Tributes flow for anti-war activist Tom Hayden

  • 25/10/2016
Tom Hayden (Reuters)
Tom Hayden (Reuters)

Veteran social activist and politician Tom Hayden, a stalwart of America's New Left who served nearly two decades as a California state lawmaker and gained a dash of Hollywood glamour with his marriage to movie star Jane Fonda, has died after a lengthy illness. He was 76.

Hayden, a leading figure of the Vietnam War-era protest movement before venturing into public office, had suffered from heart problems and had a stroke about 18 months ago, according to his widow, actress Barbara Williams.

He died on Sunday night at the UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica, Williams confirmed on Monday.

One of Hayden's last public appearances was in July at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, which he attended in a wheelchair.

"It was not advisable for him to go, but he wanted to go," Williams told Reuters. "He was active until the very end."

At the time of his death, Hayden was director of the California-based Peace and Justice Resource Center, the nonprofit think tank he founded that focuses on US military involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as on drug policy and global poverty.

Hayden had a decades-long career in social activism and politics forged as a charter member of Students for a Democratic Society, a group that was at the vanguard of the 1960s anti-war and civil rights movement. He was principal author of its founding revolutionary manifesto, the Port Huron Statement.

Hayden's activism included several high-profile trips to communist-ruled North Vietnam, his first in 1965, which led to the release of three American prisoners of war by Hanoi and another visit in 1972 accompanied by Fonda, whom he married the following year.

Hayden began his foray into left-wing politics as a student at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He ventured to the Deep South to join voter registration campaigns and was arrested and beaten while taking part in the "freedom rider" protests against racial segregation.

He became perhaps best known as one of the "Chicago Eight" activists tried on conspiracy and incitement charges following anti-war protests he helped organise at the turbulent 1968 Democratic National Convention. Hayden was ultimately acquitted of all charges.

A New York Times book review of Hayden's 1988 memoir, Reunion, one of more than 20 books published under his name, called Hayden "the single greatest figure of the 1960s student movement."

Hayden outlived contemporaries Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Eldridge Cleaver and Huey Newton, and remained active in left-wing politics, posting on Twitter just a week ago.

He won election to the California state Assembly in 1982, and to the state Senate a decade later, serving a total of 18 years as a state legislator.

Hayden was married to Fonda from 1973 to 1990, with whom he had a son, Troy Garity. In addition, Hayden and Fonda unofficially adopted a foster daughter, Mary Williams, the child of two Black Panther Party activists.

Hayden married Barbara Williams in 1993, and they later adopted a son, Liam.