The Port Huron Statement at 50

It begins like this:

“We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit.”

It ends like this:

“If we appear to seek the unattainable, it has been said, then let it be known that we do so to avoid the unimaginable.”

In between, there is a child, observing the grand parade of America, and declaring that the emperor is naked.

The Port Huron Statement was completed on June 15th, 1962. It was principally the work of Tom Hayden, who was Field Secretary of Students for a Democratic Society at the time, and adopted by those in attendance at the SDS convention near Port Huron, Michigan. The SDS had grown out of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society of the early 1900s. During the few short years of its existence (1960 to 1969) the organization represented the intellectual core of an emerging “New Left” in the United States. It was the largest “radical” student organization in U.S. history, and the largest student organization of any kind in the 1960s.

Reading the statement again these many years later, I was struck by how it is, in almost equal measures, a relic of its time and a light to ours.

In These Times features an assessment of the legacy of The Port Huron Statement by 14 activists (including three of the document’s framers) that I found interesting. Bill Ayers had this to say. “Revolution is still possible, but barbarism is possible as well. In this time of peril and possibility, rising expectations and new beginnings, when hope and history once again rhyme, it’s absolutely urgent that we embrace the spirit embodied in the final words of The Port Huron Statement.”

I am encouraged to learn that a new Students for a Democratic Society was organized in 2006, and is active in campaigns for education rights, the protection of civil liberties, peace and anti-globalization.

Seek the “unattainable.” Occupy the future!

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