Tom Hayden speaks in Rockford—part one

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Editor’s note: The following is the first in a two-part series on noted activist and retired California legislator Tom Hayden’s visit to Rockford Aug. 15.

Noted activist and retired California legislator Tom Hayden reflected on his career and shared his concerns at a program Sunday evening, Aug. 15, at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 4848 Turner St.

Hayden currently teaches at Occidental College and recently finished a book on street gangs. He is interested in how our country has been in a war against street gangs for the last 30 years. In Chicago and Los Angeles combined, a minimum of 20,000 men have died in the last 30 years. In his book research, he found that many of the people who brought us the war on gangs in the 1980s became the neo-conservtives who brought us into the war in Iraq. They believe in the proposition that there are certain individuals who are by nature evil or incorrigible, who become predators and can only be locked away. There is no way that social programs can abate or reduce the threat of violence from these super-predators. They are global in nature and appear to be the enemies of Western civilization.

“The problem is,” said Hayden, “this view has been contested for thousands of years… We think individuals can be converted and transformed. I am on the side of the transformers. That’s why I’m here tonight. I believe that transformation is possible, that something goes far beyond a token adjustment of what we need. We have to hold out for the idea that transformation is not only possible but necessary. Why did I spend 18 years in the California legislature?”

Hayden believes that “social movements are the greatest resources that American society has… protest is a greater resource to our country than any other including private property. It’s the force of consensus, and protest arises at the margins in a mysterious process… It occurs by surprise.” The sit-in movements in the ’60s were not predicted; the anti-war movement leading up to the invasion of Iraq was also not predicted. “Over time,” Hayden noted, “these movements march into the mainstream. They connect with the popular mood and become majority opinion.”

Addressing the Rockford Peace & Justice Action Committee that brought him here, Hayden said, “You are part of an institution that is activist in nature, but you feel isolated here in Rockford. I have never met anyone who didn’t feel isolated. The isolation comes from an uncertainty whether it’s worth disrupting your personal life, or not knowing that you are part of a process… Those of you in the peace movement participated in the largest demonstration in history that preceded a war… It was not predicted, but in virtually every country on earth, there was a protest in 2002-03. Someone noted that there were 150 cities in which there was a protest… You have to wonder, if this happens globally, what are the forces behind it? How could it arise so suddenly?” Hayden believes that the mass protest “delayed the start of the war and forced the Bush administration into diplomacy so they had to go through the UN and rupture their alliance with Europe. They are starting to see that there was a price to pay.”

Hayden made reference to Howard Dean, who came out of the ’60s, had a residual memory of social movements, and picked up on something that was already out there. Dean altered the dialogues in the presidential campaign. Kerry and others started to see these concerns and became more responsive.

“From the time of Seattle forward,” Hayden observed, “you have seen a number of confrontations within the Democratic Party. In Massachusetts, 50,000 people came together without political backing. They didn’t just want to protest the World Trade Organization, they wanted to expose it, and if possible, interrupt the business… What was the established response to Seattle? The derailing of WTO was described as an isolated spasm—a handful of anarchists. It had to be contained. It wasn’t going to happen again. And yet, it has happened over and over again. Everywhere any of these characters come together in their large trade assemblies, there are demonstrators—multitudes of them.”

Hayden noted that some of these policies originated in the Clinton administration, such as NAFTA and WTO. “Edwards started to stump on the populist theme of outsourcing,” Hayden said. “Everything Ross Perot had predicted had come true. So Kerry took the position that he is going to have a 120-day reversal of all these trade agreements if he is elected… This is the process by which the social movement—like a mole—goes underground for a while, but then the ground changes, and things happen… People in office rarely want to give you credit for it. They want the system to be dependent on them as opposed to seeing that the audience is taking control….

“I think there is a lot at stake here in Iraq. They say 950 Americans have been killed. They don’t count the ones that work for private investors. They don’t count the ones who die after being med-evaced out of Iraq air space. If you’re not an American citizen, you are undocumented; you don’t become part of the body count because you are not an American. They count you American posthumously after you die. I think it’s more than 950, but I don’t know what the total is.”

Continuing on this theme, Hayden said, “You can’t get a straight answer on the number of wounded. When you get to the issue of how many Iraqi dead there are, we will be writing about that for years. And what about the cost? You can’t get a straight answer on that. This is a war that is necessary to fight, but extremely necessary not to report to the American people… We don’t know what it actually cost—maybe $10 billion so far. They act as if it’s a chess game.”

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