Without a friend’s persistence, Tom Hayden would be recording history instead of creating it.
Forty years ago, Hayden was like many other students at the University — upset with the government’s involvement in Vietnam, yet unaware of where to channel this overwhelming discontent. A friend of his, Al Haber, continually pressured Hayden to join his burgeoning organization, Students for a Democratic Society.
As editor in chief of The Michigan Daily and as a history major, Hayden was already overburdened with work and therefore was at first none too receptive to the idea. However, after Haber’s continual persistence, Hayden finally relented.
“I wanted to put down the pen and paper to help the youth generation,” Hayden said.
With his help, SDS proliferated into the nation’s most powerful student organization, carving the way for countless similarly minded student groups. Many historians have also referred to Hayden’s “Port Huron Statement” as the Declaration of Independence for the protester generation.
Hayden and Haber reunited yesterday to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the original teach-in, supported bySDS, which was staged in protest of the Vietnam War. At this famous teach-in, many teachers declared a moratorium on classes and instead clustered in the Diag, carrying signs expressing their discontent. It served as the paradigm for the many teach-ins that eventually spread throughout college campuses nationwide.
LSA Senior Ryan Watkins, who also helped organize the event, wanted to commemorate the achievements of this day, but more importantly, to incite discussion on pressing political issues to keep with the spirit of the original teach-in.
“One of the incentives behind the teach-in is to honor the original. Yet, I don’t want to get too nostalgic, because it is disempowering to locate the locust for change in the past. Instead of just commemorating what happened, we want to recreate the teach-in by asking questions about the world we inherited,” Watkins said.
The teach-in anniversary began at 6 p.m. yesterday as tables from various organizations — ranging in issues from environmental to women rights — outlined both sides of a hallway in Angell Hall.
This was followed by a lecture, “Evaluating the American Empire,” opened by socially active University alumni Al DeFreece and Rich Feldman. Hayden served as the keynote speaker.
In his speech to a packed auditorium, Hayden characterized the United States as an empire because of its extensive satellite and spy networks, as well as the international military bases that protect the interests of the United States and make sure countries are not accruing too much power.
However, Eric Weiler, an LSA senior and press coordinator of Young Americans for Freedom, disagreed with this characterization.
“Some people say that America does not have a territorial empire like Rome, but a commercial empire. American corporations maintain a global presence, but this is because people like American products. This globalization brings jobs and economic growth to other countries. America still faces competition from Europe, Japan and China.”
Weiler added that his viewpoints do not represent YAF; in fact, he said the group also has many members who question America’s foreign policy.
Another phrase that echoed throughout the event was “Connect the Dots,” which refers to the interconnectedness of problems afflicting society, such as racism and globalization. This symbiotic view of world problems reverberated in each speaker’s lecture, which highlighted a range of social dilemmas that ultimately impact each other.
Hayden’s speech ranged from his own dissatisfaction with the government’s current involvement in foreign affairs to his vision of a more democratic future.
“We are alone in this mentality that no one can hurt us. This is why 9/11 came as such a shock. Other countries see that some countries are more and less powerful,” Hayden said.
Hayden also said the Bush administration has no plans to pull out of Iraq.
“During the presidential race, Kerry kept complaining that the Bush administration has no exit strategy. I have a rather direct explanation for this — there was no exit plan from Iraq, because no exit was planned.”
Hayden was involved in politics for 18 years and served as a state senator in the state legislature in California. Now, under the Bush administration, he has been inspired to resume political activism — referring to himself as a “recovering politician” in his speech.
Hayden also expressed discontent with the University administration’s lack of support.
“It is unfortunate that the University did not choose to reclaim its own history. It’s like ignoring something not worthy of memory,” he said.
Weiler disagreed that the University has a responsibility in sponsoring the event.
“The University cannot take political positions that do not affect them directly,” Weiler said.
The lecturers were not the only people from the original teach-in that attended the event yesterday.
Julien Gendell, who was a chemistry teacher from 1963-69, also participated in the first teach-in. Yesterday, he recalled how the protest began outside at 8 a.m. on a cold day. He said the idea for the teach-in evolved out of casual conversation among a couple of the faculty members.
“It was originally 13 people talking about how they wanted to go out on strike. Before anyone could chicken out, we told the media,” Gendell said.
“It spread like wild fire. We had no idea it would catch on the way it did,” he added.
Immediately after the lecture, workshops were held to discuss issues such as globalization and the environment.
Odile Hugonot, a nurse at the University Hospital and chair of the International Middle East Committee, facilitated a discussion entitled “Woman in the Empire.”
Hugonot, who also is Haber’s wife, led a discussion that delved into issues about how women bear the consequences of war and how the disparity in gender representation in the government affects women.
“This is a great way to incite discussion. We all come from different perspectives and backgrounds and have a lot to learn from each other,” Hugonot said.
Even though the night was politically charged, it was also just a chance for the protesters to reunite after a 40-year void.
“We shared a moment in our lives when we changed the direction and gave meaning to our lives. I can’t wait to catch up,” Feldman said.
To continue celebrating this legacy of student activism, today there will be a Vietnam War Symposium at the Rackham Assembly Hall. There will be panels revolving around the impact of the Vietnam War held between 11:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. and led by various esteemed poets and professors.