News & Politics

American Hero

Tom Hayden has consistently been at the forefront of efforts to expand democracy, civil rights, economic justice, peace, global human rights and environmental protection.
On Thursday, April 29, the innovative, progressive Los Angeles community foundation Liberty Hill is honoring Tom Hayden for his 40 years of dedication to social change. As an effective leader and long distance runner for progress who has never let up in the struggle to make our country and world better, Tom Hayden may very well be the best we have.

As much as anyone in the progressive movement, Hayden has kept the torch burning, providing wisdom and light for millions and generous time and spirit for young people. Hayden has pursued intellectual excellence, traveling the world in search of truth, supporting grassroots struggles at home and abroad, and diving deeply into a range of subjects from world trade, political philosophy, Irish political history, sweat shop labor, and, most recently, gang violence. Hayden has consistently been at the forefront of efforts to expand democracy, civil rights, economic justice, peace, global human rights and environmental protection.

Now in his 60s, Tom shows the energy of a young reporter. He continues to dig beneath the hype and propaganda to pry out the truth. Recently, during the World Social Forum in Mumbai, Tom was filing reports faster than editors at AlterNet could post them. Just last week, we at AlterNet received this communiqué: "I am going to Bolivia May 2-7 to interview and try to understand the Indian movement that has taken over whole areas of the country and brought the government to the brink. It's another Chiapas. ....The whole indigenous economy is based on coca, so you have an Indian/nationalist insurgency against the US war on drugs." He clearly gives no evidence of slowing down.

From a historical perspective, Tom has been a key leader at the crucial moments in history -- putting his body on the line, giving witness and getting the word out to the world. He was an activist in the civil rights movement, a community activist in Newark, New Jersey at the dawn of the War on Poverty, and an organizer of the 1968 protests in Chicago demanding an end to the Vietnam War and greater openness of the Democratic Party process. He was named a defendant in the famed Chicago 8, and became a national icon along with other famed protestors like Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman.

In the 1970s, he founded (along with Jane Fonda and others) the Campaign for Economic Democracy, a grassroots California group that was Hayden's first attempt to transform "the radicalism of the '60s into the common sense of the '70s," clearing a space in the electoral arena for movement activists. In 1983, he joined the California State Legislature where he championed progressive legislation for 16 years, sponsoring countless bills that provided California with greater environmental protection, better labor practices, and more services for low-income youth.

Since 1999, Hayden, as national co-director of No More Sweatshops, has successfully helped lead the campaign to pass the most significant statewide anti-sweatshop law in the country.

A brilliant and creative political analyst, Hayden's first major piece of political writing, and still perhaps his most enduring, was The Port Huron Statement, a remarkable document that spelled out the vision of participatory democracy that young '60s activists sought to create. Hayden is author of 10 books and editor of several more. His books include The Lost Gospel of the Earth, Irish on the Inside, Reunion: A Memoir and American Future: New Visions Beyond Old Frontiers.

More recently, Hayden has developed a special relationship with Los Angeles "peacemakers," men and women with gang backgrounds who are helping young people in L.A.'s most impoverished neighborhoods. In an era when law enforcement has eagerly moved to demonize and incarcerate young people, Hayden has been instrumental in helping policymakers and the public see young gang members as traumatized victims of violence, poverty and neglect. In June, his most recent book Street Wars: Gangs and The Future of Violence will be published.

The accompanying article is a talk given at the Los Angeles Book Festival on Sunday, April 25 about the gang wars and what Hayden has found out while writing his book.

Don Hazen is the executive editor of AlterNet.

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