Tom Hayden, famed ’60s anti-war activist, dies at 76

I just woke up to find that Tom Hayden passed away last night. Here, for those of you who may have missed it the first time around, is our discussion from 2012, which, sadly, I’ve yet to finish my transcription of. You can still listen to it, though.


Earlier this evening, I had the occasion to speak with activist and author Tom Hayden about his role in the drafting of the Port Huron Statement, the circumstances which gave rise to this widely influential manifesto of the New Left, and his evolution from student journalist to impassioned activist. Hayden, who is often credited with having giving rise to the culture of protest that was pervasive in the 1960s, will be in Ann Arbor later this week, addressing those gathered on the campus of the University of Michigan to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Port Huron Statement. The entire agenda for the three day event, which is free and open to the public, can be found here. Hayden’s keynote, entitled “The Future of Participatory Democracy,” will be delivered at 7:30 PM on Thursday, November 1, at 1324 East Hall. Those interested in attending can register online.

My intention is to eventually type up all of my notes and post them along with this audio file, but, as the 50th anniversary events begin tomorrow, I thought that I should probably just go ahead and share what I have already.

I hope that you enjoy this discussion as much as I did.

And here are my very rough notes on our discussion. If you should happen to find anything that needs editing, or requires clarification, please let me know…

SEVERAL TIMES DURING MY DISCUSSION WITH HAYDEN, I reference an earlier conversations with Alan Haber, the founder of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the organization responsible for the production and disseminated the Port Huron Statement, which, as most of you know, was primarily authored by Hayden. Video of my discussions with Haber, for those of you who are interested, can be found elsewhere on this site (Part I, Part II).

HAYDEN AND I BEGIN BY DISCUSSING THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN IN 1957. He doesn’t mention it here, but, in a previous conversation, he tells me that, by the time he reached campus, the specter of McCarthyism had lifted somewhat. (As you may recall, when I spoke with Haber, he mentioned that one of his first memories at U-M, as a freshman in 1954, was interacting with a small group of faculty, on the steps of the Union, protesting the dismissal of professors Chandler Davis, Mark Nickerson, and Clement Markert, all of whom had been fired for having refused to “name names” in front of the House Unamerican Activities Committee.) Hayden’s introduction to progressive politics, it would seem, was more gradual.

Hayden was interested in journalism at a young age, and, when he came to the University in 1957, he found a home for himself at the Michigan Daily, where he eventually became the paper’s editor. In his capacity as a student journalist, Hayden began writing about the sit-ins and lunch counter protests taking place in the south, and the activities of fellow students, like Haber, who were seeking to organize like-minded individuals on campus. Over time, as Hayden traveled across the United States, covering student movements for the Daily, he felt himself becoming more political… Hayden hitchhiked from Ann Arbor to Berkley in 1960 to report on the activities of students there, and, that same summer, he attended the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, reporting on Kennedy’s nomination. Things finally started to crystalize for him, however, in the spring of 1961, when he and some friends drove to Fayette County, Tennessee, to work with share croppers who were fighting for the right to vote. The sit-in movement, he says, hit him viscerally. And, as a result, in the summer of 1961, he joined SDS, alongside Haber.

He says that Haber, Bob Ross and Sharon Jeffrey had been encouraging him to get involved for a while. Haber, according to Hayden, wanted him to be a pamphleteer for the group, producing written materials, and traveling to other northern campuses, in hopes of starting additional SDS chapters. Hayden says that he was different from the others in the group, in that he didn’t come from a UAW, old left, labor background. He describes himself at that time as being a “non-conforming intellectual with an affinity toward Jack Kerouac and On the Road.” He was primarily interested, he tells me, in traveling, getting to know those individuals who where putting their lives on the line to fight for equality, and documenting the struggle in print. This evolution continued to the point where, in 1961, Hayden chose to take part in the Freedom Rides, putting his own life on the line to challenge the status quo of the segregated American south.

