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Hayden Swaps Roles in Sequel to Chicago '68

August 25, 1996|MARC LACEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Last time, to duck the Chicago police officers trailing his every move, he wore a fake beard, sunglasses, beads and a yellow-brimmed hat. Last time, he was denied entry to the Hilton in the midst 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 dank jail cells 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.

Now a California state senator, Tom Hayden returns to Chicago today--28 years after his brush with history as an organizer of the famous protests of 1968. This time, the former New Left rebel who was spurned at the Hilton will check in at the front desk as an official convention delegate.

Hayden is no longer the 28-year-old firebrand who went on trial as one of the 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."

Still an Outsider

Moderated by time, Hayden is 56 years old, his once jet-black hair graying, his slim frame sporting a paunch. But activism still swells inside his 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 as he did in 1968--on the outside.

He is organizing a "healing concert" today not far from where police officers wielded their billy clubs against the assembled Yippies, Black Panthers and others. In an attempt to bridge the decades, the entertainment will range from Crosby, Stills & Nash to rap singer Chuck D. Sixties radicals reminiscing about the old days will share the microphone with gang leaders unveiling a plan to bring peace to America's cities.

"At some core level, I'm very much the same," Hayden said in an interview from Sacramento, where he has worked as a legislator for the past 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."

Hayden admits that his 1968 self might be suspicious of the politician he is today, one who has run for governor of California, no less, and is contemplating a try for the mayor's job in Los Angeles next year. If the two men could reach through the years and meet, there would be intense mutual scrutiny.

"I would wonder, 'Is he part of the establishment or does he have a rebel nature?' " Hayden said, speaking as his younger self.

Hayden will be joined in Chicago by some of his fellow protesters from '68, a reunion that will highlight the passage of the years.

Dave 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, Dellinger intends to lend his name or presence to as many as 57 causes during the convention--and possibly 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. 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.

Twenty-eight years may have passed but the passions of '68 have not been completely snuffed out. There's the peace sculpture and a weeping willow tree that Hayden is attempting to leave in Chicago as a lasting tribute to the protesters of '68.

Healing Wounds

Mayor Richard M. Daley, the son of the mayor who sent the police after the protesters, is uneasy about any memorial that might inflame the community, including the many police officers from '68 who are still on the force. There is fear that a tree might be vandalized, Daley aides say, and any statue should not have the potential to excite those who believe the protesters were thugs.

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