The world will miss Tom Hayden
The world will miss Tom Hayden
By Dave Anderson
WHATEVER THE FUTURE holds and as satisfying as my life is today,” Tom
Hayden wrote in his 1988 memoir, “I miss the ’60s and I always will.”
Hayden was the personification of the 1960s New Left. He died on Oct.
24 at age 76. He was a leader of the radical Students for a Democratic
Society (SDS), a civil rights organizer in the South, a community
organizer in the Newark ghetto and a major figure in the movement
against the Vietnam war.
There’s a photo from the late 1970s of Hayden looking at his
22,000-page FBI file which was stacked about 5 feet high.
But he would remain an activist, writer, speaker and political
strategist for the rest of his life.
As a 22-year-old student at the University of Michigan, Hayden was the
primary author of SDS’ “Port Huron Statement,” the founding document
of the New Left movement. “We are people of this generation,” the
first lines of the manifesto read, “bred in at least modest comfort,
housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we
The 1962 document attacked the costly Cold War military budget,
challenged the nuclear arms race, and called for a new grassroots
movement against racial discrimination, poverty and war.
It called for “participatory democracy.” Hayden would explain the
concept this way many years later: “We believed in not just an
electoral democracy, but also in direct participation of students in
their remote-controlled universities, of employees in workplace
decisions, of consumers in the marketplace, of neighborhoods in
development decisions, family equality in place of Father Knows Best
and online, open source participation in a world dominated by
computerized systems of power.”
There were many victories. In 2012, Hayden would argue, “The ’60s
movements stumbled to an end largely because we’d won the major
reforms that were demanded: the 1964 and 1965 civil and voting rights
laws, the end of the draft and the Vietnam War, passage of the War
Powers Resolution and the Freedom of Information Act, Nixon’s
environmental laws, amnesty for war resisters, two presidents forced
from office, the 18-year-old vote, union recognition of public
employees and farm workers, disability rights, the decline of
censorship, the emergence of gays and lesbians from a shadow
In the 1970s, he helped found the Campaign for Economic Democracy
(CED), a statewide grassroots organization in California. Hayden
modeled CED after the Depression-era End Poverty in California (EPIC)
movement. Socialist novelist Upton Sinclair created EPIC when he was
the Democratic candidate for governor in 1934. The writer lost but
inspired many progressives.
Hayden’s CED also worked within the Democratic Party for environmental
and economic reforms.
The organization won dozens of local offices, got rent control enacted
in a number of California cities, advocated for a shift to solar power
and shut down a nuclear power plant through a referendum for the first
Hayden was elected to the California state assembly in 1982, and the
state senate 10 years later, serving 18 years in all. Republicans
tried to expel him twice for being a “traitor” (for opposing the
Vietnam war). He served under Republican governors for 15 years and
sometimes clashed with fellow Democrats who he saw as too friendly to
rich donors. “He was the radical inside the system,” said Duane
Peterson, a top Hayden advisor in Sacramento. Nevertheless, he managed
to pass over 100 measures.
He was named legislator of the year and given similar recognitions by
college student lobbyists, environmentalists, civil rights groups and
animal welfare advocates.
He left office in 2000 when he was term-limited. After that, he was
active as a writer, speaker, organizer and part-time teacher at
several colleges. He helped organize opposition to the war in Iraq.
Hayden was an Advisory Board Member of Progressive Democrats of
America which played an important role in urging Bernie Sanders to run
for president. Hayden said Sanders had the potential to “legitimize
democratic socialist measures, and leave an indelible mark on our
frozen political culture.”
But in April he reversed himself and endorsed Clinton, arguing that
Sanders was unlikely to win and that it was essential to build a
united front against Trumpian proto-fascism. He said, “I’m worried
that terrible friction is brewing between the two Democratic camps
(Clinton and Sanders).”
I shared his concerns but felt Sanders should continue his campaign
until the Democratic National Convention in order to build progressive
strength in the party.
Hayden was both hopeful and concerned about a Clinton presidency. He
wanted the successes of Bernie Sanders to be the basis for “a
permanent progressive force.”
I wish Hayden was still around for our coming battles.
This opinion column absolutely reflects the views of Boulder Weekly.
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