Tom Hayden (1939-2016)


Todd Gitlin in Dissent:

My favorite clip from the many obituaries of Tom Hayden in circulation is this, from Michael Finnegan in the Los Angeles Times:

After the deadly 1967 riots in Newark, N.J., where Hayden had spent several years organizing poor black residents to take on slumlords, city inspectors and others, local FBI agents urged supervisors in Washington to intensify monitoring of Hayden.

“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,” they wrote.

One of the more perceptive of FBI observations, though the G-men neglected his wit. Tom was gifted with the power to inspire and at the same time to ironize—an unusual combination. He was surely devoted to “working with.” I met him at Harvard in the spring of 1962. I was nineteen and had helped organized a march on Washington against nuclear weapons (grand crowd total, some 8,000) and Tom was scouting me, as he was scouting for colleagues, comrades, throughout the incipient student movement, or “The Student Boat-Rockers,” as he put it in an article in (yes)Mademoiselle. Al Haber, the founder and first president of tiny SDS, based in Ann Arbor, had endorsed our march; SDS was an unknown but I liked the sound of “a democratic society” and also the suggestion that, as students, we had a special mission, though the handful of us involved in these endeavors were freaks, a paltry minority, and we knew it.

Tom almost always spoke with strong rhythms, and in whole sentences. He was incandescent—all intensity, all intelligence; full of self-assurance and a righteous indignation that I shared; rabbinical, or ministerial, even, but not pompous; glowing but also twinkling, as if to say, “We’re going to do great things. Let this sound crazy.Look at what we’re up against; look at our ambition; there’s a way forward.” Tom spoke American and he charged up the atmosphere.

More here.