Tom Hayden Helped Define 1960s Student Activism With This Manifesto

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Activist-turned-lawmaker Tom Hayden died on Sunday at 76, leaving behind a legacy rooted in 1960s counterculture and social activism. In the early years of that decade, Hayden was one of the founders of the influential activist organization Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). While his career was both long and varied, those early years with SDS remained a highlight, thanks in part to a document that he was instrumental in producing—a manifesto that outlined the left’s vision for the future and galvanized a generation of activists.

After the group’s first national convention in Port Huron, Mich., Hayden wrote a 30,000 word manifesto known as the Port Huron Statement. The 1962 document was billed as an “agenda for a new generation.”

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

As TIME wrote in 1968, the manifesto affirms that change is possible in all facets of American life via a participatory democracy where individuals “share in those social decisions determining the quality and direction of his life.”

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The manifesto calls for political life rooted in principals that included a positive view of politics and public, group decision making. Economic ideals ranged from incentivizing work beyond money to “democratic social regulation” of major resources. The group also denounced violence, despite members’ penchant for confrontation. (For example, SDS members participated in the protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago; Hayden was later prosecuted for his own involvement.)

The lengthy, detailed document sought to unify the youth of the left behind common ideals, calling on college students to take a central role in shaping the nation’s future:

A new left must transform modern complexity into issues that can be understood and felt close-up by every human being. It must give form to the feelings of helplessness and indifference, so that people may see the political, social and economic sources of their private troubles and organize to change society. In a time of supposed prosperity, moral complacency and political manipulation, a new left cannot rely on only aching stomachs to be the engine force of social reform. The case for change, for alternatives that will involve uncomfortable personal efforts, must be argued as never before. The university is a relevant place for all of these activities.

Hayden and other SDS members hand delivered the manifesto to the White House before distributing 60,000 copies, according to the Chicago Tribune.

By the late 1960s, 35,000 young people were connected with SDS, which had chapters on 250 college campuses across the U.S.

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