One of the Last Great Radical Rebels of the 20th Century


How did the gentle, gray-haired, 70 year-old Tom Hayden appear … after all these years?

During the Portland 33rd International Film Festival, the city buzzed with rich activity in all branches of the arts. Notable was a speaking engagement by activist and author Tom Hayden, who was a featured participant in “This Brave Nation,” a 2008 festival film.

Hayden, activist and hero of the ’60s anti-war movement spoke at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.

His introducer opened with a question, “How many of you aren’t Reed students?” Ninety percent of the audience proudly raised their hands. We were back.

We’ve got a new problem in an ironic mix. While we’ve got the president we love, we’re still in the same kind of war quagmire we struggled with 40 years ago. How to explain this? What’s going on?

Hayden and his son, Troy, early supporters of Obama, are disappointed. But Hayden is not surprised. He says matter-of-factly, “Barack met the US Senate.”

He also states that all that has happened is predictable. With the success of every social movement there is the rise of its antithesis. The old Swinging Pendulum Theory. The success of one movement, for example the election of Obama, presages the ascendancy of the reactionary movement, i.e. The Tea Party.

And how much is the media responsible for the success or failure of a movement? How much is it responsible for creating it in the first place?

Hayden, a participant in many avenues of media exposure, has been depicted in at least eight films for being one of the Chicago 7 [or 8] and has participated in other documentary and media interviews. He does not use his notoriety for being the ex-son-in-law of Henry Fonda and ex-husband of Jane Fonda. Instead, his focus has remained on affecting social change as one of America’s primary social activists.

At age 29, Hayden became famous as a member of the Chicago 7 when he was arrested in Chicago for attempting to organize a war demonstration during the 1968 Democratic Convention.

Curious, caring, articulate, Hayden has learned through experience: protests, beatings, jailing, elections, defeat and defamation. He has put all of this experience into essays, books, speaking engagements, teaching assignments and media exposure.

It’s not about victimization for him, but learning. Hayden is first and foremost an educator, not from a theoretical white tower but from a personal history of insistent activism.

Hayden analyzed and listed the benefits of the social movements of 1960 -75: voting rights for 26 million, the end of the Vietnam War, the end of the military draft, two presidents driven out of office, the decline of censorship, checks on the Presidency, CIA and FBI, The Americans with Disabilities Act, and so on.

Hayden has been right all along, through work in the California House and Senate as well as through political demonization and political losses. From his activism in the Civil Rights Movement, his leadership in the Peace Movement, his opposition to the invasion of Iraq to his current commitment against the US open-ended war, Hayden has remained on the ethical side.

Now he says we have entered The Long War. He reports that the Pentagon has projected it to last 50 to 80 years and has structured it using The Cold War model.

Jon Meacham, Newsweek editor, attributes Philip Bobbitt with first using the term The Long War in his book “The Shield of Achilles. It surfaces again in 2003 from references by the Heritage Foundation regarding our present, possibly never-ending war against terrorism. Further reports using the term were published by the Quaker Lobby in 2006.

In 2008, Tom Brokow investigated and moderated “NBC News Presents: The Long War,” a 63 minute documentary on the War on Terror and its problematic goals.

The audience questioned Hayden about what to do. Who will lead us out of this mess and how? There are no answers.

Hayden motivated us to fight for what we believed in back in the ’60s and ’70s and is calling on our collective conscience yet again. He asked the audience, rhetorically, “What could we do about health care if we weren’t spending all this money in Iraq and Afghanistan?”

And yes, at the end of the session, I walked up to Tom Hayden, shook his hand and thanked him for having the courage of his convictions back in the day and now.

Tom Hayden, the founder and first president of the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), still holds on to the spirit and dream of moral justice and is currently on a speaking tour promoting his new book, “The Long Sixties: From 1960 to Barack Obama.” His latest documentary, “This Brave Nation,” is available at


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1 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. 1

    Unfortunately that kind of activism, on a grand scale, is pretty well dead. Sure it surfaces here and there on the internet and various alternative websites but it’s almost impossible to change the institutions that are presently in place in Washington, ie. Congress and Senate. For them there is no impetus to change, things are pretty well going their way.
    Obama is and has been a disappointment but that’s because even if he seriously wanted to change things, and I’m not sure he does, it would be almost impossible for him to do so. There are too many players, special interest groups, mega corporations with their own agendas who are there making sure that the status quo is here to stay. Scary stuff that endless war on terrorism but probably true. Terrorism is a noun that can’t be easily defeated certainly not in conventional terms or by conventional means.