Tom Hayden talks with me about Ann Arbor in the late 1950s, his time at the Michigan Daily, the concept of participatory democracy, and the circumstances which gave rise to the Port Huron Statement

Earlier this evening, I had the occasion to speak with activist and author Tom Hayden about his role in the drafting of the Port Huron Statement, the circumstances which gave rise to this widely influential manifesto of the New Left, and his evolution from student journalist to impassioned activist. Hayden, who is often credited with having giving rise to the culture of protest that was pervasive in the 1960s, will be in Ann Arbor later this week, addressing those gathered on the campus of the University of Michigan to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Port Huron Statement. The entire agenda for the three day event, which is free and open to the public, can be found here. Hayden’s keynote, entitled “The Future of Participatory Democracy,” will be delivered at 7:30 PM on Thursday, November 1, at 1324 East Hall. Those interested in attending can register online.

My intention is to eventually type up all of my notes and post them along with this audio file, but, as the 50th anniversary events begin tomorrow, I thought that I should probably just go ahead and share what I have already.

I hope that you enjoy this discussion as much as I did.

And here are my very rough notes on our discussion. If you should happen to find anything that needs editing, or requires clarification, please let me know…

SEVERAL TIMES DURING MY DISCUSSION WITH HAYDEN, I reference an earlier conversations with Alan Haber, the founder of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the organization responsible for the production and disseminated the Port Huron Statement, which, as most of you know, was primarily authored by Hayden. Video of my discussions with Haber, for those of you who are interested, can be found elsewhere on this site (Part I, Part II).

HAYDEN AND I BEGIN BY DISCUSSING THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN IN 1957. He doesn’t mention it here, but, in a previous conversation, he tells me that, by the time he reached campus, the specter of McCarthyism had lifted somewhat. (As you may recall, when I spoke with Haber, he mentioned that one of his first memories at U-M, as a freshman in 1954, was interacting with a small group of faculty, on the steps of the Union, protesting the dismissal of professors Chandler Davis, Mark Nickerson, and Clement Markert, all of whom had been fired for having refused to “name names” in front of the House Unamerican Activities Committee.) Hayden’s introduction to progressive politics, it would seem, was more gradual.

Hayden was interested in journalism at a young age, and, when he came to the University in 1957, he found a home for himself at the Michigan Daily, where he eventually became the paper’s editor. In his capacity as a student journalist, Hayden began writing about the sit-ins and lunch counter protests taking place in the south, and the activities of fellow students, like Haber, who were seeking to organize like-minded individuals on campus. Over time, as Hayden traveled across the United States, covering student movements for the Daily, he felt himself becoming more political… Hayden hitchhiked from Ann Arbor to Berkley in 1960 to report on the activities of students there, and, that same summer, he attended the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, reporting on Kennedy’s nomination. Things finally started to crystalize for him, however, in the spring of 1961, when he and some friends drove to Fayette County, Tennessee, to work with share croppers who were fighting for the right to vote. The sit-in movement, he says, hit him viscerally. And, as a result, in the summer of 1961, he joined SDS, alongside Haber.

He says that Haber, Bob Ross and Sharon Jeffrey had been encouraging him to get involved for a while. Haber, according to Hayden, wanted him to be a pamphleteer for the group, producing written materials, and traveling to other northern campuses, in hopes of starting additional SDS chapters. Hayden says that he was different from the others in the group, in that he didn’t come from a UAW, old left, labor background. He describes himself at that time as being a “non-conforming intellectual with an affinity toward Jack Kerouac and On the Road.” He was primarily interested, he tells me, in traveling, getting to know those individuals who where putting their lives on the line to fight for equality, and documenting the struggle in print. This evolution continued to the point where, in 1961, Hayden chose to take part in the Freedom Rides, putting his own life on the line to challenge the status quo of the segregated American south.

