March 2012, Week 5


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Participatory Democracy: From the Port Huron Statement to
Occupy Wall Street (long)

by Tom Hayden

The Nation

March 27, 2012 (This article appeared in the April 16, 2012
edition of The Nation.)


This is the fiftieth anniversary year of the Port Huron
Statement, the founding declaration of Students for a
Democratic Society, issued as a "living document" in 1962.
The SDS call for a participatory democracy echoes today in
student-led democracy movements around the world, even
appearing as the first principle of the Occupy Wall Street
September 17 declaration.

As a signpost of the early 1960s, the Port Huron Statement
(PHS) is worth treasuring for its idealism and for the spark
it ignited in many an imagination. The Port Huron call for a
life and politics built on moral values as opposed to
expedient politics; its condemnation of the cold war, echoed
in today's questioning of the "war on terror"; its grounding
in social movements against racism and poverty; its first-
ever identification of students as agents of social change;
and its call to extend participatory democracy to the
economic, community and foreign policy spheres - these
themes constitute much of today's progressive sensibility.

The same spirit of popular participation that inspired OWS
drove the electoral successes of Latin American nations
emerging from dictatorships in the 1990s. It appeared among
the demands of young people in Tunisia, Egypt and other
Middle Eastern countries in the Arab Spring of 2011.
Spontaneous democratic demonstrations erupted in Russia late
last year, organized on Facebook by young people seeking
honest elections. The PHS was even prophetic in condemning

1 percent, who in 1962 owned more than 80 percent of all
personal shares of stock. It may be sobering for today's
Wall Street critics to read in the PHS original draft that
despite the radical reforms of the 1930s, the share of
wealth held by the 1 percent in 1960 had remained constant
since the 1920s.

On the other hand, there are sources of hope now that we
couldn't imagine in 1962. The technological revolution of
the Internet and social media is propelling a global revival
of participatory democracy. Facebook and Twitter are
credited with a key role in movements from Cairo to the
volunteer campaign for Barack Obama. For the next
generations, perhaps the most important issue for
participatory democracy will be ownership and control of the
means of producing and distributing information. These
issues were prefigured in the PHS in the briefest of
complaints about computerized problem-solving and in the
outcry two years later from Berkeley students in the Free
Speech Movement, who felt they were being processed like IBM
punch cards. The PHS criticized the profit motive behind
automation while noting that the new technology, if
democratically controlled, could eliminate much drudgery at
work, open more leisure time and make education "a
continuing process for all people."

According to Kirkpatrick Sale's SDS, published in 1970 and
still the most comprehensive history of the organization,
the PHS "may have been the most widely distributed document
of the American left in the sixties," with 60,000 copies
printed and sold for 25 cents each between 1962 and 1966.
Sale made two observations about the Statement:

First, the PHS contained "a power and excitement rare to any
document, rarer still in the documents of this time, with a
dignity in its language, persuasiveness in its arguments,
catholicity in its scope, and quiet skill in its
presentation...a summary of beliefs for much of the student
generation as a whole, then and for several years to come."

Second, "it was set firmly in mainstream politics, seeking
the reform of mainstream institutions rather than their
abolition, and it had no comprehension of the dynamics of
capitalism, of imperialism, of class conflict, certainly no
conception of revolution. But none of that mattered." More
recently, historian Michael Kazin wrote that the Statement
"is the most ambitious, the most specific, and the most
eloquent manifesto in the history of the American Left."

Who We Were, What We Said

I wrote the first notes for the Port Huron Statement in
December 1961, when I was briefly in an Albany, Georgia,
jail cell after a Freedom Ride to fight segregation in the
South. The high school and college students engaged in
direct action there changed my life. I had never met young
people willing to take a risk - perhaps the ultimate risk -
for a cause they believed in. Quite simply, I wanted to live
like them. Those feelings, and the inspiration they gave me,
might explain the utopian urgency of the Statement's final
sentence: "If we appear to seek the unattainable, as it has
been said, then let it be known that we do so to avoid the
unimaginable." (I have no recollection of where this
exhortation originated.)

Even today I find it hard to explain the "power and
excitement," the "dignity" and the "persuasiveness" of this
document, which sprawls over 124 pages in book form. Though
I was already a student editor and a budding pamphleteer, I
remember myself, just 22, as a kind of vessel for channeling
a larger spirit that was just in the air - blowin' in the
wind - and coursing through the lives of my friends.

The Port Huron attendees insisted that it begin with an
emphasis on "we," to be followed immediately by a section on
values. And so we described ourselves as a new generation
"raised in modest comfort, looking uncomfortably at the
world we inherit." This was an uncertain trumpet compared
with, say, the triumphal tones of The Communist Manifesto.
Why did it resonate with so many activists?

In fact, a few sons and daughters of former Communist Party
members were present, but their previous family dogmas and
loyalties lay shattered by the crushing of the democratic
Hungarian revolution in 1956 and the revelations about the
Stalinist gulag by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. There
were also children of New Deal democratic socialists now
experiencing liberal middle-class lives, and there were
plenty of mainstream idealistic student leaders, graduate
sociology students, a few pacifists and a number of the
spiritually inspired.

