Tom Hayden, Courageous Warrior for Peace

Exclusive: The death of Tom Hayden at age 76 marked the passing of a major progressive leader who championed causes from civil rights to Vietnam War opposition to the environment, as Marjorie Cohn recalls.

By Marjorie Cohn

When Tom Hayden died on Oct. 23, we lost a courageous warrior for peace and equality. Hayden was on the front lines of nearly every major progressive struggle for more than 50 years. Vilified by the Right and at times criticized from the Left, Hayden remained steadfast in his commitment to social, economic and racial justice.

An activist, political theorist, organizer, writer, speaker and teacher, Hayden was a Freedom Rider in the South during the 1960s; a founder of Students for a Democratic Society; a leader of the anti-Vietnam War movement; a community organizer; a negotiator of a gang truce in Venice, California; the author of more than 19 books; and an elected official in California for nearly two decades.

Tom Hayden, anti-war activist and progressive leader.

Tom Hayden, anti-war activist and progressive leader.

“Tom made important contributions as a writer and a political leader, but his greatest strength was as a visionary strategist,” said Bill Zimmerman, who worked with Hayden in the Indochina Peace Campaign and later managed his 1976 U.S. Senate campaign. “Tom was able to see far over the political horizon, and was then able to create and lead political movements that were often ahead of their time.  Whether it was radical opposition to war or mainstream support for candidates, progressive ballot initiatives and necessary legislation, he was a true leader, clay feet and all.”

The Indochina Peace Campaign (IPC), founded in 1972 by Hayden and Jane Fonda, who became his wife the following year, was a traveling road show that opposed the war in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Daniel Ellsberg, whose leak of the Pentagon Papers helped to end the war, traveled with Fonda, Holly Near and others for two weeks, speaking around the clock against the war.

According to Ellsberg, IPC was instrumental in ending the war. While some in the organization took to the road to organize opposition to the war, others lobbied Congress to cut the funding for combat operations. Although the Paris Peace Accord was signed in 1973, many, including Ellsberg, knew the war was not over.

Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was pressuring President Richard Nixon to restart the bombing. Congress cut the funding in 1975 and the U.S. war in Vietnam finally ended.

“IPC was a model of grassroots activism and lobbying,” Ellsberg said.

Hayden was steadfast in his opposition to the Vietnam War. He made several trips to North Vietnam, calling attention to the U.S. bombing of civilians. On one trip, at the request of the North Vietnamese government, Hayden returned to the U.S. with American prisoners of war. Since the U.S. government refused to recognize the government in Hanoi, the Vietnamese would only release the prisoners to Americans in the anti-war movement.

Advice from Dr. King

A transformative event in Hayden’s life occurred in 1960 when he was a college student. He interviewed Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on a picket line outside the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. The picket demanded that the Democratic Party include a strong commitment to civil rights in its platform. King told Hayden, “Ultimately, you have to take a stand with your life.”

Martin Luther King Jr. meeting with President Lyndon Johnson at the White House in 1966.

Martin Luther King Jr. meeting with President Lyndon Johnson at the White House in 1966.

Hayden took King’s exhortation to heart, dedicating his life to the struggles for peace, freedom, justice and equality.

Hayden will perhaps best be remembered for his lead authorship of the 1962 Port Huron Statement, which provided an ideological manifesto for the New Left. The 22-year-old began writing it while in an Albany, Georgia jail cell, after an arrest for trying to integrate a railroad station waiting room during a Freedom Ride from Atlanta.

The iconic document began, “We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit.” It focused on organizing students to oppose the Vietnam War, supporting the civil rights movement in the South, promoting campus student activism, and establishing community projects to fight poverty. The idealistic document concluded, “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.”

After Hayden moved to Newark, New Jersey, in 1964 to be a community organizer, he did not escape the notice of local FBI agents, who sought increased surveillance of Hayden. They wrote, “In view of the fact that Hayden is an effective speaker who appeals to intellectual groups and has also worked with and supported the Negro people in their program in Newark, it is recommended that he be placed on the Rabble Rouser Index.”

Hayden’s effectiveness was also noticed by J. Edgar Hoover, the notorious director of the FBI. Hoover once wrote in a memo, “One of your prime objectives should be to neutralize [Hayden] in the New Left movement.” Hoover’s objective was never realized. Hayden continued to serve as a bulwark of the Left.

In 1968, in what a national commission later called a “police riot,” law enforcement officers in Chicago attacked and injured hundreds of demonstrators outside the Democratic National Convention. Hayden, who helped plan the protests, and seven others were charged with crimes. Although they were acquitted of conspiracy, five, including Hayden, were convicted of crossing state lines to incite a riot and sentenced to five years in prison. Their convictions were reversed on appeal for judicial bias.

