Remembering my contemporary Tom Hayden of the Vietnam War Era

October 24, 2016

Remembering my contemporary Tom Hayden of the Vietnam War Era

by Robert D. McFadden

Tom Hayden, who burst out of the 1960s counterculture as a radical leader of America’s civil rights and antiwar movements, but rocked the boat more gently later in life with a progressive political agenda as an author and California state legislator, died on Sunday. He was 76.

His wife, Barbara Williams, confirmed the death to The Associated Press. Mr. Hayden had been suffering from heart problems and fell ill while attending the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July.

Image result for tom hayden barbara williams

During the racial unrest and antiwar protests of the ’60s and early ’70s, Mr. Hayden was one of the nation’s most visible radicals. He was a founder of Students for a Democratic Society, a defendant in the Chicago Seven trial after riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and a peace activist who married Jane Fonda, went to Hanoi and escorted American prisoners of war home from Vietnam.

As a civil rights worker, he was beaten in Mississippi and jailed in Georgia. In his cell he began writing what became the Port Huron Statement, the political manifesto of S.D.S. and the New Left that envisioned an alliance of college and university students in a peaceful crusade to overcome what it called repressive government, corporate greed and racism. Its aim was to create a multiracial, egalitarian society.

Like his allies the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who were assassinated in 1968, Mr. Hayden opposed violent protests but backed militant demonstrations, like the occupation of Columbia University campus buildings by students and the burning of draft cards. He also helped plan protests that, as it happened, turned into clashes with the Chicago police outside the Democratic convention.


Tom Hayden after announcing he would run for the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate from California in 1976. Credit Walter Zeboski/Associated Press

In 1974, with the Vietnam War in its final stages after American military involvement had all but ended, Mr. Hayden and Ms. Fonda, who were by then married, traveled across Vietnam, talking to people about their lives after years of war, and produced a documentary film, “Introduction to the Enemy.” Detractors labeled it Communist propaganda, but Nora Sayre, reviewing it for The New York Times, called it a “pensive and moving film.”

Later, with the war over and the idealisms of the ’60s fading, Mr. Hayden settled into a new life as a family man, writer and mainstream politician. In 1976 he ran for the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate from California, declaring, “The radicalism of the 1960s is fast becoming the common sense of the 1970s.” He lost to the incumbent, Senator John V. Tunney.

But, focusing on state and local issues like solar energy and rent control, he won a seat in the California Legislature in Sacramento in 1982. He was an assemblyman for a decade and a state senator from 1993 to 2000, sponsoring bills on the environment, education, public safety and civil rights. He lost a Democratic primary for California governor in 1994, a race for mayor of Los Angeles in 1997 and a bid for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council in 2001.

He was often the target of protests by leftists who called him an outlaw hypocrite, and by Vietnamese refugees and American military veterans who called him a traitor. Conservative news media kept alive the memories of his radical days. In a memoir, “Reunion” (1988), he described himself as a “born-again Middle American” and expressed regret for “romanticizing the Vietnamese” and for allowing his antiwar zeal to turn into anti-Americanism.

“His soul-searching and explanations make fascinating reading,” The Boston Globe said, “but do not, he concedes, pacify critics on the left who accuse him of selling out to personal ambition or on the right ‘who tell me to go back to Russia.’ He says he doesn’t care.”

“I get re-elected,” Mr. Hayden told The Globe. “To me, that’s the bottom line. The issues persons like myself are working on are modern, workplace, neighborhood issues.”

9 thoughts on “Remembering my contemporary Tom Hayden of the Vietnam War Era

  1. May his soul RIP. – You decide – “…For the next few weeks, I found myself defending Israel’s “right” to self-defense on its border, only to realize privately how foolish I was becoming. In the meantime, Israel’s invasion was continuing, with ardent Jewish support in America.

    Finally, a close friend and political advisor of mine, Ralph Brave, took me for a walk, looked into my eyes and said: “Tom, you can’t do this. You have to stop.” He was right, and I did. In the California Legislature, I went to work on Holocaust survivor issues while withdrawing from the bind of Israeli-Palestinian politics. When the first Palestinian intifada began, I sensed from experience that the balance of forces had changed, and that the Israeli occupation was finished. Frictions developed between me and some of my Israeli and Jewish friends when I suggested that Israel must make a peace deal immediately or accept a worse deal later….” –

  2. The American student radical leaders of the 1960s and early 1970s are an interesting group of people – Todd Gitlin, Mark Rudd, Angela Davis, the Weather Underground group (Bernadine Dohrn, Bill Ayers), Eldridge Cleaver, Huey Newton and the Black Panthers, the Yippie leaders such as Abbie Hoffman etc.
    Some of them made the big mistake of becoming radical Maoists who engaged in bombings of US govt buildings.

    Todd Gitlin — now a distinguished professor of sociology
    Mark Rudd — now a maths lecturer in a community college
    Angela Davis — became a women’s studies professor
    Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers — married each other and became law and education professors later on
    Eldridge Cleaver — became a right-wing conservative later on (I heard him give a conservative political speech at the U of Pennsylvania, this upset a black guy in the audience who threw a cup of water at him)


    Dr Phua,

    Thanks for the above link.

    In certain sense, I am glad how the Malays have overturned their own fortunes in merely two generations 🙂
    We should be grateful that an entire generation of Chinese in the whole world has been able to overturn their own misfortune in greater magnitude, although an entire new generation of inequality come about.

    For ourselves, the pendatang Cinapek, anywhere in this world, and not exactly welcomed in any part of the world, we need to find out what it meant to be part of today’s majority while dealing with our own inequality.

  4. Tommy is gone. He dedicated his life to good cause after good cause, relentlessly seeking out justice wherever it was lacking. And yet, as a believer in the collective, he never took credit, just sharing. I’m still trying to process that I was lucky to ever consider someone so monumentally consequential a friend. Goodbye, Tommy.

    Tom rose to prominence when I was a graduate student in DC (in 1968-1970). I admire him for his stout anti-Vietnam stance. He lived long enough to see America’s military defeat and disgraceful withdrawal from that country (Nixon called the defeat peace with honour which was negotiated in Paris by America’s Cardinal Richelieu Heinz Alfred Kissinger (German name for Henry Alfred Kissinger). –Din Merican

  5. Din:
    Now I understand your aspiration, inspiration and strength to create your blog to advocate changes to Malaysia, almost an impossible mission. We both are admirers of Tom Hayden.

    Actually Tom vaulted into national politics in 1962 as lead author of a student manifesto that became the ideological foundation against the war. A movement he started at the University of Michigan in 1968 spread not only to most every campus in the U.S., but sparked student protests around the globe. In a very real sense, the global cultural earthquake that was 1968 had Tom Hayden at its epicenter.

    I first met Tom in 1982, when he was a rookie in the California State Assembly, when I was a young community advocate seeking his help over some Bay Area issues. Somehow we “clicked” and became friends. Tom had the gift of articulating the larger meaning of smaller events. He was very crisp and clear, and unlikely to be at a loss for words as a public voice.

    I miss him.

  6. “Tom had the gift of articulating the larger meaning of smaller events.”

    What a beautiful way to remember a friend. Thanks for that LaMoy.

    While there were things that he said and did that I didn’t agree with, Hayden was truly an American original. Hayden understood that voices from the street were a threat to the whispers that skulked around the corridors of power and attempting to change the system was the only reason for becoming part of the system.

  7. You may not know it or too modest to accept it, you, too, have that gift, Conrad. A good communicator is one using the layman language, using simple words in simple sentences so that simple folks can understand. That was Tom.

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