Though they were not at Port Huron, there were other
philosophical searchers at the time who practiced
participatory democracy. Bob Moses, perhaps the single
greatest influence on the early SDS and SNCC (the Student
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), could be described as a
Socratic existentialist. The Free Speech Movement's Mario
Savio described himself as a non-Marxist radical shaped by
secular liberation theology who was "an avid supporter of
participatory democracy." We were all influenced by Ella
Baker, an elder adviser to SNCC with a long experience of
NAACP organizing in the South. Ms. Baker, as everyone
referred to her, was critical of the top-down methods of
black preachers and organizations, including her friend Dr.
Martin Luther King Jr. She argued that SNCC should remain
autonomous and not become a youth branch of the older
organizations. She spoke of and personified participatory

SNCC played a direct role in shaping my values, as it did
with many SDS founders. SNCC's early organizing method was
based on listening to local people and taking action on
behalf of their demands. Listening and speaking in clear
vernacular English was crucial. Books were treasured, but
where you stood, with whom and against what risks was even
more important, because if the people you were organizing
couldn't understand your theories, you had to adjust. This
led to a language and a form of thinking cleansed of
ideological infection, with an emphasis on trying to say
what people were already thinking but hadn't put into words.

The right to vote was no intellectual matter, as it was for
many on the left who felt it was based on illusions about
where real power lay. Again and again, SNCC organizers heard
rural black people emphasize how much they wanted that
right. Typically they would say, "I fought in World War II;
I fought in Korea; and all I want before I die is the right
to vote." (Many decades before, the 22-year-old Emma Goldman
learned from a similar experience, after an early lecture in
which she had scornfully dismissed the eight-hour day as a
stupid token demand. When a worker in her audience replied
that he couldn't wait for the overthrow of capitalism but
that he also needed two hours less work "to feel human, to
read a book or take a walk in daylight," the experience gave
Goldman the consciousness of a great organizer.)

The Values section of the PHS reflected our eclectic,
existential, sometimes apocalyptic, take on life. "We have
no sure formulas, no closed theories." We would accept no
hand-me-down ideologies. "A first task of any social
movement is to convince people that the search for orienting
theories and the creation of human values is complex but
worthwhile." We agreed with French existentialist novelist
Albert Camus, who argued that a previous generation of
revolutionaries had sometimes rationalized horrific
slaughters in the name of future utopias like "land reform."
Still, we wanted to argue, carefully, for a restoration of
the utopian spirit amid the deadening compromises all around
us. We wrote that "we are imbued with urgency, yet the
message of our society is that there is no viable
alternative to the present" (the same phrase later employed
by Margaret Thatcher). Our diagnosis of the prevailing
apathy was that deep anxieties had fostered "a developed
indifference" about public life but also a yearning to
believe in something better. "It is to this latter yearning,
at once the spark and engine of change, that we direct our
present appeal."

We even thrashed out basic views of human nature day after
day, not the usual subject of political platforms. We
asserted a belief that "men [are] infinitely precious and
possessed of unfulfilled capacities for reason, freedom and
love." (Use of the term "men" was unquestioned; Betty
Friedan's The Feminine Mystique was one year away.) This
formulation followed long discussions in which we repudiated
doctrines of pessimism about the fallen human condition, as
well as the liberal humanist belief in human
"perfectibility." It may have been influenced also by the
Vatican II reforms then sweeping the Catholic Church. The
formulation about "unrealized potential" was the premise for
believing that human beings were capable of participating in
the decisions affecting their lives, a sharp difference from
the dominant view that an irrational mass society could be
managed only by experts, or the too hopeful Enlightenment
view of Tom Paine that our world could be created anew.


What Participatory Democracy Meant

Much was omitted because in 1962 awakenings just around the
corner were not anticipated. Many of us read Doris Lessing
and Simone de Beauvoir, but the first women's consciousness-
raising groups were two years in the future and would be
provoked in part by our own chauvinism. American combat in
Vietnam was unseen over the horizon, though the PHS opposed
US support for the "free world's" dictators, including South
Vietnam's Ngo Dinh Diem. Rachel Carson's Silent Spring was
published just two months after Port Huron, but all the
Statement observed about the environment was that
"uncontrolled exploitation governs the sapping of the
earth's physical resources." There was no counterculture, no
drug culture, no hippies - all that was to come. The folk
music revival was at its peak; the Beatles were just ahead.
The Statement would need major updating, but its passionate
democratic core was of permanent value.

What did we mean by participatory democracy? Obviously the
concept arose from our common desire to participate in
making our own destiny, and in response to the severe
limitations of an undemocratic system that we saw as
representing an oligarchy. At its most basic, it meant the
right to vote, as Henry David Thoreau once wrote, "not with
a mere strip of paper but with one's whole life." It meant
simplicity in registration and voting, unfettered from the
dominance of wealth, property requirements, literacy tests
and poll taxes. It meant exercising the right to popular
initiatives, referendums and recalls, as achieved by
Progressives in the early twentieth century. And it meant
widening participation to include the economic sphere
(workplace democracy and consumer watchdogs), neighborhood
assemblies and family life itself, where women and children
were subordinates. It meant a greater role for citizens in
the ultimate questions of war and peace, then considered the
secret realm of experts.

