The Sun
January 1, 2006


Rachel's summary: Tom Hayden has been a social-justice activist for 40
years. In this interview, he reflects on corporate power and the role of
race in preventing working people from joining together to take back
America -- among other things.

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best-written magazine we know of. -- DHN Editors

By Tim McKee

In his forty-year career as a social-justice activist, Tom Hayden has
served jail time, and he has served as a California state senator.
Arrested in 1968 for "inciting a riot" outside the Democratic National
Convention in Chicago, he returned to that city sixteen years later as
a delegate to the convention. On a given weekend Hayden might spend
one day participating in a street demonstration and the next
addressing a roomful of elected officials.

In the sixties and seventies Hayden was active in the civilrights and
antiwar movements. He was a founding member of Students for a
Democratic Society and principal author of the landmark Port Huron
Statement, which called for a radical shift toward participatory
democracy, granting citizens a more direct hand in governance. As a
"freedom rider," he rode buses in the South to protest segregation and
racism. He was also a vocal critic of the Vietnam War, flying on
several occasions to Cambodia and North Vietnam to assess avenues for
a peaceful solution to the conflict. After his 1968 arrest outside the
Democratic National Convention, Hayden was tried on conspiracy charges
alongside seven other activists. Known as the "Chicago Eight," the
defendants became a symbol of sixties student protest. All were

In the 1980s Hayden's activism took a new trajectory. With the
election of Ronald Reagan as president and the ascendancy of the
Republican Party, Hayden decided to try his hand at state politics.
His election to the California State Assembly in 1982 so upset
Republican representatives that they twice tried unsuccessfully to
block his seating, citing his long-ago trips to North Vietnam. Hayden
went on to serve five consecutive terms as a California assemblyman
and two terms as a California state senator. In those eighteen years
Hayden ushered through cutting-edge legislation on the environment,
education, prison reform, women's issues, and campaign-finance reform.
At the end of his second and final term as senator, the Los Angeles
Times reported, Hayden received the longest farewell ovation of any
legislator in memory.

Since then Hayden has focused on writing and teaching. To date he has
authored eleven books on subjects ranging from environmentalism, to
gangs, to his own Irish American heritage. Rebel (Red Hen Press), his
memoir of his experiences in the sixties, is widely used in high-
school and college classrooms. Hayden is currently a visiting
professor at the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute at
Occidental College in Los Angeles, and also serves as a social-studies
counselor at several inner-city public high schools.

Though retired from state politics, Hayden remains a bellwether of the
social-justice movement; to find where the "edge" is, look to what
Hayden is talking about. These days he serves as national codirector
of No More Sweatshops, which urges the government to hold corporations
accountable for their labor practices. He also speaks out against the
global agenda of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and works with
former gang members to reduce street violence.

Hayden lives in Los Angeles with his wife, singer and actress Barbara
Williams, and their four-year-old son, Liam. He also has two adult
children from a previous marriage to actress Jane Fonda. When we met
for this interview some months ago, Hayden invited me to his modest
canyon home, where we talked in his office for most of a Sunday
afternoon. On several occasions Liam poked his head into the office
looking for his father, who stopped the interview to play with his
son. After each break Hayden picked up exactly where we'd left off,
the conversation still fresh in his mind.

McKee: It's been forty years since the Port Huron Statement called for
a more participatory democracy. Is our society today more or less
democratic than it was then1

Hayden: U.S. history as a whole is an ongoing struggle between growing
participatory democracy, on the one hand, and the attempts of the
corporate state to absorb and contain that democracy, on the other.
Over the past 250 years, the corporate state has had to contend with
Tom Paine's Rights of Man, Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the
Rights of Woman, the women's-suffrage movement, the abolition of
slavery and the Negro-suffrage movement, the labor movement, the
social upheaval of the 1960s, and the environmental movement.
Ultimately the corporate state absorbs and accepts these movements
(though it might take a hundred years) while trying to limit their
effect on capitalism and elite rule.

