Tom Hayden: Still Radical After all These Years

Tom Hayden

Just about anyone old enough to remember the ’60s also remembers radical political activist Tom Hayden. He wrote a manifesto for the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), undertook controversial trips to North Vietnam in the middle of the Vietnam War and played a major role in the protests outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. In fact, he and other protesters in the “Chicago Eight” made national headlines when they were indicted on various federal charges and later convicted of crossing state lines to incite a riot (charges were reversed on appeal).

The same Tom Hayden — who since has served 18 years in the California Assembly and Senate, wrote over 20 books, contributes writings to the largest newspapers in the country, taught in academia and is director of the “Peace and Justice Resource Center” in Culver City — was invited to be the first guest speaker for the Malibu Democratic Club’s (MDC) new “Second Saturdays” speaker series.

Although still an anti-war activist, Hayden also champions various other causes, including climate change and the environment, which was the focus of his talk. In fact, some of his first green initiatives began over 30 years ago with Gov. Jerry Brown.

When it comes to climate change, Hayden believes the earth is at a tipping point, and radical changes are needed to curb greenhouse gases over the next five to seven years. “But my guess is we’ve already entered the darkness, and this isn’t going to get any better,” he said. 

He supports Gov. Brown’s current climate goals, which would take the state from 33% to 50% use of renewable energy, double the energy efficiency of buildings, expand rooftop solar, and reduce methane and black carbon greenhouse gas emissions. “It’s not just carbon we have to worry about,” Hayden said. “In the race to 2030, California must double its rate of greenhouse gas reductions.”

He spoke about the problems with the greenhouse gas emissions caused by fracking in the oil and gas industry, particularly in low-income areas like East L.A., Bakersfield and Fresno, which result not only in pollution, but also in “social justice” or “climate justice” issues. 

“These are the areas where fracking does the most damage to people,” he said. “[State Senator] Fran Pavley attempted a moratorium on fracking, but it’ll never reach the Governor’s desk. The Governor’s position has been that drilling and fracking could be regulated. However, the L.A. Times and various lawsuits have revealed that the regulatory apparatus being set up is a failure.

“There’s an agency called DOGGR (Department of Gas and Geothermal Resources) that was set up to protect the public, but which historically was tasked to maximize drilling in the state of California,” Hayden said. “It’s an enabler, not a watchdog. Its legacy has never changed … and it should be eliminated.”

Hayden strongly believes that California is the nation’s leader in passing climate change legislation — and that two bills in particular, Fran Pavley’s AB-32, which requires greenhouse gas reductions through cap and trade, along with State Sen. DeLeon’s SB-535, which “implements more social justice to disadvantaged communities as part of cap and trade” — form a template that could be taken to other states as a model.

He pointed out a number of states that could already be considered part of a “green block” along with California, including Minnesota, Oregon and Washington. 

One approach to convincing polluters to get on board with greenhouse gas reductions, Hayden believes, is to take the same approach Roosevelt took with his New Deal. “Roosevelt’s argument to the capitalist tycoons was that ‘you need to achieve reforms and make concessions’ before you lose everything. That’s how we got labor unions and social security … I think climate could be debated along the same lines, and the same conflicts will occur.”

Hayden said the 2014 book “This Changes Everything” by Naomi Klein should be required reading for everyone. “It’s climate versus capitalism,” he said. “Capitalism has to be replaced to tackle the climate crisis.”

Ted Vaill, MDC vice-president, said, “Ann Doneen (President) and I promised that we would re-energize the MDC, and we have done so. We look forward to more programs for the community like the thought-provoking presentation by Tom Hayden.”  

Next month’s “Second Saturday” event will be a presentation on the dangers of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant by Harvey Wasserman and Linda Seeley on May 9, at 11:30 a.m. at the Malibu Library. 

“Malibu is downwind from the power plant, and if there’s a meltdown like Fukushima, we’d be in serious trouble,” Vaill said.