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Late Tom Hayden — Career '60s Radical

Late Tom Hayden — Career '60s Radical

Tom Hayden, Dec. 11, 1939-Oct. 23, 2016 (AP Photo/Lennox McLendon)

By Monday, 24 October 2016 10:17 PM Current | Bio | Archive

News Monday night of the death of Tom Hayden brought back some powerful memories for this reporter. Whether or not one agreed with one of the founding father of campus radicalism in the '60s, former California state legislator Hayden (who died at 76) inarguably had a long-running "gig" that inevitably provided "good copy" for those who interviewed him.

When the draft to conscript young men into the service had ended in 1971 and the U.S. concluded its role in the Vietnam War, the two major engines that fueled the leftist protests Hayden helped start essentially shut down. One would think, then, Hayden would devote his energy to other causes with then-wife Jane Fonda or would have a long career in elective politics.

But Hayden fueled memories of the movement he started to rev up another generation. In the process, he provided forums to recall his glory days as the high priest of protest. And he kept his name in the news.

In 1996, I first met and interviewed Hayden at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The occasion was a reunion of the "Chicago 7," the celebrated group of anti-Vietnam War protesters who helped lead the violent clashes with the Chicago police at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

The "7" were subsequently tried on charges of crossing state lines with intent to incite a riot, convicted, and had their convictions eventually overturned. Most of them were there: Hayden, Black Panther leader Bobby Seale, aging anti-war activist David Dellinger (who had been a conscientious objector in World War II), community organizer-turned-protester Rennie Davis, as well as many other veterans of the "days of rage" in the Windy City 28 years earlier.

Hayden and the others let me know they were furious at then-President Bill Clinton for cooperating with the Republican majority in Congress and signing measures such as the "tough-love" welfare reform package.

But few reporters cared what the "Chicago 7" thought about current politics. What interested them was history and irony of the reunion. In 1968, then-Mayor Richard J. Daley ordered police to "shoot to kill" protesters who created disorder. In 1996, his son and then-Mayor Richard M. Daley welcomed Hayden and Company warmly and proclaimed any rancor from years ago over.

In May 2015, Hayden was still at it. This time he helped organize a reunion in Washington, D.C. to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first march to protest the Vietnam War. Speaking at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, Hayden told of his talks with Pentagon officials to get a memorial to the anti-war protesters "near the Vietnam Memorial" which honors U.S. servicemen killed in the conflict that ended in 1973.

"It's stunning we don't have a memorial," Hayden declared. He then voiced to Newsmax his view that Vietnam — united under Communist rule since South Vietnam surrendered to North Vietnam on April 30, 1975 — is "a free country."

Referring to Bui Tin, the North Vietnamese colonel who received the surrender from acting South Vietnamese President Duong van Minh that day, this reporter quoted him to Hayden as later saying: "Every day, our leadership would listen to world news over the radio at 9 a.m. to follow the growth of the anti-war movement. Visits to Hanoi by people like Jane Fonda [Hayden's former wife] and former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and ministers gave us confidence we should hold on in the face of battlefield reverses."

"I don't agree with him, but he's entitled to his opinion," Hayden said of Bui Tin's remarks.

"It's a free country."

"Vietnam under communism is a free country?" I asked Hayden.

"Vietnam, the U.S — he can say whatever he wants," he replied.

As successful in attracting publicity as his regular revivals of the "1960s left" were, Hayden was never able to turn them into vehicles to win office. Aside from stints in the California Assembly (1982-'92) and senate (1992-'00), Hayden lost his bids for all other offices he sought: U.S. senator, governor, mayor of Los Angeles, and — in his final run for office — a seat on the Los Angeles City Council.

That was in 2001, when Hayden was 60. On the day after his defeat, Steve Moses, veteran Los Angeles Democratic power, left a message that summed up Hayden's dilemma in achieving office: "Tom is finding out that being in his 60s is different from being in the '60s."

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

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Whether or not one agreed with one of the founding father of campus radicalism in the '60s, former California state legislator Tom Hayden (who died at 76) inarguably had a long-running "gig" that inevitably provided "good copy" for those who interviewed him.
rip, Tom Hayden, 60s, protest
Monday, 24 October 2016 10:17 PM
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