10.28.2016 In Depth Look

In relation to a prominent thinker and writer, an acclaimed activist and strategist, and a more or less authentic grassroots politician, an account from TruthDig about the just passed Tom Hayden, whose work with Students for a Democratic Society constituted a signature moment in regard to heralded 1960’s student, antiwar, and human rights activities, which took tangible form in the event in the Port Huron Statement, a new version of which is part of this article–part of an outpouring of encomium and memorialization for Hayden and his work, such as a Consortium News brief that focuses on his courageous stand for peace, or a Portside piece that passes on a Nation Magazine text that emphasizes the ‘work-in-progress’ nature of America’s vaunted ‘democracy,’ or another TruthDig bit that contextualizes immigration issues; material that parallels various more standard obituaries, such as this one from LA Progressive, this one   from our ‘paper of record’ in New York, and this one, about his transformative impact, from Capital & Main; and insights that meld well with videos such as this short splice from Democracy Now! via TruthOut, and this archival portrayal that TruthDig also passes along, which also describes this interview that the alternative outlet makes available from a profferal of Cuban Jewish mediation, Juventude Rebelde, the sum total of all of which ought to interest scrappy scribes and stalwart citizens alike in these crazy days and troubled times that pass in a flash right now: “Tom Hayden, a founding member of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), took the lead in drafting ‘The Port Huron Statement,’ the manifesto of the SDS and a handbook for a generation of student activists.  As a student at the University of Michigan, Hayden believed that apathy bred by middle-class comfort was a major obstacle to social justice for the oppressed.  The Port Huron Statement called on students to leave the ivory tower and seek that justice through direct participatory democracy.  The document also railed against the military industrial complex, racial bigotry, and the spread of nuclear weapons.

Rachel Corrie, I believe, would have been a Students for a Democratic Society activist 50 years ago.  The spirit of my Port Huron generation certainly lived in her as she was crushed by an American-made Israeli bulldozer while bearing witness to injustice against Palestinians in 2003.  I say this because I believe it to be true, but also to call up the real meaning of the Port Huron statement from the cobwebs of time.  I do so with urgency because there are forces today that want to blur Rachel Corrie’s moral example by shutting down a play based on her diaries in New York City at this moment.  I protest before their cultural bulldozer.

Those who want to censor Rachel Corrie’s voice today remind me of those who tried to censor the voices of my generation long ago.  Then, as now, they said morality was complex, not simple, that context was overriding, that if we stood against racial injustice in Mississippi it would be exploited by Communists in other lands.  That racism and brutality in America, however regrettable, could never be considered equivalent to racism and brutality in other, more sinister, places.  That there was no moral equivalence between American killing and Communist killing.  And so we had to bury our own dead who were dredged out of a Mississippi swamp while their families wept angry tears.

"Selma to Montgomery Marches" by Peter Pettus - Library of Congress.
“Selma to Montgomery Marches” by Peter Pettus – Library of Congress.

(In relation to what we might view as the ‘Port Huron Project), (s)ome wish that our legacy be washed out with the refuse in th(e) pipes that drain into the Great Lake where we met).  Out of sight, out of mind.  For the conservative icon Robert Bork, the Port Huron Statement (PHS) was ‘a document of ominous mood and aspiration,’ because of his fixed certainty that utopian movements, by misreading human nature, turn out badly.  David Horowitz, a former ‘60s radical who turned to the hard-core right, dismisses the PHS as a ‘self-conscious effort to rescue the communist project from its Soviet fate.’  Another ex-leftist, Christopher Hitchens, sees in its pages a conservative reaction to ‘bigness and anonymity and urbanization,’ even linking its vision to the Unabomber!  More progressive writers, such as Garry Wills, E.J. Dionne and Paul Berman, see the PHS as a bright moment of reformist vision that withered due to the impatience and extremism of the young.  Excerpts of the PHS have been published in numerous textbooks, and an Internet search returns huge numbers of references to ‘participatory democracy,’ its central philosophic theme.  Grass-roots movements in today’s Argentina and Venezuela use ‘participatory democracy’ to describe their popular assemblies and factory takeovers.  The historian Thomas Cahill writes that the Greek ekklesia was ‘the world’s first participatory democracy’ and the model for the early Catholic Church, which ‘permitted no restrictions on participation: no citizens and non-citizens, no greeks and nongreeks, no patriarchs and submissive females.’  In modern popular culture, authorship of the PHS has been claimed by the stoned hippie played by Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski.

