Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings

By Charles Lemert | Go to book overview

fers the promise that all such sensibilities--and in fact, human reason itself--will come to play a greater role in human affairs.❖

Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was the first important national organization in the U.S. student movement of the 1960s. Its home initially was the University of Michigan, where many of its early leaders were students. One of them, Tom Hayden, was the author of the first draft of the Port Huron Statement, submitted for discussion to a national conference of SDS members in June 1962. The meeting, held at a labor movement conference center on the shores of Lake Huron, attracted a small but intense group. Among those present was Richard Flacks, who is usually considered the intellectual-scholar of the early student movement, just as Hayden was its most flamboyant activist. Today, Hayden is a politician in California. Flacks now teaches sociology at the University of California at Santa Barbara and continues actively to participate in and write about the political principles of the New Left. Flacks book Making History ( 1988) is an elegant elaboration of the social theory of C. Wright Mills and SDS. After the 1960s, the student movement faded, even though--like Hayden and Flacks--most of its members are still pursuing lives of political responsibility. In its earliest days, SDS was active in the civil rights movement (especially in the Mississippi Freedom Summer voter drive in 1964) and, later, in the antiwar movement.


Participatory Democracy (from The Port Huron Statement)

Students for a Democratic Society ( 1962)

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 good, principles by which we could live as men. Many of us began maturing in complacency.

As we grew, however, our comfort was penetrated by events too troubling to dismiss. First, the permeating and victimizing fact of human degradation, symbolized by the Southern struggle against racial bigotry, compelled most of us from silence to activism. Second, the enclosing fact of the Cold War, symbolized by the presence of the Bomb, brought awareness that we ourselves, and our friends, and millions of abstract "others" we knew more directly because of our common peril, might die at any time. We might deliberately ignore, or avoid, or fail to feel all other human problems, but not these two, for these were too immediate and crushing in their impact, too challenging in the demand that we as individuals take the responsibility for encounter and resolution.

____________________
Excerpt from Judith Clavir Albert and Steward Edward Albert, eds., The Sixties Papers: Documents of a Rebellious Decade ( New York: Praeger Publishers, 1984), pp. 176-178, 180-182. Reprinted by permission of Greenwood Publishing Group.

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