The New Left leader from four decades ago thinks Denver should be
skeptical of federal authorities' warnings about violent protest.
By M.E. Sprengelmeyer, Rocky Mountain News
Friday, August 8, 2008
CULVER CITY, Calif. On a steamy spring day, in a cramped office
that hot air can't escape, the archetypal child of the '60s does
something truly radical.
He wears a necktie.
This is not the hairy, scary leader of the New Left who had Chicago
locking up its daughters for the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
It's a clean-cut Tom Hayden, retired California state senator,
prolific writer, blogger and sage to a whole new generation of street
Still, he knows most people still picture him as a sort of cartoon
version of himself: shirtless, shouting down authority or scuffling
with cops on the streets.
"I can't get past that," he says of the stereotypes. "I can't help
them with their problem. They can't see me. I can be, like, 68 years
old and I'm still trouble, because they're thinking about something
in Vietnam or they're thinking about Jane Fonda. Or they think I
slept with their daughter. They think I burned my draft card. It's
like a big Rorschach of things that I did or did not do."
If speaking out still means "trouble," then maybe Hayden really
hasn't changed that much.
Forty years after he helped lead the anti-war protests that ended in
violent confrontations outside the '68 convention, he just put out a
new book, Voices of the Chicago Eight, about the circus-like
conspiracy trial for protest organizers and the consequences of
attempts to come down hard on dissent.
He offers regular takes to Huffington Post readers and was an early
member of the group Progressives for Obama. He lectures on college
campuses and offers an updated version of the Port Huron Statement
the 1962 manifesto of the Students for a Democratic Society that
challenged young people to boldly venture into "participatory democracy."
And behind the scenes, Hayden closely monitors protest plans for the
upcoming Democratic and Republican national conventions, advises
organizers and warns that authorities appear to be falling into a
predictable pattern of hype and overreaction.
"I think that Denver officials would be well-advised not to believe
everything that the FBI warns them about," Hayden says. "That's how
things can get out of hand, due to fabricated, exaggerated
projections about violence or protest."
As the convention approaches, federal dollars pour into the security
effort and law enforcement agencies flex muscle with high-profile exercises.
"They don't learn," Hayden laments. "What you saw in 2000 was the
claim that 75,000 anarchists were descending, the secret funding of
permanent police equipment, the denial of permits for protesters. You
saw the same thing in 2004. You will see the same thing in 2008."
He thinks Big Brother posturing helps scare away peaceful protesters,
gives the community a false sense of security and can, in some cases,
provoke confrontations at demonstrations that would otherwise be
routine and mostly peaceful.
"So they have their view," Hayden says of security planners. "They've
learned nothing from 1968."
Nation, party were both divided
As demonstrators get ready for Denver 2008, 40-year-old memories are
front and center. One coalition operates under the "Re-create 68"
banner, conjuring images of the street clashes that overshadowed the
Democratic Convention itself, galvanizing the anti-Vietnam War effort
and undermining Democrats' hopes in that long-ago fall.
But Hayden was there in 1968. And there's really no comparison to
2008, he says.
True, there was a war then and there is a war now.
But back in 1968, the country and the Democratic Party were more
starkly divided over the battle waging overseas.
The Tet offensive by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces at the end
of January obscured the light at the end of the tunnel in the war.
Hundreds of young U.S. troops were dying every week. Facing a rising
voter backlash, wartime President Lyndon B. Johnson was forced to
prematurely end his re-election bid at the end of March.
Within days, the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
caused rage to explode into riots, arson and looting in 75 cities.
Robert F. Kennedy calmed a shocked crowd in Indianapolis, telling
them his brother, too, had been killed by a white man. But weeks
later, the younger brother, too, was shot dead, fraying emotions even
further. The nation was on edge heading into the Democratic National
Convention in Chicago.
Until then, some protest organizers held out hope of getting the
needed permits to avoid confrontations at marches and park
demonstrations. But Hayden says he knew trouble was inevitable.
"I planned for multiple scenarios, not knowing which one would play
out," he says, sitting in the cramped office while his research
assistant continues working nearby. "But certainly, after the murder
of Kennedy, coming on the murder of King, to me it was in the air
that we were going to be busted and face serious harm unless we
surrendered and left the city and simply went along with the plan . .
. just go along with our own disappearance."
They didn't, even though they knew from personal contacts that
the FBI was tracking their every move, around the clock.
One declassified FBI memo included in Hayden's new book expresses
anger that bureau officials were unaware of his involvement in a
student occupation of buildings at Columbia University until after
his picture appeared in Life magazine.
"In evaluating this case, you should bear in mind that your prime
objectives should be to neutralize him in the new left movement," the
Clashes played out on TV
Other organizers still held out hope of getting permits for access to
streets and parks for demonstrations. But Hayden says he was
pessimistic and in the end proven correct.
The city rejected permits for the Youth International Party the
so-called "Yippies" led by the late Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman
to hold a massive "Festival of Life" concert.
Some thought permits would come through at the last minute a way of
giving a nod to free expression only after turnout had been dampened.
