Few symbolized 1960s radicalism as boldly as Tom Hayden: co-founder of Students for a Democratic Society, Freedom Rider in the South, member of the Chicago Eight put on trial for disrupting the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Vietnam war protester. Later he earned fame in other ways, by marrying actress and activist Jane Fonda (from whom he is long divorced) and serving in the California legislature. Now in his 70s, Hayden writes every day — newspaper columns, books, tweets — as part of a “moral obligation” that he says he feels to speak out. “I made that commitment after my heart surgery, which was at the time of 9/11, and I have kept that pledge,” he says. Hayden spoke to The Post from his office in Culver City, near Los Angeles.
— Laura Hambleton
How are you?
I just turned 72. Physically, the deterioration is kind of obvious, but I’m on the lucky side of things. I’ve had heart surgery 10 years ago and carotid [artery] surgery last year. I am aware I have advanced heart disease. The interesting news is that I still play first base every Sunday on a baseball team. I have a 12-year-old son, a wife and quite a healthy family life.
How I take care of myself is I’ve stopped drinking any alcohol and changed my diet to try to manage the onset of diabetes 2, which can erupt as a pain in the nerve endings of my feet. That is manageable by a drastic reduction in sugar and an increase in kale.
Do you like kale?
I like it in the way it varies. You can bake in the oven. You can put it in a shake. Kale. Kale. Kale. Anything that grows in the ground is the best approach to diabetes, I have found.
Tell me about your day.
I get up at about 6:30. The dogs are growling for food, and the cat is ready to roll. My wife wakes up a few minutes later. We get the kid up a few minutes after that. She prepares breakfast and lunch for him. I drive him to school. That is the way the day begins. He is in sixth grade, so it’s been going on that way pretty consistently.
I go to a local coffee shop. I have some egg whites and spinach. Then I go to my office. I mainly read and write there for four to six hours. I write online, and I write for the Nation. I write for the Huffington Post, and I write for the nytimes.
com. I write for the UK Guardian and other mainstream publications. But I mainly write for a daily post and bulletin that comes out every 10 days and goes to 25,000 people around the United States, Canada and Europe who have signed up at speeches I’ve given. I carry a little yellow pad wherever I go and I collect names.
I do tweet, because it is a way to bring in more people who hopefully become subscribers. It is also to let off my sarcastic sense of humor and irony. I don’t consider them substantive. They’re like talk radio.
I travel about once a week for a day, a couple of times a month for a day or two. I got an invitation to go to Earth Summit in Brazil with my family, but I’m not really up for 24-hour flights with depleted oxygen.
Have your political passions changed as you’ve aged?
Looking back on the ’60s, it was a crisis of the elders. They led us into the insanity of Vietnam and away from the path we were on in the civil rights and student movement. The lesson is to try not to repeat that. I can’t be young again, but the responsibility of the elders is to listen to and empathize with what is going on with young people.
You learn something every day, even at 72.
For the last 10 years, my focus has been to try to use my expertise to end wars and write about it, write books and give speeches, relentlessly. This just happens to be the 50th anniversary of the writing of the Port Huron statement in 1962, which was the founding document of the Students for a Democratic Society and which proclaimed a vision of participatory democracy. It laid out a hopeful strategy for getting there.
I was the drafter. It went through a collective process. Some passages seem to be very stirring for younger and older generations, even today. Other passages could use a editor. It is 25,000 words.
So are you still a radical?
I would describe myself as someone who believes from experience in radical reform. Remember, I served in the legislature for 18 years in an early stage of my life. I believe a combination of outside and inside, in citizen action and strong advocacy from within, could produce a real difference in the lives of people. I stand by that.
All I can theorize is that it is truly possibly to achieve radical reform, if you stay at it. That is very hard for the young people in Occupy to believe. That’s what happened in the New Deal. That’s what happened in the ’60s. We achieved many reforms: black voting rights in the South; farmworkers’ recognition; 18-year-old vote; ending the draft.
Do you wish you were still young?