Tom Hayden, Presente! The Radical Inside the System
October 25, 2016
The Washington Post & Alternate
In one of the most dramatic personal transformations in American political history, Tom Hayden went from being a famed 1960s and 1970s student radical to a mainstream elected official and elder statesman of the country's left. Hayden was a master strategist, brilliant speaker and long-distance runner for change.
Tom Hayden, '60s Activist and Liberal Statesman
John Rogers and Linda Deutsch / The Washington Post & Associated Press
LOS ANGELES (October 24, 2016) -- In one of the most dramatic personal transformations in American political history, Tom Hayden went from being a famed 1960s and 1970s student radical to a mainstream elected official and elder statesman of the country's left. He died Sunday at age 76 following a lengthy illness.
Hayden will be forever linked to riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Vietnam War protests of the 1970s and his onetime marriage to actress Jane Fonda.
Those events, however, ultimately represented just a small slice of a life dedicated to, as he put it, trying to change the world.
Elected to the California Assembly in 1982, Hayden served 10 years, followed by eight more in the state Senate.
During that time he put his name on some 100 pieces of legislation -- including laws aimed at holding down college tuition costs, preventing discrimination in hiring and modest safety controls on guns.
Former President Bill Clinton praised Hayden, saying "his eventful life in pursuit of peace and justice ran the gamut from protesting to legislating, with lots of writing and teaching along the way."
Clinton added: "Attacked first by the right as a dangerous radical, then by the left for his willingness to compromise, Tom always marched to the beat of his own drummer, doing what he thought at any given time would advance his lifelong goals."
California Gov. Jerry Brown said Hayden "took up causes that others avoided. He had a real sense of the underdog and was willing to do battle no matter what the odds."
It was a battle that began at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in the early 1960s where Hayden, then barely out of his teens, co-founded the Students For a Democratic Society and wrote its "manifesto," the often-quoted Port Huron Statement.
"We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit," the lengthy screed railing against racial discrimination, war and wage disparity proclaimed in its introduction.
While critics of the time dismissed it as nonsense and Hayden's group as a band of rag-tag malcontents threatening the American way of life with their left-wing ideas, its author would be invited to colleges for decades to come to lecture about its significance.
Youth International Party co-founder Paul Krassner, who also participated in the Chicago demonstration, told The Associated Press on Monday that the manifesto was a cornerstones of the 1960s radical movement because it spelled out precisely what protesters hoped to accomplish.
"People were always saying, 'Oh, what do they really stand for?' And this laid it out," Krassner said.
Born in Royal Oak, Michigan, on Dec. 11, 1939 to middle-class parents, Thomas Emmet Hayden once considered a career in journalism and would eventually publish 20 books on a myriad of subjects.
But after graduation he turned down a newspaper job. He said in his memoir: "I didn't want to report on the world; I wanted to change the world."
He took part in Civil Rights Freedom Rides through the South and was beaten and arrested in Georgia and Mississippi. In 1964, he worked as a community organizer in Newark, New Jersey, pushing for more jobs and empowerment for the poor.
An early opponent of the Vietnam War, he made his first visit to North Vietnam in 1965 in unauthorized trip that enraged a segment of the American public at the time. He returned in 1967 and was asked by North Vietnamese leaders to bring three prisoners of war back to the United States.
In 1968, he helped organize anti-war demonstrations outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, where Vice President Hubert Humphrey was being nominated for president.
After the demonstrations turned violent, he and six others were put on trial as the infamous Chicago 7.
After a circus-like proceeding, with the defendants openly mocking the judge, Hayden and three others were convicted of crossing state lines to incite riot. The convictions were eventually overturned, and an official report on the violence concluded it was the result of "a police riot."
Still an anti-war activist, Hayden met Fonda in 1971 and they eventually married, following a "first date" in which he presented her a slide-show of an anti-war teach-in he was conducting. Fonda had a daughter, Vanessa Vadim, by her marriage to film director Roger Vadim, and she and Hayden would have a son, Troy Garity.