HAYDEN MENTIONS IN OUR DISCUSSION THAT HE’S WRITTEN A NEW PIECE FOR THE MICHIGAN DAILY, on the 50th anniversary of the Port Huron Statement. As luck would have it, the article just went live a few minutes ago. Here’s a clip.

…Nothing turned out as I once imagined. There was one constant: the tides of movements and counter-movements kept churning. Movements based on participatory democracy eventually gained some meaningful reforms: voting rights for southern black people and 18-year olds, the fall of two presidents, amnesty for 50,000 war resisters in Canada, the Freedom of Information Act, democratic reforms of the presidential primary systems, collective bargaining rights for public employees and farmworkers, the Roe v. Wade decision, the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species acts, a long list of reforms gained in less than a decade.

Social change did occur, precious inch by bloody inch, becoming sacred ground that had to be protected, decade after decade, from both reaction and oblivion.

Underlying all of this tumultuous history lay the rocky river of participatory democracy – “the river of my people” – which kept flowing.

Now, to paraphrase Port Huron, we are the elders of this generation looking uncomfortably to the world we leave behind as inheritance. The reforms we achieved are under constant assault from the right and stagnating with the passage of time.

We are in the process of a new beginning, signaled by the deep American discontent with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the threat of more wars to come and the immense diversion of trillions of tax dollars from our needs at home for health care and affordable education. Like the ’60s, another imperial presidency is on the rise, unleashing covert military operations in multiple countries without serious congressional oversight or civic awareness. Like the ’60s, the long war leaves greater economic inequality and environmental depletion in its wake…


Posted in Ann Arbor, History, Michigan, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

Global climate change, as we’re seeing, is not a joke. The consequences are real. And we should scorn, mock and drive from our society politicians who fail to acknowledge that fact.

I didn’t think it was possible for me to be any more pissed than I was during the Republican National Convention when I heard Mitt Romney say the following.

If there’s any silver lining at all in what’s happening right now along the east coast, it’s that maybe, just maybe, people will begin to see Romney for the smug, entitled, pandering little anti-science asshole that he is. I cannot even begin to fathom how one of our candidates for the highest office in the country could stand on a stage, in front of millions, and suggest that caring about America’s families and caring about the effects of global climate change are somehow mutually exclusive. I wonder how the families of the 11 Americans already killed by Hurricane Sandy feel about Romney’s guffaw-inducing inference that our President was stupid and out-of-touch for wanting to see climate change addressed in a serious manner. I know that it may not seem like a big deal to a man with a diverse portfolio of homes, and access to private jets that can easily shuttle his family between them, avoiding the dangers brought on by rising tides, and the increasingly violent weather patterns that have become the new normal, but some of us actually have to stay in these areas ravaged by the extreme weather brought about by global climate change, and fight for our lives.

But, as I said, some sanity is beginning to peak through the dark grey clouds of anti-intellectualism. Just today, Republican Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie, knowing that his state is in serious peril, dropped his ‘we need to slash taxes and starve the federal government’ nonsense, and began praising the Obama administration’s preparation for the hurricane. “I appreciated the president’s outreach today in making sure that we know he’s watching this and is concerned about the health and welfare and safety of the people of the state of New Jersey,” he said… The lessons of Hurricane Katrina, it would seem, become a little less abstract when it’s your people facing the brunt of a hurricane’s destructive force.

Thankfully for Christie, Obama is the President right now and not Romney, who has gone on the record saying that we should eliminate, downsize or privatize the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Here, with more on that, is yet another piece of video of Romney.

And, before you say that he doesn’t really mean it, let’s remember what the Romney economic plan, as outlined by Paul Ryan, would do to FEMA. The following is from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“States and local areas hit by natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, wildfires, and tornadoes often seek help from the federal government. In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, at a governor’s request, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) helps people affected by the disaster get food, water, and shelter, and can help with search-and-rescue missions and providing electric power. FEMA also helps states and local governments repair or replace public facilities and infrastructure, which often is not insured. This form of discretionary federal aid would be subject to cuts under the Ryan budget. If it were scaled back substantially, states and localities would need to bear a larger share of the costs of disaster response and recovery, or attempt to make do with less during difficult times. Federal discretionary funds also help states, cities, and other local governments hire police officers. Big cuts in funds to hire police officers would shift more of the cost of hiring these officers to state and local budgets.”

