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October 31, 2012 - Image 13

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The Michigan Daily, 2012-10-31

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Fifty years later, still making a statement


w Ii w

Weneda, cobr 01 - UmntE

the leaders and the worst
by zach bergson and kaitlin williams

a week of daily stories

ew Ann Arbor residents know that
The Statement, the Daily's weekly
news magazine, is named in memo-
ry of the Port Huron Statement, drafted by
myself as the founding document of Students
for a Democratic Society 50 years ago.
This week, the University will host a con-
ference to explore the' legacy of what many
Ann Arbor students birthed half a century
The vision of the Port Huron Statement
lives on. The first principle of last year's
Occupy Wall Street movement was a call for
participatory democracy, the guidingconcept
of the Port Huron Statement.
From SDS to Occupy, students have led
movements demanding a voice. We believed
in not just an electoral democracy, but also
in direct participation of students in their
remote-controlled universities, of employees
in workplace decisions, of consumers in the
marketplace, of neighborhoods in develop-
ment decisions, family equality in place of
Father Knows Best and online, open source
participation in a world dominated by com-
puterized systems of power.
The Port Huron Statement represented the
dawn of an era, which began with the student
sit-in movement and the Beat Generation, and
didn't end until 1975, with the fall of Richard
Nixon and Saigon.
Students in Ann Arbor played a leading
role in defining this era. One year after gradu-
ating from the University, where I edited The
Michigan Daily, I drafted the 25,000 word
Port Huron Statement that served as a mani-
festo for "participatory democracy," which
initially came to us from a University faculty
adviser, Arnold Kaufman. The Students-for a
Democratic Society founder, Al Haber, fos-
tered a hotbed of debate between 1961 and
1963, before our vision came to fruition in
Berkeley's Free Speech Movement and the
first national Vietnam teach-ins organized at
the University.
Ann Arbor was also a central site of the
New Frontier. University students, myself
included, approached Sen. John F. Kennedy
in October 1960 to request that he endorse
international service as an alternative to the
military draft. He read our letter and, over
worries from his advisers, proposed the
Peace Corps on the steps of the Michigan
Union that night.
As an example of what might have been,
President Lyndon Johnson proposed a "Great
Society ... where men are more concerned
with the quality of their goals than the quan-
tity of their goods," at a 1964 University com-
mencement address. The author of LBJ's
speech, Richard Goodwin, credited the Port
Huron Statement as being a major influence.
Goodwin later wrote a note "to Tom Hayden,
who ... without knowing it inspired the Great
Society," referring to participatory democ-

racy and the administration's anti-poverty
JFK's assassination staggered us, but his
signing of the nuclear test ban treaty before
his death gave made us hope for a thaw
in the Cold War arms race, which almost
obliterated millions during the Cuban Mis-
sile Crisis.
I left graduate school at the University in
summer 1964 to begin community organizing
in the slums of Newark, N.J. About 200 SDS
activists and I planned to devote our lives to
a nationwide equivalent of the Mississippi
Summer Project. I believed that "an interra-
cial movement of the poor" could empower
a new constituency demanding jobs and eco-
nomic equality.
The United Auto Workers, which was
led by Walter Reuther, gave us the Port
Huron Conference Center courtesy of a

Soviet Union now was plotting to take over
the world. Small countries like Vietnam were
seen as pawns in this global plot. Peace and
civil rights groups at home, even leaders
like Dr. King, were surveilled as The Enemy
The Port Huron Statement challenged all
that, proposing nuclear de-escalation and
disarmament. We did this not because we
were "pro-Communist" but because we knew
that militarized and unbalanced anti-Com-
munism would divert America's attention
away from our needs at home.
In 1961, the eminent professor Robert
Angell told me soothingly over breakfast that
I could trust Kennedy's new defense, sec-
retary, Robert McNamara - he called him
Bob - because he was "one of us," a liberal
intellectual who lived just off Geddes Ave-
nue and drove into his Ford Motor office in