Participatory democracy was a psychologically liberating
antidote to the paralysis of the apathetic "lonely crowd"
depicted by David Riesman et al. in the 1950 sociological
study by that title. The kind of democracy we were proposing
was more than a blueprint for structural rearrangements. It
was a way of empowering the individual as autonomous but
interdependent with other individuals, and the community as
a civic society. Without this empowerment on both levels,
the PHS warned, we were living in "a democracy without
publics," in the phrase of C. Wright Mills, the rebel
sociologist who was one of our intellectual heroes.

The Statement's economic program was an extension of the New
Deal and a call for deeper participatory democratic reform.
Proposals for a government-led poverty program and "medical
care...as a lifetime human right" anticipated the Medicare
legislation that came in 1965, and the PHS's concept of a
government-led anti-poverty program foreshadowed the Office
of Economic Opportunity, a project envisioned by John F.
Kennedy and adopted by Lyndon Johnson.

But the Statement also called for economic democracy, as
distinct from the New Deal's more bureaucratic approach: the
major resources and means of production should be "open to
democratic participation and subject to democratic
regulation." There was a danger of "bureaucratic
coagulation" and too much emphasis in Kennedy's New Frontier
on "problems are easiest for computers to solve." There
should be experiments in decentralization, we said,
devolving the power of "monster cities" to local communities
seeded with more developmental incentives. Returning to the
Statement's moral focus, since a human being's economic
experience has "crucial influence on habits, perceptions and
individual ethics," we insisted that there be incentives
beyond money or survival, ones that are "educative, not
stultifying; creative, not mechanical; self-directed, not
manipulated; encouraging independence, a respect for others,
a sense of dignity, and a willingness to accept social

Not that Marxism was irrelevant to the Port Huron gathering.
Most of the participants were shaped and informed in part by
Marxist traditions. But the convention was never intended as
a revival ceremony for Marxism. The document at one point
mentioned a need to bring together "liberals and socialists,
the former for their relevance and the latter for their
sense of thoroughgoing reforms in the system." Even those at
Port Huron who were children of the Old Left had concluded
that moral values and democracy were more important than any
ideological renovation of Marxism, Leninism, Trotskyism,
Maoism or anarchism. It seemed we agreed that we were
something new: a movement, perhaps an embryonic blessed
community. When those from an earlier tradition pointed out,
sometimes vehemently, that we were not only not new but
descendants of the left, the New Left became our hybrid
brand. No one had complained when that label was suggested
in 1960 by C. Wright Mills, in his open "Letter to the New


Breaking the Political Stalemate

According to Michael Kazin and others, the role of the
American left has been to make lasting cultural and
normative contributions while never actually coming to
power. We were dreamers too, but dreamers who had a plan for
achieving political influence and power.

The Kennedy administration was in a crossfire between two
opposing forces: the civil rights movement versus the
dinosaurs of the Dixiecrat South, on which the party
depended for its national majority. By risking their lives
daily in sit-ins and voter drives, SNCC and rural black
people would soon crumble the foundation of Dixiecrat power.

The Port Huron Statement articulated a strategy of
"political realignment," in which the goal was to end the
"organized stalemate" in Washington and open the possibility
of a more progressive party. Realignment was embraced by
King, Bayard Rustin and Michael Harrington, and was the
implicit agenda of the vast March on Washington for Jobs and
Justice in August 1963. Soon Northern students were
streaming south for the Mississippi Summer Project, in 1964,
whose aim was to unseat the state's white Democratic
delegation and replace it with a democratically chosen
slate, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, at the
convention that year in Atlantic City. By 1965 the Voting
Rights Act was passed, establishing federal oversight of
Deep South voting patterns.

The energy of some SNCC and SDS organizers also overflowed
into the nascent farmworkers' organizing efforts in the
Southwest at around the same time. The PHS condemned the
disenfranchisement of migrant workers while also citing them
as a potential base for rebirth of a "broader and more
forceful unionism." In 1964 the government's hated bracero
program was forced to its end. Political realignment was
advanced that same year when the Supreme Court decreed that
voter representation must be based on population rather than
the land holdings of growers. By 1966 the United Farm
Workers was bringing new energy to the labor movement; that
same year, Congress moved to include minimum-wage
protections for farmworkers, who had been excluded for the
previous twenty-eight years under the Fair Labor Standards
Act. The UFW's four-year global consumer boycott of grapes
was a channel of participatory democracy that attracted
thousands of new activists.

One link between these events was the leadership of United
Auto Workers president Walter Reuther; his brother Victor;
and a top UAW officer, Mildred Jeffrey, the mother of a key
SDS founder at Port Huron, Sharon Jeffrey. The Reuthers
helped fund and support the early SDS as well as the UFW and
the Southern voter registration campaigns and marches.

The overall strategy of realignment envisioned participatory
democracy directly connected to a new social movement, one
capable of forging a new governing majority on a national
scale, with young people as shock troops building a "bridge
to political power" composed of liberal Democrats, peace
groups, organized labor and the civil rights movement. For
the first time, students were thinking of themselves as
"agents of social change." The buoyancy of this strategy,
perhaps carried on the innocence of the young, was a
momentous break from the culture of the left in those times,
which was dispirited by McCarthyism, bogged down in
poisonous factional disputes and weighted with the
ideological language and baggage of a Marxism that remained
foreign to most Americans.


