SDS founder talks of radicals and liberals

By April DeJarlais and Marissa Warden

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 possible.”

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.