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Tom Hayden, key 1960s social activist and political partner and husband of Jane Fonda, dies

Published on: October 24, 2016

Filed Under: Connections to Today, Featured, Presente!

Views: 1376

This obituary originally appeared at TheWashingtonPost.com.

By Elaine Woo

Photo: George Brich/AP

Tom Hayden, the preeminent 1960s radical who roused a generation of alienated young Americans, became a symbol of militancy by leading riotous protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and added Hollywood glamour to his mystique with an activist partnership and marriage to film star Jane Fonda, died Oct. 23 in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 76.

Hayden’s wife, Barbara Williams, said he died after a long illness, according to the Associated Press. He had heart disease and was hospitalized for a stroke in 2015.

At a moment in history — June 1962 — before U.S. escalation in Vietnam, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the civil rights March on Washington and the awakening of the environmental and feminist movements, Mr. Hayden emerged as one of the most articulate spokesmen of youthful angst.

At 22, a year out of college in Michigan, he drafted the Port Huron Statement, an expansive Utopian manifesto that extolled “participatory democracy” as an antidote to the complacency and conformity of the Eisenhower decade.

The ideological lodestar of Students for a Democratic Society, which became the largest and most influential organ of the 1960s New Left, the Port Huron Statement was credited with drawing hundreds of thousands of idealistic, restless youths into an anti-authoritarian movement that rocked society at its foundation.

Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda in London in 1972. (AP)

Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda in London in 1972. (AP)

Decades later, the landmark text reverberated in popular culture as a punchline in the 1998 film “The Big Lebowski,” in which the old hippie protagonist declares himself an author of “the original Port Huron Statement, not the compromised second draft.” Although others weighed in on the final version, it adhered to Mr. Hayden’s buoyant themes, which have echoed in contemporary movements for democratic engagement around the world, from student protests in the Middle East to Occupy Wall Street.

The proclamation, named for the SDS gathering on the shores of Lake Huron north of Detroit, owed much to Mr. Hayden’s combination of iconoclasm and deep social conscience forged by his Catholic upbringing.

For the fledgling SDS, he had conducted fearless front-line activism in the South. But his master stroke for the organization was the 64-page tour de force that confronted a hypocrisy in American ideals, disillusionment with social progress and anxiety in a supposed age of prosperity.

“We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit,” Mr. Hayden wrote in the oft-quoted first lines of the statement that he and a few friends hand-delivered to the Kennedy White House before a mass distribution of 60,000 copies sold for 25 cents each.

He went on to assume influential roles in many of the most important student upheavals of the period before focusing his rage on the United States’ involvement in Vietnam.

In 1965, as a guest of the North Vietnamese, he became one of the first Americans to visit wartime Hanoi. Years later, he urged Fonda to make the trip, a public relations disaster that saddled the actress with the derisive nickname “Hanoi Jane.”

With Rennie Davis, Abbie Hoffman and other radical leaders, Mr. Hayden went on to plot the massive antiwar demonstrations that turned Chicago’s streets into a battleground for five days in August 1968.

“Let us make sure that if our blood flows, it flows all over the city,” he told throngs of young protesters in the city’s Grant Park on the day Vice President Hubert Humphrey became the Democratic presidential nominee.

Confronted by Democratic Mayor Richard J. Daley’s 12,000 Chicago police in addition to 6,000 Army troops and 5,000 National Guardsmen, Mr. Hayden exhorted the demonstrators to “turn this overheated military machine against itself.”

After arrests and injuries ran well into the hundreds, Mr. Hayden and seven others were charged with conspiracy to incite violence. The Chicago Eight, as they were initially known, became the Chicago Seven when Black Panther leader Bobby Seale was separated from the case. Mr. Hayden was found guilty but the conviction was overturned in 1972 by an appeals court, which cited improper rulings by an antagonistic trial judge.

The rebel who by 1967 had earned a spot on the FBI’s Rabble Rouser Index would later spend the bulk of his public life trying to change the system from within.

Calling himself a “born-again middle-American,” a claim that some detractors found opportunistic, Mr. Hayden reinvented himself in the liberal mainstream, was elected to the California legislature in 1982 and for 18 years represented an affluent swath of Los Angeles County.

With funding from the profitable Jane Fonda workout franchise, he and Fonda founded the Campaign for Economic Democracy, a progressive, grass-roots organization later known as Campaign California that gave him an enduring prominence that eluded many of his old friends from the ’60s.

He was “the most influential politician to come out of the New Left,” said Todd Gitlin, a Columbia University sociologist and historian of the ‘60s who succeeded Mr. Hayden as SDS president. Unlike many on the left who disdained hierarchy, “Tom was one of very few people I knew who actually wanted to lead and liked power,” Gitlin said.

