I didn’t know Tom Hayden, but I admired him from afar. He leaves a rich legacy of activism, leadership, and critical and complex thinking to people everywhere who desire to make the world anew. If he did nothing else, the Port Huron statement, of which he was the principal author, is a landmark historical document that will inspire generations to come who hope to create a democratic, egalitarian, and humane world. In its time, it constituted a challenge to bureaucratic, undemocratic, and productivist societies on both sides of a divided world and the thinking and practices that sustained them.
I like to think I appreciated Hayden’s non-dogmatic, non-sectarian political worldview and practice early on, but maybe I’m airbrushing my own political past and ideological commitments. At any rate, his appreciation of the socially transforming role of energized majorities, people of color, and the labor movement framed his approach to politics. His sustained opposition to racism and other forms of oppression and inequality was a constant. His readiness to employ flexible tactics, engage the two party system, and challenge the conventional wisdom of the left stood stood him apart from many on the left. And, perhaps above all, his unflagging commitment to a peaceful, non-violent world was existential to his political being. More than most of us, Hayden was a reflective political thinker and actor, not reflexively bound to politically prescribed, rigid, and timelessly embedded modes of thinking and acting.
I couldn’t help but notice the portrait of MLK on the wall in the picture of Hayden below that appeared in the New York Times obituary. I don’t know why it was there, but I have to think that in King (and his legacy), Hayden found an exemplar of what a people’s movement with socially transformative aims should aspire to. It’s seems awfully unfair that he won’t experience the joy of what seems more and more likely – the election of Hillary Clinton – the first woman president in our nation’s history – and the drubbing of the extreme right’s apostle of hate, division, and authoritarian rule. If there is any consolation, it is that the rest of us can in his memory.