Tom Hayden, leader of 1960s counter culture, has died

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Tom Hayden, found of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and leader of the anti-Vietnam War movement, has died at his home in Santa Monica, after a long illness.

Hayden was born in Detroit, Michigan on December 11, 1939 and attended the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor where he became disenchanted with the status quo. He helped form the SDS and was the primary author of the seminal Port Huron Statement that laid out a set of ideals that defined the counter-culture of the 1960s. He was also a “Freedom Rider” in 1961, riding public and desegregated buses through the segregated South.

Hayden lived and worked in Newark, New Jersey in the early 1960’s and chronicled that city’s 1967 riots in his book, Rebellion in Newark: Official Violence and Ghetto Response. 

It was his work with the anti-Vietnam War movement that made Hayden a well known figure throughout America. To half the nation he was a radical criminal who appeared to be un-American. To the other half he was a visionary and courageous leader who put his life and individual freedom on the line to stop an immoral war.


He had visited North Vietnam several times during the war with Jane Fonda, whom he married in 1973. They were married until 1990 and had two children.

Their visits to North Vietnam, which was an enemy of the U.S. at the time, made the two of them extremely unpopular with the right and many veterans groups that viewed them — and still view them — as traitors.

In 1968, during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Hayden was arrested with seven others and prosecuted on charges including crossing state lines to incite a riot. Two of his fellow defendants,  Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, disrupted the trial, which made it headline news for weeks. Although the trial resulted in convictions, they were overturned on appeal.

Hayden ran for the U.S. Senate and governor of California, but finally won a seat in the California State Assembly in 1982 and he served for 10 years.

Hayden was the author of 19 books and contributed to many publications, including the Boston Globe, New York Times, and The Nation magazine, where he served on the editorial board.

As if he was writing for today’s political climate, the Port Huron Statement said, “The apathy here is, first subjective — the felt powerlessness of ordinary people, the resignation before the enormity of events. But subjective apathy is encouraged by the objective American situation — the actual structural separation of people from power, from relevant knowledge, from pinnacles of decision making … The American political system is not the democratic model of which its glorifiers speak. In actuality it frustrates democracy by confusing the individual citizen, paralyzing policy discussion, and consolidating the irresponsible power of military and business interests.”

He is survived by his wife Barbara Williams and his son, actor Troy Garity.

Top photo via Wikipedia