by Joseph Falcone
A New York Times book review said Tom Hayden is "the single greatest figure of the 1960’s student movement.” Richard Goodwin, a special assistant to President Lyndon B. Johnson credited Hayden with creating ‘the blueprint for the Great Society programs”. He was a “Freedom Rider” in the Deep South, a founding member of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and a community organizer working to end the Vietnam war. He made one of the first trips to Hanoi to promote peace talks, journalistic contacts and American POW releases. And, (outside) at the Democratic Party Convention in 1968, he helped the nation change its course from war to withdrawal.
In the seventies, Tom Hayden organized the grass-roots Campaign for Economic Democracy in California, which won dozens of local offices and shut down, for the first time, a nuclear power plant through referendum.
In 1982, Hayden was elected to the California State Assembly. He supported Proposition 65 (1986) requiring labels on cancer-causing products, and Proposition 99, tripling tobacco taxes to fund billions for public health and anti-tobacco initiatives. In 1992, he was elected to the state senate.
During his 18 years in office, a tenure that included, at various times, his chairing of committees on higher education, labor and environment, he passed more than 100 measures, was a part of the democratic platform committee twice, a delegate 6 times in the 10 Democratic national conventions he attended.
He was described as "the conscience of the Senate" by the political columnist of the Sacramento Bee and, when he retired in 2000, he received the longest farewell of any legislator in memory, according to the Los Angeles Times. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer aptly summed it all up: "His journey is our journey through the tumultuous and disillusioning decades, he is our Everyman, he is us."
Recognized again & again over the years, Hayden was named Legislator of the Year or given similar honors by university and community college student lobbies, the League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, the Rainforest Action Network, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Association of Salvadorans in LA, the American Lung Association, Paw-PAC (animal welfare), the California Public Interest Research Group (Cal-Pirg), and the Liberty Hill Foundation.
Now Tom Hayden has received the first-ever Los Angeles Free Press Lifetime Dedication Award. It is particularly apropos in that Hayden was a seminal force in the 60’s, as was the Los Angeles Free Press - the nation’s first ‘alternative’ newspaper - both articulated the position of the left and pushed the movement forward. Hence, while Tom Hayden was changing America, the LAFreep was changing the way events – many that involved Hayden - were reported to America, exchanging the Establishment’s view of society, for that of its participants.
Today, it is more than 40 years since his Port Huron Statement – described by Howard Zinn as ‘one of those historic documents which represents an era’ – and went on to help us end a war. All these years later, from that counter-culture start to a lifetime of working within the system, the Vietnam war long over, ironically, Hayden seems to have come full circle, returning to a familiar challenge: his 13th and most recently released book is “Ending the War in Iraq”. Once more he has carefully considered the state of the union, and provides a guide to bring government policy in line with the people’s preference; proof that his dedication to the task of public service is endless.
It is why the Los Angeles Free Press chose to honor Tom Hayden; it was not for any single accomplishment, but for a lifetime of accomplishments. With the re-birth of the LAFreep, both are, once again, bringing attention to the issues of the day, again despite the wishes of a contrary government.
Art Kunkin, the Founder of the Los Angeles Free Press presented the Award as Steven M. Finger, its new Publisher, looked on from the audience. Hayden, in turn, expressed the hope that “the resurrection of the Los Angeles Free Press is a success’’ as it is, he said, indeed, needed again. The Los Angeles Free Press is online at www.LosAngelesFreePress.com.
*The Los Angeles Free Press, also known as the ‘LA Freep’, was the nation’s first alternative – (‘underground’) – newspaper. It was an independent newspaper, beginning a new genre of reporting, one that used the freedom of speech doctrine to fully express the evolutionary thoughts and ideals of a growing society. On that society’s behalf, it took a stand against the Vietnam War. More than 90,000 copies were printed each week and its readership may have been close to 200,000. Eventually, more than 600 papers nationwide took to its style and freely used its original articles. Thereby, it influenced millions of readers and was widely credited with helping to stop that war. The Los Angeles Free Press is now back. It will again chronicle societal change from the viewpoint of the participants rather than that of the Establishment, free from corporate influence. The LA Freep is available in its original print format and, as the times have changed, it is available, as well, online. See www.LosAngelesFreePress.com for their latest edition.