Assassination and Vietnam Destroy the Great Society

The Port Huron vision of winning seemed entirely possible to
those who debated the strategy and set forth earnestly to
carry it out. But even the "best and brightest" among the
young radicals were thwarted by our inability to predict the

First, there was the assassination of John Kennedy, which
devastated any rational basis for strategy. The
assassination of a president simply wasn't factored into any
models we took seriously about reform or revolution. Whether
or not the Kennedy killing was part of a larger conspiracy,
as many still believe, a mood of paranoia took root in the
New Left, in which it seemed that any notions of peaceful
democratic transfers of power were illusory. It may be
wishful thinking, but I believe the evidence is that Kennedy
would not have sent 100,000 ground troops to Vietnam, as his
successor did (after promising not to). For most of us,
Kennedy, as well as other national leaders assassinated that
decade, including JFK's brother Robert, King and even
Malcolm X, had been central figures in the transformation we
hoped to see. The power of the independent movement came
first, but it was also necessary to pressure the president
to follow, to recognize and legitimize and legalize the
victory and pursue a transition to a more participatory and
egalitarian democracy.

The Port Huron Statement correctly predicted that if nuclear
war with the Soviet Union could be prevented, there still
would be an ongoing "international civil war" between
proxies of the United States and Soviet Union. Cuba was one
such focal point, and Vietnam became another. The Vietnam
War diverted public attention and drained resources from the
budding War on Poverty. I was one of many hundreds who moved
into inner-city neighborhoods to engage in community
organizing against poverty, establishing groups that took
over local boards in Newark, New Jersey. But Vietnam wrecked
all that, plunging our young movement into five years of
draft and war resistance, and provoking an escalated
militancy against the warmakers. The Vietnam escalation was
accompanied by hundreds of uprisings in black communities,
with the cost in lives still uncounted and billions of
dollars wasted. Any possibility, however remote or
delusional, of our being the left wing of Johnson's Great
Society was rendered impossible and was rejected in disgust.

The consequences for realignment were far different from our
predictions. As a result of the civil rights movement, there
came a generation of white liberal politicians like Jimmy
Carter, Bill Clinton and Al Gore, along with a huge
complement of black elected officials from the South, from
local sheriffs to Congressmen like John Lewis (a SNCC
member) and Jim Clyburn (vice chair under Charles McDew of
the South Carolina State student movement in 1960). The
climate of officially sponsored terrorism ebbed in the
South, and leaders like the Rev. Jesse Jackson would
eventually run impressive presidential campaigns where none
had been possible in the previous century. Barack Obama,
born in 1961, the year the Freedom Rides began, very much
owes his election to the voting rights reforms that brought
about this realignment. As Attorney General Eric Holder said
at SNCC's fiftieth reunion in 2010, "there is a direct line
from that lunch counter to the Oval Office and to
the...Department of Justice where the attorney general

On the other hand, as Richard Flacks, a principal author of
the PHS, has noted, we underestimated another realignment:
the flight of white Southern voters from the Democratic
Party, predicted by Johnson and encouraged by Nixon's 1968
"Southern strategy." This resulted in two backlash victories
by Republicans (Nixon, Reagan) and the transformation of the
white South from solid Democratic to solid Republican. The
civil war between so-called red and blue continues to this
day, with the red lines eerily drawn around the Old
Confederacy and much of the West where the Indian wars were

I believe the Port Huron vision of a progressive alliance
would have succeeded in bringing a new governing majority to
power in 1964, with a likelihood of avoiding the Vietnam
War, were it not for the murder of Kennedy and Johnson's
subsequent escalation of it. This argument may be criticized
as purely hypothetical, but it tries to capture the
immensity of our dream and how close it seemed to our grasp.
It is also a measure of the depths of despair we fell to in
the years to come, a despair that lingers today among those
who experienced both the beautiful struggle and the bitter

There was a third obstacle to the PHS dream, besides the
assassinations and the Vietnam War. For want of another
term, it was the system itself, or the powerful paradigm we
defied but could not defeat. By "system" I mean the
intersecting (though not coordinated) hierarchies of banks,
corporations, the military, media and religion, dominant
then as now (though there are far more women and people of
color at the upper levels today). This was the "power elite"
described by Mills. His concept of power was broader than
that of an economic ruling class. It was an establishment
far more flexible, even liberal, that had presided over the
growth of the white middle class in the 1950s.

By "paradigm" I mean an understanding of power as cultural
hegemony or dominance, a thought system in which there seems
to be no alternative. The oppressive paradigm the PHS tried
to discredit was the cold war between two blocs engaged in
nuclear brinkmanship. We were the first generation in
history to grow up with the Bomb, to learn to hide under
desks or in bomb shelters, to be exposed to the mad logic of
"mutual assured destruction" and the cynical realpolitik of
"free world" and Soviet blocs controlling alliances of
servile authoritarians. We went through a near-death
experience during the Cuban missile crisis. And we knew the
grim math: the trillions spent on weapons were dollars that
could have been invested in economic development, healthcare
and education. President Eisenhower had a name for this
system - the military-industrial complex - and we noted that
he dared name it only as he was leaving office. This
paradigm at first froze us in fear. The legacy of
McCarthyism, if continued in the 1960s, would mean that all
our work, from the sit-ins to the Freedom Rides to the Port
Huron Statement, would be marginalized as taking the wrong
side in the cold war.

