The Conference

“A New Insurgency: The Port Huron Statement in its Time and Ours” brought together world-renowned activists and scholars to mark the 50th anniversary of The Port Huron Statement , the historic manifesto of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) first issued in June 1962. Tapping the viewpoints of those present at the creation of the Statement as well as those historians, humanists, and social scientists who have studied that period, “A New Insurgency” drew attention to the complex scene of social-justice and leftwing activist movements that laid the seed-bed for The Port Huron Statement —and then helped spread and amplify its visions of social change.

The legacy of those movements, and the ideals of The Port Huron Statement, returned to center-stage amid the stunning sweep of mass protest in pursuit of democracy and social justice in 2011-12, from the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street and continuing collective action against the hardships of austerity. This free and open, public conference at the University of Michigan sought to test the significance of the new insurgency of the early 1960s for the new insurgents of 2011-2012. We welcomed a broad audience to the conversation.

SDS’s Port Huron Statement offered the most comprehensive analysis of American society and most eloquent vision for radical reform to be generated by the emerging movement known as the New Left. Young radical intellectuals—including, in crucial leadership roles, undergraduate and graduate students from the University of Michigan—produced the document, but their inspiration stemmed from the energy and moral example already set by activists in the civil rights and peace movements, anticolonial struggles abroad, new signs of dissent from Latin America to Eastern Europe, and older leftwing ideas in need of renovation.

Drafters of The Port Huron Statement were keenly aware of many of these forces; in 1962, they may not have recognized others that were stirring as well. Speakers at the conference examined the open, and sometimes hidden, elements of the new insurgent spirit of that time—including trends in feminism, Black nationalism, Latina/o and Native American struggles for recognition and power, rebellious currents around the world, gay liberation, and developments in the arts that tracked the course of rising protest.

“A New Insurgency” aimed to engage current-day students and activists in all the conference proceedings. Following 2012 summer-reading programs focused on The Port Huron Statement (for incoming UM first-years in several special college programs), the conference featured an all-student panel on the meaning of the Statement’s New Left principles today. A concluding panel on Friday, November 2, welcomed representatives of campus activist groups discussing the present and future course of movements for equality, social justice, and democracy.

“A New Insurgency” ran from Wednesday, October 31, 7:30 pm, through the evening of Friday, November 2. Evening keynote events took place in the large auditoriums, Angell Hall Auditorium B (Ruth Rosen) and 1324 East Hall (Tom Hayden); daily panels were held in the Michigan Union, all on the University of Michigan campus.

This large, international conference enjoyed the support of a wide range of individuals and programs at the University of Michigan. Please see the link for sponsors to view a complete list.

View Conference Highlights