A Romney/Ryan budget means a return to the Bush policies that made the disaster of Hurricane Katrina possible. It means cuts not only to FEMA, but to federal organizations that track severe weather, so that we can better prepare for their impact. Is that the kind of future we want for America? I know that the Libertarian fantasy of the rugged individual standing up to such challenges unimpeded by ineffective government is an attractive one to some, but, at some point, we need to grow up and face the reality, as Governor Christie apparently has, that we created the federal government for a reason.

Romney friend and Republican anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist once famously stated, “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” Unfortunately, though, as Hurricane Katrina showed us, it’s not just the government that drowns these policies are put in place.

Posted in Environment, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

A2Awesome gives out another $3,000 in grants to brilliant people doing inspiring things in the Ypsi-Arbor area

Yesterday, the Trustees of A2Awesome convened in the secret writing lab behind the Liberty Street Robot Supply and Repair store in downtown Ann Arbor, and handed out another $3,000 in cash grants intended to make life the Ypsi-Arbor area more awesome. The cash awards were handed over in brown paper bags to artist Trevor Stone, 826michigan’s Amanda Uhle, and photographer Bill Streety, for projects which they had submitted through the organization’s website for consideration. With these three grants, A2Awesome has invested a total of $9,000 in the local community, making possible everything from an elementary education project involving bike-powered lighting systems to be used for growing vegetables, to a drama program at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility based on the works of William Shakespeare.

A2Awesome Chair Lisa Dengiz had the following to say: “It’s really amazing how many people in our community have brilliant ideas that can be realized with as little as $1,000. When we started this chapter of the Awesome Foundation almost a year ago, we had no idea just how much potential there was. Our grants, among other things, have helped launched Bona Sera Cafe on Michigan Avenue, bringing a renewed sense of vibrancy to downtown Ypsilanti, and put exercise equipment inside Ozone House, improving the lives of local at-risk youth. That’s incredibly gratifying.”

The three individuals/groups who received awards were:

Amanda Uhle on behalf of 826michigan… With their A2Awesome grant, 826michigan will be able, for the first time in four years, to bring the students who participate in their after-school tutoring program at Ypsilanti Middle School to the internationally-recognized non-profit’s creative writing facility (which is secreted behind the Midwest’s leading robot emporium) in Ann Arbor. These field trips will happen several times over the course of the school year. “We’ve made a great deal of progress with these students in the school setting, but we want to go further, and create memorable experiences for them,” says Uhle. “We want to get them out of their schools, where they’ve already been for ten hours, and bring them to this special place that we’ve created. We want them to know that a place like this exists.”

Spontaneous Art (Comprised of Natalie Berry, Chris Sandon and Trevor Stone)… With their A2Awesome grant, the Spontaneous Art team will set out on a Washtenaw County Tour. Performing regularly at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, the group, which is known for creating humorous and approachable interactive performances for the public, rarely has the opportunity to share their work in the greater Ann Arbor area. With the A2Awesome grant, they will be able to engage people in Chelsea, Dexter, Saline, Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. They hope their surprise visits to these communities, will not just bring joy and laughter, but create environments where sincere interpersonal connections can flourish.

Bill Streety / Ypsi-Arbor Unsung Musical Heroes… With his $1,000 grant, Bill Streety, a past president of the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival, will photograph and interview at least 40 area jazz and blues musicians, both young and old, as a way of documenting the musical activity taking place in our community today. The results will be self-published in book form (both digital and print), of which approximately 65 copies will be distributed to Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor school libraries. “With the shrinking educational budgets and the reduction in funding for the creative arts,” says Streety, “I see this as a way to preserve a piece of our shared history.”