HAYDEN MENTIONS IN OUR DISCUSSION THAT HE’S WRITTEN A NEW PIECE FOR THE MICHIGAN DAILY, on the 50th anniversary of the Port Huron Statement. As luck would have it, the article just went live a few minutes ago. Here’s a clip.

…Nothing turned out as I once imagined. There was one constant: the tides of movements and counter-movements kept churning. Movements based on participatory democracy eventually gained some meaningful reforms: voting rights for southern black people and 18-year olds, the fall of two presidents, amnesty for 50,000 war resisters in Canada, the Freedom of Information Act, democratic reforms of the presidential primary systems, collective bargaining rights for public employees and farmworkers, the Roe v. Wade decision, the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species acts, a long list of reforms gained in less than a decade.

Social change did occur, precious inch by bloody inch, becoming sacred ground that had to be protected, decade after decade, from both reaction and oblivion.

Underlying all of this tumultuous history lay the rocky river of participatory democracy – “the river of my people” – which kept flowing.

Now, to paraphrase Port Huron, we are the elders of this generation looking uncomfortably to the world we leave behind as inheritance. The reforms we achieved are under constant assault from the right and stagnating with the passage of time.

We are in the process of a new beginning, signaled by the deep American discontent with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the threat of more wars to come and the immense diversion of trillions of tax dollars from our needs at home for health care and affordable education. Like the ’60s, another imperial presidency is on the rise, unleashing covert military operations in multiple countries without serious congressional oversight or civic awareness. Like the ’60s, the long war leaves greater economic inequality and environmental depletion in its wake…


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  1. Eel
    Posted October 24, 2016 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    The USA Today headline notes his relationship with Jane Fonda. None of the others that I’ve seen have. I find that interesting.

  2. Meta
    Posted October 24, 2016 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    He was working against Trump at the end.

    From NPR:

    More recently, he surprised some in progressive circles by supporting Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders in this year’s Democratic primary.

    “Bernie and I only have one thing in common you need to know: We’re both politicians so we make decisions based on what’s possible,” he told NPR this summer. “I’ve really been trying to work towards a goal that seems to be getting realized, and that’s a serious united front against Trump.”

    Read more:

  3. Anonymous
    Posted October 24, 2016 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    The University of Michigan bought his archives, in case you’re interested.

    They paid $200,000 for them.

  4. Posted October 24, 2016 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    Life is impermanent. Eventually, we will also pass on.

  5. Bob
    Posted October 24, 2016 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

    Until Jean posts some 10,000 word, cut and paste rant, culled from various questionable sources on this subject, I have no opinion.

  6. jean henry
    Posted October 24, 2016 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    I actually write those posts, Bob. Crazy huh?

  7. jean henry
    Posted October 24, 2016 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

    Hayden was a smart man. an advocate. A strategic thinker. A true progressive. Not an ideologue.
    He was also interviewed on WCBN recently. I was interested to learn that the first teach in at U-M on the Vietnam war featured both pro and anti-war speakers. He said it was probably the only teach in that did so. We are certainly far away from that democratic ideal in poliiics now.

  8. jean henry
    Posted October 24, 2016 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    the comments section on the Nation piece is really a testament. Not to Hayden. The far left is just veering towards madness or at least towards the alt right. I suppose we can blame Assange. I am still baffled by the purity testing. I don’t understand how liberals can go there. It’s so far from classical liberal thought.

  9. Posted October 24, 2016 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

    There were zero comments.

  10. Westside
    Posted October 25, 2016 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    Rest in peace brave warrior!

    I wonder what his position would have been on the Library lot?

  11. jean henry
    Posted October 25, 2016 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Pete: I was referring to the nation piece by Hayden that I linked, not the obit

  12. jean henry
    Posted October 25, 2016 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Re the library lot– I doubt he would support a costly public amenity–the park–over 5 million for affordable housing, but I could be wrong. Hayden, even in the Port Huron Statement saw the value in a diversity of opinions and political perspectives to Create change. Public discourse in A2 these days (and maybe Ypsilanti?) is dominated by the loud and dogmatic. It stifles all reasonable discourse. Disagreement or even questioning gets you put on the enemies list. Most people don’t want to speak their minds for fear of social approbation by friends and neighbors– or they just hate conflict. I wish the lot issue and the deer had gone to a vote. I think that would have ended this nonsense.

