History in the Classroom

The Port Huron Statement @ 50

2012 marked the 50th anniversary of the Port Huron Statement, the founding document of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). The Port Huron Statement championed ideals of participatory democracy and grassroots activism that, along with the sit-in movement, the freedom rides and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), shaped the New Left and the student movement of the early and mid-1960s. Scholars, SDS and SNCC veterans, including Tom Hayden, the Port Huron Statement's prime author, participated in a conference in April 2012 at New York University to discuss that document's history and legacy.

The conference included 5 panels which explored the making of the Port Huron Statement, its impact on the social movement's of and since the 1960s, the ways the university was changed by the '60s student movement, and the global struggles for participatory democracy in the 21st century. There was also a panel specifically geared for high school teachers, in which Port Huron veterans discussed with teachers ideas about teaching the Port Huron Statement and participatory democracy to students today. The conference also featured an inter-generational dialogue between 1960s movement veterans and Occupy Wall Street activists as well as a keynote speech by Tom Hayden.

Thanks to the generous support of the Tamiment Library, the sessions from the conference were recorded and are available here. Our hope is that teachers will make use of excerpts from the conference, as well as the other resources on this site when they teach the 1960s.

Tom Hayden: At Port Huron, We Were Right

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In his keynote speech, Tom Hayden touched upon the historical context of the Port Huron Statement as well as its current significance before taking questions from the audience.

Hayden, a founder of SDS, was the prime author of the Port Huron Statement, He wrote a draft of the statement before the Port Huron Conference in 1962, and the 60 or so student activists at the conference then broke into groups and revised and added to the draft.




The Port Huron Statement in Historical Perspective

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  • Martha Noonan (SNCC, SDS)
  • Jennifer Frost, The University of Auckland "Putting Participatory Democracy into Action: SDS, ERAP, and Community Organizing”
  • Linda Gordon, NYU History department, “Participatory democracy from SNCC through Port Huron to Women's Liberation to Occupy: The strengths and problems of prefigurative politics”
  • Comment: Tom Hayden, Robb Burlage, Todd Gitlin


Intergenerational Dialogue between 60s activists and Occupy Wall Street

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  • Chair, Robert Cohen
  • Tom Hayden, Martha Noonan (60s veterans)
  • Occupy Wall Street Activists
  • Comment: Frances Fox Piven, CUNY Graduate Center





Participatory Democracy at the Grassroots Today

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  • Chair, Marilyn Young, NYU History Department
  • Zachary Lockman, NYU Kevorkian Center (Middle East)
  • Molly Nolan, NYU History Department (Europe)
  • Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, NYU Steinhardt (Latin America)
  • Comment: Jeff Goodwin, NYU Sociology Department




Oral History Session & Reception for Teachers

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  • Chair, Diana Turk, NYU Steinhardt
  • Beth C. Weitzman, NYU Steinhardt
  • Robb Burlage (SDS)
  • Al Haber (SDS)
  • Tom Hayden (SDS)
  • Monty Wash (SDS)
  • Martha Noonan (SNCC & SDS)
  • Mike Vozick (SDS)


The 1960s and the Re-organization of Knowledge at NYU

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  • Chair, Daniel Walkowitz, Metropolitan Studies, NYU
  • Jack Tchen for Asian/Pacific/American Studies. NYU
  • Awam Ampka, Africana Studies, NYU
  • David Moore, for Gallatin School, NYU
  • Carol Sternhell, Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, NYU
  • Comment: Julie Reuben, Harvard Graduate School of Education



Additional Resources

To help teachers explore these topics in their classes on the 1960s we have included a variety of resources that can be used both by teachers and students. These include a speech that Tom Hayden, the prime author of the Port Huron Statement gave on that document and the 1960s at NYU last year, a video with SDS interviews and movie/TV clips on the Port Huron Statement that was used in the Port Huron Statement 50th anniversary at UC Santa Barbara this year, lesson plans on Teaching Port Huron, excerpts from oral history interviews with co-authors of the Port Huron Statement, an excerpt from an essay by a conservative critic of SDS and Port Huron, and a tape of the NYU Port Huron @50 conference, including a session for teachers exploring how to teach Port Huron and the 1960s.