Backed by heavy financial support from Fonda, Hayden plunged into California politics in the late 1970s. With the disdain he'd attracted during his anti-war years fading, he was elected to the Assembly as a representative of the liberal city of Santa Monica and its surrounding area.
During his years in office he and Fonda split up and he later married actress Barbara Williams. The couple had a son, Liam.
Before launching his successful Assembly bid, Hayden had made an unsuccessful run for US Senate. He later made unsuccessful bids to become governor of California, mayor of Los Angeles and Los Angeles city councilman.
A lifetime baseball fan who boasted he once won a Los Angeles Dodgers fantasy camp batting title, Hayden sometimes jokingly defined his political career in baseball terms, saying he ran 11 political campaigns and compiled a 7-4 won-loss record.
After leaving public office, he wrote and traveled extensively -- lecturing, teaching and speaking out against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He was also an advocate for animals, and in 2012 he lobbied Brown to preserve a piece of legislation known as Hayden's Law, which he had authored to protect shelter animals from premature euthanasia.
Until his health failed in recent months he remained politically active, supporting Hillary Clinton for president and railing against Donald Trump. He said Clinton had a broader coalition and better chance of winning than leftist favorite Bernie Sanders.
"I've fretted all year about the ominous threat of domestic fascism in our country revealed in the rhetoric and extremism of Donald Trump and his hard-core followers," he wrote in an op-ed piece in April.
Hayden had a stroke last year but continued to make public appearances until last summer.
He is survived by his wife, sons and stepdaughter Vanessa Vadim.
Tom Hayden's Legend Started With
The Prescient and Still Relevant Port Huron Statement
G. Pascal Zachary / AlterNet
(October 24, 2016) -- Tom Hayden was a political prodigy: a visionary in his youth, he foresaw the political contours of the emerging counterculture in the 1960s as if he had a crystal ball. In many ways, Hayden's greatest achievement was one his earliest: by largely authoring the founding statement of a radically new student organization, the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Hayden gave political shape to a restless generation of young Americans eager to break with American practices of militarism and domination abroad and racism and repression at home.
The Port Huron statement, named after the city in Michigan where SDS leaders met in June 1962, presented a sharp break with political dissent in America. For the entire 20th century, leading up to the 1960s, radical politics in America was chiefly derived from European formulations. Left-wing Americans were deeply shaped by European socialism and Soviet (i.e., Russian) communism.
The American Communist Party, by 1962, was bereft of ideas and morally bankrupt because of its allegiance to Soviet policies. The varieties of socialism then alive, if not flourishing, in the United States owed their collectivist character more to Europe than to the New Deal of 1930s Depression America.
Throwing off the intellectual shackles of Europe, and giving life to an authentic American revolutionary thoughts, was nothing short of Hayden's ambitious goal for both the Port Huron Statement and the SDS as a movement.
While the SDS faltered and failed by the end of the 1960s, riven by differences of tactics and interpretations, the ideals of the Port Huron lived on for decades. Even today, Hayden's words can be read profitably by the activists engaged in the Occupy and Black Lives Matter movements.
In the wake of Hayden's death on Sunday, what's most worth remembering is his opening statement, titled "Agenda for a Generation." Just as Bob Dylan spoke for young Americas in the early '60s, so did Hayden and his colleagues. The introduction begins modestly but ominously: "We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit."
What caused the discomfort? The self-evident contradictions between the actions and goals of the US government and the ideals of America's principles. Hayden and friends saw "disturbing paradoxes" between America's stated aim of protecting the world from totalitarian domination by threatening anti-democratic forces with nuclear weapons that would also destroy the world.
Similarly, Hayden wrote, "The declaration "all men are created equal … rang hollow before the facts of Negro life in the South and the big cities of the North." Rather than uneasily accept these contradictions, as their parents did, Hayden's generation -- keenly aware of being part of the "wealthiest and strongest country in the world -- wanted to aim higher.
To accept anything less than America's best, to Hayden, represented the road to ruin. So declared the Port Huron statement, "Not only did tarnish appear on our image of American virtue, not only did disillusion occur when the hypocrisy of American ideals was discovered, but we began to sense that what we had originally seen as the American Golden Age was actually the decline of an era."
