Hayden’s invocation of OWS was very much intentional. One of the conceits of the conference was that the protestors who hijacked lower Manhattan last fall were the political heirs of SDS and the Port Huron Statement. The connection is credible enough. With their class warfare-rallying claims of representing the “99 percent” against the “1 percent,” OWS’s slogans almost precisely echo the Port Huron manifesto’s attacks on the “wealthiest one percent of Americans.”
But the exact nature of the connection was made most explicit by an OWS protestor who took part in a conference panel that was billed as an “intergenerational dialogue” between SDS veterans and OWS protestors. In a rare moment of honesty at the conference, the protestor explained that what united SDS and OWS was their shared commitment to certain ideals, specifically those expressed in works like the Communist Manifesto. Hayden, who took part in the panel, did not dispute the point. Instead, Hayden encouraged to OWS protestors to become even more extreme. Asked for his advice to OWS, he counseled: “Don’t rule out any tactic. Whatever weakens the one percent is useful.” Once again, the clear implication was that violence was justified.
The fact that SDS’s legacy lives on primarily in the fringes of OWS is one sign that it has been relegated to the margins of politics. But it would be a mistake to conclude that the radicalism of the 60s has had no shaping role on American culture. Perhaps its greatest legacy is in the politicization of the American university, which the left has come to dominate.
This takeover was foreshadowed in the Port Huron Statement, which bemoaned the passive conformity of college life in the early sixties and praised radical students “restoring a small measure of controversy to the campuses.” The left’s attacks on the traditional role of the university continued under the Berkley Free Speech movement of the 1960s, which turned academic freedom into a byword for political activism, and ultimately transformed the universities as the student radicals came to command the academic bureaucracy of which they once despaired, shaping the curriculum to conform with their political agendas.
A case in point is the Port Huron Statement itself. Once an attack on the university, it is today taught in universities across the country, including by Tom Hayden himself. At UCLA, Hayden teaches a class on the Port Huron Statement as part of the school’s UCLA “Labor and Workplace” Minor.