Hayden’s work for economic justice and democracy was far-reaching. Marc Weiss, Chairman and CEO of Global Urban Development, worked with Hayden in the Campaign for Economic Democracy, which Hayden and Fonda founded in 1976. Weiss said Hayden “cared deeply about making progressive change for a more peaceful, prosperous, equitable, sustainable, innovative, inclusive, and much better world for everyone.”

Legislative Initiatives

Elected to the California State Assembly in 1982 and the state Senate in 1992, Hayden was dubbed “the conscience of the Senate” by the Sacramento Bee. He sponsored or co-sponsored 100 pieces of legislation, including laws to lower college tuition costs, prevent discrimination in hiring, and attach safety controls to guns. In 1993, he sponsored a bill to require electric-vehicle-charging stations and legislation to require the state to find alternatives to refrigerants that destroy the ozone layer.

Image of Planet Earth taken from Apollo 17

Image of Planet Earth taken from Apollo 17

“Tom had an amazing capacity and commitment to linking environmental issues to local communities and minority community struggles,” California Senate Majority Leader Bill Monning said. “He pushed a progressive agenda within the Democratic Party and continued to visit us in Sacramento with legislative ideas to address climate change,” Monning added. “We will miss his insight, advocacy, and friendship.”

Hayden co-founded Progressives for Obama in 2008. But, Hayden wrote, “No sooner had a social movement elected [Obama] than it was time for a new social movement to bring about a New Deal, lest his domestic initiatives sink in the quagmires of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and a new peace movement must rise as well.”

In his contribution to my recent book, Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues, Hayden wrote, “The limitations of the drone war should be clear from any study of history and strategy. Wars cannot be won from secret aerial launches against unknown forces and figures on the ground.”

Indeed, Obama’s use of armed drones in seven nations has made those countries more unstable and violent. And the resulting civilian casualties serve as an effective recruitment tool for those who would harm the United States.

In 2015, Hayden spoke at a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the end of the U.S. war in Vietnam. He said, “We gather here to remember the power that we had at one point, the power of the peace movement, and to challenge the Pentagon now on the battlefield of memory.”

Hayden was responding to the Pentagon’s attempt to sanitize the history of what the U.S. did in Vietnam. “President Obama has reminded us to remember, he said, Selma, Seneca Falls and Stonewall,” Hayden noted. “But not Saigon, not Chicago, not Vietnam. We have to ask ourselves collectively why that omission exists, and realize that only we can restore a place in the proper history of those times.”

Exhorting the audience to remember, and to “unify,” Hayden bemoaned “our collective refusal to admit that the Vietnam War was wrong and that the peace movement was right.”

Humanizing War Victims

Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies said, “I remain inordinately grateful to Tom for what I learned from him – most especially that if you’re going to build a powerful movement against a war waged against a nation far away, you have to build into the center of your organizing some understanding of that country, its people, its culture.

Photos of victims of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam galvanized public awareness about the barbarity of the war. (Photo taken by U. S. Army photographer Ronald L. Haeberle)

Photos of victims of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam galvanized public awareness about the barbarity of the war. (Photo taken by U. S. Army photographer Ronald L. Haeberle)

“I learned that lesson first about Vietnam, working with Tom and Jane at the Indochina Peace Campaign for a couple of years right out of college.” Bennis added, “I worked with others later to build that same understanding into the work we did on Central America, on Iran, on Palestine and beyond.”

Many of the themes of the Port Huron Statement resonate today. In 2012, Hayden wrote in The Nation, “The Port Huron call for a life and politics built on moral values as opposed to expedient politics; its condemnation of the cold war, echoed in today’s questioning of the ‘war on terror’; its grounding in social movements against racism and poverty; its first-ever identification of students as agents of social change; and its call to extend participatory democracy to the economic, community and foreign policy spheres – these themes constitute much of today’s progressive sensibility.”

Hayden has been criticized by some on the Left for favoring reform over revolution. Most recently, Hayden switched from supporting Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton during the presidential primary. The main reason was his belief that Clinton has a stronger commitment to combatting racism than Sanders, citing the Congressional Black Caucus’ (CBC) support for Clinton. In fact, the CBC did not support Clinton. It was the CBC’s political action committee that favored her.

In refusing to wait for the general election to support Clinton, Hayden also overlooked Sanders’s record on civil rights. A leader in the Civil Rights Movement, Sanders served as president of the Congress of Racial Equality at the University of Chicago, organizing pickets and sit-ins, which led to his 1963 arrest for resisting arrest.

