Tom Hayden tells New Yorkers to forget the 60s and recognize today’s growing antiwar movement
New York, Dec. 5—The ghost of the Vietnam War was everywhere Monday night, rattling the windows and bookcases in The Strand bookstore, where longtime antiwar activist Tom Hayden addressed a small crowd. Hayden was speaking on his new book, Ending the War in Iraq, but kept returning to the war he devoted his youth to fighting in order to make one, all important point: today’s antiwar movement may not be what it was in the 60s, but it is alive and well.
“There’s been a systemic neglect of the existence of an antiwar movement in the media but also I find there’s been a systemic neglect in our own minds of the existence of this movement, and I think that’s because, in this case we know something but we’re governed by what we know and what we know is the sixties,” he told a gathering of approximately 50 people. Hayden helped found the Students for a Democratic Society while a student at the University of Michigan. He was also one of the “Chicago Eight,” a group of antiwar protesters arrested during the 1968 Democratic Presidential Convention, as the war in Vietnam escalated.
But recognizing today’s antiwar movement means forgetting the protests of the past, he argued.
“We have an image of the antiwar movement that’s outside the system, blood on our faces, gassed, being dragged off to jail, that’s what a movement is. But in this case, the movement has crossed so many boundaries that you can’t define it in sixties terms,” Hayden said.
Hayden’s remarks seemed to catch the audience off guard, as if most of them were expecting a gloomy speech on an uphill battle, not an encouragement to recognize the work already being done. After Hayden’s 30-minute speech, one man solemnly asked if anything could be done about the control the military-industrial complex has in the U.S. and if only a collapse of the economy could make people wake up. Others said they felt powerless.
“It’s almost like, in this so called free society and democracy we’ve imprisoned ourselves as ignorant victims of a war we can’t do anything about,” Hayden said at the beginning of the talk. “It’s got to be very depressing for people and very difficult to oppose.”
But there is good news, he said, people are just missing it. Despite what many Americans think, the antiwar movement is not only alive, but it’s arguably more powerful than ever. He cited 11 demonstrations of more than 100,000 people since the war began, and mentioned how Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11—a scathing critique of President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq—broke all records for documentaries.
Another powerful example a flourishing antiwar movement that has been overlooked is MoveOn.org, Hayden argued. From ‘03 to ’04, members of the progressive and antiwar website MoveOn.org raised $180 million for peace candidates, he said.
“That’s probably ten times the budget of all antiwar groups in the entire history of the United States,” Hayden said. “You know you’re operating on different turf here, you’re operating in an environment in which antiwar opinion is libel to spring up almost everywhere, outside politics [or] inside politics.”
But the lynchpin in Hayden’s argument that Americans should be encouraged, not discouraged, to protest the war in Iraq was the 2006 Election. The results were a sign that a shift in public opinion has already occurred and is making a difference.
“It should be no accident to realize that the 2006 election turned on antiwar opinion and resulted in the dumping of the Republican majority,” Hayden said. “People didn’t see that coming which is a sign that students of social movements, as well as media consultants, as well as political party consultants are not necessarily aware of what’s mushrooming up in terms of public opinion.”
Hayden also laid out his plan for ending the war. Exerting constant pressure on “the big three” Democratic candidates—Clinton, Obama, and Edwards—is the only way to ensure that American troops won’t be in Iraq for decades, he said, encouraging the audience to become more active in the antiwar movement.
After the event, Hayden signed books with his name and a single word: “Peace.”