ing his presidential campaign, there were
184,000 Americans deployed to Vietnam by
late 1965.
Nothing turned out as I once imagined.
There was one constant: the tides of move-
ments and counter-movements kept churn-
ing. Movements based on participatory
democracy eventually gained some mean-
ingful reforms: voting rights for southern
black people and 18-year olds, the fall of two
presidents, amnesty for 50,000 war resisters
in Canada, the Freedom of Information Act,
democratic reforms of the presidential pri-
mary systems, collective bargaining rights
for public employees and farmworkers, the
Roe v. Wade decision, the Clean Air, Clean
Water, and Endangered Species acts, a long
list of reforms gained in less than a decade.
Social change did occur, precious inch by
bloody inch, becoming sacred ground that
had to be protected, decade after decade,
from both reaction and oblivion.
Underlying all of this tumultuous history
lay the rocky river of participatory democ-
racy - "the river of my people" - which kept
Now, to paraphrase Port Huron, we are the
elders of this generation looking uncomfort-
ably to the world we leave behind as inheri-
tance. The reforms we achieved are under
constant assault from the right and stagnat-
ing with the passage of time.
"The Port Huron
Statement represented
the golden dawn of the
era of the '60s, which
began with the student
sit-in movement and the
Beat Generation, and
didn't end until 1975,
with the fall of Richard
Nixon and Saigon."
We are in the process of a new beginning,
signaled by the deep American discontent
with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the
threat of more wars to come and the immense
diversion of trillions of tax dollars from our
needs at home for health care and affordable
education. Like the '60s, another imperial
presidency is on the rise, unleashing covert
military operations in multiple countries
without serious congressional oversight or
civic awareness. Like the '60s, the long war
leaves greater economic inequality and envi-

o Octomom checked herself into rehab
after discovering her oldest son watch-
ing her porn video. We don't even have to
joke about this one.

* The former Bengals cheerleader
who confessed to having sex with a
minor is getting her own reality show.
If this is reality, leave us out.

Last Saturday, the Wolverines lost to Nebraska 23-9. Quarterback Denard
Robinson was injured during the game, but he's expected to play against
Minnesota this Saturday.

top officer, "Millie" Jeffrey, whose daugh-
ter was an SDS leader at the University.
The UAW also donated funds to the SDS
community organizing projects, as well
as major resources for Dr. Martin Luther
King Jr., the United Farm Workers and the
early activists of what became the Nation-
al Organization for Women. In that brief
period, our hoped-for coalition seemed to
be coming together.
The final sentence of the Statement
warned, however, that "If we appear to seek
the unattainable, let it be known that we do
so to avoid the unimaginable." The unimagi-
nable was about to happen.
The Cold War was the mountain we could
not climb. Much like today's War on Ter-
rorism - the official Cold War assumption
was that nothing could be spared to protect
Americans from conspiratorial threats. The
paranoid Cold War assumption was that the

Detroit every day. On June 9, just as the Port
Huron convention was opening, McNamara
gave a speech in Ann Arbor defending what
he called a "centrally-controlled campaign
against all of the enemy's vital nuclear-capa-
bilities" in the event of a crisis. It foreshad-
owed our greatest fears, which almost came
true in the Cuban Missile Crisis just months
Tragically, the Cold War led liberal intel-
lectuals like McNamara, along with our key
allies in the UAW, into the bloody quagmire of
Vietnam. McNamara channeled his personal
brilliance into propaganda when he asserted
in August 1964 that the bombing of North
Vietnam was due to "raked aggression" by
Hanoi, a claim he privately knew to be false.
When LBJ pledged "no wider war," only two
Democratic senators opposed the Gulf of
Tonkin war authorization. After promising
not to send American ground troops dur-

People who try to take advantage of
~disasters via social media, like this guy
who tried to pass off a photoshopped
image of a shark swimming in a New
Jersey lawn should be thrown in the'

* Politico media reporter Dylan
Byers penned a story about how The
New York Times' Fivethirtyeight
blogger Nate Silver's election fore-
casting methods are questionable.
His two sources were political pun-
dits. One works for HIS OWN PUB-
LICATION. Go back to J-school,


The Michigan Zombie Club and the University's chapter of Phi Sigma
Pi National Honor Fraternity collected canned goods to raise aware-
ness for the Michigan Food Gatherers Society on Monday.

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