Monday, October 24, 2016

Death of a Generational Icon

Tom Hayden has died.  Some part of me says, "Wait, he was only 23 years old, right?"

Hayden was one of those 60's activists frozen in time, at least for me.  When I was in college and a student activist, he was one of the names always held up to us.  Even now, in a conversation I had less than  year ago, one of my colleagues wondered why today's activists couldn't be more like Hayden and his compatriots.

In an undergrad Sociology class, we read The Port Huron Statement.  I remember being underwhelmed, but I can't remember why.  In my Sociology classes we looked very carefully at who accomplished what.  I remember being annoyed with white activists who wanted to claim all the successes of the Civil Rights Movement for themselves.  No doubt, they helped.  Nothing like white, suburban kids getting beaten up and killed to change some hearts and minds.  But there was a lack of discussion about the contributions of a hundred years of black activism that came before.

Now I wonder if some of it was not the fault of Hayden's compatriots.  We don't do a great job of teaching the history of social change in this country.

As I looked up information on Hayden's death, I came across the fact that he wrote 19 books, numerous articles/lectures/blog posts, and over 100 pieces of legislation in his post-student activist life.  But he admits, his image is always frozen back in those 60's days.

He talked about having contentment in his later years but that he would always miss the 60's.  I know some aging student activists who would agree.

But I would argue that it's better now.  The 60's might have been a great time to be a white male who took up activism, but others didn't fare as well.  I've met too many feminists who remember being silenced by those 60's student activist groups to see those 60's student movements as uncertain glory days.

I wouldn't want to go back to the 70's, the glory days of feminism either.  The world was much less safe then too.

We have many social changes yet to make, and I'm grateful to those, like Tom Hayden, who propelled us to the more egalitarian time we have now.  But I wouldn't want to go back.

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