Baltimore Algebra Project
Baltimore Algebra Project

The vision grew from a concrete generational experience.  Rarely if ever had students thought of themselves as a force in history or, as we phrased it, an ‘agency of social change.’  We were rebelling against the experience of apathy, not against a single specific oppression.  We were moved by the heroic example of black youth in the South, whose rebellion taught us the fundamental importance of race.  We could not vote ourselves, and were treated legally as wards under our universities’ paternal care, but as young men we could be conscripted to fight in places we dimly understood, like Vietnam and Laos.  The nation’s priorities were frozen by the Cold War: a permanent nuclear arms race benefiting what President Eisenhower had called ‘the military-industrial complex,’ whose appetite absorbed the resources that we believed were necessary to address the crises of civil rights and poverty, or what John Kenneth Galbraith termed  squalor in the midst of affluence.’  Apathy, we came to suspect, was what the administrators and power technicians actually desired.  Apathy was not our fault, not an accident, but the result of social engineering by those who ran the institutions that taught us, employed us, entertained us, drafted us, bored us, controlled us, wanted us to accept the absolute impossibility of another way of being.”TruthDig, Port Huron

CC BY-NC-ND by elycefeliz
        “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.’

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. …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.’  Hayden took King’s exhortation to heart, dedicating his life to the struggles for peace, freedom, justice and equality.

(In addition to Students for a Democratic Society and its Port Huron Statement, Hayden worked tirelessly in community organizing).  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.

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.

(In  addition to his tireless and capacious participation in the struggle to kick-start a modern peace movement, Hayden wrote prolifically).  Hayden’s many books also include Radical Nomad (1964), Irish Hunger (1968), Rebellion and Repression (1969), Trial (1970), Tom Hayden: An Activist Life(1981), Irish on the Inside (2001), The Zapatista Reader (2002), Street Wars(2004), Ending the War in Iraq (2007), Writings for a Democratic Society(2008), The Long Sixties: From 1960 to Barack Obama (2009), and Listen Yankee: Why Cuba Matters (2015).  His final book, Hell No: The Forgotten Power of the Vietnam Peace Movement, will be published posthumously by Yale University Press in March 2017.  As we face the daunting challenges of U.S. militarism abroad, militarization of the police at home, and persistent economic and racial inequality, the absence of Tom Hayden is an incalculable loss.”—Consortium News
Anti-war and protest posters: the Political Poster Workshop at the University of California, Berkeley: Peace now (circa 1970) Penn State Special Collection
Anti-war and protest posters: the Political Poster Workshop at the University of California, Berkeley: Peace now (circa 1970)
Penn State Special Collection
        “Though an irreplaceable voice for peace has been silenced, there will be one more reminder of Hayden’s unsurpassed ability for making readers understand what it takes to hold the powerful to account.  Next spring, Yale University Press will publish Hayden’s final book, Hell No: The Forgotten Power of the Vietnam Peace Movement.  For now, here is a sampling of some of the important work Hayden published in our pages (of Nation Magazine).
A month after Ronald Reagan’s inauguration as president, Hayden wrote a cover story titled ‘The Future Politics of Liberalism’ (February 21, 1981), which showed that there was much more to his vision of the United States that the limited set of issues that usually falls under the rubric of politics:rect3336 space
‘We need more than ever a participatory society in which persons of all life styles believe that they matter, instead of the escapist culture that absorbs millions in irrelevance.  We cannot contend with the coming of external limits unless we delve more into our rich inner potentials.community eat dinner
It comes down to moving from a wasteful, privately oriented, self-indulgent existence to a more conserving, caring and disciplined life style.  The cornerstone has to be a renewal of self-reliance, not the outmoded frontier fantasy of the Republican philosophers, but the reassertion of personal responsibility in everything from conserving resources to decentralizing services to keeping ourselves well through self-care to practicing a ‘right livelihood’ in business.  It is a change from planned obsolescence to the production of useful goods that last, from consumer madness to the achievement of inner satisfactions, from the opulence of Jay Gatsby to the frugal self-assurance of Henry David Thoreau.rect3336 space
More important than money and technique in elections is the factor of motivation and vision.  The Democrats (or someone else) will return to national leadership when they are inspired again.'”—Portside
CC BY-SA by Elvert Barnes
CC BY-SA by Elvert Barnes
        “(Hayden marched in support of indigenous and immigrants’ rights all along, including at a massive 2006 rally just after Evo Morales helped to nationalize Bolivia’s hydrocarbon resources).  (He wrote), a frightening gap (exists) between the white perception of this 50-year trauma of deportation and the experience of Mexicans and other immigrants, like the Salvadorans who were driven here by the U.S.-backed civil wars of the 1970s.  Somewhere between amnesia and a self-induced lobotomy, the gap needs to be closed in the dialogue that may come of these historic protests.  The mere passage of time may erase white memories and guilt, and induce acceptance among Mexicans, but it does not legitimize the occupation itself.  The wound will not disappear under American flags, searchlights and border walls.rect3336 space
The fundamental issue still shaping attitudes down to the present is this: Either the Mexicans (and other Latinos) are immigrants to a country called the United States or the U.S. is a Machiavellian power that denies occupying one-half of Mexico for 156 years.  During the 1846-48 war against Mexico, at least 50,000 Mexicans died.  The fighting took place across many cities considered pure-bred American today; in Los Angeles, a revolt temporarily drove out the U.S. Army.  Guerrilla resistance by Mexican fighters left a mythic legacy of those like Joaquin Murrieta and Tiburcio Vasquez, names still alive among Mexican-American students today.  Meanwhile, The New York Times was declaring in 1860: ‘The Mexicans, ignorant and degraded as they are, [should welcome a system] founded on free trade and the right of colonization so that, after a few years of pupilege, the Mexican state would be incorporated into the Union under the same conditions as the original colonies.