Since the Port Huron Statement was critical of racial injustice, war, student apathy, and the limited nature of citizen participation in political and economic decision making in the US, it is a document that has considerable contemporary resonance and can facilitate discussion of the state of democracy in 21st century America.


Teaching Resource: Lesson Plan

There are many different formats for teaching the Port Huron Statement. The one-to-two-day lesson plan below offers one approach, combining full class discussion and group work with an emphasis on having students wrestle with the meaning of participatory democracy, both for activists in the early 1960s and for themselves today.

Teaching Resource: Oral History Transcripts

Steve Max and Richard Flacks were among the fifty nine young people who attended the Port Huron Conference in 1962 and authored the Port Huron Statement. The oral histories were conducted as part of a project to learn more about the authors' views on the PHS and the way in which their activism in the 1960s influenced their professional and personal lives.


Teaching Resource: The Port Huron Statement Today Comic Book

Port Huron Statement Comic
 To facilitate discussion of these connections between past and present -- and to provoke students to consider the Port Huron Statements' central ideal, participatory democracy, that people should have a voice in all the decisions and institutions that shape their lives -- historian Paul Buhle and artist Gary Dumm have designed a comic book history of the Port Huron Statement that is available for free download.


The Nation:  Participatory Democracy: From Port Huron to OWS

Port Huron Statement

Tom Hayden's article in the April 16, 2012 issue of The Nation:

This is the fiftieth anniversary year of the Port Huron Statement, the founding declaration of Students for a Democratic Society, issued as a “living document” in 1962. The SDS call for a participatory democracy echoes today in student-led democracy movements around the world, even appearing as the first principle of the Occupy Wall Street September 17 declaration.


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Democracy Now!:  Tom Hayden on Participatory Democracy

Democracy Now!

On April 13th, Tom Hayden spoke with Amy Goodman about the Port Huron Statement and participatory democracy

"The logic of an occupation, I think, is if you feel voiceless about a burning issue of great, great importance, and the institutions have failed you, the only way to get leverage for your voice is to occupy their space in order to get their attention," Hayden says.


Video & Transcript >>

Tom Hayden: The Port Huron Statement 48 Years Later

The Port Huron Statement (1962)  was one of the founding documents of the New Left and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) , embodying the egalitarian idealism of 1960s student activists. 


This progressive manifesto challenged the Cold War and campus apathy, condemned American racism, and called for a new student movement centered on the idea of participatory democracy. The manifesto helped to inspire the generation of student activists who would organize against war, racism, poverty and political repression in the 1960s.


Port Huron Statement

Tom Hayden, the lead author of the Port Huron Statement, had edited the student newspaper at the University of Michigan, served as an early leader of SDS, risked his life as a freedom rider in the South, and worked with the black led Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in its struggle for civil rights in Mississippi.  Hayden later served 18 years in the California state legislature.


He wrote a new introduction to the Port Huron Statement in 2005 (published with the Port Huron Statement by Public Affairs press). In October of 2010, Hayden spoke to NYU students, faculty, and New York City teachers and community members at the Tamiment Library in a talk that focused on the Port Huron Statement and the struggle for participatory democracy during and since the 1960s.


Full Text:  The Port Huron Statement

The Port Huron Statement

We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit.

When we were kids the United States was the wealthiest and strongest country in the world; the only one with the atom bomb, the least scarred by modern war, an initiator of the United Nations that we thought would distribute Western influence throughout the world. Freedom and equality for each individual, government of, by, and for the people--these American values we found god, principles by which we could live as men. Many of us began maturing in complacency.


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