And it’s kind of shaky, as I was eating cupcakes as I was shooting, but here’s video of the three recipients talking about their projects, which, thanks to these mini grants, will soon be coming to fruition.

A2Awesome, which is composed of 13 individuals, including yours truly, is organized under the banner of the Boston-based Awesome Foundation. The stated purpose of the local Ypsi-Arbor chapter is to provide seed funding for innovative, inspiring, and awesome projects envisioned by fellow community members that might not otherwise evolve into being. The organization intends to make one grant a month for the foreseeable future. All grants will be in the amount of $1,000.

Those with creative, inspired ideas are encouraged to apply for a grant online. Grant deadlines are on the last day of each month. (So you’d better hurry.)

Every month, chapter trustees contribute their own personal funds toward a $1,000, no-strings-attached grant to an awesome project that promises to make life better. In addition to Dengiz and myself, the group includes Dick Soble, Paul Saginaw, Jeff Meyers, Linh Song, Heather MacKenzie, Monique Deschaine, Hans Masing, Alice Liberson, Omari Rush, Tanya Luz and Larry Grant.

Created in 2009, in Boston, the Awesome Foundation now has chapters in 57 cities across the globe. In addition to the Ypsi-Arbor chapter, there are Awesome Foundation outposts in both Detroit and Grand Rapids. Projects funded have included efforts in a wide range of areas including technology, arts, social good, and beyond.

Posted in A2Awesome, Ann Arbor, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Syed Taj, Muslim candidate for Congress, subjected to outrageous racist attacks

Last week, when I noticed that the American Medical Association (AMA) had started taking out television ads in support of our friend Syed Taj, I knew that racist attacks from the right were inevitable. The AMA ads signaled to me that the race was close (as the AMA doesn’t invest in races that aren’t winnable), and I knew that it was just a matter of time before someone on the right would play the race card in hopes of reversing his momentum. Well, that time has come, and the ads have started.

Here, before we get to the ad, though, is a bit of background on the race… Until recently Michigan’s 11th district was represented by Thaddeus McCotter, and it was thought to be unwinnable by Taj, who not only happens to be a Democrat, but a foreign-born Democrat, and a practicing Muslim. As we’ve discussed in previous posts, when the parameters of this district were redrawn by Republicans a few years ago, they thought that they’d created a safe seat in perpetuity for McCotter and his spawn. They’d neglected to realize, however, that, while conservative, a huge percentage of the population in this redrawn district is Asian. And they’d also not counted on their candidate, Thaddeus McCotter, being forced from office just weeks before the primary due to allegations of election fraud, leaving only an extremist Tea Party crackpot by the name of Kerry Bentivolio, who had recently been forced from his teaching position at Fowlerville High School due to his erratic and confrontational behavior with students, to represent their party in the general election. The Republicans weren’t thrilled with their candidate, but they thought that the race was in the bag, given the number of registered Republicans in the district, and they were willing to stand by him for the time being. (Their plan, according to my sources, was to get Bentivolio into office, have him serve his term, and then run a party insider against him in the next primary.) Something unexpected happened, though. Taj started to get traction in both the Asian community, and with educated professionals in the district, who respected his accomplishments as Chief of Medicine at Oakwood Hospital, and as an effective member of the Canton Board of Trustees. People in this conservative district, it would seem, were willing to consider him based upon his credentials, regardless of his party affiliation, his religion, or his race. And, the momentum seems to be on his side, as demonstrated by the fact that groups like the AMA are now seeing this race as winnable.

This, of course, is all good news, but it comes at a price. Now that Taj is posing a serious threat, the Islamophobic rhetoric is ratcheting up. The following ad, entitled “What do we really know about Syed Taj?” just began running in the district.

My favorite part:

ANNOUNCER: We know Syed Taj wants to advance Muslim power in America. Syed Taj: too extreme for Michigan. Too extreme for America.

