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Tom Hayden, Courageous Warrior for Peace

By       Message Marjorie Cohn       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   6 comments

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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."

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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.

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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.

"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."

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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."

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Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, and a member of the National Advisory Board of Veterans for Peace. Her most recent book is Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues. See  (more...)

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