Before his death, Hayden worked with the Peace and Justice Resource Center, which he founded a decade ago. He published The Peace Exchange Bulletin, “critically following the Pentagon’s Long War in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, as well as the failed US wars on drugs and gangs, and US military responses to nationalism and poverty around the world.”

During Ellsberg’s 1973 Pentagon Papers trial (at which Hayden testified), Hayden’s book, The Love of Possession is a Disease With Them, was published. Ellsberg was struck by the parallels Hayden drew in the book between the U.S. anti-Indian campaigns and the U.S. “pacification” campaign in Vietnam. The book title, taken from a Sitting Bull quote, is still relevant today as the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and their allies protest the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Sitting Bull, a Lakota Indian leader who led resistance to U.S. government policies against the Native American populations before being killed by Indian agency police in 1890.

Sitting Bull, a Lakota Indian leader who led resistance to U.S. government policies against the Native American populations before being killed by Indian agency police in 1890.

“Yet hear me, people, we have now to deal with another race – small and feeble when our fathers first met them but now great and overbearing. Strangely enough they have a mind to till the soil and the love of possession is a disease with them. These people have made many rules that the rich may break but the poor may not. They take their tithes from the poor and weak to support the rich and those who rule.” — Sitting Bull, at the Powder River Council, 1877

Hayden’s many books also include Radical Nomad (1964), Irish Hunger (1968), Rebellion and Repression (1969), Trial (1970), Tom Hayden: An Activist Life (1981), Irish on the Inside (2001), The Zapatista Reader (2002), Street Wars (2004), Ending the War in Iraq (2007), Writings for a Democratic Society (2008), The Long Sixties: From 1960 to Barack Obama (2009), and Listen Yankee: Why Cuba Matters (2015). His final book, Hell No: The Forgotten Power of the Vietnam Peace Movement, will be published posthumously by Yale University Press in March 2017.

As we face the daunting challenges of U.S. militarism abroad, militarization of the police at home, and persistent economic and racial inequality, the absence of Tom Hayden is an incalculable loss.

Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former president of the National Lawyers Guild. A veteran of the Stanford anti-Vietnam War movement, she is a member of the national advisory board of Veterans for Peace. Her books include Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent. See and follow her on Twitter @marjoriecohn.




14 comments for “Tom Hayden, Courageous Warrior for Peace

  1. October 28, 2016 at 11:46

    Thanks to Marjorie Cohen for a wide ranging and moving account of the life of Tom Hayden. For many of us it was inspiring again to march with Tom in Washington last May to engage the Pentagon “on the battlefield of Memory.” Tom’.s behind the scenes negotiations with Pentagon officials on the Vietnam 50th observations got an agreement from them to halt thier new “teachings” of the Vietnam war history. Not sure if they are abiding by this agreement. Tom will be missed!
    Don North

  2. Will
    October 27, 2016 at 12:15

    Tom Hayden, did many good things, one that is often overlooked is his efforts to see that there be law and or better law for the clarity, accuracy and truthfulness of advertising, and law itself, so very much more then there now is.

  3. Jay
    October 27, 2016 at 10:10

    D. Gardner:

    Do you have links regarding Hayden supporting the abuse of the Palestinians?

    • FobosDeimos
      October 27, 2016 at 11:51

      Here is a link to a column that Tom Hayden wrote for Counterpunch ten years ago, crudely expressing his remorse for how he suppported Israel 100% in order to obtain a seat in California’s legislature. His words look sincere. However, by supporting Hillary over Sanders he showed a regrettable inclination to support some wrong causes. Anyway, his record against the Vietnam war deserves a lot of credit,I believe.

    • exiled off mainstreet
      October 27, 2016 at 11:56

      Jim Kavanaugh, in today’s mentions an article Hayden wrote himself admitting his sell-out in 1982 on this issue to gain support from the Berman machine to run for office in California.

  4. Bob Van Noy
    October 27, 2016 at 09:28

    Tom Hayden’s reactions during the 1960’s were amazingly perceptive in retrospect, and the contribution of The Port Huron Statement alone was enough to honor Tom as a true Patriot. The seemingly incongruous responses to this election will have to be explored in time and I’m sure they will be. Thanks to all…

  5. exiled off mainstreet
    October 27, 2016 at 02:09

    Whatever the merits of his earlier career Hayden blotted his copybook when he made the ultimate sell-out, coming out for war criminal Hillary Clinton over Sanders before the California primary. He must have known the facts, including her support for a no-fly zone on behalf of jihadi thugs in Syria and her criminal role in the Libya overthrow.

