Yesterday, I shared three videos that were shot over the weekend with Alan Haber, the founder of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). In those videos, Alan and I primarily discuss the past. We talk about Ann Arbor in the 50’s, Haber’s initiation into revolutionary politics during the McCarthy era, the founding of SDS, and the drafting of their manifesto – The Port Huron Statement. I have three more videos to share this evening. While Alan and I discuss history to some extent in these, the majority of our conversation revolves around next steps. Specifically, we discuss Alan’s desire to mark the 50th anniversary of the Port Huron Statement by bringing together former members of SDS, as well as activists from the Occupy movement, and others, to draft a new manifesto – one that speaks to the concerns of people today.
What follow are three short video segments, each of which are preceded by my rough notes on the material covered within.
VIDEO ONE: The drafting of the Port Huron Statement
In this video… Alan notes that SDS had been around for three years prior to the drafting of the Port Huron Statement. The process, he says, wasn’t terribly contentious. There was a fellow from the Communist Party youth group who showed up, but they didn’t let him vote. Alan believes there were 43 people. Others, he says, maintain that there were as many as 70. Tom Hayden is working on a book about the drafting of the Port Huron Statment. It should be out shortly… We also talk more about his being fired by the League of Industrial Democracy, for being too soft on Communism, and for pursuing a movement model, instead of a trade union model of organizing. In April of 1961, he was rehired, and began work on the planning of their 1962 convention. It was at a meeting at the Guild House in Ann Arbor, where SDS members had gathered to plan the convention, that someone said, “Let’s make a manifesto.” (Other groups, as Haber notes, were publishing manifestos at the time.) So, they put the word out, in December of 1961, asking people from all of the SDS chapters for their input. Then, later, they compiled all of the suggestions that they had received in a newsletter, which was sent out, along with a request for further feedback. And, in this way, the document began to take shape. Tom Hayden volunteered to assemble all of the material, as he’d wanted to write a manifesto. The final document was completed in June of 1962… The group, according to Haber, had no idea, just ten days prior to leaving for Port Huron, where they’d be meeting to finalize the document. At the last minute, though, the mother of an SDS member, who had ties to the United Auto Workers, offered use of the organization’s camp in Port Huron. Once there, the 43 to 70 attendees divided into groups, and addressed the various segments of the document. Haber was on the section on Communism, which was the most controversial. (His LID handlers wanted them to be more overtly anti-communist.)… When the LID officials saw the final document, they were pissed off, and tried to kill it. Haber and company were essentially biting the hand that fed them. (In addition to not taking a hard line on Communism, they also made the case that unions were deserving of some amount of blame.) And, he got fired again. LID officials had the lock changed on the office in New York. He picked the lock, though, and moved back in… A major theme, as expressed in the document, was the need to force the so-called Dixiecrats out of office. Their goal, according to Haber, was to fix the Democratic party, which they wanted to rebuild around liberal, progressive values. And, they had people in Congess encouraging them. Some in the House and Senate wanted for them to keep pushing for progressive change, in hopes that it would lead to the the removal of obstructionist Dixiecrats, and the passage of Civil Rights legislation. In fact, he was in D.C., discussing the Port Huron Statement with friendly legislators, when he got the call from LID. They wanted him to repudiate the document, which he refused to do. And, as a result, SDS and LID spent the summer in negotiations. (It was during this time that he was able to pick the lock on their office and move back in.) Eventually the LID changed their mind, and let them stick around for a couple of more years. Their office, however, moved from New York to Chicago. (He was making $75 a week at the time.)… We end our conversation by discussing the retrospective on the Port Huron Statement that U-M professor Howard Brick is planning to commemorate the 50th anniverary.
VIDEO TWO: U-M’s retrospective on the Port Huron Statement, and the need for something more
I ask Haber about the retrospective event being planned at U-M for the 50th anniversary of the Port Huron Statement, and whether he still believes, as he’s stated to me previously, that, while an academic retrospective is nice, what he’d prefer to have is an event that’s revolutionary prospective. He indicates that Brick, since he and I have last spoken, has agreed to make the event more forward looking. The event was going to be called, “Port Huron at 50.” Now it’s going to be, “The New Insurgency: The Port Huron Statement Then and Now.” So, there will be opportunities to look forward. We still need something else, though, says Haber. We need a multi-day working session, on the actual anniversary of the Port Huron gathering, during which people can explore the relevant questions of the day. (Brick’s event won’t be until October – several months after the actual anniversary.) The findings of this group, accord to Haber, could then be further refined by the attendees of the event at U-M in October… Speaking of changes made by Brick, Haber also notes that the professor has reconfigured panels, making one strictly about the women of SDS. At this point in the conversation, Haber and I talk about the role of women in the early days of SDS. While Haber concedes that the language of the Port Huron Statement was sexist, as was everything else written at the time, he believes that the women of SDS contributed a great deal, even though all of their words flowed though the pen of Tom Haden. He doesn’t deny, however, that sometimes they had a difficult time having their voices heard. He notes that, at an SDS meeting in Champaign, in 1965, the woman, at one point, went off to meet by themselves. This, he says, was happening elsewhere, as well. He notes that the women of SNCC were also coming to the realization that the political is personal, and that women’s rights were worth fighting for as well.
VIDEO THREE: The drafting of an new manifesto
Haber intends to send the word out to everyone who have been invited to the U-M event, asking for their contributions to this new manifesto, just has he did 50 years ago, when he sent work to the SDS branches, asking for their input… He first floated this idea two years ago, at a SNCC meeting in Chapel Hill. Unfortunately, things have been slow to get off the the ground. But, Haber doesn’t seem concerned. As he points out, ten days before they gathered to work on the Port Huron Statement, they didn’t know who would be coming, or where they would be convening. And, as he says, he’s flexible. Even if only twelve people show up, he says, and they don’t develop an entire manifesto, at least they’ll be moving things forward. The best case scenario, however, is that a manifesto is completed, and it’s taken to the big upcoming Occupy event in Philadelphia, and shared with the participants… As for where we meet, Haber is agreeable to exploring options in both Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. (He’s looking into securing space at both EMU and Hathaway’s Hideaway in Ann Arbor.) Now, he plans to start getting the word out to the Grey Panthers, the folks at WCAT, members of the newly reformed SDS, the various Occupy groups, and anyone else who might have constructive ideas as to how we might move forward… He also says that he may dust off the work that he did years ago, as part of his campaign for the Union Party… We discuss the fact that, 50 years ago, he had legislative support, but now, given the state of politics in the United States, it’s likely that wouldn’t. He acknowledges that this initiative will have to be outside of the system. The Democratic party, in his opinion, needs to be left in favor of an independent movement… We discuss the fact that, thanks to the Supreme Court, a single-payer health care system may be a possibility once again… Finally, we talk about how, in the 60’s, people didn’t have a plan concerning the transition of power. They thought about revolution, but they didn’t envision what the transition would look like if/when it happened. That, he says, is what’s appealing about his “Union” plan. He’d worked out not only the vision, but a plan as to how we’d transition from here to there. And he thinks that might be a useful conversation to have…
Those of you who are interested in helping Alan realize his vision of creating a new manifesto, can reach him at: email@example.com. A public meeting will be taking place tonight (Tuesday), and I’m sure that he’d love to have representatives from SDS, Occupy Ypsilanti, Occupy U-M, Occupy Patriarchy, local progressive community groups, WCAT, and organized labor, among others.