So we have greater participation in the democratic process than we did
forty years ago, or a hundred years ago, yet the elites are ever more
intent on escaping its constrictions. For example, after the Vietnam
War, there was a widespread desire to rein in, if not do away with,
the CIA -- certainly, to stop the intelligence services from
assassinating foreign leaders. And there was an attempt to bring the
presidency under control through, among other things, the passage of
the Freedom of Information Act, which requires the disclosure of some
secrets that presidents like to keep in the name of "national
security." These were all significant accomplishments, providing
greater protections than exist in many other countries, including the
United Kingdom. But secrecy has taken up another address since then.
Elements of the CIA now seem to be secret unto themselves, and the
Pentagon has developed its own intelligence network and spying
capacity. I think of these powerful elites as being on the run; others
think that they're wielding more power over us than ever. Whatever the
case, I think we have to fight all the time to keep participatory
democracy the norm.

McKee: Can corporations ever be made to accept this norm1

Hayden: Growing up, I thought they had accepted it. In the fifties and
sixties most working-class people were members of unions, and we were
taught that there was a kind of balance -- between labor and
management; between different branches of government -- and that no
one institution had power over the others.

Now, however, we're in a phase in which corporations are trying to
burst the fetters of the welfare state and the New Deal and the
sixties reforms, and it makes me more inclined to believe that they
have an inherent unwillingness to coexist with democracy and will
always try to do away with it. I think this started in 1972 with the
formation of the Business Roundtable, which aimed to roll back
consumer protections, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act,
environmental restrictions, the women's movement -- all forces that
were pressuring corporations to broaden access and yield on property
rights. The corporations have pursued this agenda indirectly, which
shows that they're nervous about their own legitimacy. Attempts to
roll back air-pollution regulations are always called something like
the "Blue Skies Act." The fact that this subterfuge is necessary
demonstrates that the populace is more supportive of environmental
regulation than it might appear.

Nevertheless, corporations engage in a permanent battle against any
democratic controls over their freedom of action. They've
internationalized their private agenda in the WTO, which attempts to
impose the will of corporations on the globe through the prohibition
of reforms and the creation of an unregulated global market.
Corporations then turn to U.S. politicians and argue that any attempt
to protect the public interest makes this country less competitive,
and that our economy will go down if we don't conform to international
rules of trade.

McKee: Which side do you think will prevail1

Hayden: I don't think there's any assurance as to how things will turn
out, but I've always believed that the action we take, successful or
not, reminds people that progress is possible. If we don't take
action, we give the appearance that it's impossible to change things.
Any action, while not guaranteeing change, creates possibilities that
weren't there before.

McKee: Why has liberal become a dirty word1

Hayden: Liberal sociological thinking has been in retreat since the
Reagan presidency. Around the late seventies, you could feel the
political middle shifting to the right. The joke at the time was: "A
liberal is someone who hasn't been mugged yet." Residential burglary
was on the rise, and all the attendant rhetoric about drugs and youth
crime was affecting middleof- the-road voters, making them more
security-conscious. They were buying locks for their homes and
lighting for their driveways. Republicans exploited this situation by
proclaiming that there was no time to address underlying causes; we
had to have more police on the street, because the enemy was at your
doorstep and selling drugs outside your kids' school.

Politically -- and I emphasize politically, apart from other standards
of truth -- most Democrats had no answer for this. I had no answer for
it, because I was getting hit by crime in my own neighborhood. I had
several burglaries at my house, and the argument for having more
police on the street was a tempting one. In my mind, however, there
was no contradiction between having an immediate deterrent and at the
same time working on the underlying causes. What I didn't realize then
was that there would never come a time when the underlying causes
would be addressed. "Law and order," in the Republican mind, is simply
a matter of more police and more prisons.

In the late seventies the conservatives put forward the theory that
there are no root causes for crime, and they've spent almost thirty
years now trying to demolish all arguments for rehabilitation and
instead promote the idea that there exists a class of "superpredators"
or "career criminals," incorrigibles who can be dealt with only by
suppression. And that idea has taken hold.