But that didn't happen, either.
Hayden says Chicago Mayor Richard Daley was "hoodwinked" into
believing that "thousands of hairy Yippies were going to have sex in
public while drinking from the LSD-laden waters of Lake Michigan.
They actually believed that. And this sex in the parks on acid would
occur at roughly the same moment that black revolutionaries would
storm the convention with guns."
So the stage was set for constant confrontations, games of cat and
mouse between police and protesters, and then bloody clashes on
television, just as Democrats also were struggling to show they could
maintain order among squabbling delegates inside the convention hall.
It culminated on Aug. 28, when Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey of
Minnesota was to accept the presidential nomination. That afternoon,
while delegates waged a contentious debate over Vietnam War planks in
the party's platform, police allowed a "legal" anti-war rally at Grant Park.
Things broke loose after a shirtless teenager climbed a flagpole,
ostensibly to turn the flag upside down as a distress symbol. Police
swooped in to make an arrest, the crowd surged and some threw stones
or dirt clods at a police car, and the scene quickly deteriorated.
Thousands of police, soldiers and National Guardsmen surrounded the
area. Calm was restored, but by twilight, many protesters were more
determined to make unsanctioned parades to reach the convention site
or the Hilton hotel, where delegates were staying.
That night, after moving through the city disguised with a fake
beard, Hayden ended up in a police skirmish at the hotel's Haymarket
Lounge "named, strangely enough, in memory of Chicago police killed
by an anarchist's bomb during a violent confrontation between police
and protesters in 1886," Hayden writes.
By the time the week's convention ended, 668 people had been
arrested, 101 people were treated at local hospitals for their
injuries, and hundreds more reportedly received first aid or
treatment by protest medics.
And the Democratic Party's hopes of retaining the White House were
the ultimate casualty. Republican Richard Nixon was elected with more
than 100 electoral vote margin.
"It simply didn't have to happen," Hayden says of the Chicago chaos,
40 years later. "It takes two for a riot to occur. And if it wasn't
for the FBI advisers, Chicago '68 would not have happened repeat,
would not have happened."
City's posture sparks concern
Despite the "Re-create 68" sentiment of some Denver protest
organizers, Hayden saw little chance of a chaotic rerun when he sat
down in April in his Culver City office to discuss the upcoming
Democratic National Convention.
Back then, when the battle between Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary
Rodham Clinton still raged and there was talk of superdelegates
throwing the nomination to Clinton, Hayden imagined there could be
some sort of drama on the streets if people thought the election had
been stolen. But it never came to that.
More likely, he predicted, were smaller demonstrations to keep up the
pressure for Democrats in Denver to take tougher anti-war stands,
with more fierce protests against the "war-makers" at the Republican
National Convention in Minnesota.
By early July, however, Hayden said he was growing concerned about
the city's posture toward protesters and the worst-case scenario
security exercises, with black helicopters roaring through the
The ACLU and protest organizers went to court challenging the
location of a so-called free-speech zone on the far edge of a parking
lot. Planners of "Tent State University," who hoped to use City Park
to house tens of thousands of anti-war activists, were told they
would have to clear the park at 11 each night. The ban on camping and
curfew enforcement raises the specter of the nightly crackdowns at
Lincoln and Grant parks in Chicago '68.
"I do think they are playing around unnecessarily with the rights of
protesters to protest," Hayden said in a follow-up interview. "I
don't know how the negotiations will come out, but you know, naming
something a protest zone but then not allowing it to be heard or
seen, it's a mockery of the First Amendment. Most importantly, it's
"It does seem to me there's a legitimate right to protest at stake,"
he said. "I don't think the protests will be very large if Obama is
the nominee. I don't see the point in interfering with them . . .
It's particularly crazy because most of the delegates at the
Democratic convention have been in many demonstrations themselves."
The security exercises, with helicopters buzzing the city, reminded
Hayden of something out of the movie Dr. Strangelove.
"The implication is very unsettling," he said. "The message was that
the people coming to protest deserve this kind of repression if they
get out of hand . . . They're just trying to scare the public into
justifying more tax dollars for a false sense of security more
gadgets for the police department."
He said people don't realize that in Chicago, the initial protests
were rather lightly attended, with about 1,500 people in the parks.
But the numbers swelled to an estimated 10,000, in part as a reaction
to the police crackdowns, Hayden says.
"If they had given us permits . . . I doubt there would have been
much confrontation at all," he says. "What caused the rioting in the
streets was the lack of permits and the lack of a place to stay. Too
much order creates disorder is the way I've always put it."
One might think that Hayden, one of the pre-eminent social activists
of the '60s, would be disappointed with the anti-war efforts and the
other movements of today.
"I think it's a remarkable peace movement," he says. "You don't have
the draft. You have one-fifteenth of the American casualties now that
you had at this point during Vietnam. The establishment is doing
everything it can to keep this war from impacting the American
people. And yet, people have seen through it."
The public at large turned against the Iraq war by the end of 2004,
he says, "which I think means the ghosts of '68 are still with us.
People know a quagmire when they see one."