Today’s demonstrations are not demanding implementation of the (never respected) Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.  Modern Mexican-Americans have made the legalization of undocumented workers as United States citizens their consensus demand.  But there remains an unspoken difference between two states of mind regarding the meaning of the border.  In every generation, immigrant workers and youth have claimed their American rights without abandoning the memory of their deeper historical ones.  A significant number of white Americans, especially among the elites, still hold to nativist definitions of American identity, in contrast to those multinational corporations that tend to be more interested in cheap foreign labor than in keeping American white.

No one lends an Ivy League luster to the Minuteman Mentality more than Harvard University professor Samuel Huntington.  A proud ‘Anglo-Protestant,’ Huntington previously advocated the ‘forced urbanization’ of the Vietnamese peasantry into a ‘Honda culture’ as a formula for ending the nationalist uprising.  In the ’70s, he complained that an ‘excess of democracy’ threatened Western authorities.  More recently, he formulated the strident doctrine of ‘the clash of civilizations,’ decreeing that Islamic culture is incompatible with democratic civilization.  Finally, he has weighed in on ‘The Hispanic Challenge,’ arguing that Latino immigration is ‘a major potential threat to the cultural and possibly political integrity of the United States’ (in Foreign Policy, March-April 2006).  Huntington argues that Mexican-Americans are too close to their traditional culture to become assimilated as patriotic Americans.  By this he means, of course, that they cannot become imitation WASPs, whose identity he sees as basic to the American nation.  For Huntington, assimilation seems to mean submission and disappearance into the master culture, a viewpoint still held by many.  We defeated you, and now you should become like us.

But the U.S. has historically been the destabilizing force in Mexico, most recently with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which has flooded the country with corn and other products and replaced indigenous manufacturing with the maquiladora economy, thus displacing at least hundreds of thousands of Mexicans, many of whom seek survival in el norte.  Perpetuating the cycle is absolutely crucial to neo-liberal economics.  But it also perpetually stimulates rebelliousness, in fact and memory, among those who take to U.S. streets today, and who shortly will be the urban majority in a new America.  As people of color, mainly immigrants, edge closer to majority status in key states, their relatives to the south are becoming nationalist, populist majorities in country after country, with interests that sharply conflict with the disintegrating U.S. Monroe Doctrine of 1823.   If the populist mayor of Mexico City is elected president of Mexico this fall, NAFTA itself will die or be re-negotiated.  This is the first time in many decades that the interests of Latinos in the U.S. are closely converging with the governments and people of the nations of the south.   As seen even in the recent international baseball championships, the willingness of America’s major league Latino players to join the lineups of their homelands shows the fluid nature of borders and solidarity.  A policy beyond the Monroe Doctrine will have to be crafted for the United States, with Latinos in the lead.  As Evo Morales of Bolivia is suggesting, ‘another annexation is possible,’ the annexation of the United States into peaceful coexistence with Latin America.”—TruthDig, Immigration