The Statement therefore included a twenty-page attack on
this cold war mentality, half devoted to a proposal for
phased nuclear disarmament, half to a welcoming attitude
toward anti-colonial revolutions. Our proposal was to de-
escalate the bipolar nuclear confrontation. We differed with
most of the left-liberalism of the time by suggesting that
our own government was partly to blame for the cold war, and
by denying that the Soviet Union sought to take over the
world by force. There was a growing peace movement, which
many in our ranks eagerly joined. Despite, or perhaps
because of, the nuclear near-miss over Cuba in 1962,
President Kennedy became an important critic of the cold war
before his assassination. It appeared that the SDS demand
for new priorities was being recognized when Kennedy
initiated and signed a partial nuclear test ban treaty with
the Soviet Union in October 1963.


SDS, the CIA and the Power Elite

As the killing of JFK and the Vietnam escalation were
burying the original hopes of SDS, a new radical resistance
was taking root, and with it new ideological searching. The
second generation of SDS, and the movement generally, was
learning hard lessons from experiences not available to us
in 1960-62. Black people who played by the rules would see
those rules changed when power was threatened. Leaders were
assassinated if they moved in a progressive direction.
Politicians lied about taking us to war. Vietnam seemed to
prove that militarism and imperialism were central to
American society, whether liberals or conservatives were in

And finally, the power elite ruled beyond, or behind,
elected officials. To take one example among many, official
disclosures in 1984 revealed that John McCone, Kennedy's CIA
director, head of the Atomic Energy Commission and Bechtel
executive, conspired with the FBI in a "psychological
warfare campaign" against the Free Speech Movement and to
elect Ronald Reagan governor of California. Rampant
conspiracy theories seemed to negate the prospects of
popular movements and peaceful transitions through
elections. But even if the paranoia went too far, as it
usually did, there were still grounds for believing that
manipulators were behind the curtain.

In 1961 at a National Student Association convention I found
a yellow pad with a chart identifying SDS in a box on the
left, Young Americans for Freedom on the right and an entity
named Control Group in the center-top. Six years later
Ramparts magazine revealed that the secretive Control Group
included CIA agents whose work was to promote a pro-cold war
global student movement. The CIA also ran covert operations
through the AFL-CIO's international affairs department. Tom
Kahn, special assistant to AFL-CIO president George Meany
and later director of the federation's foreign operations,
was the very person at the League for Industrial Democracy
who in 1961 tried to fire Al Haber and me, locking us out of
SDS headquarters in New York because he believed the PHS was
soft on the Soviets.

The CIA's role in the AFL-CIO and foreign policy came to
light as the byproduct of hearings into tax-exempt
foundations by Representative Wright Patman in September
1964, confirming our worst suspicions. AFL-CIO staff were
also involved in the US invasion of the Dominican Republic
in 1965 and in controlling Saigon's labor federation,
protecting the flow of US military supplies into South
Vietnam's ports during the war.

The importance of this sojourn into left-wing history is
that SDS and SNCC (and King, among others) were unaware of
the company we were keeping. The unmovable obstacle to the
coalition we hoped to build with organized labor was the
secret pro-cold war element within liberalism, directly and
indirectly tied to the CIA, which was fiercely opposed to
our break from cold war thinking. On the one hand, the UAW's
Reuther brothers helped fund and provide conference quarters
at Port Huron; supported the March on Washington and the
early UFW organizing effort; and were frustrated by Meany's
archconservative views. On the other hand, the right-wing
AFL-CIO foreign affairs department carried on the anti-
communist crusade with its covert operations. The Reuther
wing was tied to Johnson's leadership and unwilling to break
from Meany. There was no way, in other words, that the New
Left could have joined organized labor in 1964-65 around the
Port Huron foreign policy vision, because the AFL-CIO was
shackled to the CIA without our knowledge. The Reuthers were
the great hope, but they were loath to break from Johnson
over the Mississippi delegation battle in Atlantic City and
over Vietnam. When the UAW finally broke from Meany and
demanded a cease-fire in Vietnam, SDS and SNCC were too
radicalized and factionalized for it to matter anymore.
Death, our old nemesis, also intervened. On May 9, 1970, one
week after the National Guard killed four protesting
students at Kent State, and after Walter Reuther demanded an
immediate withdrawal from Vietnam, he and five others were
killed in a charter-jet crash.


Marxism Replaces Participatory Democracy

While the Port Huron Statement was criticized by an older
generation as too far left, an opposite attack came from the
mid-1960s generation. In 1966 new SDS leaders rejected the
PHS as "too reformist." It was certainly true; the PHS did
envision reforms - substantive rather than token, rapid
though not overnight - and revolution was seen more as an
undefined aspiration or long-term hope. Radical reform
depended on independent social movements in combination with
awakened progressives within political institutions rather
than any revolutionary conquest of state and corporate
power. The new generation claimed that this strategy was
based on delusional liberal hopes.

Why was it so necessary for SDS leaders to reject Port Huron
as "reformist"? The main reasons were external - the
escalation of the Vietnam War and the draft by the liberal
Democrats - but there was an internal dynamic as well. The
new SDS leaders, in search of an ideology, turned steadily
to Marxism, then to Marxism-Leninism and Maoism.