  13. Posted October 25, 2016 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Yes, there were zero comments on the Nation article.

  14. Jean Henry
    Posted October 25, 2016 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    No Pete. There are 297 comments. Scroll to bottom, click tab that says ‘297 comments’ — look again, Old Man.

  15. Posted October 25, 2016 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

    I was not aware, Jean, that he’d had a pro-war speaker at that first teach-in. Thanks for bringing that to my attention. I would have liked to have asked him if he’d fought to also have that side included in subsequent events. And, if not, why?

  16. Posted October 25, 2016 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    More importantly, though, if he were alive today, I’d like to ask about his secretary’s big, white, square panties.

  17. Posted October 25, 2016 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

    There were zero comments again.

  18. Jean Henry
    Posted October 26, 2016 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    Dude… here’s a taste.
    Stephen Kastner says:
    April 16, 2016 at 2:23 pm
    Tom, I am still proud to say I hung out with you in Washington DC back in 2004 when we worked with Tim Carpenter, Kevin Spidel, Mimi Kennedy, David Cobb and Laura Bonham among hundreds of other people from all across the USA to create the Progressive Democrats of America. You taught me that war and war-profiteering was at the root of almost all of our other social and environmental problems. I have been fighting for that cause ever since… what happened to you?

    Marc Wutschke says:
    April 16, 2016 at 7:42 am
    Is he still around? Hayden ceased to be radical, and relevant, long, long ago. He became, and is still, a shill for the Democratic Party, the graveyard of progressive causes and of progressive careers. That he now tethers himself to the right wing of the Democratic Party and its militaristic, oligarchic embodiment is embarrassing at least, but not surprising given his trajectory.

    Francis Louis Szot says:
    April 17, 2016 at 1:49 pm
    Tom Hayden was right about the disaster of the Vietnam invasion many years before most people of the USA were. In retrospect, that now mundane observation seems insufficient to build any reputation for salient insight or analysis upon, given the abomination of that genocidal national sin. Now he comes out and throws down with the EXACT rationale, apology, and CONTINUATION of imperial policies, international follies, and war crimes that operatives and office holders have forced upon our nation since then. Better if he had remained quiet and held on to the remnants of respect that some old amigos still held for him.

    600038186 says:
    April 15, 2016 at 9:38 pm
     …and I should care about a celebrity’s ex’s opinion on political matters because? Go Bernie!

    Daniel Kloke says:
    April 15, 2016 at 5:35 pm
    “Democrats all have to unite to win the White House and Supreme Court this year, building bridges without permanent bruising or the confusion of divide-and-conquer.”

    You mean, like the Tea Party and the Republican Establishment had to unite to take over Congress?

    We now know for an absolute fact that party unity is NOT a requirement. And the Clintonian claim that it is is nothing less than the most transparent argument for an abjectly passive acceptance of oligarchy.

    Clinton abstainers should vote in this most important election, they don’t have to select a Presidential candidate. A presidential choice is NOT the price of admission to active participation; one can vote leave entire categories blank.

    Rick Woodburn says:
    April 15, 2016 at 3:38 pm
    Just as Republicans over the years have been able to unjustly paint Hillary as dishonest and untrustworthy. The Hillary campaign and Democratic establishment (one in the same) have successfully and unjustly painted the Sanders campaign as a racist white campaign. It’s sad.

    Seth Johnson says:
    April 15, 2016 at 1:06 pm
    Adios Nation. Canceling today.

