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Posted on Wed, Oct 31, 2012 : 12:36 p.m.

Port Huron Statement 50 years later: 3-day conference at University of Michigan begins Wednesday

By Ryan J. Stanton

A three-day conference reflecting on the 50th anniversary of The Port Huron Statement, a manifesto for participatory democracy, begins Wednesday on the University of Michigan campus.

U-M alums Tom Hayden, Alan Haber and other co-founders of the 1960s activist group Students for a Democratic Society are expected to speak at the event, which will explore the significance of the statement and the social, cultural and political history of the New Left movement.

The 75-page statement drafted by Hayden, former editor of the Michigan Daily, emerged from a meeting of the SDS at the United Auto Workers retreat on Lake Huron in June 1962. It became a central document of the New Left movement of the 1960s.


Local activist Alan Haber, co-founder of Students for a Democratic Society, poses for a portrait with his cat, Ozzie, inside the living room of his home on Ann Arbor's Old West Side in 2010. SDS held its first meeting in 1960 on the University of Michigan campus, where Haber was elected president. Its political manifesto, known as the Port Huron Statement, was adopted in 1962.

Ryan J. Stanton |

"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," Hayden wrote in a column published by the Michigan Daily last week, reflecting on the statement's legacy.

Haber said The Port Huron Statement "had an impact all over the world." SDS held its first meeting in 1960 on the U-M campus, where Haber was elected president. SDS co-founders Barbara Haber and Sharon Jeffrey Lehrer, who are participating in a Friday morning panel discussion as part of the conference, told on Wednesday that Alan Haber was "the visionary" of the group.

Howard Brick, U-M professor of history and organizer of the conference, said the three-day event on U-M's campus this week is the most important among several recent events commemorating the statement's 50th anniversary because of its broad scope and U-M's significance in the birth of SDS.

"Our conference carries special import because University of Michigan students spearheaded the organization of SDS after 1960," Brick said. "It will also examine a wide range of left-wing social movements of the same era in the U.S., Europe, Africa and Latin America."

The conference, "A New Insurgency: The Port Huron Statement in Its Time and Ours," kicks off with a keynote address titled "Refugees from the Fifties," which will be delivered by Ruth Rosen, a journalist and historian of the women's movement, at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Angell Hall.

Hayden will deliver a speech titled "The Future of Participatory Democracy" at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at 1324 East Hall.

Other panels and sessions will be held in the Michigan Union. For more information, go to the event website:

The conference is free and open to the public. In addition to its main focus on the early period of the New Left and the founding of SDS in 1960, it will include discussions of the civil rights and women's liberation movements, as well as the Vietnam teach-in at U-M in March 1965 and the speech "Naming the System" by U-M graduate student and SDS president Paul Potter at the first major demonstration against the Vietnam War in Washington, D.C., in April 1965.

Local blogger Mark Maynard spoke with Hayden recently about what gave rise to the Port Huron Statement and the culture of protest in the 1960s.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.


Roger Rayle

Thu, Nov 1, 2012 : 8:25 p.m.

"We should undertake here and now a fifty-year effort to prepare for all nations the conditions of industrialization. Even with far more capital and skill than we now import to emerging areas, serious prophets expect that two generations will pass before accelerating industrialism is a worldwide act. The needs are numerous: every nation must build an adequate intrastructure [sic] (transportation, communication, land resources, waterways) for future industrial growth; there must be industries suited to the rapid development of differing raw materials and other resources; education must begin on a continuing basis for everyone in the society, especially including engineering and technical training; technical assistance from outside sources must be adequate to meet present and long-term needs; atomic power plants must spring up to make electrical energy available" -- excerpt from Port Huron Statement Shows the mindset of that time... and the need to pivot and adjust based on new understanding of how best to be sustainable for more than two generations (7+ would be nice). The authors could no more predict future developments than could the authors of the US Constitution. Building in an amendment process is key. By the way, if you want to see what's happened with world development over the last 50+ years, check out any of Hans Rosling's TED Talks:

Dog Guy

Thu, Nov 1, 2012 : 3:07 a.m.

Freeze-dried hippies rocking and rolling in their rocking chairs and wheel chairs. Ah, the good old days when we were RELEVANT!


Wed, Oct 31, 2012 : 9:43 p.m.

Is that a dress Alan Haber is wearing in the picture? Not that theres anything wrong with that, just wondering.