This was a stunning turn for a "new" left, because it
implied a broad rejection of many of the new social
movements as basically "reformist" too, since none of them
were led by Marxists and none (except the Black Panthers)
favored vanguard parties. The implication was that no
genuine explanatory framework existed for a radical US
social movement outside Marxism, a thesis that ignored or
downplayed deep historical currents of populism, pacifism,
religious reform and slave rebellions in American history.
Most of the thinkers who inspired the early SDS - Mills,
John Dewey, Camus, Lessing, James Baldwin - were shelved in
search of an ideology that only Marxism seemed to offer.

Soon the open, participatory structure of the early SDS was
being penetrated and disrupted by the Progressive Labor
Party, a tightly disciplined, highly secretive organization
dedicated to recruiting SDS members in support of a
communist revolution on the inspiration of China and
Albania. It proved impossible to dislodge from the
organization, and pushed all internal discussions in a
poisonous sectarian direction.

Beginning in 1968, the Weatherman (later the Weather
Underground) faction surfaced as new "communist
revolutionaries," inspired by the revolutions in Vietnam and
Cuba, and the Black Panthers at home. Instead of the Port
Huron concept of a majority progressive coalition, they
favored forming clandestine cells behind enemy lines, a
formulation that regarded the white American majority as
hopelessly racist and privileged. Their ideological heroes
included Lin Piao, a leader of the Chinese Revolution, along
with Che Guevara and the young French intellectual Regis
Debray, with his foco theory that small bands of armed
guerrillas could set off popular revolutions and their
vision of a "tri-continental" alternative to the
"revisionist" Soviet Union. For an American hero, the
Weathermen turned to John Brown, who led a suicidal uprising
against slavery. That uprising was vindicated to the
Weathermen (and many African-Americans) by the vast swelling
of support for John Brown during and after his martyrdom.
Perhaps it would take a vanguard of martyrs to incite an
American revolution, or so the thinking went.

These were compelling notions to many SDS radicals desperate
to stop the Vietnam War and disillusioned with liberalism's
default. But by 1969 less than eight years after its
founding, the factional wrangling killed SDS.


The Movements Rise Again, With SDS Underground

I am not describing these post-Port Huron Marxist tendencies
as mad delusions, as many have. That brief generation tried
to make sense of the terrible and traumatizing events of the
time. Nor was their deep paranoia unjustified. In late 1967
Johnson screamed at his top advisers, "I'm not going to let
the communists take this government, and they're doing it
right now!" Fifteen hundred Army intelligence officers,
dressed as civilians, conducted surveillance on 100,000
Americans. Two thousand full-time FBI agents were deployed,
with massive use of informants and counterintelligence
programs. J. Edgar Hoover's orders to "neutralize" protest
leaders are well documented. Scores of young people were
killed or wounded, well beyond the widely remembered
shootings at Kent State and Black Panther offices. One
victim of an assassination attempt in 1969 was Richard
Flacks, a key participant at Port Huron. He was targeted
politically by Hoover and the Chicago police "red squad"
before being attacked in his office with a claw hammer by
someone who was never apprehended. SDS was banned on many
campuses. Police or troops occupied at least 127 campuses,
and 1,000 students were expelled in the spring of 1968
(which, as Kirkpatrick Sale notes, made them instantly
draftable). Softer counterinsurgency techniques included the
screening-out of the "protest prone" by admissions officers
and the use of psychological counseling to "treat" alienated
students. Making the paranoia all the more justified was the
palpable sense among many of us that we had been abandoned
by our parents; a 1969 Gallup survey indicated that 82
percent of Americans wanted student demonstrators expelled.
If that was true, what was the point of depending on
mainstream public opinion?

But the heightened militancy became disconnected from a
comprehensible narrative that the wider public might have
understood. In abandoning the Port Huron vision and strategy
as times worsened, SDS was offering a fringe analysis at
best, and was no longer able to invest leadership and
organizing resources in the vast swelling of campus and
public protest.

Indeed, the greatest outpouring of youth, student, GI,
liberal, feminist and environmentalist sentiment - of
perhaps any previous era in American history - occurred
after SDS had closed its doors. It included the November
1969 Moratorium against the war, up to that point the
largest peace march in American history; Earth Day 1970, for

20 million turned out; and the May 1970 student
demonstrations against the invasion of Cambodia, in which
4.3 million took part at half the colleges in the country.

Less than two years later, the Democratic Party was taken
over by progressive forces, and the old insiders like
Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and George Meany were suddenly
outsiders. This was much too rapid and radical for most
voters, as the 1972 presidential election results showed,
but the PHS prophecy of realignment had proven to be more
feasible than anyone had imagined.

The '60s movements stumbled to an end largely because we'd
won the major reforms that were demanded: the 1964 and 1965
civil and voting rights laws, the end of the draft and the
Vietnam War, passage of the War Powers Resolution and the
Freedom of Information Act, Nixon's environmental laws,
amnesty for war resisters, two presidents forced from
office, the 18-year-old vote, union recognition of public
employees and farmworkers, disability rights, the decline of
censorship, the emergence of gays and lesbians from a shadow
existence... Perhaps never in US history had so many changes
occurred in so short a time, all driven by the vibrancy of
participatory democracy.

