Oct 31, 2016 Tom Hayden and those who did and did not move away from radicalization
The Sixties — which did not begin nor end in that decade — continues to fascinate me. I was born in 1963, but too young to understand the decade at the time, to know about or witness John Coltrane live, nor to see Jim Morrison in nearby New Haven, while I lived in a parallel cocooned world in my Fairfield, Connecticut home town. The Sixties was the best and worst of times.
How much does living in America temper radicals’ radicalism? Lawyer Tony Serra remains radical after all these years. American Revolutionary Communist Party (Maoist) leader Bob Avakian seems to remain radical, even though he tempers his self-exile to France with visit(s) to the United States.
I have no affinity for Communism, leftist radicalism nor radicalism for the sake of radicalism. I believe in maintaining what works in society and changing what does not, and to remain honest to the Constitution. Complacency never is the answer, nor is conformity for the sake of conformity.
Three of the most memorable defendants in the defendant-antic-filled Chicago Seven trial were Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and Tom Hayden.
Jerry Rubin went from Yippie to unapologetic businessman. After I started working on Wall Street in 1985 during the year between college and law school, I remember seeing occasional ads for weekly networking parties at the Palladium presented by the same Jerry Rubin, and his wife Mimi Rubin. I was not interested in going there with business cards in hand to pass around. Tragically, Jerry died in 1994 after being hit by a car as a pedestrian.
Tom Hayden was a key original founder of Students for a Democratic Society. Subsequent to the Chicago Seven trial, in no particular order, he unsuccessfully ran for the United States Senate, married Jane Fonda (with whom he lived modestly despite her wealth), became a California state legislator, and worked with California governor Jerry Brown in the 1970’s on solar energy.
Beyond Chicago Seven defndants, I was riveted in my 1982 college freshman English seminar on American in the Sixties reading former Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice, which presented his insightful pen on such matters as prison life, racism, American society and the criminal justice system. I later learned that by the time Cleaver died sixteen years later, he had veered to conservative Christianity, Republicanism, and insisting that the San Francisco city council begin its sessions with the pledge of allegiance. Nobody remains static.
Tom Hayden died on October 23, 2016. Although a Los Angeles Times obituary title for Hayden reads ‘The radical inside the system,” the New York Times says Hayden in his 1988 autobiography Reunion “described himself as a ‘born-again Middle American’ and expressed regret for “romanticizing the Vietnamese” and allowing his antiwar zeal to turn into anti-Americanism.”
To me, Hayden’s importance is less about his stance on North Vietnam (nor his going to North Vietnam, let alone with American Communist theoretician Herbert Aptheker) nor his eventually becoming less radical, but about his stand and work against racism in the South in the early 1960’s when doing so was particularly dangerous, his writing a jailhouse draft (after being arrested in the South) of what later became the basis for the SDS platform, his being a Chicago Seven defendant, and his figuring out a way to make those experiences meaningful in his later life and work.
Hayden also is important when considering how intent the FBI was at going after him, apparently beginning in 1960. The Los Angeles Times in 1977 reported on Hoover’s direct insistence in 1968 (when Johnson was president) on going after Hayden, saying in a memorandum “‘In pursuing this case, you should bear in mind that one of your prime objectives should be to neutralize him in the new left movement. The bureau will entertain recommendations of a counterintelligence nature in order to accomplish this objective . . .'” Hoover continued: “‘The investigation of Hayden . . . is of prime importance to the bureau. You will be expected to pursue it aggressively and with imagination. Inadequate and delayed reporting of important developments will not be tolerated . . .'”
The closest I have come to rubbing elbows and beyond wimportant developments will not be tolerated . . .” ith 1960’s figures was in teaming up with Lyndon Johnson’s last attorney General Ramsey Clark (still alive) in 2000 in defending the late Philip Berrigan and three other Plowshares peace activists, and in meeting Dan Berrigan at Phil’s wake in 2002. On the jazz music side, I finally met McCoy Tyner, who played a few years with John Coltrane, and spent some time with Cecil Taylor and friends after his 1999 concert.
The Sixties is old history for a huge percentage of Americans. That distance of memory was a boon to the American military, which went from dissection under the microscope of all the American military atrocities in Vietnam, to low numbers of military volunteers through the early 1980’s, to increased enlistment with Top Gun images and propaganda, to Gulf War II mainly staffed by soldiers born after the Vietnam War ended in 1975. The American military learned its lesson from the stinging reporting of unregulated journalists in Vietnam, by glossing up its propaganda to the news media and public, and by doing the military’s best to embed journalists for subsequent conflicts.
Flashpoints for Sixties activists were President Johnson and his escalation of the Vietnam War, and Richard Nixon, who perpetuated the Vietnam War before finding a way to scale it back on the way to its end in 1975, and who seemed to represent just about everything that hippies were not.
Tom Hayden passed away before learning the outcome of the current presidential race, which offers an abysmal choice between Donald Trump, a dangerous not-ready-for-prime-time presidency buffoon who enables racism and racists, and email-challenged Hillary Clinton, who is too hawkish and simply no prize.