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.