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RIP Tom Hayden

On October 23rd we lost writer/activist/politician Tom Hayden. He’d lived a life of service in the pursuit of social justice.

Hayden was one of the original Freedom Riders, journeying to the Deep South in 1961 and getting beaten up for his efforts. The following year, while in jail in Georgia, he drafted the Port Huron statement that was to provide the manifesto for the SDS (Students for  Democratic Society), an organization that became central to the promotion of peace in the Sixties.

Hayden narrowly avoided a longer stint in prison in 1968 after being charged with inciting a riot at the Chicago Democratic convention, and went on to spearhead the anti-Vietnam War movement.

In 1982 he settled down as a California state legislator. While no longer on the front lines in the street, he made his presence felt through his constant championing of vital causes  – inequality, educational reform, the environment – and his prolific writings. He was author of over twenty books, including Writing for a Democratic Society, the Tom Hayden Reader, the 2008 compilation that, for me, served as an introduction to his life and work.

Hayden had a talent for being in the public eye. His 17-year marriage to actress Jane Fonda helped, but he was a magnetic character in his own right. The FBI once sent a message to Washington: “In view of the fact that Hayden is an effective speaker who appeals to intellectual groups and has also worked with and supported the Negro people in their program in Newark, it is recommended that he be placed on the Rabble Rouser Index.”

He’ll rouse the rabble no more, but as the the Seattle Post-Intelligencer put it: “His journey is our journey through the tumultuous and disillusioning decades. He is our everyman, he is us.”

JJ Amaworo Wilson is a German-born, British-educated debut novelist. Based in the U.S., he has lived in 9 countries and visited 60. He is a prizewinning author of over 20 books about language and language learning. Damnificados is his first major fiction work. His short fiction has been published by Penguin, Johns Hopkins University Press, and myriad literary magazines in England and the U.S.


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