Those who warned us of the system's unbendable durability,
like Howard Zinn, a mentor I dearly loved, seemed at times
to undervalue these achievements while celebrating the very
movements that made them possible. For Zinn, the reforms at
best were reluctant concessions "aimed at quieting the
popular uprisings, not making fundamental changes." But were
all those reforms meaningless? Or were they democratic
improvements, as I would argue? As if to prove Zinn's
thesis, the global cold war quickly morphed into the rise of
neoliberal globalization, the militarized war on
narcoterrorism and, by 2001, the "global war on terror." The
old threat of international communist conspiracies was
replaced by alleged new threats from the narcoterrorists and
global jihadists. The secrecy of the state expanded even in
times of peace. And in response, new movements arose across
the planet against war, sweatshops, hunger and environmental
destruction. The elite of the World Economic Forum, flying
into Davos on corporate jets, were challenged by the World
Social Forum, in which thousands of campesinos, indigenous
people, workers, students and artists made their way to
Porto Alegre, Brazil. Porto Alegre showcased a model of
"participatory budgeting," in which local citizens are
directly involved in decisions to allocate public funds for
neighborhood needs.

Starting in the 1980s, pro-democracy movements flourished
across Latin and Central America in the wake of guerrilla
campaigns. After these democratic transitions came the
uprisings across the Arab world. Where the uprisings were
repelled or derailed, the only unifying forward path still
seemed to be through and toward participatory democracy. In
2009 came a movement echoing the 1961 Freedom Rides:
undocumented students taking the risk of deportation while
demanding passage of the DREAM Act. Last year's revolt
against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, which continues to
this day, was another show of participatory democracy in


Participatory Democracy and Occupy Wall Street

Finally came Occupy Wall Street. I don't know whether
history begins anew or just repeats its sputtering cycles
again and again. What is clear enough is that the Occupy
movement began without pundit predictions, without funding,
without organization, with only determined people in tents,
countless Davids taking on the smug Goliath in spontaneous
planetary resistance. While Occupy could not and would not
agree on making detailed demands, it did agree, as noted
earlier, on "direct and transparent participatory democracy"
as its first principle.

There is endless speculation these days about the future of
Occupy Wall Street. Since I was pleasantly surprised by its
birth, I am not one to predict its growth. I prefer to wait
and see. Across the Western world, the smoldering division
is becoming one between unelected wealthy and foreign
private investors and the participatory democracies of civic
societies with their faltering elected governments.

Of course, there are differences between the Port Huron
Statement and the Occupy Wall Street manifesto, but they
should not be overstated. One of the major differences has
to do with anarchism, or "direct democracy," which plays a
major role in the thinking, structure and practice of many
Occupy activists. The early SDS certainly identified with
the Wobblies, the anarchists who organized the 1912 Bread
and Roses strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts; the Haymarket
Square martyrs; and the historic wildcat strikes across the
Western mining country. We sang of Joe Hill; knew all about
"Big Bill" Haywood, Emma Goldman and Mother Jones; and
lamented the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti. But we
believed that social movements should insist on the
democratic reform of state and corporation, not expect their
overthrow or implosion. We carefully avoided adopting any of
the previous ideologies of the left, including anarchism, in
our search for something new. Ours was a democratic populist
heritage, in which, we naïvely believed, many factions could
bloom but none could choke our growth.

Once again today, there are questions about whether reform
is legitimate or enough. Strict anarchist theory suggests
that any reforms only legitimize and strengthen structures
that should be toppled or dissolved. But the early SDS saw
no alternative to winning reforms from the state and
corporate sectors. We were fully aware of the dangers of
being co-opted into the system, the managed cooling of
street heat, the predictable countermovements that would
rise up. Even a philosophical anarchist (or "libertarian
socialist") like Noam Chomsky has written in favor of
radical reform:

There is a state sector that does awful things, but it also
happens to do some good things. As a result of centuries of
extensive popular struggle, there is a minimal welfare
system that provides support for poor mothers and children.
That's under attack in an effort to minimize the state.
Well, anarchists can't seem to understand that they are to
support that.... Minimizing the state means strengthening
the private sectors. It narrows the domain within which
public influence can be expressed.

I don't mean to say that all Occupiers oppose reform. But
there is a broad suspicion of seeking reforms that require
alliances with top-down organizations, especially with
progressive elected officials. The same dilemmas arose in
the '60s in the relationships between SNCC and the national
civil rights leadership, and between SDS and the liberal
Democrats we blamed for starting the Vietnam War. In
retrospect, however, it's impossible to reach a majority,
much less the 99 percent, while rejecting coalition
politics. Nevertheless, some Occupy theorists seem to
believe they can do so. For example, Micah White, a
brilliant editor at Adbusters, writes that "an
insurrectionary challenge to the capitalist state" will be
mounted by "culture-jammers" who create "fluid, immersive,
evocative meta-gaming experiences that are playfully
thrilling and [that] as a natural result of their gameplay"
a social revolution will arise as "pure manifestation of an
anonymous will of a dispersed, networked collective." It is
as if the pure insurrectionary act, memorialized as
performance art, is more important than the construction of
any alliances, or any consequences that flow from it.