The following is from Think Progress:

In a stunning appeal to Islamaphobia, a group linked to former Swiftboater and birther conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi has launched a smear attack ad on a Muslim-American Congressional candidate. The spot warns that Dr. Syed Taj, the Democratic nominee in Michigan’s 11th Congressional district, wants to “advance Muslim power in America.”

Freedom’s Defense Fund, a right-wing PAC that has spent at least $150,000 on ads in support of Missouri Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin (R) despite his comments that victims of “legitimate rape” are unlikely to become pregnant, reported spending at least $30,000 on ads against Taj and for his opponent Republican Kerry Bentivolio, a Tea Party activist and Santa Clause impersonator

Taj’s campaign responded to the racist attack earlier today, issuing the following statement.

This past Friday, a super-PAC ironically named Freedom’s Defense Fund began airing a despicable and dishonest ad attacking Dr. Taj. The ad is a blatant attempt at fear mongering based on Dr. Taj’s ethnicity and personal religious beliefs. Freedom’s Defense Fund is hoping by painting Dr. Taj as a scary Muslim they can distract voters’ attention from their candidate’s extremism and sordid past.

These tactics are hardly new to the Freedom’s Defense Fund. This super-PAC is the spawn of Jerome Corsi and is funded by secretive right-wing donors. Mr. Corsi’s resume is a highlight reel of fringe right-wing extremism. From the “Swift boating” of John Kerry to the laughably ridiculous “Birther” conspiracies there is one constant – Jerome Corsi. So, there is little wonder that his group would be behind these racially-tinged desperate attacks against Dr. Taj.

This election cycle, Freedom’s Defense Fund has spent heavily on Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin in Missouri and the failed Presidential campaign of Rick Santorum. The super-PAC was also one of Kerry Bentivolio’s supporters in his GOP primary against write-in candidate Nancy Cassis. Contrasting Freedom’s Defense Fund’s list of supported candidates with Dr. Taj’s list of supporters paints a clear picture of who are the real extremists.

Not surprisingly, in addition to being a clear attempt at Islamophobic fear mongering, the ad is also laced with gross distortions:

1. The ad claims Dr. Taj relies on funding from the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). Dr. Taj’s FEC filing is publicly available; the Taj Campaign has not received any funding from the DSA. A physician colleague, who also happens to be on the DSA board, hosted a fundraiser in his home at which individuals made donations to Dr. Taj’s campaign.

2. The ad claims that the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) is a front group for Hammas. This is once again more anti-Muslim fringe rhetoric found only on the right-wing blogosphere. Does any rational person actually think the Bush Justice Department would not have prosecuted CAIR had there been even a shred of actual evidence to these claims? The only word in this segment of the ad that is important is “un-indicted.” Dr. Taj does not apologize for having the support of Muslims, nor does he apologize for having the support of Catholics, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, or Baptists.

3. The ad claims Dr. Taj wants to advance Muslim power in America. This is the ad’s biggest stretch as it takes a quote from the Muslim Observer newspaper about forming a Muslim Caucus with Congressmen Keith Ellison and Andre Carson completely out of context. The entire article can be found here.

Islamophobia and half-truths – can we expect much more from the likes of James Corsi? The people of the 11th District deserve better. It’s too bad Freedom’s Defense Fund and their candidate Kerry Bentivolio seem to think otherwise.

Upon learning of the ad, Dr. Taj offered the following statement:

“I wish I could say I was surprised by these commercials. But I knew that at some point my personal religious beliefs would be made an issue by my opponent or his right-wing friends. My religion is not an issue, no more than Mr. Bentivolio’s religion is an issue. My beliefs are my beliefs, and while they provide me with inner strength and commitment, they are part of my private life – not public life. Part of what drew me to this country was the ability for everyone to freely practice their religion and respect the rights of others to do the same. I remain steadfastly committed to this ideal and I am disappointed that others would seek to score political points simply because I attend a mosque. The people of the 11th District should know that no matter my personal beliefs I will serve all of them in Congress and fight for everyone to enjoy the American Dream.”

