Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Farewell, Tom

I just learned -- through the "Daily Kos" newsfeed, of all things -- that Tom Hayden has died.  ...Damn...  I hadn't thought of him in years, but it's still a jolt.  I knew him, back when.

I was just starting my freshman year at U. of Michigan while Tom was in his last year of grad-school there.  In fact, it was my first night there.  My parents no sooner took off, heading back to New Jersey, than I looked up a leaflet posted in the dorm -- announcing a "Stand-In for Fair Housing" -- picked up my guitar (a 6-string Gibson Hummingbird at the time) and my stock of protest songs and marched off to join it.  Why not?  I'd been devoted to the Civil Rights cause since junior high school, was eager to take it up in college, and had found my folksinging to be helpful.

At the announced place and time I found a small group of polite protesters lined up on a campus sidewalk, holding signs but otherwise not saying anything nor blocking foot-traffic: quite a modest little demonstration, only asking for equal housing rights for Blacks.  I took my place at the end of the line, pulled out my guitar and began singing.  I can't remember now which songs I sang (IIRC, there were a couple of Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie pieces), but they made the demonstrators tap their feet and passersby slow down to listen.  Also, the organizer of the demo noticed.  As the protest was breaking up (it had an announced ending-time too), the organizer came over to me and said that if I was seriously interested in "this sort of thing" I should come join a political reform group that he'd helped organize recently -- and he handed me another leaflet, describing the group. 

It was called Students for a Democratic Society, and I later learned that his name was Tom Hayden.

Well, I showed up at the next meeting of SDS, and formally joined it.  That was the beginning of my campus political career, advancing to marches, sit-ins, campus strikes, teach-ins, marches on Washington, and all.  That's where I met some lifelong friends, including Don Meinshausen and Dr. Seti, and a lot of my old pals who still hang around on Facebook (Hi, Cathy!  Hi, Walt!). It's where I was introduced to Star Trek.  And of course it's where I started singing in earnest, and writing my own folksongs, where I found and bought Monster and learned my 12-string guitar technique.

Also, during freshman year, for lack of anyone else, I fell madly in love with Tom Hayden.  I was much too shy to mention it to him then, and after he left U. of M. there was no opportunity -- until years later, during the Chicago 7 trial, which is a story in itself.  By then, of course, he was already involved with Jane Fonda, so that went nowhere.  Soon enough, I met some nice boys in the folkmusic club and fell in love with each of them in turn, and moved on. No, I never met Tom Hayden again, but I remembered him fondly whenever I came across his name in the news.  I remember laughing for a good five minutes when I saw that he'd been elected to the California state legislature, just imagining all the feathers he could rumple there.  Apparently he did just that for the rest of his life, always ironclad-faithful to those kindly Liberal ideals that he wrote in the "Port Huron Statement".  I always respected him for that, even though I long ago discarded modern Liberalism and moved into ideological Anarchism.  I was amused, and pleased I admit, to see that those old SDS ideals eventually became the political standard for half of the country. 

He was always such a fixture in the background of my life that it simply never occurred to me that he wouldn't live forever.  Yes, it was a shock to learn that he was gone. I wonder who will take up the task of propounding those old Port Huron ideals now.

Farewell, old friend -- along with so many others.  I'll raise a glass to a life well spent, honest, and true.

--Leslie <;)))><          


Spearcarrier said...

When I read the news this morning, I wondered how you'd hold up to it. What a wonderful tale - and amazing, too, how an event so seemingly simple can leave such a profound mark on another person's life like that. I'm glad you never stopped playing, and equally glad he never stopped fighting the good fight.

Leslie Fish said...

Thank you. I only hope that I've had a similar effect on at least a few other people.