues to building a committed movement toward a society responsive to the needs of the vast majority."

This Manifesto does not seek to reinvent the 1960s. Those days are dead, and a new reality has encompassed us all. But the spirit of the Port Huron Statement and the desperate need for participatory democracy in this most dangerous time for America still stands unassailed. It is in the spirit of the Port Huron Statement that we stand behind this Manifesto, for the passion which generated it lives on today. Now, more than ever, that ethic must be spoken aloud for all to hear.

The Port Huron Statement can be read in its entirety here:

http://coursesa.matrix.msu.edu/~hst306/documents/huron.html

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Next:
Defending the Essence – The Constitution under attack

 

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"Beware the Ides of March!"

Unfortunately, we were not able to gather the permits for our March Protest in Washington D.C. We are revamping this web site to coinside with a national flyer campaign in partnership with The Alliance For Democracy. Stay tuned.

Manifesto:

I. Preamble: We The People - New social consciousness in a troubled world

II. The Port Huron Statement - Participatory Democracy 40 Years Later

III. Defending the Essence - The Constitution under attack

  • Understanding the PATRIOT Act
  • Understanding the TIPS Program
  • Destroying Freedom to Save Freedom

IV. The Return of the Robber Barons

  • Understanding the current state of the economy
  • The murder by inches of functional capitalism
  • A roll call of criminals

V. War Without End

  • A rudderless global conflict with no end in sight
  • The promulgation of fear as a political tool

VI. Conclusion

 


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