The superpredator theory allows conservatives and Republicans to avoid
the charge of racism. They can say, "We have our Colin Powells and our
Condoleezza Rices; we're not talking about excluding the vast majority
of law-abiding people of color. We're talking instead about the
superpredators, many of whom happen to be black. But we're not judging
them by their skin color; we're judging them by the crimes they
commit" -- by the "content of their character," to borrow Martin
Luther King Jr.'s phrase, which has now been co-opted by

Meanwhile, the same rationale justifies our having more people in
prison per capita than any other country in the world. The numbers are
staggering. On any given day, there are around 2 million people in
prison in this country. But that number tells only part of the story.
Nobody -- and this is an example of where we're not directing our
attention -- has done the math on how many ex-convicts there are on
the streets. That number is not 2 million, but a huge multiple of

In this political climate, police budgets in most cities are
sacrosanct or are increasing, while federal funding for social
programs has declined. As a result, there are no discretionary funds
available for affordable housing, mental-health facilities, healthcare
-- all things that are vital to the rehabilitation of criminals. Of
course, conservatives say rehabilitation is a waste of money anyway.
But the fact is that being "tough on crime" isn't working. Although we
have the largest percentage of our people in prison, and the most
rapid expansion of the police force, we still have the highest
homicide rate among the world's richest nations, and there's no end in

Just as hostility toward people of color and the fear of crime are
turning our suburbs into gated fortresses, the socalled war on terror
is turning the country as a whole into a fortress against much of the
rest of the world. This is not a defense against terrorism; it's part
of the framework in which terrorism arises. But that framework is not
discussed. Terrorism is said to be a result of "evil," rather than a
symptom of profound dislocation.

McKee: So you think our government is making the same mistakes in
response to terrorism as it has in response to crime1

Hayden: Yes. I think we have a collective need to find a scapegoat, an
enemy. The gang member is the domestic version, and the terrorist is
the international version. Before 9/11 it was the narcoterrorists, and
before that the communists. The trick here is to identify the enemy as
a terrorist, or a superpredator, as opposed to a person who commits an
act of terror or crime. If they are "terrorists," then war is the only
remedy. But if they are people who commit acts of terror under certain
conditions, then you can eliminate the conditions that give rise to
the terrorism.

Let's look at suicide bombers. Suicide bombers were not prevalent in
the Middle East during the first Palestinian intifada. The number of
suicide bombings increased drastically in the 1990s. That pattern
would lead one to believe that suicide bombings are not the result of
certain people's desire for martyrdom, but rather of something that
happened in the early nineties, a catalyst that drove Palestinians to
desperation. But that line of inquiry is foreclosed by the
neoconservative presumptions that now hold sway. In the eyes of the
neocons, who are more hawkish and aggressive than their predecessors
on the Right, it's as if suicide bombings have always occurred, as if
the "suicide bomber" were a permanent type of person, as opposed to a
person who, in desperate circumstances, became a suicide bomber.

The discrepancy between the facts and the neoconservative ideology is
equally fantastic for superpredators. A decade ago the neocon argument
was that, because there were going to be more minority teenagers due
to population trends, there were going to be more violent criminals.
It's an argument based on the dubious idea that a certain percentage
of people are destined at birth to become violent criminals. As it
happened, however, more teenagers did not translate into a crime wave.
So the crime rate must depend on other variables besides how many
black and brown babies are born. What an insight!

Nevertheless, a pernicious new form of racism has taken hold here,
completely infecting the body politic. The superpredator theory
remains the given reason for why we have these so-called special-
housing units -- really maximumsecurity lockups -- at virtually every
prison, including juvenile facilities. It is the belief that "these
people" are all inherently explosive; that none of them can be reached
or reformed.

As a progressive, I believe that people can, in fact, be diverted away
from violent crime or terrorism by being given jobs, education, and,
most importantly, respect. But there are not resources available to
pursue both our current approach and one that addresses underlying
causes. So any brave soul who wants to question the framework of the
war on terrorism will get only token resources, at best, to carry out
an alternative vision. It's no wonder that few are willing to make the

The situation is similar, in a way, to what we faced during the Cold
War, which gripped our politics for forty years. Back then, there
wasn't enough money for both more nuclear weapons and troops, on the
one hand, and housing and jobs at home, on the other. And if you
questioned the overall Cold War framework, as Martin Luther King Jr.
did in 1967 by linking poverty to the Vietnam War, your patriotism --
and even your sanity -- was questioned.

