University library panel honors Tom Hayden, activist and University alum

Thursday, September 14, 2017 - 8:04pm

Residential College senior Leah Schneck speaks about participatory democracy at a panel in memory of U-M alumnus Tom Hayden at Hatcher on Thursday.

Residential College senior Leah Schneck speaks about participatory democracy at a panel in memory of U-M alumnus Tom Hayden at Hatcher on Thursday. Buy this photo
Amelia Cacchione/Daily

The University of Michigan Library's Joseph A. Labadie Collection hosted a panel Thursday night at the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library to honor the late Tom Hayden, a social and political activist of the 1960s, as well as a former Michigan Daily editor-in-chief. The panel consisted of three University affiliates who have all done research on topics relating to Hayden’s anti-war, civil rights and radical intellectual counterculture activism.

Labadie Collection Curator Julie Herrada said the panel was held to pay homage to Hayden and his work in a manner he would have appreciated.

“We decided on a panel rather than hosting a reunion of radicals, even though we’re really good at hosting reunions ... because Tom would’ve loved this event,” Herrada said. “Every time Tom came to campus he insisted on engaging with students and it was important for him to do that. I wanted to give the students that worked on topics that related to the work that he did a chance to showcase their work and talk about him and also their work.”

Hayden was a key Civil Rights activist during the ‘60s and ‘70s, during which he was badly beated and arrested. Despite opposing violent protests, Hayden supported militant demonstrations. One of his most notable achievements includes working for the Newark Community Union Project, which founded the Indochina Peace Campaign and working on the Vietnam War protest documentary, “Introduction to the Enemy.” 
 
Hayden was also instrumental during the Civil Rights movement in the ‘60s and ‘70s. During a protest in Mississippi, he was badly beaten and arrested. In a Georgia jail, he began writing the Port Huron Statement, the manifesto of the SDS, which called upon college students to peacefully oppose racism and oppressive government.

In 2014, Hayden donated a collection of his papers to the Labadie Collection to be more accessible to students, scholars and researchers. The collection is archived in the Special Collections Library, and documents the history of social protest movements and marginalized political communities from the 19th century to the present.

Herrada said she felt the panel was an excellent way to bring historical movements and moments together with modern day activism and scholarship.

“As an archivist and librarian it’s important for me to kind of relate the work that people are doing here on campus — how they came to find that work, how they discovered the documentation of the historical movements that they did find — and a lot of them can be found here in the library,” Herrada said. “So for me a takeaway is how much rich scholarship can come out of the resources the U-M library has. Also how they can relate historical movements to what is happening today.”

The panel consisted of researchers and activists who each have done research or are experts in topics related to Hayden's work during his activism. 

The three topics set the scene of what was happening during the 1960s and 1970s and how that related to Hayden’s work.

LSA senior Leah Schneck, an organizer on campus for College Democrats, discussed her research on participatory democracy. She described participatory democracy, a term coined by Arnold Kaufman, to be a method, not a theory, to reevaluate hierarchies that exist in our society.

“It is different from a representative system because it brings direct responsibility and accountability through building a system of how you make decisions starting in smaller groups and then the decision that comes from the smaller group then reaches a higher level,” Schneck said.

Sian Olson Dowis, University alum and doctoral candidate in U.S. History at Northwestern University, presented her research on the left movement in Urban America. Dowis spent time on the Economic Research and Action Project that was founded in 1963 by Students for a Democratic Society, a student organization that Hayden co-founded.

Dowis discussed how history has shown, through examples such as the ERAP, that creating any kind of social change requires more than strong ideals; it requires open-mindedness.

“It shows that democracy is messy,” Dowis said. “Social change is messy and, that there is an enormous amount of change going on, and sometimes to achieve really important social ends you have to be willing to change your mind and listen to people saying things even if they’re not really what you want or hoping to hear, but that’s what democracy is. It’s listening to people and taking their ideas seriously.”

Taubman postdoctoral fellow Austin McCoy spoke about his research on Tom Hayden and the “Final Campaign to End the War.” He discussed the importance of following political thought through time.

“I think what seems to be important was that it shows how some of his thinking around politics, participatory democracy especially can still resonate today,” McCoy said. “As an audience member pointed out, we are galloping towards oligarchy. I think folks want to know what happened to American Democracy, and are there any other visions that could counter the kind of representative democracy we have now and I think Tom Hayden points us in that direction.”