    Francis Louis Szot says:
    April 17, 2016 at 1:59 pm
    Really, Seth? This article is not labeled as an Editorial. Just because they give the guy a dozen paragraphs to rewrite his legacy, to his detriment I believe, is not any reason to throw such a tantrum. Tom Hayden does not speak for The Nation, just as no individual writer can make that claim. Lighten up a bit.

    Peter White says:
    April 14, 2016 at 5:12 pm
    Tom will vote for Hillary because of race? Are you kidding me? Hillary’s record is disgraceful re: African Americans. It’s true, the Congressional Black Caucus has endorsed her but if she wins you can bet they will be the first in line to try and collect that debt of support. Why doesn’t Hayden make up his own mind about Sanders and Clinton for his own reasons instead of borrowing them from other people?

    Cary Ussery says:
    April 14, 2016 at 4:38 pm
    I think the saddest thing here is to see the comment section where Bernie supporters in their zealousness attacking someone (Hayden) who has been a strong advocate for many, many causes over the years.

    What is it with all these Sanders supporters? As I read day after day all these comments about how horrible Hillary Clinton is and I see virtually NOTHING about why someone should actually vote FOR Bernie, instead of AGAINST Hillary. And to say you support Hillary Clinton is to invite a barrage of insults.

    Consider that it is possible to agree with issues that are raised by progressives (including Sanders) but to worry about whether an strong, activist Federal government looking to micromanage is the best way to solve these issues. Take the ‘free college’ narrative. Colleges don’t run without money; professors need to get paid, facilities built and maintained, etc. So the solution being proposed is that the federal government subsidize 67% of the cost and states subsidize 33% of the costs. This is supposedly ‘paid for’ by new taxes on stock/bond/derivative trading. Today, in my state, around 30% of the budget is already going to education; 21.3% to K-12 and 7.5% to the state university system. So let’s assume, for kicks, that Bernie somehow to convince Congress to impose this new tax on Wall Street (remember the President has no say over taxes). Current revenue from tuitions at the University of CA are a little more than $3B; so the proposal here is that the state government will need to contribute at least $1B dollars more to just the UC system (these are not the only state universities); pretty big order with no plan for increased tax revenue for the state.

    What we all want, presumedly, is to increase the access to a university education for all without leaving with a heavy student loan burden. So why not increase tuition assistance for those that need it, create interest-free student loan programs, help state governments with their educational costs, etc. These are not good ‘sound bites’ in a campaign but they could offer real, immediate help to address the real issue here.

    And consider long term consequences of a full-subsidized public college system. What has happened in K-12 public education; a reduction of services, classes only for core academics, cutting of music/art/etc. options, removal of AP courses, and so on. What would be the effect on quality of courses, pressure on syllabuses, political pressure on tenure, fundamental vs. contracted research, …? Would we see a move of quality professors from the public college/universities into private universities?

    In addition, where does the student’s accountability and responsibility come from? I have put 2 kids through college (and 2 more to come). Part of their motivation to succeed there is due to the fact that they know it is something their parents are enabling for them as a priviledge and not a right.

    Without going on and on, this is just one example of where there are reasons to question Sanders solutions and see more merit in Hillary’s higher education proposals. The same holds true for many of these proposals: breaking up banks, etc. The issues are ‘right’ but the solutions being offered by Sanders don’t always seem right.

    So, anyway, I’m voting for Clinton as well. I don’t agree with everything she has ever done and said but that is true for just about every other person I know in the world. I do feel she is the best person to help the middle and poorer class. Of course there will be compromises along the way; I’d like to hear from any person who doesn’t have to compromise on various things in their daily life. For people who want to see the ‘system’ change, then be part of the change. You would be surprised that most politicians (Hillary and Bernie included) respond to public sentiment and it is in the public that real change can be made. Take gay marriage or LBGT rights; these didn’t happen because some president or politician championed them; they happened because we, the people, the general population changed; that’s how real revolution happens.

