This Stupid Election Killed Tom Hayden
Tom Hayden and his FBI file, 1979
As someone who was born the year after Tom Hayden co-founded Students for a Democratic Society in 1961, Yr. Dok Zoom is just a tad too young to have many firsthand memories of Mr. Hayden, who died Sunday at the age of 76. He was a person we knew about secondhand, mostly as a college student in the Reagan years, and Hayden would still occasionally make the news since he was by then a member of the California Assembly. Any mention of Hayden back then would inevitably trigger some angry letters to the Arizona Republic saying that it still wasn't too late to try Hayden and his then-wife Jane Fonda for treason and have them share an electric chair, because they went to North Vietnam and betrayed America. We're certain we can find similar comments in reply to online obituaries today, but we won't go looking for them.
According to his wife, Barbara Williams, Hayden had heart problems and had become ill during July's Democratic National Convention, so get ready for another entry on the "Clinton Circle of Death" list -- clearly, he had to be silenced. Or perhaps not -- in April, he sold out and wrote a piece for The Nation on why he was throwing his support from Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton.
Hayden drafted what became the Port Huron Statement, the SDS's manifesto, while he was in jail in Georgia for Civil Rights activism. We'd never actually read it before, but the thing that jumps out at us is the first line, which quite consciously situates the student movement in a context of middle-class privilege. It is SO VERY BOOMER, and we say that as a tail-end of the Boom Boomer ourselves:
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.
And then, on to the disillusionment and the realization that the rest of America didn't grow up in that same world, and the stories America told itself glossed over a lot of the not so nice stuff. We feel like we need to go watch The Big Chill again, right now.
A couple of Trivia Facts from the NYT obituary that made us say "No shit!?"
He attended a parish school. The pastor was the Rev. Charles Coughlin, the anti-Semitic radio priest of the 1930s and a right-wing foe of the New Deal.
At Dondero High School in Royal Oak, [Michigan] Mr. Hayden was editor of the student newspaper. His final editorial before graduation in 1957 almost cost him his diploma. In his exhortation to old-fashioned patriotism, he encrypted, in the first letter of each paragraph, an acrostic for “Go to hell.”
You have to like a smartass like that, although of course Hayden's fellow Chicago Seven defendant Abbie Hoffman was the ur-smartass, the one to write Revolution for the Hell of It and Steal This Book, while Hayden did the earnest activist stuff that got the '60s protest movements rolling. Hayden went to Vietnam and wrote books portraying the North Vietnamese as freedom fighters, for which the American Right could never forgive him. And they hated him for "making excuses" for civil unrest, because that would suggest America, not individual poor people, somehow was not doing things right:
Mr. Hayden directed an S.D.S. antipoverty project in Newark from 1964 to 1967, and in his last year witnessed days of rioting, looting and destruction that left 26 people dead and hundreds injured. In “Rebellion in Newark” (1967), he wrote, “Americans have to turn their attention from the lawbreaking violence of the rioters to the original and greater violence of racism.”
Huh. Things sure have not changed. Let's blame LBJ and the War on Poverty, shall we? There's more, of course, and the New York Times obit, as ever, is required reading. You might also want to keep an eye out for Hayden's final book, Hell No: The Forgotten Power of the Vietnam Peace Movement, on its way in May of next year. In addition, WBUR's Here and Now has a nice interview with Hayden, recorded at the Democratic Convention in July.
We can't say we knew about Tom Hayden the way we knew about other damn commie hippie liberals who came just before our own political time. But we can say we wish we had. Another snippet from the Times Obit:
“One of your prime objectives,” J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime F.B.I. director, said in one memo, “should be to neutralize him in the New Left movement.”
Anybody who wasn't a mafioso but who could inspire that sort of loathing from J. Edgar Hoover had to be onto something. We're looking forward to reading your thoughts on Tom Hayden in the comments, which as always, are not allowed.
Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.