McKee: What was your experience in the California legislature when you
tried to step outside the framework and look at root causes1

Hayden: I found that through persistent advocacy, I could educate the
Senate and sometimes get the votes to pass concrete proposals. For
instance, one of the most practical means of steering former gang
members toward jobs is to offer free tattoo removal. So I got a
million dollars into the budget for tattoo removal. It appealed to
religious conservatives, who think that tattoos are the mark of the
devil, and liberals were easily persuaded that these kids needed to
get the tattoos off their faces and hands if they were to have a
chance at getting jobs. But the liberals would support tattoo removal
only if the conservatives did, too. That way they couldn't be attacked
for being "soft on gangs."

I made headway on rehabilitation in the juvenile facilities and state
prisons by arguing that, if we rehabilitated 10 percent of the inmates
in California prisons, it would save taxpayers $400 million. Very few
legislators were willing to argue that you couldn't rehabilitate even
10 percent. They were not completely in the grip of the superpredator

In addition I found that bringing former gang members to the
legislature to testify scored points, because once you meet people
face to face, you have to acknowledge their humanity. Afterward the
legislature passed a bill to allow former gang members DA to
participate in a round-table discussion on gang violence. Yet, even
though their advisors supported it, both Democratic and Republican
governors vetoed the bill for political reasons: they did not want to
be held accountable for having allowed a former gang member to
influence policy-making.

So you see how difficult it is to pursue rehabilitation. If nobody
will hire or appoint a former gang member, then all we're really doing
is keeping them in limbo until they are back in the prison system.

My work on these issues in the legislature was all worth while, but it
started with me and ended with me. It takes some body with very strong
beliefs to tackle an issue where there are no campaign contributors or
voter constituencies on your side.

McKee: In your book Street Wars, you write, "Until America's white
ethnics get their true story straight, they will be unable to
understand, face, and help in healing the wounds of today's inner-city
youth." What do you mean?

Hayden: The true story is that the Jews, the Italians, and the Irish
-- not to mention the Germans and others -- all went through a phase
in this country of being an underclass that produced violent street
gangs. It's remembered occasionally in movies like Gangs of New York,
for example, but those are fictional representations given to fantasy
and nostalgia. There seems to be virtually no memory among today's
white ethnics of the times when they experienced ethnic profiling and
police suppression, and of how they became working-class and middle-
class through government intervention during the New Deal. That truth
has been replaced with the myth that each immigrant family fought its
way into the middle class alone.

Collective struggle is almost entirely missing from our national
immigrant myth. The psychological reason for this is that people don't
want to admit that they might have acquired a better life through
anything other than their own hard work. Their pride won't let them
admit to getting a hand up from the government or the labor movement.

I think it's helpful to remind white ethnics that they, too, came here
in boats; that they, too, lived in slums; that they, too, had yellow
fever; that they, too, were stigmatized a corrigible; that they, too,
had the highest homicide rates the highest incarceration rates and the
highest rates of me illness; and that everything that was said about
them in tl days is now being said about Salvadorans, Dominicans, can
Americans, Mexicans, Vietnamese, and Cambodian our inner cities.

The question I haven't resolved is whether race is even n essential to
success than collective struggle and government programs. In other
words, did these previous generations of gangsters become assimilated
because they were white? Is the real difference that the existing
white majority will resist assimilation of any nonwhite minority?

McKee: The Port Huron Statement spoke powerfully of how the government
used the fear of communism to justify huge military budgets, the
curtailment of civil liberties at home, and the manipulation of truth.
Do you see parallels between the Cold War against communism and
today's on terror?

Hayden: Yes, there are parallels, but today the abuses are even worse.
When the Soviet Union and China exploded their nuclear bombs, we
didn't invade them. Yet we invaded Iraq on the theory that Saddam
Hussein might have been developing a bomb. I think we're in more
dangerous hands now than we were during the Cold War. It's as if Joe
McCarthy, the famous red- baiting senator of the 1950s, has become
secretary of defense.

McKee: What fuels our country's quest for empire?

Hayden: I have no easy answer for that question. Sometimes times I
think it's the capitalist market's need to expand. It's a shark: by
its nature it must constantly feed. It's not just a matter of a few
greedy people. I'm talking about the market itself being insatiable
and hostile to regulation and control. But just as they succeeded in
avoiding the charge of being racists, the Republicans have succeeded
in avoiding the charge that they are greedy capitalists by speaking of
"small business" and "market solutions." They don't generally get out
there and speak unapologetically in favor of more capitalism.

