One of the most influential anti-Vietnam War activists, Tom Hayden, has died at the age of 76 following a lengthy illness, the Los Angeles Times reported. Unknown to many millennials, Hayden came to prominence during the 1960s fighting against war as a part of the Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS, before he went on to marry Jane Fonda, successfully run for state office in California, and author some 19 books championing liberal causes. His ongoing political influence is remarkable, but for him the '60s were still the key time in his life.
"Whatever the future holds and as satisfying as my life is today," he wrote in his memoir Reunion, "I miss the '60s and I always will." That's probably because of the role the decade took in shaping his life. After graduating from the University of Michigan, he headed to work in the South in the fight against desegregation, the original goal of SDS, at the beginning of the decade. But by the time he returned home to Michigan, his focus, and that of his organization broadened to include perceived injustice around the world as summarized in the group's Port Huron Statement, which Hayden primarily authored:
We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit.
They called for disarmament, university reform, as well as reform of the Democratic Party to better integrate the party. While this work alone would be extremely influential, especially for someone of his age at the time, he was just getting started. As his focus moved then toward opposition of the Vietnam War, he once again came up against the then Democratic Party machine. He and seven others — known as the "Chicago 8" (later the "Chicago 7," after Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale was tried separately) — were arrested and charged with conspiracy and inciting a riot after the 1968 Democratic Party Convention in the city.
Hayden and four others were found guilty on some of the counts, and they were sentenced to five years in prison. They did not serve, because the convictions were thrown out on appeal, and the trial was found to be "acrimonious," and as much the judge's fault as the defendants' fault. A later government study placed most of the fault for the violence with the police. In the end, the protests worked, at least in Hayden's view. "In 1968, I thought it was reasonable to anticipate a police state," he told the Associated Press decades later. "But in 1972, the people who were running the Democratic Party four years before were out and the people who were in the streets were in."
Hayden went on to marry Fonda in 1973, and shortly after they made a controversial visit to North Vietnam, one of many for Hayden. After his first visit in 1965, the FBI began to monitor Hayden's movements; on his second, he brought home three prisoners of war, for which the State Department thanked him.
While linked with Fonda, he was able to use her financial help to run for the California State Assembly and later the California State Senate. He served for nearly two decades, leaving office in 2000. He and Fonda divorced 10 years earlier in 1990; both would go on to remarry. But even after he left political office, he continued his influential political writing — up and through the current election.
He wrote for The Nation magazine in April, "I Used to Support Bernie, but Then I Changed My Mind" — as you can guess, he decided to endorse Clinton instead for the California primary. He wrote that he had one "fundamental reason":
When I understood that the overwhelming consensus from those communities was for Hillary — for instance the Congressional Black Caucus and Sacramento's Latino caucus — that was the decisive factor for me. I am gratified with Bernie's increasing support from these communities of color, though it has appeared to be too little and too late.
He also noted the importance to come together behind one candidate to win the presidency and thus the upcoming Supreme Court vacancies. "We still need the organizing of a united front of equals to prevail against the Republicans," he wrote. "It will take a thorough process of conflict resolution to get there, not a unilateral power wielding by the usual operatives. It's up to all of us."
He unfortunately won't be here in November to see that happen, but his words remain true.