Hayden: Memories of past social activism vital for future

Jackie Valley

Founder of Students for Democratic Society (SDS) and 1960s activist and author Tom Hayden speaks to an almost full Kiva last night as the keynote speaker for the Symposium on Decomcracy.

Elizabeth Myers | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: Ron Soltys

Political activist Tom Hayden told a crowded audience in the Kiva last night that Americans must “expand the searchlight to history” to recover the lost stories of social movements while working toward the future.

“The least discussed and most important of our democratic rights is the full disclosure of our history,” he said.

Hayden’s speech, “Kent State: Memories of the Future,” capped off the 8th Annual Symposium on Democracy that sought to explore issues related to democracy and peace.

Hayden, a founding member of the political organization Students for a Democratic Society, said that even 50 years later Americans owe societal improvements to the powerful social movements in the 1960s.

“We’re in the formative stages of defining and embracing a new narrative of American history thanks to the ’60s,” he said.

For example, Hayden compared the Vietnam War era to Americans’ current resistance to pull out of Iraq, despite large opposition to the war.

“This turbulence in the American consciousness is a sign of people coming to terms with our past and where we are,” he said.

As the nation nears the 50th anniversary of the ’60s generation, he said, Americans must recognize the impact of the social movements because, otherwise, “the anti-war movements of the past and present are always destined to be patriots without honor in our country.”

“It’s important we build our heritage from the bottom up and not the top down,” he said.

In addition, Hayden said, for people who do not believe the ’60s generation is continuing, it is because “success leads to the demise of social movements.”

“It’s natural then that when social movements win, the activists enjoy the improvements of everyday life,” he said.

Even so, Hayden said, for a time period, the “radical ’60s became an orphan in history.”

“When we were young, it was about freedom, but when we became parents, it was about boundaries,” he said.

Hayden said even though student activism seemed to peak again in the early ’90s with successes against sweatshops and again in 1999 with the youth-driven shutdown of the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in Seattle, “nobody said the student movement is back” because they did not gain the notoriety of famous past demonstrations, such as the May 4 shootings at Kent State in 1970.

When Sept. 11 occurred, Hayden said some people thought “these seeds of renewal seemed washed away for good.”

But, Hayden said evidence shows that social movements in the United States have not died with the 1960s.

“Since 2002, there have been eight demonstrations larger than 100,000 people protesting the war in Iraq,” he said, adding that Gallup Polls show public opinion has turned against the Iraq War faster than Vietnam.

Hayden also said because Americans voted against a war in progress for the first time in history in the November 2006 election, a correlation can be drawn between ballots and the effects of social movements.

Freshman sociology major Katherine Rybski, who admits there is a large degree of political apathy among the younger generation, said there have been many students at political protests she has attended in Washington, D.C., recently.

“It’s not just old, long-haired hippy freaks,” she said. “There are people my age. I think it (war) hits home even though there is not a draft.”

Sandy Brotje, a Kent resident, agreed social movements still exist in the United States.

“I think it’s got a long way to go, but it seems like it’s gathering momentum,” she said. “It’s about time.”

Still, Hayden said there is a positive relationship between democracy and peace, especially as Americans.

“Experiencing democracy in the United States is the surest path to peace we have in our control,” he said.

Hayden said archaeological digs deep down though our memories as Americans should never end because it’s a search for our identity.

“Only then, as Americans, will we come into our own,” he said.

Contact student politics reporter Jackie Valley at [email protected].