    Keith Davis says:
    April 15, 2016 at 1:51 pm
    “Free college” – “Build the wall”, “Breakup the banks” – “Ban Muslims”, “Bring all the jobs back from China” – “Deport Mexicans”. Bernie uses the same shallow demagoguery as Trump, he just has different solutions. But life is not that simple, slogans are not solutions. Your point about how states are not going to be able pay 1/3rd of college costs without hollowing out public colleges is an excellent example Cary.

    Kent Bott says:
    April 14, 2016 at 2:29 pm
    Hillary’s problem … for the most part, only establishment Democrats vote for her and many of us Bernie supporters are not Democrats … establishment or not. If anyone cannot see the long string of poor judgment calls that Clinton is guilty of is simply not willing to look at her record or they must love war like Hillary seems to. Experience is not a good thing when your experience has been mostly exercising poor judgment and ending up with horrible outcomes.

    Earl W Koteen says:
    April 14, 2016 at 1:47 pm
    Tom, When you lie down w/ dogs, you get up w/ fleas. I was a supporter of Bill Clinton back in the day. I was mistaken. Hill and Bill are now so beholding to big money that they will just continue the downward spiral that started with Reagan. I repent my ignorance. Don’t imagine you can pull the wool over our eyes again.

    Michelle Sharma says:
    April 14, 2016 at 1:29 pm
    To think that Hillary won’t be mercilessly attacked if she is the dem nominee is as farcical as the premise of this article–“Voting for Hillary is the right thing to do because she has more of the minority vote”… The Republicans are practically salivating at the chance to destroy her and her brand–her husband’s scandal, the Benghazi hearings and now the investigation into her emails.

    Mark Andreadis says:
    April 14, 2016 at 8:40 am
    I think it’s doubtful he had a catharsis. I find it unlikely that Hayden is “switching” to HRC because of issues of race. I spoke to Hayden around the time Bill was “ending welfare as we know it”. I’m pretty sure he was aware of the implications of the plan for African Americans. I’m sure he is also well acquainted with Sanders record, and has been for years. His assertion that he is in favor of Clinton because she has gotten a larger percentage of the Black vote is completely improbable. He has studied political theory and race relations for 50 years, and he thinks too highly of his own intellect to base his opinions on what a majority of voters believe, regardless of their race. Hayden was a state legislator in the Democratic Party for years and now runs an organization within the party. He is part of the Democratic establishment. I just assume he is speaking as a surrogate for Clinton. Hillary’s poll numbers indicate she is losing voters to Sanders as people get to know him. It seems much more probable that this convenient counter narrative was contrived by some campaign strategist.

    John Ted Glick says:
    April 14, 2016 at 6:48 am
    Hayden’s bottom line is that because Hillary is getting a much higher percentage of people of color votes, it would be a betrayal on his part to not support her. Really? My thought on reading that was to think of the likely situation in the very early years of the civil rights movement as far as who masses of black people were supporting if they had been given the choice of voting for the NAACP or voting for SNCC. Based upon what I’ve read and learned, I would be very surprised if SNCC would have won an election if there had been one among black people in the south between between those two groups.
    Hillary is like the NAACP back then–on the right side, certainly, compared to the white racist power structure, but, in general (there were certainly great local NAACP leaders like Medgar Evers), not up to the historical task in the crisis situation being faced the way SNCC was. Today, it is young black and brown and other people of color who, polls show, are supporting Bernie over Hillary. The fact that Hayden doesn’t seem to get that fact and its importance is sad and telling.

    Brent Holman says:
    April 14, 2016 at 2:05 am
    How many trees have to die to get someone elected? (Snark)

    Beth Schlau says:
    April 14, 2016 at 12:22 am
    Tom; you are a chump

    Beth Schlau says:
    April 14, 2016 at 1:03 am
    and to think that this drivel was penned by the author of the Port Huron Statement.

    Manuel Fiadeiro says:
    April 13, 2016 at 10:43 pm
    Tom, does your campaign to get a seat at the Democratic National Committee have anything to do with it?

