Autumn of the revolutionary: 60's icon Tom Hayden opens his archives of an era
Generations following America's turbulent 1960's have since longed to feel the passion and anarchy of the events that painted one of the nation's most transformative period. Now, a key thinker of the age, an activist of the New Left political movement, Tom Hayden is allowing the public to read his first hand accounts of some of the 60's most memorable moments. 150 boxes of his scribbles and notes, his life work of archives, went to the University of Michigan. He will spend the next four years trying to decipher his notes and bring them to life by giving talks to graduate students and seminars for undergraduates. On the issue of North Vietnam alone there are about 25 notebooks.
52 years ago, Tom Hayden's generation set out to change the world. Now, historians, students, and scholars are hungry to know what it was like to be a true revolutionary in the heated age of love, war and change.
Part of what introduced Hayden into the world of activism at the young age of 23 was his contributions to the 1962 "Port Huron Statement," a manifesto crafted by the radical Students For A Democratic Society movement calling for the establishment of a more participatory democracy in the United States. It later became one of the first clarion calls of what became known as a decade of agitation, war, revolutionary passions, and social transformation.
Hayden would later be a participant in all of it, meeting icons of the era and finding himself later arrested as one of the "Chicago 8" following the 1968 Democratic Convention riots in Chicago.
At 73, Hayden has not lost the fevered drive to comment on the world and demand equality, but his eyes are now more tempered by wisdom and experiences.
"The first duty of a would-be revolutionary is to study," said Hayden with an intense look. "And study is very difficult because your mind is clouded with invisible thoughts you bring from your parents and your heritage that you bring to every situation," he added, citing the need to write everything down, even in cramped scribbles.
Hayden felt it was important to provide his archives to the public while he was still alive. "Some idiot wrote an article saying you're only supposed to release your archives after your death," said Hayden one morning at the Santa Monica College library. "I said 'What?!' So now they're released. I'm alive and well," he said.
The archives provide a narrative into Hayden's living through history itself. A defining part of the 1960's was the incinerating war in Vietnam, which Hayden not only protested, but also worked with CIA officials to secure the release of POWs, and traveled to Paris for the peace talks that eventually ended the conflict.
Hayden also travelled to the scorched country with his then wife, actress Jane Fonda and their one-year-old son in the early 1970's. The archives of his trip provide both a historical, but very personal set of accounts surrounding their journey from North to South Vietnam, recording the damage to civilians by bombing. He explained that his archives on Vietnam, "Show a lot from the point of view from people who were on the ground being bombed and killed and what their strategy was for survival and winning."
Hayden's archives from 1968 provide accounts when he and a delegation traveled to Cuba to meet with Fidel Castro at a time when the Cuban Revolution inflamed passions all over the continent.
When Hayden interviewed Castro, he recalled being apprehensive. Afraid that his notes would be confiscated when he returned to the U.S., he wrote almost illegibly to conceal the text. "I didn't take clear notes, I took scribbles. I have to try and understand what this scribble is about," he revealed. Hayden is still collecting material from this time. What material that is now cleared up provides fascinating insights into the times, including a struggle by publishers over the rights to the diaries of Che Guevara.
To know the past is to have a clearer, mirrored view of the present. The same kind of issues that took the nation into Vietnam, Hayden explained, "Have taken this nation into Central America with the Contra wars and the idea that Nicaragua would be a Cuban dagger into the heart of Texas and into the Iraq War. The inflation of the national security threat, the invention of weapons of mass destruction." He mentioned these events are ignored by Americans continuously subject to tragedies that arise from unaffordable and unwinnable wars.
"The question for your generation is 'why is it that young people get it and their elders don't?' I don't understand. We were self-taught about what was wrong with Vietnam while the experts led us into complete folly. The archives are a preview of coming disasters," he said.
Currently, he feels that the globe is heading into a new dark ages. "Half the world is obsessed with fundamentalism, oppression of women, crushing of gays, torture of intellectuals, elevation of religion into fanatical orthodoxy. I'm talking of course about South Texas, not simply Saudi Arabia," said Hayden.
He attributes the disturbing rise of militia violence and fringe politicians like Ted Cruz and Michelle Bachmann as the result of a growing struggle between progressive and conservative forces. "I think we can make great gains in certain regions, like Latin America, or the so-called blue states in the United States, but it raises the question of how we deal with and manage the other side."
Hayden feels that the blue state versus red state political and social clash will have innumerable effects. He predicts a Republican win for the November 4 midterm elections and that Jeb Bush, brother of former president George W., will be the Republican candidate for the 2016 presidential elections.
For Hayden, there is some hope to be seen in Latin America, where popular, revolutionary movements have produced parties that have taken power in countries like Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador. "Latin America should be our greatest ally if we believe in democracy," he said. He pondered the contradiction in U.S. foreign policy which tries to impose democracy through weapons in Iraq, while also criticizing leftist, socialist governments in Latin America fairly elected through their ballot boxes.
In such times, reading fiction is essential for Hayden. "I always found a lot of wisdom is in fiction," he mentioned, citing the Albert Camus' absurdist, philosophical novel "The Plague" that capitalizes on the irrationality of life's uncontrollable and inevitable nature.
Hayden still produces commentaries and other forms of activism through his Peace & Justice Resource Center, based in Culver City. He studiously reads the New York Times every morning and also keeps himself immersed in right-wing journals to know every side, especially before traveling to the East Coast where intellectual life is more structured than in the burlesque West. "In California, all the intellectuals are busy making Hollywood movies," said Hayden jokingly.
As the archives become further deciphered, Hayden maintains his avid passion to teach. In fact, he applied to teach history and political science at SMC not too long ago, but was rejected after the college seemed baffled by the desire of a major 1960's political figure to want to teach community college freshmen. "It would be an honor to spend the rest of my life teaching freshmen at a place like SMC, for the same reason that I gave my archives. They are a gift to the next generation. I am leaving you what I have. It's all yours, take it, move forward."