The word that they've deceived the public with the most is growth,
which always sounds appealing. Progressives have to establish a
quality-of-life index that challenges the gross national product as a
measure of how we're doing as a society. It's not a question of growth
versus no growth; it's which type of growth do you prefer: growth in
prenatal care, or growth in the number of AK-47s on the street? This
is an ideological battle that the Left has to win.

I think the capitalist expansion framework is rooted in frontier
history of this country. Historian William Appleton Williams believes
the frontier functioned as a safety valve for domestic conflict. For
example, in the early days of the nation, landless farmers threatened
to rise up against aristocrats and large property owners. So the
farmers were offered land grants if they became frontiersmen and
fought the Indians, and the conflict was defused rather than settled.
Similarly, the question of whether the United States was going to
become a social- democratic country or a purely capitalist one wasn't
debated very long, because the Appalachian frontier and the Ohio
Valley were the solutions; and after that, the Great Plains and

This history, I think, makes us the staunchest of the capitalist
countries. In Western Europe, for example, the models of capitalism at
work are much more benign, perhaps because those countries haven't
been able to expand. The European Left created social-democratic
parties and unions, so European workers have longer vacations, better
healthcare programs, and higher workplace safety standards. In Western
Europe and Canada capitalism coexists with a proactive government that
represents consumers, workers, and the public interest.

McKee: Why has that not happened here?

Hayden: Again, I have no simple answer, except that we seem more
aggressive in this country, which might have some- thing to do with
our relative youth as a nation. Europeans have had more experience
with being empires. Germany, France, and Italy, among others, have
demonstrated that there can be life after empire. They don't seem as
agitated about the loss of power as America is.

Now, the neocons would say that's because our military budget defends
Europe, too, but I don't think there's any evi- dence that European
countries feel protected by the U.S. co- lossus. I think they've
realized, painfully, that no one stays number one forever, that
empires come and go, but you can still have a good life even if you're
not the empire. U.S. politicians dare not utter this sentiment. How
could one argue that we should be less competitive? And so our
politicians try to have it both ways: "We don't want an empire," they
say. "We just want to be the best; we want to have a competitive
edge." Well, what does it mean to have a "competitive edge" in
technology or education or warfare, except to put the rest of the
world at a disadvantage? But Americans blindly buy into the idea of
competition and move forward with the quest for dominance. The idea of
peaceful coexistence has never prevailed here, except temporarily
during the Cold War, and then only because the Soviet Union and China
had the Bomb.

If the Quakers had had their way in colonial times, we could have had
peaceful coexistence with the Native Americans. There were attempts to
create an Indian state. Can you imagine the thirteen colonies adding a
fourteenth, Indian state? There were other attempts throughout
history, but the voices for coexistence were just drowned out.

The dominant religion in the United States today is an expansionist
Christianity. The theologian and activist Cornel West calls it the
"Constantinian model" of Christianity, after the Roman emperor
Constantine, who converted to the Christian faith and made it the
official state religion of the Roman Empire. The social order was
turned on its head, as a formerly persecuted religious minority was
now a powerful political force.

Similarly, we're seeing the ascendancy of a bizarre, populist
Christianity that's pro-state and pro-corporation. There was a time
during the civil-rights movement when Christianity was not allied with
the U.S. government. Nor was it an ally of the state in the previous
century, when a large number of Christians from the prophetic
tradition started the abolitionist movement. They attacked the
citadels of power, motivated by a moral fervor. But now the moral
fervor has been applied to the cause of cutting taxes on the rich!

McKee: You write in many of your books about the power of personal
transformation: gang members becoming peace makers, your own shifts in
consciousness. How does personal transformation relate to the larger,
societal shifts?

Hayden: You can't bring about justice without personal transformation.
The effort to abolish sweatshop labor, for example, has to arise from
a personal disgust with sweatshops.

This idea can be taken too far, though. There are m people who believe
that we have to achieve individual transformation before we can even
begin to work for social change. I think that's too dualistic. The
process of social change can be helped along by a person's actions,
even if he or she hasn't changed entirely on a personal level.

