Don’t Trust Anyone Under 60
Mill Valley, Calif.
Tom Hayden’s superb “Participatory Democracy: From Port Huron to Occupy Wall Street” [April 16] was an invaluable history of the progressive movement in America since the 1960s, a cautionary message to current activists and an inspiring call for renewed coalition activism. It should be reprinted as a handbook for every person who believes in working for a more just America.
One paragraph struck me as especially poignant. Hayden writes, “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; the historic wildcat strikes across the Western mining country.” I wonder how many of the young people demonstrating at Zuccotti Park and across the country, wedded to Twitter and Facebook, are as aware of the history of past protests as the founders of Students for a Democratic Society. I suspect most are not, and I am grateful to Hayden for reminding us of that history.
Thank you so much for Tom Hayden’s article. I was in high school and college in the ’60s. I had never heard of the Port Huron Statement, nor had I understood the connections among the many events, those I knew about and those I didn’t. Thank you for a history lesson so crucial to understanding our past—and creating our future.
Palm Harbor, Fla.
Tom Hayden’s perspective was excellent. As a former Milwaukee SDS chair and, before that, a student at San Francisco State College, I have a little different perspective. Hayden argues that there was no counterculture before Port Huron, but I was part of the Beat Generation, starting in 1959 in San Francisco and New York. The Beat generation, Beat poets, and the Bread and Wine Mission in North Beach, San Francisco, and at Washington Square in New York had a profound influence on me, as they did on Bob Dylan. It was my experiences as a Beat that led me to work at Highlander Folk School, with SNCC and to be part of the CORE Action Institute in Miami in 1960. It was then I started reading The Nation, with particular interest in articles by Howard Zinn. He became my mentor, as he was for Hayden. Camus and David Riesman, whom Hayden writes about, were my intellectual heroes, but I was reading them almost three years before Port Huron.
I’ve always considered Tom Hayden a true O.G. He has kept his vision and principles over the decades. He’s always been engaged in the global arena of struggle (Vietnam, Mexico, Ireland), and here (from Newark to LA, from gangs to state legislators). He’s managed to adapt to new landscapes and new perspectives without giving up or compromising a lifelong commitment to activism.
So, I was a bit surprised to see how much slack he was willing to give the Democratic Party and the Kennedy and Reuther brothers. He suggests, against overwhelming evidence, that Kennedy was dismantling our neocolonial war machine and that Walter Reuther and his people were the natural allies for progressive anti-racist and anti-imperial students. The Kennedys and the Reuthers were implicated fully and wittingly in C. Wright Mills’s The Power Elite and to think otherwise is looking at the past through rose-tinted lenses.
Culver City, Calif.
I am deeply grateful for The Nation’s commitment to publish my long reflection on the Port Huron Statement. A longer version will appear in September in Participatory Democracy, along with twelve pieces by others who were at Port Huron.
I’m afraid Louis Segal sees through his own filters what I wrote about JFK and the Reuther brothers. I did not say Kennedy was “dismantling the neocolonial war machine,” only that he refused to send US combat troops to South Vietnam and was openly critical of the cold war before his murder. The Reuthers were in fact the “natural allies” of SDS, SNCC and the UFW but too supportive of Lyndon Johnson to break from the cold war and Vietnam before it was too late.
Poor Kids—Nobody’s Children
New York City
Linda Darling-Hammond’s powerful “Redlining Our Schools: Why Is Congress Writing Off Poor Children?” [Jan. 30] does a great job of debunking Congress’s efforts to “improve” No Child Left Behind (its main program for educating poor children), and showing how the proposed changes would only increase the “momentum toward increasing inequality” set in motion in the Reagan era.
However, I differ with her take on what we should do. There is a vision for reform taking shape that can reawaken faith in public education. Its basic concepts are that many children need support and services beyond what schools can provide and that an ethic of shared responsibility and mobilization of students, families and broader community resources must become important components of the education reform agenda.
Communities and school systems are increasingly seeing the need to shift to this community-focused approach, and the work of the Coalition for Community Schools and the Children’s Aid Society is showing that this approach is not only feasible but will make life much better for schools.
But it is a difficult shift to make, since school systems have enjoyed a near-monopoly on funding and attention, and the community-focused approach requires challenging changes in relationships, leadership and deeply entrenched habits and assumptions.
To shift to this much more promising approach requires leadership from the broader community. But too few people know about it. Readers can learn more at communityschools.org. In addition, a human rights perspective on the community-focused approach, although couched mostly as a sharp critique of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s school reform agenda, can be found at icope.org.
They Didn’t Start the Fire
Two April 9 letters addressed the erroneous statement that Brecht wrote The Life of Galileo while living in “Nazi Germany.” But one of the diligent historians muddied the waters with his claim that Hitler “was sworn in as chancellor in March 1933.” Hitler was appointed chancellor January 30, 1933. The other letter boldly asserts that “Hitler’s Brownshirts set fire to the Reichstag.” So it has been claimed, but most historians now accept that the fire was set by the hapless Dutch arsonist Marinus van der Lubbe.
PHILIP W. BENNETT