TOM HAYDEN WAS A FRIEND OF MINE
I wish I could say that. Many Santa Monicans can. He was a neighbor, though, and I bumped into him a few times. Now that he has passed, I’m glad I took the opportunity to say, simply — thank you, for all the good work you’ve done.
How much you know about Hayden may depend on your age, and how you regard him certainly depends on your political outlook. Many reviled him, and his activist former wife Jane Fonda. I would proudly say he was a hero of mine.
He became noticed as a student leader at the University of Michigan, activist editor of the school newspaper and involved in the Civil Rights movement in the South. He was a Freedom Rider, beaten and arrested. In 1962 he helped lead the convention for the fledgling, radical SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) and was the main author of their Port Huron Statement, a manifesto for young people frustrated and angry about our nation’s segregation, income inequality and militarism. Soon he focused on the escalating war in Viet Nam.
In 1965 (the year I graduated high school, so he was in the headlines in my formative years, though not in a favorable way), he made a trip with a group of anti-war activists to Hanoi. He went again in ‘67 (I was by then in a US Army uniform), during a period of intense US bombing there. In ‘68 he was a leader of the violent protests at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, later described in a government report as a “police riot.” Protesters chanted, “The whole world’s watching!” Tear gas, police charges, fully armed National Guard troops, beatings — America had never before witnessed politics like this. As one of the Chicago 7, he was tried and found guilty of conspiracy and incitement to riot and sentenced to five years in prison. That judgement was very quickly overturned.
1968 — A YEAR OF INFAMY
Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down in Memphis in April, followed by rioting nationwide; Robert Kennedy was assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel here in June. Amerika had changed. Complacency was the byword until the mid-’60s, and for all those Gen X-and-younger folk who disdain the Boomers for the world left to them, and I have run into a few, I say in our youth we changed America radically, for the better, and forever.
It was not without blood, sweat and tears. A personal connection I have with Hayden’s history is the visit Jane Fonda made to our UNM campus in Albuquerque, May 4, 1970 — as it turned out, the day of the shooting of 13 student protesters at Kent State University by the Ohio National Guard. We were reeling from the news..
“Soldiers are cutting us down… Four dead in Ohio.”
This was not privileged, deferred students playing at protest any more. I had been drafted in ‘66, and only through sheer chance was sent to Germany and missed dodging bullets and landmines in Nam. My best friend Dave Baca was not so fortunate; although it wasn’t immediately discernible, he was damaged for life by his
I did, however, lose sight in one eye while covering the student march down Central Avenue four days later. We believe the ROTC students at Albuquerque High, which had a military tradition, were urged by their instructor to teach those dirty Commie hippies a lesson by hurling the huge decorative rocks in the median planters, and one of them caught me squarely in the right eye. Interestingly enough, before I could fully hit the ground I was grabbed on either side by two medics — from the local military base. Despite skillful repair from a civilian eye surgeon just returned from three years in Viet Nam, who said he had never seen a harder blow to the eye, it immediately caused the loss of sight and he could do nothing about that. So, when I moved to Santa Monica in ‘86, I kept an eye out for Hayden.
OUR MAN IN SACRAMENTO
Hayden had a political liaison with Fonda in LA in 1972 that turned romantic, an activist superstar pairing, and they married the next year (it lasted 17 years) and took up residence in Santa Monica. But that was only the first part of the Tom Hayden story.
He never abandoned his principles or activism, didn’t go from Yippie to yuppie, but
decided to work within the system for change. After an unsuccessful run for US
Senator, and later for Governor and for Mayor of Los Angeles, in between he served
18 years as our State Assemblyman, then State Senator. He fought for rent control and saving the Pier, for solar power and divestment from apartheid South Africa.
Hayden wrote or edited 19 books, and when I saw him again last year at a Cuban art
show at an airport gallery, I bought his latest (his last, it turned out), “Listen Yankee!
Why Cuba Matters” and asked him to autograph it.
You have to seize the moment. Some years before that I saw him sitting alone outside at SMASH, both of us there as parents. I called my daughter over and whispered, “See that guy? That’s Tom Hayden. He’s a neighbor but he’s also a very famous and important man, for all the best reasons. I’ll tell you more later. We’re going to go over so you can remember that you met him.” And he was as nice as could be.
QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Can you cut through all the confusing hype surrounding the many measures on our upcoming ballot, and decide just based on who has put up the most money (who has the most to gain)? If so, what do you make of more than one million dollars from outside developers, put up to defeat LV?
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “We’re a built-out city.” — Gleam Davis, running for re-election to City Council, at the candidates forum at the Shores Oct. 17, discussing the urgent need for across-the-board care for the homeless such as Step Up on Second provides, but the reason why it’s difficult to build more such facilities here.
By CHARLES ANDREWS
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 30 years and wouldn’t live anywhere
else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at