The Michigan Daily’s magazine, The Statement, is quickly described as a “long-form magazine that intertwines the genres of news, opinion and creative nonfiction.” That might serve as an adequate elevator pitch; however, after nearly a year of writing for The Statement, learning its history and internalizing the brilliant contributions of my fellow student-writers, I feel that more thought is owed to the development of The Daily’s current magazine.
The Statement was birthed out of The Daily’s 2005 revamping of its weekly magazine, the Weekend Magazine. The Daily’s 2005 editor-in-chief, Jason Pesick, told me via phone that the motivation behind the redevelopment “was to put more analysis and sophistication and thought into The Daily, and one way to do that was to put some longer-form journalism into The Daily.”
In the Editors’ Note published alongside the debut of The Statement, Pesick and 2005 Magazine Editor Doug Wernert explained that, compared with the Weekend Magazine, “it is more intelligent, with the goal of exposing new ideas and information to readers,” noting that their overall vision for the magazine has shifted.
The magazine’s name as of 2005, The Statement, pays homage to the Port Huron Statement, a 25,700-word manifesto drafted in 1962 as the founding document of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Amid the Vietnam and Cold Wars and staggering inequality in all forms, a coalition of student activists led by University of Michigan student Tom Hayden met in Port Huron, Michigan, to condemn the militarization, economic conditions and racism coinciding with inequality and apathy in the United States and around the globe.
In their book exploring the impact of the document to show that “[its] ideas that inspired a generation of young radicals more than half a century ago are just as important and provocative today,” sociologist Richard Flacks and historian Nelson Lichtenstein credit the Port Huron Statement as the “New Left’s Founding Manifesto.” Drafted by the same group that pushed JFK to create the Peace Corps on the steps of the Michigan Union, the Port Huron Statement inspired LBJ’s “Great Society” speech, penned by Richard Goodwin, and has been cited both in admiration and dissent.
Pesick and Wernert shared that using the Port Huron Statement as the magazine’s eponym was not necessarily due to ideological admiration for the document. However, I feel that I ought to consider why the Port Huron Statement was still relevant enough nearly fifty years after its drafting to impact the evolution of The Daily’s magazine.
In contrast with the News and Opinion sections on The Michigan Daily, The Statement provides a different type of literary freedom to its writers. Statement pieces produce long-form analyses of whatever topics the editors and authors deem worthy. Additionally, authors have relatively greater latitude with regards to the style and structure of their pieces, resulting in the inclusion of fiction, poetry, personal narratives and perspectives in Statement pieces.
As a result, The Statement provides a space for students to write unapologetically and creatively about the countless concerning issues that face them and those around them. Perhaps inevitably, these efforts mirror those of the original Statement’s authors, who offered the document as “an effort rooted in the ancient, still unfulfilled conception of man as a being struggling for determining influence over his circumstances.”
Of course, we are both a product and proponent of our circumstances. It is a messy ebb and flow — perhaps,as they wrote in 1962, a “push and pull between suspicion of change and desire for change, between dogmatism and radicalism” — The Statement embraces this reality. Each piece acknowledges and explores our circumstances that circulate between frontpage news, kitchen table small talk and sitcom lines, in an attempt to evince them as important issues in the society we are to inherit.
Finding meaning and motivation in the changeable circumstances of our personal experiences, The Statement, in topics arguably less devastating than those of the 1960s, still attempts “to make war and peace relevant to the problems of everyday life, by relating it to the backyard (shelters), the baby (fallout), the job (military contracts) …” Perhaps as a generation who came into a world always threatened by nuclear war while the U.S. sustained conflicts in the Middle East, we don’t feel the concepts of war and peace as personally as those on the verge of being sent to Vietnam or facing social exile for interracial marriage.
Instead, more recent Statement pieces include assertions and understandings of one’s atheism, frustrations with the ever-present struggle to be “cool,” reflections on low-income students’ struggles to pay rent, recollections of a parent’s life shortly after their passing and dialogues on body dysmorphia. The Statement approaches the intimate concepts of love, loss and struggle, as well as those seemingly more generalizable, of housing, sex and student life, bringing awareness and analysis to pieces otherwise unpublished and without a place at The Daily.
