Essay from the Sixties

A course offered by some bright young people from the Resistance School referred to another group of similar students who organized the SDS, wrote the Port Huron Manifesto and managed to get arrested, arraigned and tried following a Democratic National Convention. (Chicago 1968).  Since reflection plus experience produces knowledge, I had to dig into those papers again and I concluded that you don’t have to get arrested anymore. Read on…

Tom Hayden died in October 2016 at the age of 76. A half century ago, he was a founder of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). It was June 1962 when Hayden and some twenty-somethings of the SDS got together to examine their values within a larger critique of American values. Over the course of a few days, they wrote up a radical set of ideas and criticisms that sound like common sense today.  It wasn’t until six years latter that it became apparent, making sense really wasn’t the point.

The week they first met, John F. Kennedy was at Yale for a commencement speech. The invention of the first communication satellite that year included an idea that you could build rockets to chase the moon and no one even imagined having the computer that connected everyone to everyone else would be in your shirt pocket. Nevertheless, they wrote what remains as a very useful vision of a democratic society.

The SDS gathered to write an agenda for their generation and concluded with a statement about the values and principles of participatory democracy known today as the Port Heron Manifesto. Re-imagining these principles using the future perfect tense adds accountability to sustaining our democracy because we control what we can make recur. By the year 2020, we will have:

established a political order that defines problems and sets goals accurately discovered the means to share the social and economic consequences of public decisions equally
enabled people to come out of isolation and participate
accepted the privacy of social relations among all people
added new ways for people to find meaning in public leadership
provided outlets for the expression of grievances and aspirations
illuminated a broad range of choices that facilitate goal attainment
acknowledged questions that help to reformulate well-defined issues

The principles above offer instructions for participation in a democracy that filters oppression out of the social context. Not surprisingly, fulfilling these principles by 2020 is unlikely; therefore, whatever steps toward recurrence that may be successfully taken require identification and if possible authentication. If political leaders are to be helpful as individuals or as regional delegations, evaluative measures to determine the evidence of help will be drawn from the use of the future perfect tense.

Each principle attaches to data by periods such as days, months, years, decades or generations. Connecting these principles to an issue such as the “health of the American people, or my city” leads to “at the end of this period” in the implementation of this method we will have “x.” In this example, health problems and goals to resolve them will have measures of advance or decline as an assessment of the existing political order.
The writers of these principles also knew that the measures of economic change whether caused by fresh capital or human sweat, also require a statement of values. In the simple future tense, as follows:

All aspects of (our) work will be:

worthier than incentives, money or survival
educative, creative, self-directed and collaborative
a source of human dignity, independence with respect for others
subject to democratic and social regulation
responsive to ethical standards and guidance
a decisive personal experience that instills self-determination
an influential economic understanding that strengthens every community
a means of production open to democratic participation

The Port Huron Statement offers some striking insights into the current, highly polarized political condition. The list of modern examples that illustrate the predictive nature of their insights is shocking if not ironic. They sensed that we were in danger of replacing goal oriented and idealistic thinking with a kind of theoretical chaos, despite the “I Have A Dream” by Martin Luther King would be heard the following year and plans were well underway to put men on the moon. Today, chaos is no longer theoretical it is mathematical.

They describe vague appeals to American “posterity” as insults justifying “present mutilations.” They observed how searching for answers could slip far too easily into the ratification of the conventional and a critical detachment from the catastrophes facing humanity. Today we watch millions desperately feeling the anarchy of war and drought. No matter which party is in power, Congress is without a consensus for anything but war. A good part of the American public and its leadership is in denial regarding human environmental impacts and the flow of wealth to the top suggests those with great power have given up will accept all impending tragedies in favor of personal well-being. A fascinating insight was the imbalance defined by wealth inequality, especially when they observed that the central purpose of privately held power in a democracy is to assure an organized political stalemate. Two fundamental changes had occurred, somewhat ironically in the techno-economic sphere since June 15, 1962, when the Port Huron Conference concluded that might advance the quality of political change in a democracy.

First, ending the separation of people from power, relevant knowledge, and effective decision-making is more than a possibility. It is probable. All that remains is wealth, a thing easily taken from anyone and everyone at any time. As the contradictions of this reality begin to sink in, there are opportunities to deal with the “takings threat” that make stealing a futile, even laughable practice.

Second, to become one of the bright, thoughtful members of a generation, one no longer needs to be “born in modest comfort” or from a university adorning privileges. The internet experience is upon us, the capacity for knowledge, consensus, and collaboration is enormous. Along with a few core competencies, all that is required is the injection of some serious, task-oriented curiosity and organizational development experiences to look ever more efficiently at the world you want to inherit. Thank you, Tom, but it seems the streets will not be where we win this one.