Wed, Oct 31, 2012 : 7:43 p.m.

The revolution worked well for Tom Hayden. He is now a member of the 1%. Have not heard much from him about turning his fortune over to the rest of us.


Wed, Oct 31, 2012 : 11:52 p.m.

Well Pete, Ol' Tom got an eight figure settlement in his divorce from Jane Fonda and he was also a California assemblyman, which has made more than a few left coast politicians multi-millionaires.

Peter Baker

Wed, Oct 31, 2012 : 8:51 p.m.

I'm not sure being a professor qualifies you for the 1%.


Wed, Oct 31, 2012 : 6:58 p.m.

Vegas has set the over/under on comments ripping the statement by those who know nothing about it at 25.


Wed, Oct 31, 2012 : 9:37 p.m.

@ gene: 5 down, 20 to go. You may top the over/under just by yourself.


Wed, Oct 31, 2012 : 7:45 p.m.

Most of us know hypocrisy when we see it.


Wed, Oct 31, 2012 : 6:26 p.m.

The Orwellian tag "participatory democracy" is intended as the alternative to electoral democracy. It is the doctrine that a self-righteous elite (Lenin called it "the vanguard of the proletariat") should enforce its will on the benighted majority "by any means necessary", from sit-ins to riots to bombs (from blowing up a campus building in Madison with a graduate student killed, to the accidental explosion of a bomb factory in New York that wiped out the building and much of the leadership of the Weather Underground that lived there). The net result was to poison the political climate. The backlash elected Richard Nixon to the Presidency. Nobody was enlightened. It is mind-boggling that, so many years later, the perpetrators have learned nothing and are in a self-congratulatory mood.


Wed, Oct 31, 2012 : 11:54 p.m.

The slaves owed by Jefferson, Henry, Washington, Lee, et. al., found those ideas particularly inspiring.


Wed, Oct 31, 2012 : 11:48 p.m.

The ideas of Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Henry, and Lee have inspired people for 250 years. The ideas in the Port Huron Statement lasted less than 10 years.


Wed, Oct 31, 2012 : 8:24 p.m.

Yes. Jefferson, Adams, Adams, Franklin, Henry, Lee . . . et. al., were delusional revolutionaries. According to George III and William Pitt.


Wed, Oct 31, 2012 : 7:40 p.m.

Like any group of revolutionaries, they ideas were based more on delusions than anything else.

Eat Local A2

Wed, Oct 31, 2012 : 6 p.m.

The future belongs to our younger generations who deserve our attention and care [and dare I say more deference at times]. Whatever was good about this, and what garnered a consensus, has already been incorporated into society. The participants themselves in this type of thing often become one-trick ponies, as their ideas are self-reinforcing amongst their small group of like-minded individuals. They are currently likely to see their vision as discarded, rather than fully incorporated at this point as tempered by the other inputs of a democratic society. For in the end all of us fallen human beings are a bit narcissistic. So, no one would say that World War 1 or the Depression were irrelevant, but one would see a bunch of older folks talking about their experiences in those events as more past- than future-oriented, and rightly so. Thus, it's great to have the reunion, have fun--but in many ways you are no different than your parents or grandparents. It's not 1968 forever--time passes us all by and in some ways that it how it should be.


Wed, Oct 31, 2012 : 9:42 p.m.

Completely wrong, but eloquently said.


Wed, Oct 31, 2012 : 6:20 p.m.

Eloquently said.


Wed, Oct 31, 2012 : 5:43 p.m.

Back in the 60's, the radical left in this country was not about "participatory democracy". It advocated a one party marxist state, which of course only the elitists of the SDS were capable of running.


Wed, Oct 31, 2012 : 9:40 p.m.

The idea that the left is capable of being organized to the point of running a one-party state brings a chuckle to those of us who are a part of it. The left always been splintered into a comically large number of factions.


Wed, Oct 31, 2012 : 4:53 p.m.

It wasn't a statement for democracy. It was a wild-eyed extremist manifesto, and it was ludicrous and irrational


Wed, Oct 31, 2012 : 8:48 p.m.

@bobslowson: Oh yes, after all the Tea Party's manifesto is the U.S. Constitution. Your post is completely void of perspective.


Wed, Oct 31, 2012 : 5:38 p.m.

As ludicrous as the Tea Party?