I know it’s not a ton of money, but, if anyone out there is willing to contribute a few dollars to Taj’s campaign, I’d be happy to match the first $100. This is an incredibly important race for me, not only because I genuinely like Taj, and feel as though he would do an incredible job for us in Washington, but because I think we need to start fighting back aggressively against the racist fear mongers like Jerome Corsi, who feel as though this kind of behavior is acceptable. We need to demonstrate to him, and others like him, that the American people aren’t stupid, racist, or fearful of their moderate Muslim neighbors, and that we’re willing to outspend him at every turn… Please join me in sending that message today.

Goal Thermometer

[note: My interview with Dr. Taj, if you haven’t yet seen it, can be found here.]

Posted in Michigan, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

Three middle aged men risk their lives to rock out for Syed Taj

A few days ago, over lunch at our favorite Indian buffet, I mentioned to my friend Pete Larson that we should try to record a jingle for Syed Taj, in hopes of giving him the extra little boost that he needs to defeat Tea Party favorite Kerry Bentivolio in these final days of their neck-and-neck race to represent Michigan’s 11th congressional district in the House of Representatives. Pete was uncharacteristically enthusiastic about the idea and reached out to a guy by the name of Dave Sharp, to see if he’d help us out by playing drums, and, tonight, without any practice, or even a clue as to what we’d be doing, we got together. I thought that we’d play all night, and maybe come up with a few moderately interesting songs to choose from. Instead, we played for about 15 minutes, huddled around an iPhone, making noise. The result, as you’ll soon discover, isn’t an incredibly polished piece of music, but it’s heartfelt… I give you, “A Song for Taj.”

I feel bad. I feel like we should have worked harder, and given more thought to what would actually compel more people in this very conservative district to leave their homes come November 6 and vote for Taj. I’m convinced that, if we’d invested the time, we could have come up with something that would have persuaded even the most diehard Republican to cross party lines and vote for Taj, but, instead, we just yelled and hit our instruments for a few minutes. Linette tells me it’s OK. She says the sincerity comes though. I hope that’s the case, because I really do feel strongly about this race, and I know, without the least bit of doubt, that Dr. Taj would do a better job of looking out for our interests in Washington than his Republican adversary, who, by the way, just recently lost his job as a public school teacher for being overly aggressive with his students. Dr. Taj is both bright and compassionate, but, more importantly, he is sane. We’re lucky to have him in this race, and I hope that comes though in this goofy, little song of ours.

If you live in Michigan’s 11th district, and feel as though you need more information than we convey in this two-minute song, you’ll find my comprehensive interview with Dr. Taj here.

And, more importantly, if you feel inspired to donate time or money to Dr. Taj’s campaign, you can find out how to do so here.

update: I don’t know if all the words made it into this version, as we did two takes, but here are the words, as they were quickly scribbled down in my notebook. As you’ll notice, there are references to both Citizen Kane and Shaft. You can debate our execution, but, I think you’ll agree, the references are inspired.

I want to tell you about a man
A moral man
A father
A community member
A doctor
A healer

…’shut your mouth’

I’m just talkin’ ’bout Taj

If they were alive today, the Doobie Brothers would support Taj
FDR, in his secret, wheelchair accessible bunker supports Taj
Every man and woman in the U.S. space program, if they were aware of his existence, would support Taj
…’cause he’s pro-science’

He’s that damn good!

Public schools
Preventative health care
Separation of church and state
Holding Wall Street accountable

That’s what he’s about

He’s Dr. Taj

UPDATE: Joe Montgomery took us up on our challenge, and wrote his own song about Taj. As he spent half an hour on it, it’s twice as good as ours… Enjoy!

Posted in Art and Culture, Michigan, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments


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