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Tom Hayden, Courageous Warrior for Peace

By       Message Marjorie Cohn       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   6 comments

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Tom Hayden, anti-war activist and progressive leader.
Tom Hayden, anti-war activist and progressive leader.
(Image by Common Dreams)
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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 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."

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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.

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"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.
(Image by 1965 Project)
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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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Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. An updated edition of her book, "Drones and (more...)
 

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