What should be done? How could dissent be turned into constructive action? Hayden saw an answer in the renewal of an old tradition of participatory democracy, sometimes known as "democracy with a small d." The movement for renewal possessed, in Hayden's view a sense of urgency, because of US rivalry with the Soviet Union and the growing sense that nuclear war between these two "superpowers" might occur with little warning.
Because of "the enclosing fact of the Cold War, symbolized by the presence of the Bomb," young people knew, Hayden wrote, that "we . . . might die at any time." The impending threat of mutually assured destruction through nuclear war, dramatically illustrated by the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962, gave credibility to Hayden's impassioned words. A mere three months after the release of the Port Huron statement, the US nearly unleashed its nuclear arsenal after the Soviet Union placed nuclear weapons on the island of Cuba, only 90 miles from Miami.
The existential threat of nuclear annihilation, and the everyday insults of racial segregation, combined to create an unacceptable situation for the new generation, also known as "baby boomers," because, like Hayden himself, these young Americans were born after the end of World War II in August 1945. These baby boomers, while surrounded by prosperity, would not be seduced by it, Hayden insisted.
Echoing the sensibilities of the existentialist philosophies Sartre and Camus, Hayden argued that the scale and scope of the problems generated at home and abroad by American power were impossible to ignore and demanded a radical response. "We might deliberately ignore, or avoid, or fail to feel all other human problems, but not these," he wrote. Of the predicament facing his generation -- subjugation of people of color, the threat of mass killing with impunity -- reforms were not an adequate response. Only radical change could address the human predicament.
Time was running out, Hayden felt. "Our work is guided by the sense that we may be the last generation in the experiment with living." Hayden's sense of urgency, on its own, would make the Port Huron statement a remarkable document for youth today.
For all of us today perceive existential threats to the human race, and to the entire planet. We all are implicated in a monumental experiment that threatens to run amok, or perhaps already has. That Hayden and his generation failed to achieve the radical transformation in American self-governance that they sought only highlights the value that their vision has for the youth of America today, for all Americans.
Just as Hayden searched, as he wrote in the statement, "for truly democratic alternatives to the present, and a commitment to social experimentation with them," we also search for alternatives to an American world order that seems, if not insane, than ineffective; if not immoral than unequal and deaf to the need for effective alternatives.
On the eve of a presidential election, Hayden's death serves as a reminder also of the limits of electoral politics. The Port Huron statement called a for a revolution in political consciousness, not merely an alteration in the people in power.
"Men [and women] have unrealized potential for self-cultivation, self-direction, self-understanding, and creativity," Hayden wrote. "It is this potential that we regard as crucial and to which we appeal, not to the human potentiality for violence, unreason, and submission to authority."
Such ideals go beyond party, beyond the organization of government, beyond technique and technicians. Hayden sought to reinvent the very ground of political life, transforming what remote and hollow forms of representative democracy into direct citizen engagement.
He wrote, "As a social system we seek the establishment of a democracy of individual participation, governed by two central aims: that the individual share in those social decisions determining the quality and direction of his life; that society be organized to encourage independence . . . ."
Now more than 50 years since Hayden's statement was created, many Americans, of all ages, share the same desire to openly revolt against the troubadours of expedience, and the masters of war, the architects of disenchantment. "We oppose the depersonalization that reduces human beings to the status of things," Hayden wrote. "If anything, the brutalities of the 20th century teach that means and ends are intimately related, that vague appeals to "posterity" cannot justify the mutilations of the present."
As in 1962, our moment doesn't seem auspicious. Again, the words from Port Huron ring true today: humanity "desperately needs revolutionary leadership," and "America rests in national stalemate, its goals ambiguous and tradition-bound instead of informed and clear, its democratic system apathetic and manipulated. . . ."
And yet, Hayden stood for hope and so must we. Today we who must endure the mutilations of our own benighted present should honor Hayden and his SDS colleagues not merely by remembering their words, but by insisting that we shall convert their intentions into positive actions.
