By Michael Tittinger

 

Friends and colleagues of Tom Hayden continue to pay tribute to the former firebrand college liberal-turned California lawmaker since his death in Santa Monica last week at the age of 76.

Hayden will be forever linked to riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Vietnam War protests of the 1970s and his onetime marriage to actress Jane Fonda. Those events, however, ultimately represented just a small slice of a life dedicated to, as he put it, trying to change the world.

The true measure of a man is sometimes better gauged by the impact he made on others’ lives, including those he didn’t even know very well.

In 1964, in Newark, New Jersey, Hayden worked as a community organizer, pushing for more jobs and empowerment for the poor. Meanwhile, Wayne Bauer was a self-described “stupid kid” shuttling from foster home to foster home in need of direction. The two didn’t meet then, but their paths would cross again.

Two years later, Bauer was lost and joined the Marines out of desperation. Waiting for his orders to ship out for Vietnam, he and three friends took a bus to New York on their 72-hour leave and were drinking in a Greenwich Village bar when some anti-war student protesters approached them.

“It got heated and we ended up getting into a fight with them (the students),” Bauer said. “But on the ride back to base, we were drinking whiskey out of a brown paper bag and smoking marijuana and got to thinking about everything those students were saying.”

Soon after returning to Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, Bauer got his orders for Vietnam. He’d also made a big decision by then. He was going to leave the Marines. The following day, he hopped a bus back to New York and didn’t look back, going underground for the next six years.

During this time, he got involved with the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), one of the leading youth groups and representatives of the New Left for much of the decade. He drew inspiration from the Port Huron Statement, the SDS manifesto and a signature document of the 1960s.

Completed in 1962, the Port Huron Statement’s language had an urgency and historical consciousness that recalled the Declaration of Independence and other foundational American texts, beginning with its opening statement: “We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit.”

A 25,000-word rejection of the so-called silent generation of the 1950s, the statement captured the hope and anxiety of the new decade, the awareness of material comfort and the distress over a society the students viewed as complacent, unjust and misguided. The Port Huron paper linked the civil rights movement to the nuclear arms race and other causes and advocated participatory democracy, whether through voter registration, peaceful protests or through candidates who would challenge political machines.

Authorship of a group statement is often disputed, but friends of Hayden agree that his was the essential voice and liken his role to that of Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence. Both documents were critiqued and altered by quarrelsome peers, but both needed an individual capable of synthesizing and making poetry out of collective ideals.

“He was the best writer among us and was able to articulate so well all the ideas and philosophies we had been debating,” said Sharon Jeffrey Lehrer, who worked on the Port Huron Statement with Hayden.

Bauer acknowledges he was never a lieutenant in Hayden’s army, but he Hayden was the one he turned to when he began to ask “what the hell was going on?”

“It was Tom who helped me understand the political times we lived in, how I got caught up and why I made the decisions I made,” Bauer said. “It was a matter of conscience. I was underground and on the run. The war seemed wrong and had become a huge moral problem for me.

“I was looking for someone to help me understand.”

Bauer went to hear Hayden speak, saw him organize rallies and began to look to him for the direction that always seemed so elusive. Hayden was the “sanest and most articulate” of the anti-war movement leaders to Bauer. He was the most approachable. Something about Hayden just spoke to Bauer.

Seven years after surrendering to authorities at Camp Pendleton in 1972, Bauer was living in Santa Monica when a man knocked on his door to talk about rent control. The following day, he went to work with Hayden on the campaign.

“We all gravitated toward Tom,” Bauer said. “He helped us understand the ’60s, the anti-war movement and the struggle for civil rights. He helped me understand what I did and why I did it.

“When I finally got the chance to meet him in ’79, it felt as if I’d come full circle, shaking the hand of someone who made a big difference in my life and probably didn’t know it.”

In the years that followed, Bauer became a staunch advocate for tenants in Santa Monica, counseling them as new rent control laws went into effect and later serving two terms on the city’s Rent Control Board (1983-89).

Meanwhile, Hayden had also entered into politics, being elected to the California Assembly in 1982. He served 10 years, followed by eight more in the state Senate, putting his name on some 100 pieces of legislation — including laws aimed at holding down college tuition costs, preventing discrimination in hiring and modest safety controls on guns.

“What stands out for me about Tom, fifty plus years ago, was his commitment to a lifetime of participatory democracy,” Lehrer said. “I remember him getting up and saying he wasn’t only going to be an activist for this period (as a student). I can still see him saying that, and I remember saying, ‘Right on.’ ”

Until his health failed on Oct. 23 following a long illness, Hayden remained politically active, supporting Hillary Clinton for president and railing against Donald Trump.

He continued to inspire people like his fellow Santa Monica resident Bauer, people who looked to Hayden even when he wasn’t aware they were looking.

“To the end, he was changing the world for the better,” Bauer said. “He made as big an impression on me as anyone.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.