Madison Commemorates 50th Anniversary Of “Port Huron Statement” With Series Of Public Events

May 1, 2012
Norman Stockwell
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                   

This June will be the 50th anniversary of the completion of the final draft of the Port Huron Statement. According to Kirkpatrick Sale’s SDS, published in 1970 (and still the most comprehensive history of the Students for a Democratic Society), the Port Huron Statement “may have been the most widely distributed document of the American left in the sixties,” with 60,000 copies printed and sold for 35 cents each between 1962 and 1966.

SDS held its first meeting in 1960 on the University of Michigan campus at Ann Arbor, Michigan. Its political manifesto, the Port Huron Statement, was adopted at the organization's first convention on June 15, 1962.

April 2012 also marks the 52nd anniversary of the founding of Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee or SNCC, a critical part of the movement by African Americans fighting for their civil rights.  While focused in the South, Madison had a student chapter supporting SNCC that attracted activists including current Madison Mayor Paul Soglin.  The eminent historian Leon Litwack was the faculty advisor.

The archives of both SDS and SNCC were acquired by the Wisconsin Historical Society under the directorship of Leslie Fishel Jr. (1959-1969) and today constitutes the most important repositories documenting social change over the last century anywhere.


TUESDAY MAY 1st through SATURDAY JUNE 30th – Entryway of UW Memorial Library - Exhibit of SDS and SNCC artifacts and photos from the collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin.

WEDNESDAY MAY 2nd7pm at Mother Fool’s Coffeehouse, 1101 Williamson Street - “Revolutionary Youth as a Critical Force--From One Generation to the Next” – a talk by Carl Davidson, who was Vice President and National Secretary of the Students for a Democratic Society from 1968 to 1976. He is currently national co-chair of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and a national board member of Solidarity Economy Network. Carl Davidson’s talk will be introduced by Matt Rothschild, editor of the Progressive Magazine.

THURSDAY MAY 3rd7pmRoom 180 Science Hall – UW-Madison - “Participatory Democracy - from Port Huron to the Wisconsin Recall” – a talk by Tom Hayden, one of the founders of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). He served as president of SDS from 1962 to 1963 and drafted its most famous work, the Port Huron Statement. He is currently a peace & justice activist based in Los Angeles and founder and director of The Peace and Justice Resource Center. Tom Hayden’s talk will be introduced by John Nichols, political correspondent for The Nation magazine and associate editor of The Capital Times.

Davidson and Hayden will also be speaking with College and High School students during their time in Madison.  Plus, available throughout the week, a brand new graphic novel “Port Huron Today” produced by historian Paul Buhle (Founder and publisher of Radical America, and active in Champaign-Urbana and Madison SDS chapters, 1965-1969) and artist Gary Dumm (Ohio-based comic book artist and illustrator of Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History) . This comic book, together with a detailed revision of the 1963 SDS document “America and the New Era” is being produced in a special limited edition for the Madison events.


At a time of renewed activism in Madison, Wisconsin, local historians and activists are gathering to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the “Port Huron Statement”, a document that set the tone for a generation of protest in the 1960s. “We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit….” So began the Port Huron Statement, the ringing manifesto issued in June, 1962 by Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the most significant student movement in US history, and a leading force of the 1960s “New Left”. Critical of the open wounds of racism, the threat of nuclear annihilation, the repressive nature of the Cold War at home, and related social alienation and imposed conformity of “American Dream” post-War prosperity, the words of the Statement stirred a re-awakening of social and political activism that still reverberates today.

While in many ways defined by the specific historical moment in which it was drafted, the Port Huron Statement contained a number of critical points that ring as true, as salient today as when they were first written.  Then, as now, there were those in power who looked to untrammeled American economic expansion and limitless global might. Then, as now, there were those who argued that what the country had achieved was the best of all possible worlds and that there were no alternatives. Port Huron called for the reorganization of the economic sphere based upon a set of principles distinct from those that existed then and now.

The Port Huron Statement is not just a manifesto, critique and reform proposal for the age in which it was written. Despite the irrelevance of some of its passages, it remains in large part an important document for the present. Certainly parts of it could be revised and updated. But in large part, it still sounds a clarion call for those concerned with the pressing issues of our day, many of which remain from those days in the summer of 1962, when the final document first saw the light of day.  As such, it should be studied and discussed, critiqued and re-evaluated, celebrated, reassessed and revised by those social movements which are its heirs.

FOR INFO CALL: Norman Stockwell 608-279-1607