How the late Tom Hayden went from a fiery activist to a progressive lawmaker

Tom Hayden, one of the members of the Chicago Seven convicted of inciting violent protests in 1968, turned his firebrand fame into a successful political career. The 18-year state politician died Sunday. 

George Brich/AP
In this Dec. 6, 1973 file photo, Tom Hayden, the political activist, said at a news conference in Los Angeles that he believes public support was partially responsible for the decision not to send him and the rest of the Chicago 7 to jail for contempt. Mr. Hayden died in Santa Monica, Calif., on Sunday night.

When Tom Hayden ran in 1976 for the Democratic nomination for the US Senate from California, the famed member of the Chicago Seven said he was a changed man from the student activist who once burned draft cards and organized militant demonstrations on college campuses.

“The radicalism of the 1960s is fast becoming the common sense of the 1970s,” he declared, according to The New York Times.

While Mr. Hayden lost the election to incumbent Sen. John Tunney, the thought he expressed during his campaign informed the rest of his life as a California politician and author.

After 18 years as a state assemblyman and senator, and the author some 20 books, Hayden died at the age of 76 in Santa Monica, Calif., on Sunday night, his wife, Barbara Williams, confirmed.

Hayden was a central figure in the student movement of the 1960s. But he learned how to tame his firebrand personality as he grew older, devoting much of his political life to the environment, public safety, and civil rights.

“He does not rage the way he used to back in the nationally televised, violence-torn days of his youth, when he was a student activist and opponent of the war in Vietnam,” wrote The Christian Science Monitor’s Sara Terry when she interviewed him in 1981:

Hayden has mellowed over the years; become a husband, father, and homeowner. But he is not timid as he considers the 1982 bid for office in a political system he once railed against.

''There is no way that a noncontroversial person can get anything done,'' says Mr. Hayden. ''During one's lifetime, one's effectiveness is measured up to a point by having a divided constituency. If you have 100 percent of the people against you, obviously you've made a fundamental mistake. But it should be 50-50.'' 

Hayden learned this lesson in his formative years at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and as a civil rights and anti-war activist. While at the University of Michigan, Hayden was a founding member of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), an organization 35 students formed in 1960, originally in dedication to desegregating the South. Hayden was also the principal author of the group’s landmark Port Huron Statement it adopted in 1962, an edited version of his 25,000-word, jailhouse manifesto. At one point, Hayden compared the student movement to the American Revolution and the Civil War.

During the Vietnam War, he helped plan anti-war protests in Chicago to coincide with the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The protests turned violent, as police officers clashed with thousands of protesters, injuring hundreds.  

Following the protests, Hayden and the rest of the Chicago Seven were convicted of crossing state lines to incite a riot. The convictions were later overturned, and an official report said the violence was “a police riot.”

But by 1971, Hayden said he turned his eyes to politics, as the nation embarked on election reform, public opinion turned against Vietnam, and 18-year-olds achieved voting status.  

''So I became actively involved in the political system again,'' he told the Monitor’s Marshall Ingwerson in 1983.

But his life in Sacramento, the state capital, wasn’t easy. He was the target of the left, American military veterans who called him a traitor, and conservative news media.

Veterans' groups even tried to get him impeached from the California Assembly, although Democrats thwarted the effort, wrote Mr. Ingwerson. They accused him of disloyalty based on radio broadcasts he made from Hanoi during the Vietnam war.

''If you're a typical politician in the State of California,'' said Hayden, ''you seek high name identification and you seek to avoid engagement with any issues where there's division of public opinion. I do exactly the opposite because I see no point in popularity contests.''

With this attitude, he served as an assemblyman in the 80s; a state senator from 1993 to 2000, sponsoring bills on the environment, education, public safety, and civil rights; an author; and an opponent to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  

About his younger life, though, he told the Monitor: "Some people like what I did. Some people dislike what I did. I think most people don't know where the truth lies.''

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.  

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