Tom Hayden speaks in Rockford—part two

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//img-m8RM0DvBtg.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jon McGinty’, ‘“This election is a referendum on Iraq,” said activist and retired California legislator Tom Hayden during a speech Aug. 15 at Unitarian Universalist Church in Rockford. Pictured are (from left) David Black, Stanley Campbell, executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice, and Hayden.’);

n Activist says Nov. 2 election is America’s chance to restore its ‘good name and reputation’

Editor’s note: The following is the second in a two-part series on noted activist and retired California legislator Tom Hayden’s visit to Rockford Aug. 15. The first part was published in last week’s issue of The Rock River Times.

Tom Hayden believes “this election is a referendum on Iraq. It goes far beyond Bush, Kerry and the rest of them. But it is about the consequences if the American people at the polls in November expel George Bush from the White House. It would do more for this country’s good name and reputation than almost anything else I can think of. There is a price to be paid when hundreds of millions of people hate us—even if they hate us for the wrong reasons. It’s bad for labor, business, travel, vacation plans—you can’t go around forever saying the rest of the world is wrong. We don’t want to be hated. But Americans have been brought up with the idea that we are this virtuous country.”

Hayden had known John Kerry for a very long time and realized that people think he is “less than a charismatic candidate.” Hayden recognized that people think Kerry “flips and flops on issues.” But he felt that if Kerry were elected by a huge manjority, he would be under tremendous pressure to find a quick and honorable way out of Iraq, “or face seeing more of us show up in demonstrations. That would lead to a quagmire in Iraq and more American dead, more casualties.” It would also inevitably lead to a presidential challenger to Kerry in four years.

Reflecting on his experience in college, Hayden said, “I was a student editor at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor).” He covered the student civil rights movement in the South as well as the new president, John Kennedy. In October 1960, Kennedy visited the campus, and his advisers told him not to speak about the Peace Corps. Hayden belonged to a group that wanted to create a peace corps. He typed a speech that entitled him to be be in the group the night Kennedy came. “Kennedy was debating with that adviser whether to have a Peace Corps,” Hayden recalled. “I know that he threw away his notes and his adviser’s counsel, and gave a speech in favor of the Peace Corps. It was more than that—a call to student action—that students had a right to play a responsible role in the world.”

A few years later, Hayden was told to do all he could to get his people out of the civil rights movement “because we can’t protect you.” Then came the March on Washington. “Kennedy had advisers telling him how to get the march called off,” recalled Hayden. “The idea was that these people in the streets don’t understand, and they will undercut our efforts behind closed doors… harming their own cause. Nevertheless, 200,000 people came in August 1963.” Hayden was there. President Kennedy greeted the civil rights leaders and invited them into the White House for coffee. He facilitated all the permits and became identified with what he had been against. Hayden noted “we think that John Kennedy led the civil rights movement. He didn’t lead it—he had to be pulled into it.” For great changes in our history brought about by politicians, he offered two examples: Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“Lincoln was a consummate politician,” observed Hayden. “He comes across as a nonpolitical character now—a mystical, spiritual icon, but Rod Hofstadter writes, ‘like a barometer, Lincoln recorded the trend of pressures, and as the trend of pressure increased, he moved to the left.’ A great abolitionist said that ‘if Lincoln grew in office, it was because we watered him.’

“FDR is now so popular that Republicans seek to embrace him. We have this media image of politicians who eventually belong to everyone… Roosevelt was a conservative Democrat who ran on the issue of balancing the budget.” At first, little happened, but with 30 to 40 percent unemployment across the country, people realized they could not get out of it by themselves. “That’s where the industrial economy came from—sit-down strikes; workers held the factories for weeks and months,” said Hayden. “That’s where Michael Moore’s consensus comes from. As a result of those years, you have the Wagner Act in 1935 and the Social Security Act. Before that trend, unions were considered an unfair restraint on trade… It took the legalization of collective bargaining and the idea that the elderly should not be on their own.” Hayden noted that “Roosevelt had to be pushed and pushed again. Even where his heart was in it, he had advisers against it—it was the push of the social movement that brought that about.”

Hayden concluded that “there is this sense in each of us that we are not capable of shaping history in the absence of great men whom we depend on to save us, when, in fact, democracy requires it… It’s about resolution of democratic belief and confidence on a grassroots level. It’s about social movements making history. If you see that, we all start to feel empowered… You can make this the shot heard round the world this November.”

Following the speech, Hayden took questions from the audience. One person referred to Kerry’s remark about “who wants to be the last to die for a mistake?” Hayden said he felt Kerry was in a position where he can’t admit that Iraq was a mistake.

In response to a question about the role of the religious right in the election, Hayden said he felt there was a place for spirituality in social issues. He observed that the abolitionist movement would not have succeeded without the help of church leaders, and in our own time, the civil rights movement gained impetus from the black clergy.

A woman said she advocated boycotts of manufacturers or stores to achieve an objective. Hayden said he did not think that consumer movements like this were the answer. He came from a tradition of sweatshop workers, but was not in favor of sweatshops. He believed in getting involved in campaigns against buying anything made in a sweatshop.

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