I understand why people put personal transformation first, however.
They're reacting to a tradition that has always said, "Objective
conditions have to change first; people change later." The problem
with that view is the idea that there are objective conditions, when
in reality they're in the eye of the beholder. For instance, the
American Revolution happened because sufficient numbers of colonists
stopped seeing themselves as British subjects and started seeing
themselves as independent citizens. Before slavery could be dismantled
as an institution, people had to stop seeing it as an objective
condition. And the fight for American women to vote began when Abigail
Adams told her husband, John, the future second president of this
country, that she would never accept a social order in which women had
no voice in the making of laws. "There will be a rebellion," she said.
That was in 1775 or 1776. It took 140 years, but once women became
conscious that they were not satellites of men, it was inevitable that
they would win the vote.

So change begins in the individual lives of countless people when they
no longer accept existing conditions as inevitable. But you can't just
change consciousness and expect that institu- tions will follow.
They've got to be overthrown, replaced, altered. You have to have both
elements. I don't know why it's so hard to grasp this, but people seem
to come down forcibly on one side or the other. "I am a card-carrying
member of the Natural Resources Defense Council; do not tell me that I
have to give up my suv!" -- people actually say that. Other people say
we've all got to ride bicycles to work before the U.S. can comply with
the Kyoto Protocol. The truth lies somewhere in between.

McKee: What happens when supposed "incorrigibles" change their

Hayden: I've seen plenty of gang members change their lives and get
almost no respect, recognition, or resources in return. They seem to
be permanent scapegoats. I understand that some of the reason for this
is practical; it's hard, for in-stance, to get an employer to hire
somebody with gang tattoos. But I see no reason why felons who've
served their time should be prevented from voting. They shouldn't
remain scapegoats their whole lives.

I've known people who did terrible, even inhuman, things, but later
were transformed. One Mexican man I've known since he was a teenager
was raised to hate blacks as well as whites. He used to get pleasure
out of robbing people; it gave him a sense of dignity, he said, to see
them down on their knees. He got stabbed when he was seventeen years
old and would have bled to death had he not been rushed to the
hospital. When he woke up, he saw looking down at him the African
American doctor who had saved him. That was at least fifteen years
ago, and he's never been the same since. He stayed in his neigh-
borhood and works to channel kids away from gangs. He now gets along
with people of all races.

The root social causes of violence are poverty, discrimina- tion,
dislocation, marginalization, and the like, and any policies that
perpetuate those conditions will increase people's propensity for
violence. But poverty is not the final trigger for violence, because
not all poor people are violent. Rather, the final trigger for
violence is shame. Poverty is shameful in this country, and it's the
shame and humiliation some poor people feel that makes them violent;
if they don't have therapy, books, and higher education, then they
have no way to siphon it off. They live their whole lives in a context
of traumatic shame. So any policies that lessen this shame will also
lessen violence and make positive social transformation more likely.

McKee: You suffered a heart failure in 2001. Did you experience any
personal transformation as a result?

Hayden: It certainly introduced me to the way the ego can play tricks
on us. The ego's primary purpose is to try to escape mortality. It's
not subject to moral controls or upbringing. Even though I'd spent the
greater part of my life thinking about the cycles of life and death, I
couldn't control my ego's desire to be immortal.

Before my heart failure, I was living a hyperkinetic life- style:
eating whenever I could, avoiding any relaxation, violating all the
rules of good health in order to get as much done as possible, and
generally acting as if my body could take that sort of abuse forever.
But my body couldn't take it anymore. At sixty-one I was forced to
realize -- and I wish I had realized this long before -- that I was
getting old.

I decided to stop trying to run things and instead do more reflecting
and researching and writing. Being a political leader, as important as
it maybe, only gave me a burning feeling in my chest. It requires too
many hours a day, too many days a week. It's a job for people whose
hearts can take it. Besides, nobody can lead forever. Now I spend more
time tracking the rise of new social movements, teaching about the
history of protest, and coming to some conclusions.

My adopted son Liam was one year old when I had heart failure. I'd
known I was taking a risk, adopting a child late in life. My health
crisis made me even more conscious that I've got to be a father to a
little boy. I can only hope that, with proper diet and exercise, I can
live another twenty or thirty years. But I try to remember that the
time I have with Liam today may be the only time that I have with him.