There is something new, however: an engine of decentralized
democratic power available to Adbusters, Occupy, Facebook
and WikiLeaks that was not available at Port Huron. When I
first saw a computer in 1964 it was the size of a room, and
the professor who predicted microprocessors seemed nuts. We
have come a long way from the Free Speech Movement's outrage
at IBM cards, to the exploding vista of instant information
and interaction that has played a critical role, from the
Zapatista uprising and the Battle of Seattle to the recent
eruptions of interactive, live-streaming, participatory
democracy all over the world.

There is a utopian belief that downloading and freeing
information, especially secret information, will bring about
a decentralized revolution - anonymously, one might say. The
download replaces the overthrow in the imagination of some
in this new movement. The invention of open-source
technology may be the single greatest pathway to
participatory democracy in our lifetimes, not only in
coordinating social movements but in making democratic
decision-making possible without passing through
representatives or gatekeepers. But like it or not,
organizing the reform of existing institutions is also
needed, if only to protect the open source or the
whistleblowers. The vast constituency of Occupy surely knows
that a participatory future cannot be protected without
engaging in some sort of politics in the present.

A useful model was implicit in the Port Huron Statement, one
transmitted from our parents' generation, the last until now
to weather Wall Street scandal, foreclosures, bankruptcies
and unemployment (without any safety net). Our parents
wanted a New Deal and Franklin Roosevelt to meet their basic
needs, just as black people in Mississippi wanted the vote
and Kennedy, and workers wanted the eight-hour day in Emma
Goldman's time. After waiting several years for Wall Street
to self-correct, the people of the 1930s began demanding
what became the Wagner Act, Social Security, the Works
Progress Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps and
the Federal Writers Project, which made life better for
generations to come.

These reforms came about, as Zinn would rightly warn, as
pragmatic institutional responses or concessions meant
largely to restore order. But the New Deal itself was driven
by a chaotic, eclectic, sectarian, combative, fanatic and
passionate energy, and included anarchists, communists,
musicians, muralists, liberals, progressives, prairie
populists, industrial union organizers and, yes, reformers,
from Al Smith to Upton Sinclair to Eleanor Roosevelt. What
became the New Deal was pushed from below by insurrectionary
strikes in Seattle, factory occupations in Flint, and
writings and art from government-subsidized poets and
intellectuals who interviewed the poor, the migrants and the
unemployed, and who created great works like "This Land Is
Your Land" and The Grapes of Wrath. It was a splendid bedlam
of participatory democracy, which led neither to socialism
nor fascism but to Keynesian economics and a vision of the
state as an instrument that can sometimes be bent to the
popular will and public interest. After twenty years of
celebration, we decided in 1962 that those New Deal reforms
were stagnating and insufficient, and that it was time to
begin again.

We are not as badly off as Americans were in the 1930s, of
course, if only because of the safety net reforms that were
achieved in that earlier dangerous time. Globally, however,
the unfettered appetites of capitalism have created an
intolerable human condition. It is time for a participatory
New Deal, to bring the banks and corporations under the
regulations and reforms they have escaped through runaway
globalization. This year marks the first presidential
campaign in our lifetime when the gluttony of Wall Street,
the failures of capitalism, the evils of big money in
politics and a discussion of fundamental reform will be
front and center in election debates. No doubt the crisis
that gave rise to Occupy will not be fixed by an election,
but that's beside the point. Elections produce popular
mandates, and mandates spur popular activism. It's time to
organize a progressive majority, and the vision and strategy
of Port Huron is worth considering as a guide.


[Who is Tom Hayden?

Senator Tom Hayden, the Nation Institute's Carey McWilliams
Fellow, has played an active role in American politics and
history for over three decades, beginning with the student,
civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s.

"Tom Hayden changed America," wrote Nicholas Lemann,
national correspondent for The Atlantic, of Hayden's role in
the 1960s. Richard Goodwin, former speechwriter for John
Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, said that Hayden, "without even
knowing it, inspired the Great Society."

Hayden was elected to the California State Legislature in
1982, where he served for ten years in the Assembly before
being elected to the State Senate in 1992, where he served
eight years.

Hayden has been described as "the conscience of the Senate"
by columnist Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee, and as "the
liberal rebel" by George Skelton of the Los Angeles Times.
"He has carved out a key watchdog role," according to the
San Francisco Chronicle.

He is author of over 175 measures ranging from reform of
money in politics, worker safety, school decentralization,
small business tax relief, domestic violence, lessening gang
violence in the inner city, stopping student fee increases
at universities, protecting endangered species like salmon,
overhauling three strikes, you're out laws, and a measure
signed into law that will assist Holocaust survivors in
receiving recognition and compensation for having been
exploited as slave labor during the Nazi era.

Hayden is the author of eleven books, including his
autobiography, Reunion; a book on the spirituality and the
environment, Lost Gospel of the Earth; a collection of
essays on the aftermath of the Irish potato famine, Irish
Hunger (Roberts Rhinehart) and a book on his Irish
background, Irish on the Inside: In Search of the Soul of
Irish America (Verso); Radical Nomad, a biography of C.
Wright Mills (Paradigm Publishers); and, most recently,
Ending the War in Iraq (2007). A collection of his work,
Writings for a Democratic Society: The Tom Hayden Reader was
published this year.]



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