Editor’s note: Activist and politician Tom Hayden has died in Santa Monica at the age of 76. Hayden was prosecuted in the raucous “Chicago 7” trial following violent clashes with police at the 1968 Democratic National Convention but later became a California state senator and attended the 1996 DNC as an official delegate.
This profile was originally published in the Los Angeles Times on Aug. 25, 1996.
Last time, to duck the Chicago police officers trailing his every move, he wore a fake beard, sunglasses, beads around his neck and a yellow-brimmed hat. Last time, he was denied entry to the Conrad Hilton in the middle of the turmoil by a security guard who said gruffly: “We don’t want this man in here.”
Last time, his eyes burned from tear gas; he was thrown into a dank jail cell again and again; he chanted at the passing delegates, “Join us, join us,” as police bloodied his fellow antiwar protesters outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
This time, the onetime New Left rebel who was spurned at the Hilton will check in at the front desk as an official convention delegate. Now a California state senator representing a large swath of Los Angeles’ Westside and the San Fernando Valley, Tom Hayden is returning to Chicago 28 years after his brush with history as an organizer of the infamous protests of 1968.
If the two men could ever reach through the years and meet, there would be some intense scrutiny.
“I would wonder, ‘Is he part of the establishment or does he have a rebel nature?’ ” Hayden said, speaking as his younger self.
“At some core level, I’m very much the same,” he insisted in an interview from Sacramento, where he has worked as a legislator for the last 14 years. “I think I’m rebellious by instinct, anti-bureaucracy by instinct. At other levels, I think I’ve changed simply in the way that people do in the course of the years. Chicago was half a lifetime ago for me, exactly half my lifetime. While I’m very emotional, my emotions no longer range to the extremes they did.”
Indeed, he is no longer the 28-year-old fire-breather who went on trial as one of the notorious Chicago Seven and told his fellow activists during the chaos in the streets: “Let us make sure that if our blood flows, it flows all over the city. . . .”
Moderated by time, Hayden is 56 now, his black hair graying a bit and his slim frame sporting a paunch. But he’s an activist still, inside a business suit. Even as a delegate, Hayden intends to raise a bit of a ruckus by pushing to include campaign-finance reform, anathema to many politicians, in the Democratic Party platform.
Although he’ll carry a floor pass allowing him complete access to the convention hall, Hayden will spend much of his time just as he did in 1968, on the outside.
Sixties’ radicals reminiscing about the old days will share the microphone with gang leaders unveiling a plan to bring peace to America’s cities.
Hayden will be joined in Chicago by some of his fellow protesters from ’68, a reunion that will highlight the passage of the years.
David Dellinger, the oldest of the Chicago Seven, is in his 80s; he has gray hair and wears a hearing aid. Now a prison-reform activist in Vermont, he intends to lend his name or presence to as many as 57 causes during the convention — and possibly even face arrest.
John Froines, on the other hand, is far too busy to protest. Now a UCLA professor of public health, he will stay for part of the concert before flying to Mexico City for an environmental conference.
“I would rather focus on what I’ve done since Chicago — that’s what I would rather have on my tombstone,” said Froines, another co-defendant. “But I guess Chicago will be on there.”
Lee Weiner, another member of the Chicago Seven, is staying home altogether. Now a fund-raiser for the Anti-Defamation League in New York City, Weiner says he will watch the convention on television, until he gets bored.
“The politics was important. The music was good. The dope was good. The sex was good,” Weiner said of his protest days.
But that was then, as far as Weiner is concerned.
“It was as far away from today as the Spanish Civil War was back then,” Weiner said.
In 1968, the city denied permits to the protesters, who gathered by the thousands anyway. This time around, there will be a special demonstration area where groups — those lucky enough to have drawn a spot in a lottery — will take one-hour shifts making their pitch.
On the convention’s opening day Monday, for instance, the sanctioned protesters include Illinois Animal Action, Belushi Lovers United to Establish a Stamp, Amnesty International, the National Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression, and a supermarket cashier named Kathleen Moss who won a protest spot by mistake when she tried to become a convention volunteer but got in the wrong line.
Hayden says giving protesters a small spot of pavement and a one-hour appointment is preposterous. “In ’68, the authorities overreacted with brute force,” he said. “Now they are trying to apply scientific management to protest.”
“This was never about being able to have a room in the Hilton, any more than civil rights was about getting a hamburger at the local lunch counter,” Hayden said.
But time has clearly moved on. The Hilton has reserved a prime room for Hayden up in a tower, with a nice view of Grant Park, where so many clashes broke out.
From his perch, the activist-turned-politician says he will ponder the passing of the years — and maybe even blink the lights in his room as a sign of camaraderie with the protesters below.
Lacey is a former Times staff writer