    Kristin Kaul says:
    April 13, 2016 at 8:54 pm
    I’m so sad to see The Nation publish this piece given its position as one of the few widely-read outlets supporting Bernie Sanders. Aren’t there already enough MSM outlets willing to sell Hillary’s version? Also, he lost me right at the beginning with the phrase “ Democrats all have to unite to win the White House and Supreme Court this year”. If this election has shown us nothing else, it is that politics as usual, choosing the supposed “lesser evil”, is past its due date and no longer represents reality. Enough is enough, but even more than that, a Hillary presidency is downright terrifying. Who will we declare war on first? Which country will be the first to have a State Dept-driven soft coup or have sanctions raised against it because it presumes to have its own opinions about what is best for its own people? I read today that a recent poll shows that if Bernie were to run as an Independent, he would win hands-down. I wish he would consider what’s at stake here and consider doing so.

    Jessica Woodhouse says:
    April 13, 2016 at 7:58 pm
    bizarre b belief. The entire letter is a laundry list of positions that Hillary DOESN’T support and Bernie has staunchly battled for over 30 year in public office. Yet somehow we are to believe that if elected Hillary will magically unite the Party, defy her corporate donors, and walk away from a lifelong commitment to inside-the-beltway establishment politics to do a whole bunch of things that she isn’t even promising to do during campaign season let alone any other time. What on earth can be said about this? And how has a once principled man become so terribly lost?

    Aileen Corelli says:
    April 13, 2016 at 7:58 pm
    First, I find nothing after a few hours of research, that indicates Tom Hayden ever publicly supported Sanders, so the inference in the title is a bit misleading. That said, this “celebrity battleground” of who supports who is getting tiresome. And I do consider Hayden a celebrity, and one with very little credibility at this point. Yes, he served in government, but as a 60s throwback, and he most certainly has no real understanding of what the current election is about (the above and his 10/10/2015 HuffPost article made that pretty clear). As to his “Center for Peace and Justice in Culver City, read “tax front” for getting speaking, writing, and teaching gigs). He may have been a “radical” at one time, but no longer, and he’s certainly no progressive; at best he is a political re-tread, desperately trying to remind a nation that he still exists, completely unaware that we simply don’t care.

    Charles K Black says:
    April 13, 2016 at 7:55 pm
    Hey Tom, maybe you should read “Listen, Liberal” by Thomas Frank. You certainly fit the description of the yuppies that control the DNC. You might have a more receptive audience over at Bloomberg Business.

    Martin M Brod says:
    April 13, 2016 at 7:12 pm
    Hillary Clinton aids and abets Bibi Netanyahu who should be on trial for crimes against humanity.
    Hillary Clinton has supported the 2009 coup in Honduras.
    Hillary Clinton had a major role in allowing Isis to take over Libya.
    Hillary Clinton is once again attractive to the neo-cons who recognize her for
    her usefulness in Iraq and Syria.
    Hillary Clinton’s taking large speaking fees from US and Canadian banks,
    prior to her announcing for the presidency, shows her insatiable appetite for money.
    Hillary Clinton does not have a moral compass, she rather prefers to use a political weathervane.

    Roger Weise says:
    April 15, 2016 at 1:55 am
    And in addition, Mrs. Clinton is proud to be a friend of the war criminal Henry Kissinger. She actually bragged about this in two of the Democratic debates.

    Thomas Wells says:

  19. Jean Henry
    Posted October 26, 2016 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    Mark– The bit about having a pro-war speaker was on Rebecca Harden and co.’s show that I linked. He said it never happened again.T took the implication to be that the topic became to divisive for discourse once we invaded. given the draft ect, that makes more sense then as the norm than now. But it would be a good question. There were a few organizers being interviewed on that show. Maybe you can ask the other guy.

  20. Jean Henry
    Posted October 26, 2016 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    The big square white panties were standard fare in the 60’s. They were called lollipop panties and they are seeing a revival among girls who are not at all square. My mom wore them and my mom was hot.

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