Left Justified: From radical to statesman to Rockford

Sen. Tom Hayden, ‘60s activist, visits Unitarian Universalist Church Aug. 15

I invited Tom Hayden, former ’60s radical, to speak in Rockford this Sunday. Tom is one of those street fighters who put his idealism into politics, got elected, and yet kept his idealism. I’d run across one of his articles in a magazine called The Nation; Tom was defending his former wife, the bodaciously beautiful Jane Fonda. There were pictures showing her with a young John Kerry at an anti-Vietnam War protest. The pictures, of course, are faked, but the implication is real: John Kerry is a traitor because he protested the war in Vietnam.

Tom says, “The attempted smearing of Kerry through the Fonda connection is a Republican attempt to suppress an honest reopening of our unfinished exploration of the Vietnam era.” Tom then links the “Vietnam syndrome” with the news from Baghdad and says that young John Kerry’s 1971 question, “How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake?” is more relevant than ever. The article was a great reflection on the two wars and implied that the protesters were just as patriotic as the young men and women who fought as soldiers in the war.

So I decided to ask Tom to come to Rockford. The local peace group is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and I thought Mr. Hayden would make a great keynote speaker. He’s probably remembered best for being one of the “Chicago Eight” conspirators arrested for “conspiring to overthrow the government” during the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. Tom was the leader of the notorious peace group Students for a Democratic Society and had written the famous Port Huron statement, which coalesced the student movement with more radical anti-war groups. Some people say it turned the anti-war students on to the cultural changes of the ’70s.

Tom had cut his teeth on the civil rights movement and did a lot of community organizing in Newark, N.J. His analysis of race and class is still relevant to today’s black and white struggle. But instead of turning on, tuning in and dropping out, Tom ran for and won a seat in the California state legislature, where he rose to prominence and authored more than 175 legislative measures.

“Tom Hayden changed America,” the national correspondent of The Atlantic, Nicholas Lemann, has written. He created the blueprint for the Great Society programs, according to presidential assistant Richard Goodwin. He was “the conscience of the Senate,” said Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters. According to the Los Angeles Times, when he retired in September 1999 from the state legislature, he received the longest farewell of any legislator in memory.

He is the author of 11 books including Irish Hunger and his autobiography, Reunion. He is editor of The Zapatista Reader, which supports human and native rights struggles in Mexico. This man, who usually garners big bucks as a speaker, offered his services for room, board and travel expenses to Rockford.

He will be speaking on Aug. 15, after a simple vegan 6 p.m. dinner (cost is only $10) at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Rockford, 4848 Turner St. A sponsor’s ticket is $20, and we’ve already gotten two co-sponsors: Adopt Shelter Animals Please and The Vital Force newspaper. You can send your reservations to 623 Seventh St., Rockford, 61104, or call me at (815) 964-7111 at Rockford Urban Ministries’ number for more info.

I want to thank the newspaper for allowing me to plug this important event for the region as well as for our little peace group. We hope to have a good turnout to welcome Tom Hayden to Rockford.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

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