Anitwar activism

Thomas Emmett Hayden was born in Royal Oak, Mich., a middle-class Detroit suburb, on Dec. 11, 1939. His father was a former Marine who worked for Chrysler as an accountant. He was also a violent drunk and, by the time Tom was 10, his parents had divorced. He was raised by his mother.

He grew up worshipping at the church led by Father Charles Coughlin, the “radio priest” who gained national prominence during the Depression as an advocate for the jobless but later revealed himself to be a rabid anti-Semite.

Disturbed by Coughlin’s teachings, Mr. Hayden drifted away from the church in his teen years. In his farewell column as editor of the high school paper, he used the first letter of successive paragraphs to spell “Go to hell.” He was banned from attending graduation.

In 1957 Mr. Hayden entered the University of Michigan and, by his senior year, was editor of the student newspaper.

The pivotal event of his college career came during what he later called his “summer of transformation.” On a picket line outside the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, he interviewed the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “Ultimately,” King told him, “you have to take a stand with your life.”

“As I left the line, and later as I left Los Angeles, I asked myself why I should be only observing and chronicling this movement instead of participating in it,” Mr. Hayden recalled in “Reunion,” his 1988 memoir.

After graduating in 1961, he accepted an offer from SDS founder Al Haber to become the fledgling group’s field secretary in the South. He was beaten by segregationists and, on his 22nd birthday, he found himself in a jail cell in Albany, Ga., after participating in a Freedom Ride from Atlanta.

Mr. Hayden was helping organize the urban poor in Newark, an extension of his SDS experience, when he joined Marxist historian Herbert Aptheker and radical historian Staughton Lynd on a peace mission to Hanoi. Ignoring State Department prohibitions on travel to North Vietnam, Mr. Hayden arrived in Hanoi on Dec. 21, 1965, and spent much of the next 10 days surveying the destruction caused by U.S. bombs.

Two years later, Mr. Hayden made a second trip to Hanoi and wound up escorting three captured American soldiers from Phnom Penh back to the States, a North Vietnamese gesture of solidarity with the American peace movement.

In 1968, determined to find a way to “lance the tumor that Vietnam was in our lives,” he joined Hoffman and Davis as the critical Chicago leaders of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam. .

On the worst day of violence in Chicago, he was among a crush of demonstrators driven through the windows of the Hilton Hotel’s Haymarket Lounge by police brandishing batons and tear gas. Much of America watched the scene unfold live on their TV sets.

Three months later, Republican Richard M. Nixon, who had pledged to restore order in America, won the presidency by a decisive margin.

A second act

At an antiwar event in Ann Arbor, Mich., in February 1971, Mr. Hayden met Fonda, then in the midst of a transition from sex symbol in movies (“Barbarella”) to dramatic actress and left-wing activist. They did not cross paths again until early 1972, when Mr. Hayden, in cheap rubber sandals and a long braid, approached her after a speech in Los Angeles. Fonda later wrote of the “electric charge” she felt when he placed a hand on her knee.

They married in 1973, when Fonda was three months pregnant with their son. They named him Troy after a North Vietnamese dissident and chose a Hayden family name, Garity, for his last name.

By then, they were consumed by the Indochina Peace Campaign, with the objective of reviving opposition to the war and Nixon’s conduct of it.

Before embarking on a 90-city speaking tour in fall 1972, they decided to leave “behind our counterculture trappings,” Fonda wrote in her memoir, “My Life So Far.” “It wouldn’t do if the way we looked turned people off to what we were saying. So I trimmed Tom’s hair, bought him a suit and tie, exchanged his rubber sandals for brown leather, and got myself a couple of wrinkle-proof conservative outfits.”

In early 1973, the Paris Peace Accords were signed and much of the antiwar movement shut down. Mr. Hayden began to reposition himself for an extraordinary second act, culminating in his successful run for the California state assembly in 1982.

Fonda knocked on doors for him and poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into his campaign. But their united front belied increasing tensions, including his constant belittling of her fitness and movie career. Their 1990 divorce was bitter.

Mr. Hayden’s brief early marriage to civil rights worker Sandra “Casey” Cason ended in divorce. Survivors include his third wife, actress Barbara Williams, whom he married in 1993; their son, Liam; a stepdaughter, Vanessa Vadim, from Fonda’s marriage to French filmmaker Roger Vadim; and Garity, an actor who portrayed his father in the 2000 Abbie Hoffman biopic “Steal This Movie.”

Mr. Hayden vied for other offices, including the California governorship and Los Angeles mayor, but he could not fully shake his radical past, despite his assertions that he no longer clung to what he called “overly romantic” beliefs that had driven him against the establishment during a tumultuous decade.

“You don’t navigate challenges and remain unchanged,” he told Rolling Stone on the 50th anniversary of the Port Huron Statement. “Not that you don’t sometimes yearn to be young again, but you’ll never see the world the way you did when you were truly young.”

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