In June 1962, a bunch of college students got together at a UAW vacation retreat in Port Huron, MI and drafted a 62-page statement which became the founding missive of Students for a Democratic Society, a.k.a., SDS. You can download and read the document right here.
I wasn’t at the meeting, but like just about everyone who did attend this event, I had become radicalized by getting involved with civil rights. This included taking my first Freedom Ride to desegregate a lunch counter in Delaware in 1958.
The founding of SDS marked the beginnings of what became known as the New Left, to distinguish it from the Old Left which were the Socialist and Communist parties that had grown up as offshoots of their European counterparts before, during and after World War I.
My mother and father met at a Young Communist League meeting in New York City in 1940 and just about everyone else in SDS and the other New Left groups claimed some kind of parental or familial connection to left-wing political ideologies that challenged the mainstream status quo.
The issue which provoked most of the sentiments expressed in the Port Huron statement was the Kennedy Administration’s reaction to Castro, particularly the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the increasing Cold War tensions that led to the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.
I was reminded of this when Joe brought up the 1962 missile crisis after Putin made some stupid comments about escalating the Ukraine conflict as his troops continue to get kicked in the ass.
Having been drafted at the height of the Tet offensive in 1968, it’s a little difficult for me to feel that what’s going on in Ukraine or anywhere else, for that matter, is such a big deal. I also knew the mother of Mickey Schwerner, who was one of the three kids murdered by the Mississippi Klan in 1964, so I find the current so-called culture ‘war’ to be of little concern.
In fact, what struck me as I read the Port Huron statement yesterday was how its organizing theme about promoting ‘participatory democracy’ might have been considered very radical in the early 1960’s, but today it sounds almost quaint.
After all, what can be more participatory than Twitter, Reddit, or Instagram?
The Port Huron Statement was published two years before the Democratic Party was finally able to divest itself from the Klan gang of Thurmond, Eastland and other crackers and pass laws restoring voting rights and civil rights that had been stolen from Black Americans when Reconstruction ended in 1876.
What made the Democrats and the liberals stop looking and behaving like political reformers, however, was a decision made by a Democratic President, Lyndon Johnson, to make sure he would not be the first American President to ‘lose a war,’ a decision which would kill more than 60,000 American troops, immolate the better part of two Southeast Asian countries and cause a collapse of liberal ideological tendencies from then up to the present day.
How many Democratic Senators voted against widening the Viet Nam war in 1964? Two out of sixty-six. How many Democrats voted against the invasion of Iraq? Eighteen out of forty-nine.
After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968, every university organized a Black Studies Program or an African American Department. Right around the same time, the idea of starting a curriculum or Department of Peace Studies also began floating round academe. How many such programs exist today? At Harvard and other schools, they now call it Conflict Resolution Studies, or something like that. The names change every time tuition rates are increased.
Maybe it’s my age, but I just can’t get all excited about gender-free bathrooms or transgender women playing on female sport teams. I wish I could get all concerned about it, but I just can’t.
The GOP has been playing the culture war game in earnest since Jerry Falwell blamed the World Trade Center attacks on God’s response to New York’s promotion of the gay lifestyle in the years leading up to 2001.
We should be so lucky if the only wars this country fights going forward are wars about who can take a piss where.