‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’: Who was the real Tom Hayden? True story of activist dubbed ‘60s radical Jane Fonda’

A radical in the 1960s, Hayden charted a new path after the notorious 1968 Chicago Seven trial and was known as a stalwart of America’s New Left


                            ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’: Who was the real Tom Hayden? True story of activist dubbed ‘60s radical Jane Fonda’
Tom Hayden: Real and Reel Life (Netflix/Getty Images)

"Tom Hayden changed America!" The leader of the Students for a Democratic Society portrayed by Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne in Aaron Sorkin's ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ was dubbed as the "father to the largest mass protests in American history". 

“Tom Hayden was an extraordinary man,” Redmayne learned. “He was born in Michigan and had a rebellious spirit from an early age. He was a Freedom Rider and went to New Jersey to work with people in the African American community. He was incredibly vocal. He was incredibly literate and wrote a lot. He joined the fledgling SDS in the ’60s and was one of the main authors of the Port Huron Statement, which was about finding a new shift in liberal thoughts and politics.”

A radical in the 1960s, Hayden charted a new path after the notorious 1968 Chicago Seven trial and was known as a stalwart of America’s New Left. “I’m Jefferson in terms of democracy,” he said, “I’m Thoreau in terms of environment, and Crazy Horse in terms of social movements.” He once joked his life could be summed up in just four words: “60s radical Jane Fonda.” Married to Fonda for 17 years and Barbara Williams until he breathed his last, his high-profile relationships were often in the spotlight — probably more than his bold political expressions and ideologies. 

Tom Hayden (Getty Images)

Who was Tom Hayden?

Born as Thomas Emmet Hayden in 1939, he was raised by his Irish mother Genevieve Isabelle (née Garity) after she divorced his Marine father John Francis Haydenborn — who was a raging alcoholic — in Royal Oak, Michigan. He first attended a Catholic elementary school, led by Charles Coughlin, a Catholic priest noted for his anti-Semitic teachings where he read out loud to nuns and “learned to fear hell.”

He attended Dondero High School in Royal Oak, Michigan and served as the editor for the school newspaper. However, he was banned from attending his graduation after he wrote in his farewell column: “Go to hell.” He then attended the University of Michigan. At the National Student Association convention in Minneapolis in August 1960, Hayden locked eyes with Sandra Cason who turned back a motion denying support for sit-ins in the struggle against racial segregation: “I cannot say to a person who suffers injustice, ‘Wait,’ And having decided that I cannot urge caution, I must stand with him.” 

At that time, Alan Haber of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) recruited her on the spot and Hayden followed her. Smitten with her ability to think “morally [and] express herself poetically,” the pair got hitched in October. Beaten as a civil rights activist in Mississippi, he was dragged behind the bars and it was there that he drafted what became the 25,000-word Port Huron statement of 1962, the manifesto of SDS, beginning: “We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest prosperity, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit.”

Tom Hayden (Getty Images)

What happened to him after the trial?

In 1968, he joined the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE), and along with six others from the famous Chicago Seven, he was convicted of crossing state lines to incite a riot. Although the charges were reversed and remanded on appeal, the US Department of Justice did not re-try the case. After the trial, he moved to Berkeley but fellow residents kicked him out. They decided “I was an oppressive male chauvinist,” Hayden wrote in his memoir. Angry and humiliated, “I drove away in my beat-up Volkswagen convertible to Los Angeles, the notorious New Left leader and national security threat alone in a world of hurt.”

He also wrote in his 1988 memoir ‘Reunion’: “To those who did not pass through the Southern civil rights experience, willfully going to jail may seem like a career-threatening act of despair. It was not. It was both a necessary moral act and a rite of passage into serious commitment.”

In the early 1970s, he met actress Jane Fonda at one of the rallies and the two joined forces on an antiwar project, the Indochina Peace Campaign, which lobbied against military funding. The pair soon got married and gave birth to their son, Troy Garity, in 1973.

Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda (Getty Images)

A respectable Senator

In 1976, Hayden challenged California US Senator John V Tunney and The New York Times reported him saying, “The radicalism of the 1960s is fast becoming the common sense of the 1970s.” After losing several primary elections for high office in California, he was elected to the California state legislature in 1982 and to the state senate in 1993. As per LA Times, his Republican father refused to speak with him for 13 years. They reconciled before his father’s death, a few days before Hayden won election to the Assembly in 1982.

Back in 1999, Hayden opined in his speech for the Seattle WTO protests: “Do the Clinton administration's investor-based trade priorities benefit America's interest in high-wage jobs, environmental protection and human rights?” He divorced Fonda that year and then married Barbara Williams in 1993. The two adopted a son, Liam.

In 2008, he endorsed former president Barack Obama saying, “Is Barack the one we have been waiting for? Or is it the other way around? Are we the people we have been waiting for? Barack Obama is giving voice and space to awakening beyond his wildest expectations, a social force that may lead him far beyond his modest policy agenda. Such movements in the past led the Kennedys and Franklin Roosevelt to achievements they never contemplated. [As Gandhi once said of India’s liberation movement: There go my people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.]”

Tom Hayden and Barbara Williams (Getty Images)

The Hayden Act

Did you know he had a Senate Bill passed in his name to protect shelter animals from premature euthanasia? Before it was implemented on July 1, 1999, dogs or cats seized by public pounds or shelters could be killed after 72 hours. The Hayden Act increased the time limit to four or six business days and required that the animal be released to a nonprofit animal rescue or adoption organization in certain circumstances, subject to specified exceptions.

In 2016, he was one of California's representatives at the Democratic National Committee. Although he initially leaned towards Bernie Sanders, he later announced he would support Hillary Clinton and cast his vote for her when the primary reached California.

A prolific author and editor of more than 20 books, his writings were published in The New York Times, the Boston Globe and the Denver Post. His book — Hell No: The Forgotten Power of the Vietnam Peace Movement — completed in the months before his death in October 2016, was published in 2017.

Tom Hayden (Getty Images)

How did he die?

On October 23, 2016, Hayden died in Santa Monica, California following a long battle with heart diseases. He was 76. Per reports, Hayden's death came after a period of ill health. He had a stroke in 2015 and had been having heart problems after that. He was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery and the inscription reads: “In Loving Memory of Thomas Emmet Hayden 1939-2016: Only when we believe the sacred is present in the living earth will we revere our world again.”

Many political figures expressed their condolences for Hayden. Former president Bill Clinton said in a statement: “Hillary and I were saddened to learn of the death of Tom Hayden. His eventful life in pursuit of peace and justice ran the gamut from protesting to legislating, with lots of writing and teaching along the way. Attacked first by the right as a dangerous radical, then by the left for his willingness to compromise, Tom always marched to the beat of his own drummer, doing what he thought at any given time would advance his lifelong goals. Hillary and I knew him for more than thirty years and valued both his words of support and his criticism. His intelligence, intensity, and willingness to put himself on the line was uniquely American. He will be missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with Barbara and his children.”

“A political giant and dear friend has passed,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti wrote on Twitter after his death, adding “Tom Hayden fought harder for what he believed than just about anyone I have known.” Todd Gitlin, who succeeded him as SDS president said: “Tom had the gift of articulating the larger meaning of smaller events. He was very crisp and clear and unlikely to be at a loss for words as a public voice.”

​​​​‘​​The Trial of the Chicago 7’ will start streaming on Netflix this October 16, 2020.

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