I had not realized that the near legendary activist, Tom Hayden, had been ill. I was on Facebook this morning and saw a notice that he had passed away. I quickly checked to make sure that this was a legit story. These days you never know.
I became acquainted with the name Tom Hayden through Ramparts magazine in the late 1960s. I admired both his thinking and his audacity. He was on the front lines of a young and radical movement.
Tom Hayden moved away from explicitly radical politics and more towards social democratic or left populist political action. On an important level, that made little difference to me. Though i took a different political trajectory I found that there was much that i could admire in Tom’s work and in his insight. I was most especially struck by his long-term commitment. While many people dropped by the wayside, Tom Hayden continued on in the struggle for justice.
I finally got a chance to meet Tom Hayden during the time that I was the president of TransAfrica Forum. I am not quite sure what i was expecting but what i discovered was a ‘regular guy.’ Despite his iconic status, i found him down to earth and someone with whom i could actually have a discussion. We found ourselves colleagues in the anti-war movement (around Iraq) and in 2008 worked together to create a project called “Progressives for Obama”.
Tom Hayden recognized the need for the creation of the ‘big tent.’ While i would hold that the creation of a big tent is not inconsistent with radical politics there are, unfortunately, many radicals who do, i.e., people who would rather be in a small comfort zone with people similar to themselves. Tom made a choice to go for building the big tent. Whether he toned down his radical politics in order to build that tent or because he had a genuine change of heart i will never know. But i can say that he and i were in agreement that in order to fundamentally transform the USA, we will need a big tent. Indeed, we will need a majoritarian bloc that thinks of itself as a majoritarian bloc.
Tom Hayden will be missed not only due to his deep commitment to social justice, which remained inspiring, but also due to the fact that he was willing to ask the tough questions and offer the controversial insights that many others would not voice.
Thank you, Tom Hayden.