Tom Hayden – Civil Rights Activist and Civic Leader 1939 – 2016
Tom Hayden, author, journalist, activist and politician died October 23, 2016 at age 76. He was the director of the Peace and Justice Resource Center. Tom was a man deeply committed to democracy and understood it intimately as both an activist and a legislator. His knowledge and insight from his activist struggles provided insight and experience to be an effective legislator. He served California in both the Assembly and the state Senate.
Hayden became a cultural icon in the 1960’s when he and his then wife, Jane Fonda, visibly and vocally demonstrated against the Vietnam War. He believed that the war was the “slaughter of distant people.” In 1965 he traveled with an antiwar group to Hanoi, the capital of North Vietnam. The 10-day trip offended many in the U.S. and the State Department temporarily withdrew Hayden’s passport.
Tom returned to Vietnam again in 1967 and this time was successful in helping with the release of three American prisoners of war. Hayden met them on the airport tarmac and they boarded a Czechoslovakian plane bound for Beirut. He accompanied the servicemen to the U.S. Embassy. In the 1980s one of these POWs supported him against Republican’s wanting to oust him from office for what they called “treason” during the war.
In the sixties, Tom Hayden was instrumental in forming an organization called Students for a Democratic Society (SDS, 1961). Hayden drafted what became known as the Port Huron Statement (1962), the SDS’s manifesto, while he was in jail in Georgia for Civil Rights activism. This 25,000-word document was a call to action for people to participate in our democracy.
In 1968 he was one of seven individuals that became known of the “Chicago 7”. These seven were indicted for conspiracy to incite a riot at the Democratic National Convention. Hayden was convicted of traveling across state lines to incite a riot and sentenced to five years in prison. The conviction was overturned on appeal, largely because the judge had sided openly with prosecutors. The government declined to retry Hayden.
Tom was often among slews of protesters perpetrating disorder ranging from disrupting the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange to the destruction of the Clocks at Grand Central Terminal, the main commuter station for workers in New York City. He is
Hayden was a champion for the environment. He backed scores of liberal candidates and ballot measures in the 1970s and ‘80s, most notably Proposition 65, the anti-toxics measure that requires signs in gas stations, bars and grocery stores that warn of cancer-causing chemicals. He also spent several years organizing poor black residents to take on slumlords, city inspectors and others. He was under FBI surveillance for a large portion of his life.
Inspired by sociologist C. Wright Mills and French author Albert Camus, among others, Hayden and his fellow students bemoaned poverty, racial bigotry, the Democratic Party’s tolerance of Southern segregationists, the threat of nuclear war and an apathetic citizenry. They called for mobilizing students and like-minded Americans through “participatory democracy.” “If we appear to seek the unattainable, as it has been said, then let it be known that we do so to avoid the unimaginable,” the statement concluded.
Tom felt that he could really make a difference if he were to work in the state legislature. In 1982, Tom was elected to the state Assembly. Hayden served a total of 18 years in the Assembly and state Senate representing the people of California. He supported what he called “participatory democracy.”
A prolific author and editor (19 books), Hayden wrote books on Cuba, Ireland, Vietnam, street gangs, spirituality and environmental protection, the Iraq war and the Newark riots. His next book, “Hell No: The Forgotten Power of the Vietnam Peace Movement,” is scheduled to be published in March 2017 by Yale University Press.
Hayden is survived by his wife, Barbara Williams, an actress and singer; their adopted son, Liam; Troy Garity, his son with Fonda; and his sister, Mary Hayden Frey. He is also survived by stepdaughter Vanessa Vadim and her two children.
In honor of Tom and his dedication to participatory democracy, I hope that each of you will take the time to vote on Tuesday November 8 for this most important Presidential election.
If you would like to learn more about Tom Hayden, here are some resources:
Tom Hayden Forces of Nature Video – Navigating toward Unity
Tom on the meaning of citizenship (video):