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CTto discuss the life and legacy of Tom Hayden.
Listen to the podcast here: Tom was a dear friend and colleague: I got the news as soon as I awoke Monday. Even though I knew he was seriously ill, it still came as a shock. It seemed too soon, still too much to do, and too many things I would still like to hear him speak and write about, but now would be unspoken and unwritten.
Tom was a comrade in our same organization, Students for a Democratic Society, and in the same battles for peace and justice before I got to know him well enough to be among those he called his friends. My first indirect contact with him was through typewritten mimeographed pages stapled together in an SDS pamphlet that sold for 10 cents.
These were his writings as a student journalist and activist from the front lines of the freedom struggle in Mississippi and Georgia. We also got deeper messages about commitment and physical courage. In addition to his accounts of vivid battles in well-written prose, we also got other deeper messages about commitment and physical courage.
It was not enough for us just to hold good opinions about social and political matters. We had to be engaged, body and soul, willing to be, as Tom was, on the receiving end of a billy club in Mississippi or the insides of a Georgia jail.
Again indirectly, he inspired me to visit an SDS community organizing project in Cleveland on my way back to the University of Nebraska via hitchhiking. Within hours, we had two carloads, students and community folks, off to Memphis to continue the March.
Those experiences were powerful and changed my life. At the national office, I learned more about Hayden, this time in regular print. We distributed, of course, the nicely printed Port Huron Statement. This brings me to my next way of knowing Tom, through black-and-white celluloid film.
We had very little money, so to travel, I took literature to sell and films to show along the way, at each stop making enough to get to the next.
One of the films, about 30 minutes long, was called Troublemakers. It was about our community project in Newark, and featured Tom, among others. We got to see him at work, bringing people together, asking lots of questions, drawing people out to feel comfortable with their own ideas, and their own potential for political power.
Tom was always laid back, non-domineering, but still serving as a catalyst, working toward united action.
It was a good model for those of us who aspired to be organizers. My next knowledge of Tom was through the newspapers. Most of us SDSers had years before decided that justice was on the side of the Vietnamese, so we were quite pleased with the trip, even as the news pundits were scandalized.
We felt Tom had hit one out of the park with this move. In fact, it changed his life, since on his return he shifted away from local organizing among the poor to the larger and more intense struggles that were developing around the escalating Vietnam war. By I finally got together with Tom directly.
We met in, of all places, the famous round bar at the top of the Havana Libre Hotel, formerly the Hilton, made famous in pre-revolution days with the likes of George Raft, Humphrey Bogart, and others of their pack hanging out there. Then one night that week Tom and I got a summons. Together with antiwar leader Dave Dellinger, we were to be whisked off to a private meeting with Fidel Castro.
We entered a car with several soldiers and were treated to a topsy-turvy high-speed ride around the city, finally ending up at an ordinary suburban house, but with soldiers with machine guns in the shadows. They said little, but helped Fidel with translation, even though Fidel understood English rather well.
We discussed everything under the sun for a few hours, with Tom and Dave giving Fidel a full account of the antiwar struggle.Peace activist and spiritual leader Rabbi Arthur Waskow and activist and SDS vet Carl Davidson, joined Thorne Dreyer on Rag Radio, Friday, Oct.
28, , p.m. (CT), to discuss the life and legacy of Tom Hayden. Listen to the podcast here.
Paul Kingsnorth is a writer and poet living in Cumbria, England. He is the author of several books, including the poetry collection Kidland and his fictional debut The Wake, winner of the Gordon Burn Prize and the Bookseller Book of the Year Award.
Kingsnorth is the cofounder and director of the Dark Mountain Project, a network of writers, artists, and thinkers. + free ebooks online. Did you know that you can help us produce ebooks by proof-reading just one page a day?
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