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Tom Hayden (1939 - 2016)

Getty Images / Michael Buckner

Tom Hayden (1939 - 2016)

Tom Hayden, an activist, politician, and author who was one of the famed "Chicago Seven" who protested the 1968 Democratic National Convention, died Oct. 23, according to his wife, Barbara Williams. He was 76.

Hayden's death came after a period of ill health. He had a stroke in 2015 and had been having heart problems recently.

The former husband of actress and fellow activist Jane Fonda, Hayden was one of the giants of the counterculture in the 1960s, a radical anti-war protester who advocated for civil rights and an end to the Vietnam War. Later in life, he developed a career in California politics and wrote a number of books.


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Hayden's activism began in the 1950s as he attended the University of Michigan, where in 1960 he was among the founders of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). As a member of SDS, Hayden wrote the Port Huron Statement, the group's manifesto, in which he railed against U.S. foreign policy and politics, racial discrimination, and business, while advocating for civil disobedience and political reform.

Hayden would become president of the SDS in 1962 after returning from a trip south as one of the Freedom Riders who challenged the legitimacy of segregation on buses. In 1965, he took his activism even further afield, traveling for the first time to North Vietnam, where he toured villages and met with an American POW. About his experiences, Hayden wrote the 1966 book "The Other Side," the first of his publications.

The fight to end the Vietnam War took place at home, too, and it was there that Hayden and a number of his fellow activists rose up in protest at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois. With the goal of protesting President Lyndon B. Johnson's Vietnam War policies, Hayden and the rest of the Chicago Seven organized a rally in Grant Park – a rally that ended up playing host to 15,000 protesters who turned it into a riot.

Hayden, along with Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Rennie Davis, John Froines, and Lee Weiner, was charged with conspiracy and inciting to riot for his actions in organizing the DNC protest. The men became known as the Chicago Seven as they fought their case to federal court, where it dragged on for months as many counterculture icons of the day were called upon to testify and the defendants pulled stunts including appearing in judicial robes with police uniforms underneath.

In the end, all seven of the defendants were acquitted of the conspiracy charge, though Hayden and four others were convicted of inciting a riot, sentenced to five years in prison and fines of $5,000 each. Upon appeal, the convictions were reversed.

It was 1972 before the appeals of the Chicago Seven trial were complete. That same year, Hayden and Fonda traveled to Vietnam in a highly controversial visit that left her dubbed "Hanoi Jane" and angered many in the U.S. But it would only be a few years before Hayden began to tone down his rhetoric as a budding politician.

Hayden's first political run came in 1976, when he made a bid for the U.S. Senate and came in second in the primary. In 1982, he was successfully elected to the California State Assembly, where he served until 1992, when he was elected to the California State Senate. He served through 2000, during which time he attempted runs for California Governor and Mayor of Los Angeles, both of which were unsuccessful.

In 1998, Hayden wrote the Hayden Act, am animal welfare act that extends the minimum amount of time an animal in a public pound or shelter has before being euthanized. The act was made California law in 1999.

Hayden taught at a number of colleges and universities, including UCLA and Harvard, and he wrote books including "Reunion: A Memoir" (1988), "Ending the War in Iraq" (2007), and "The Long Sixties: From 1960 to Barack Obama" (2009).

Hayden was married three times: to Casey Cason from 1961 – 1962, to Fonda from 1973 – 1990, and to Williams from 1993 until his death. He had one son with Fonda, Troy Garity, who survives, as does his adopted son with Williams, Liam. 

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