So we just voted and reelected our President – but our work as citizens is not done. Do we know how to combat global warming? Fix the economy? Keep Isreal from bombing The Gaza Strip? Yikes! World news is terrifying if you pay attention, at least a lot of it. Most look away. For some reason, I can’t. Perhaps because I listen to news so much. Perhaps the long line of Methodist ministers and teachers in my family?
Who on earth really knows where our opinions come from – but one thing I know for sure (says Oprah), Tom Hayden still makes sense of all the clamor.
Tom Hayden told us at a Dominican University presentation, Inspiring Participatory Democracy, that he was named after Thomas Aquinas, that he began to read Thomas Aquinas aloud at age 4 to please his parents, that he can see things from many sides. He spent time in Afghanistan, studied what is it to be incarcerated, but what most know about him is his two big ideas and their effects: Participatory Democracy (Port Huron Statement and the founding of Students for a Democratic Society) and Quagmire, his word for what we were doing in Iraq. A natural born fighting Irish outsider, iconoclast, social and political critic, he also spent 18 years as an insider, working in government as California Assemblyman and California Senator. Once a Berkeley radical and often the one Berkeley radical everyone listened to, he has become over the years a clear voice for social and economic justice, seeing things “from multiple ways,” no longer a man who sees himself as “oppositional” – against. “I find it very difficult to be oppositional, but I remain always an outsider even while being an insider.”
Social movements naturally progress and enter the mainstream, he said. Early in the process of becoming an insider, a radical or reformer, will question himself “Am I a sellout?” Hayden was drawn to the Beat generation poets and writers, to James Dean movies, the character of Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye, Ken Kesey and his One Flew Over the Cockoo’s Nest, Alan Ginsberg’s Howl. “My heros were all nuts” – all outspoken and challenging the mainstream.
Tom Hayden was drawn to students who were standing up for their rights at a time when the draft threatened to take them away to a foreign land to kill people they had no argument with (during the Vietnam War). Some students had a purpose in life worth dying for and he was among them.
Tom quotes John Dewey and James Joyce in the same verbal graph and a 1960′s Michael Harrington essay from which he plucked the word Statement for what he had to say from Port Huron, a Michigan town where the document was drafted.
“I’m a dying primary source,” he said. “The big epic story of your generation (to Green MBA students of Dominican College) is climate crisis. “People forget what has been achieved,” after which he read a long list.
The Port Huron Statement lives on as a reference in the film The Big Lebowski and in the TV series Mad Men; it has been condemned by Karl Rove and imitated in a right-wing paper, The Sharon Statement.
Tom Hayden sees the Port Huron Statement as a vision delayed, but as also having a role in pushing John F. Kennedy to reduce nuclear arms and support civil rights.
He discussed war resistance and utopian views versus the powers that be, saying eventually, a cause is enveloped by society but never as the original vision, never as clear or strong or ideal, but nevertheless a positive effect can be put in place.
He spoke of a need to make public actions, like the CIA lacing Haight Ashbury with LSD as a social experiment, and that there were spys among Vietnam War protestors. Still, when Earth Day was created in 1970, 20 million people celebrated.
Now we face the crisis of climate and Hayden says we need to make our dreams Obama’s mandate. He gave the example of the labor organizer, A. Phillip Randolph, who met with F.D.R. to successfully push F.D.R. to pass “right to fight” legislation for desegregation of the military and allow blacks to be soldiers. Hayden says we need to push Obama to strengthen his mandate on climate change now.
The presentation was one of a long-running series from Praxis Peace of Sonoma, a proponent of the Mondragon Cooperative and other examples of living social and economic justice systems that may serve as role models for a more just society.
For further information go to PraxisPeace.org or Praxis’ Facebook page or TomHayden.com
If you Google, Hayden, top of the page you will find: Thomas Emmet “Tom” Hayden is an American social and political activist, author, and politician, who is director of the Peace and Justice Resource Center in Culver City, California.