Speaking to the past editors and scanning earlier editions of The Statement, it seems that the magazine has evolved to include more personal statements. Analyses of Title IX and the proposal for an Ann Arbor monorail have morphed into musings on living with autoimmune illnesses in the U.S. and one’s experience with polaroids. These pieces are critical reflections of consumption and the U.S. healthcare system, but I wonder if the current tendency of the magazine to include more personal statements is consistent with the vision and vigor of the Port Huron Statement.
I wonder if the Statement’s editions of the past year, or at least my articles, have failed to meet the expectations of the section’s essence. I contend that every article cannot, or ought not to, carry the weight of the world. Maybe that is more lovingly the task of once-in-a-movement pieces such as the Port Huron Statement. Nonetheless, Statement pieces provide an important, otherwise nonexistent, avenue for student journalism and activism.
The intentions of the section have inevitably evolved from when it came into existence in 2005, especially considering the fact that the editorship and authorship of the magazine shifts with each semester. Perhaps the 2005 Statement is a distinct statement, different in structure and style compared to this year’s magazine. Still enduring, however, is that it seems Statement pieces, no matter how personal, have advocated for a perspective of greater understanding and empathy and serve as social commentaries in a way that, though different from the all-consuming approach of the Port Huron Statement, are powerful.
The Port Huron Statement is not perfect. It fails to adequately advocate for gender equality and could offer much more about its core values and the way such values would look in the day-to-day if we actualized a society that embraces them. But regardless of where and whether you stand on the spectrum, the Port Huron Statement is a touchstone of student activism and participatory democracy — the same ideals by which it came into existence and for which it advocates.
The Statement’s 2007 Managing Editor, Anne VanderMey shared that her interpretation of the Statement’s name coming from the Port Huron Statement “was a nod to a time when [the University] was very much in the national conversation, and a time when students…were very meaningfully engaged in current events and the world around them.”
The Port Huron Statement is a daring, bold and inspiring example of the capabilities of America’s youth; a group of around sixty students in their early twenties worked together for four days and nights to produce a 25,000-word document packed with historical details, philosophical analysis and informed musings on their desired path for humanity. If nothing else, the Port Huron Statement lives on through its namesake as inspiration to student-writers who dare to publish their statements, no matter how personal or put-together.
Nearly sixty years later, we have new conflicts with new names, different presidents and six decades that separate us from the Port Huron Statement. Despite this distance, several of the core concerns of the Port Huron Statement read with disappointing relevance: the weakening of the labor movement, legal exploitation, the military-industrial complex, all intertwined with staggering inequality and widespread apathy.
Not only does the Port Huron Statement identify these issues and propose solutions, despite the magnitude of their collective weight that is the fear of the end of all things, it also suggests the approach with which change must be pursued. The Port Huron Statement contends, “It is the faith that alternatives exist, and can be discovered that must move men. The grasp of human values, of the nature of man, of the makeup of modern society, is the urgent task before reformers.”
With the year of 2020 in the past but none of its headline problems in hindsight, this may be the greatest time for The Statement to convey the intricacies of everyday life as birthed by the crises that face the future. Both the fear and hope encapsulated in the Port Huron Statement resonate with readers today. Like the many paradoxes it illustrates with regard to the conditions of society, there is a vast mix of complex, perhaps contradictory emotions that will encourage us on our better days to pursue progress.
It is with this fear and hope that The Statement has taken on the torch of its namesake. By exploring what troubles, enlightens and confuses us most about the world we have yet to inherit, we honor the legacy of the Port Huron Statement, the effects of which manifest in the corners of campus and across the country, in between the lines at The Daily and in numerous ways as it has inspired us to think critically, creatively, imaginatively and unapologetically as we look forward.
With the 25,000 words under my belt, I write for The Statement with greater appreciation for the work of students before and around me that have inspired and allowed the section to exist. Honoring the Port Huron Statement’s guiding principles of analysis, advocacy and solidarity, the magazine provides the opportunity to participate, as writer or reader, with the crucial goals of greater understanding and empathy.
Despite the arguable shortcomings of the declaration, the evolution of the section and the institutions that provide this platform, I approach all with the desire for change, to honor the Port Huron Statement as a gift from a time so different yet so damningly similar, or, in the words of its chief author, “a message sent in a bottle, and participatory democracy a tradition for future rebels to drink from.”
Statement Correspondent Leah Leszcynski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.