SDS founder talks of radicals and liberals

By: April DeJarlais and Marissa Warden
Issue date: 10/10/08

Political activist Tom Hayden discussed the differences between 
social movements during the Vietnam War era and modern movements at 
Wednesday's panel, "Activism: Then and Now."

Moderated by Jane Rhodes, the dean of race and ethnicity, student 
activists Kyera Singleton '11, Thuto Thipe '10, Peter Valelly '11 and 
David Seitz '10 began the discussion by detailing their involvement 
in various organizations including Students for a Democratic Society, 
Black Liberation Affairs Committee, Feminists in Action-Students 
Together Against Rape and Sexual Assault.

The students and audience had an opportunity to ask Hayden a series 
of questions relating to his experience as an activist, his work in 
environmental policy and his thoughts on the politics of today.

"The servitude [of students] has been internalized-it's called higher 
education." Hayden said when asked by Thipe how campus activists can 
maintain critical distance and an effective relationship with the 
administration especially relating to the sexual assault policy. "Is 
it preparation for a democracy to be fed an education in a tolerant 
background by a business-oriented administration? Is that what you 
want? Will you settle for that? I don't know."

When Hayden was 22, he helped organized Students for a Democratic 
Society and wrote the group's manifesto, the Port Huron Statement. He 
experienced many counts of police brutality and imprisonment during 
his work on desegregation and protesting the Vietnam War.

 From his experience protesting, Hayden offered insight on the police 
tactics used at the RNC, saying that they were formulaic and that 
they use the same techniques of corralling and detaining wherever they go.

When asked for advice for activists battling apathy among fellow 
students, Hayden said, "I would just go out and see if there's 
anything that intensely pisses them off… and if there's anything 
you can do about it."

Another student discussant suggested that students who are interested 
in getting involved with causes should not be afraid of looking too 
radical, explaining that active student organizations should be about 
empowering students on campus.

Hayden gave credit to the many activists within Barack Obama's 
campaign-which he supports, despite being against some of Obama's 
policies-who avoid media attention, but are the most important 
workers of the whole campaign movement.

"If you can chew gum and tie your shoes at the same time you can be 
for Obama and against off-shore drilling," Hayden said.

Max Spector, RNC 8 member and University of Minnesota sophomore, 
asked how spending time on electing progressive candidates would 
prepare us for an environmental catastrophe.

Hayden responded by saying, "I don't think you should build movements 
on apocalyptic projections. They [representatives] can introduce 
far-reaching legislation. They can organize networks of district by 
district activists who can push for legislation." But he also said, 
"don't exploit yourself or the natural world to make more televisions 

Hayden stressed the importance of getting progressive, rather than 
opportunistic, people elected, and that electoral politics should be 
a branch of social movement. Similar to another well-known political 
candidate, Hayden got his start in politics as a community organizer 
and stressed the importance of making space in the political system 
for other voices and ideas.

David Hertz contributed reporting.


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