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Festival of Books: Before Occupy, there was Port Huron Statement

April 23, 2012 | 10:00 am

HaydenThe Port Huron Statement emerged 50 years ago as a manifesto from the Students for a Democratic Society and an "agenda for a generation." "We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit," part of the statement reads.

So it was natural that the question posed at Sunday afternoon's panel "The Port Huron Statement: 50 Years Later" at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books was: What does it mean now?

"It's startling to me that this was 50 years ago," said panelist Tom Hayden, a former California state senator and author of "Writings for a Democratic Society." Though the Port Huron Statement was a collaborative effort, Hayden is often cited as one of its primary authors.

 "Participatory democracy may be the overall concept that could unify liberals on the left and even some libertarians, if you look at the other ideological alternatives before us," Hayden said. "Every human being's dignity requires their ability to participate and not be victims of all the decisions being made controlling their lives."

The two other panelists -– journalism professor Abe Peck and author-journalist Robert Scheer –- pointed to flaws in the statement but also to its resonance in today's political and sociocultural climate.

"It's not a political document, it's something bigger and above that," Peck said, mentioning that it talks of the "1%-ers" of the time. "So many of the problems noted in the Port Huron Statement still exist," he said.

Scheer gave the audience a rousing analysis and urging them to action, saying "the problems raised in the Port Huron Statement ... are unfortunately further from resolution, rather than closer."

"Power is ever more concentrated ... How do you reverse that? How do you challenge that?" Scheer said. "It doesn't have to be this way. We have to make our own history."

--Ari Bloomekatz

Photo: Tom Hayden    Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times