  6. backwardsevolution
    October 26, 2016 at 22:49

    Sounds like a good man who meant well. But another activist who was going to vote for Hillary? What? It almost seems as though these types narrow in on certain segments of society, but stop looking at the big picture. They can no longer see the real enemy, if they ever saw them at all. The elite politicians must love people like this. “Oh, Tom, what we need is…..” Fill in the blank. Tom gets busy trying to pass legislation, but meanwhile the elite are laughing and working against him. They don’t want things to be settled. They’ve been using “divide and conquer” tactics forever. They want chaos and fighting. I mean, how are they going to keep control if the peasants start seeing eye to eye on things, start voting as a block? The key is to have many disparate groups, all vying for attention and fighting for their piece of the pie. Keep them separated.

    This election is a class war: the elite against the 99%. That’s what it is. And Tom was going to vote for the 1% again?

    • Realist
      October 27, 2016 at 00:54

      Embracing Hillary is a puzzlement, but many smart people on the right side of history are still misled to conflate the candidate of the Democratic Party with progressive/liberal policy. Perhaps it was wishful thinking on Tom’s part that Hillary had really been prodded or persuaded to accept Bernie’s positions, especially after ostensibly embracing them in the debates. Her warmongering should be apparent to anyone, but I’d bet that most Americans are oblivious to it. But then how is it possible that former Vietnam war protestor John Kerry is now a shameless hawk for Obomber? The only consistent thing about humans is their inconsistency. Tom still deserves plaudits for putting his ass on the line back in the 60’s and 70’s.

      • backwardsevolution
        October 27, 2016 at 01:54

        Realist – “Tom still deserves plaudits for putting his ass on the line back in the 60’s and 70’s.” Yes, he certainly does. You are right. Sounds like he did his very best in life, which is more than can be said for most of us. Thanks.

    • Christophe
      October 27, 2016 at 08:39

      Exactly right, Tom Hayden threw his legacy away when he advocated tor Clinton as did bernie and other faux liberals!

  7. D. Gardner
    October 26, 2016 at 21:29

    Hayden supported the Jews’ ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinians and he supported Zionist terrorism. Like Hanoi Jane, he was a publicity whore and the media exploited his enthusiasm for Jewish colonialism in Palestine. Thoroughly mediocre intellectually, he will be missed very briefly by the Ziocons who have used and disposed of him after serving their purposes.

    • Zachary Smith
      October 27, 2016 at 21:07

      As the counterpunch link in a later post demonstrates, he admitted he was a sucker. I can relate to that, for most of my life I didn’t have any comprehension of how plain evil Israel actually was. It took my learning of the USS Liberty attack to change that and open my eyes. Except for that event, I might well have remained a gullible sucker still swallowing the Holy Israel propaganda.

      I don’t know what actually caused Hayden’s death, but his embrace of Hillary makes me suspect that he wasn’t in his right mind when he did that. None of us can be held responsible for what we do after our brain starts to fade away.

  8. Realist
    October 26, 2016 at 21:25

    Tom was there when the causes seemed fresh and new, when the times seemed ripe for changin… Sixty years later, the times are still changin, and Tom is now gone, along with Abby and most of the others. Just sayin.

    Words that inspired us all, from the new Nobel laureate:

    Come gather ’round people
    Wherever you roam
    And admit that the waters
    Around you have grown
    And accept it that soon
    You’ll be drenched to the bone
    If your time to you
    Is worth savin’
    Then you better start swimmin’
    Or you’ll sink like a stone
    For the times they are a-changin’.

    Come writers and critics
    Who prophesize with your pen
    And keep your eyes wide
    The chance won’t come again
    And don’t speak too soon
    For the wheel’s still in spin
    And there’s no tellin’ who
    That it’s namin’
    For the loser now
    Will be later to win
    For the times they are a-changin’.

    Come senators, congressmen
    Please heed the call
    Don’t stand in the doorway
    Don’t block up the hall
    For he that gets hurt
    Will be he who has stalled
    There’s a battle outside
    And it is ragin’
    It’ll soon shake your windows
    And rattle your walls
    For the times they are a-changin’.

    Come mothers and fathers
    Throughout the land
    And don’t criticize
    What you can’t understand
    Your sons and your daughters
    Are beyond your command
    Your old road is
    Rapidly agin’
    Please get out of the new one
    If you can’t lend your hand
    For the times they are a-changin’.

    The line it is drawn
    The curse it is cast
    The slow one now
    Will later be fast
    As the present now
    Will later be past
    The order is
    Rapidly fadin’
    And the first one now
    Will later be last
    For the times they are a-changin’.

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