G. Pascal Zachary, a frequent contributor to AlterNet, is the author of Endless Frontier: Vannevar Bush, Engineer of the American Century.
Excerpts from The Port Huron Statement
Introduction: Agenda for a Generation
We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit.
When we were kids the United States was the wealthiest and strongest country in the world: the only one with the atom bomb, the least scarred by modern war, an initiator of the United Nations that we thought would distribute Western influence throughout the world. Freedom and equality for each individual, government of, by, and for the people -- these American values we found good, principles by which we could live as men. Many of us began maturing in complacency.
As we grew, however, our comfort was penetrated by events too troubling to dismiss. First, the permeating and victimizing fact of human degradation, symbolized by the Southern struggle against racial bigotry, compelled most of us from silence to activism.
Second, the enclosing fact of the Cold War, symbolized by the presence of the Bomb, brought awareness that we ourselves, and our friends, and millions of abstract "others" we knew more directly because of our common peril, might die at any time. We might deliberately ignore, or avoid, or fail to feel all other human problems, but not these two, for these were too immediate and crushing in their impact, too challenging in the demand that we as individuals take the responsibility for encounter and resolution.
While these and other problems either directly oppressed us or rankled our consciences and became our own subjective concerns, we began to see complicated and disturbing paradoxes in our surrounding America. The declaration "all men are created equal . . . rang hollow before the facts of Negro life in the South and the big cities of the North. The proclaimed peaceful intentions of the United States contradicted its economic and military investments in the Cold War status quo.
We witnessed, and continue to witness, other paradoxes.
. . .
. . . 1. Any new left in America must be, in large measure, a left with real intellectual skills, committed to deliberativeness, honesty, reflection as working tools. The university permits the political life to be an adjunct to the academic one, and action to be informed by reason.
2. A new left must be distributed in significant social roles throughout the country. The universities are distributed in such a manner.
3. A new left must consist of younger people who matured in the postwar world, and partially be directed to the recruitment of younger people. The university is an obvious beginning point.
4. A new left must include liberals and socialists, the former for their relevance, the latter for their sense of thoroughgoing reforms in the system. The university is a more sensible place than a political party for these two traditions to begin to discuss their differences and look for political synthesis.
5. A new left must start controversy across the land, if national policies and national apathy are to be reversed. The ideal university is a community of controversy, within itself and in its effects on communities beyond.
6. A new left must transform modern complexity into issues that can be understood and felt close-up by every human being. It must give form to the feelings of helplessness and indifference, so that people may see the political, social and economic sources of their private troubles and organize to change society.
In a time of supposed prosperity, moral complacency and political manipulation, a new left cannot rely on only aching stomachs to be the engine force of social reform. The case for change, for alternatives that will involve uncomfortable personal efforts, must be argued as never before. The university is a relevant place for all of these activities.
But we need not indulge in allusions: the university system cannot complete a movement of ordinary people making demands for a better life. From its schools and colleges across the nation, a militant left might awaken its allies, and by beginning the process towards peace, civil rights, and labor struggles, reinsert theory and idealism where too often reign confusion and political barter. The power of students and faculty united is not only potential; it has shown its actuality in the South, and in the reform movements of the North.
The bridge to political power, though, will be built through genuine cooperation, locally, nationally, and internationally, between a new left of young people, and an awakening community of allies. In each community we must look within the university and act with confidence that we can be powerful, but we must look outwards to the less exotic but more lasting struggles for justice.
To turn these possibilities into realities will involve national efforts at university reform by an alliance of students and faculty. They must wrest control of the educational process from the administrative bureaucracy. They must make fraternal and functional contact with allies in labor, civil rights, and other liberal forces outside the campus.
They must import major public issues into the curriculum -- research and teaching on problems of war and peace is an outstanding example. They must make debate and controversy, not dull pedantic cant, the common style for educational life. They must consciously build a base for their assault upon the loci of power.
As students, for a democratic society, we are committed to stimulating this kind of social movement, this kind of vision and program is campus and community across the country. If we appear to seek the unattainable, it has been said, then let it be known that we do so to avoid the unimaginable.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.