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CONVENTION 2000 / THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION

Still a Child of the '60s

Tom Hayden is both insider and outsider at this convention. He's on the protest lines and in the thick of party policy struggles.

August 16, 2000|PETER Y. HONG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tom Hayden is haunting this convention like the ghost of protests past.

At rallies and vigils throughout Los Angeles this week, the man who led thousands of antiwar demonstrators during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago is still marching at the front of the crowd.

At a Santa Monica protest Sunday against sweatshop labor, the chant was "Hey, hey, ho, ho, corporate greed has got to go!"

And there was Hayden, now a state senator, marching, holding his 4-month-old baby boy to his chest.

The silent display of commitment to a cause now replaces the outward rage of his youth, but Hayden, the 60-year-old Child of the '60s, showed he is still battling the status quo.

Hayden's fight this time is not with a bloody war against communism but what he sees as the world's hasty embrace of free-trade capitalism. It is not, Hayden acknowledges, the kind of issue likely to prompt a street rampage like that in Chicago in 1968.

So Hayden is battling mostly from inside this time. The former street fighter is now representing a liberal enclave of Los Angeles in the state Legislature, and is a Gore delegate to the convention.

Thirty-two years after disguising himself with a fake beard and football helmet to elude Chicago police, Hayden will spend this convention working the reception rooms and party sites. He will use any encounter with party leaders to press his point that economic globalization enriches corporations at the expense of workers and the environment.

"I'm going to continue to push. If I talk to Gore I'll tell him. If I talk to party officials I'll tell them," Hayden said. "I'm trying to be a voice for this agenda within the Democratic Party."

Hayden's within-the-establishment efforts thus far have not been enough to sell the party honchos on his vision. In July, the platform committee rejected tough worker rights and environmental protection platform planks pushed by Hayden and other party progressives.

With the party cautiously toeing a centrist line, Hayden has also joined with protesters.

A week before Hayden's unsuccessful trip to the platform committee meeting, he lectured at a Malibu training camp for convention protesters.

Just as Hayden once called on Democrats to take a stand against an unjust war, he now wants the party to firmly back trade policies that would protect workers and ecosystems in the U.S. and abroad. By failing to do so, Hayden fears that the Democrats are again ignoring an issue of social justice in order to win elections, as it did with Vietnam.

But on one important point Hayden agrees with Los Angeles officials and party functionaries: He does not want to see a repeat of 1968, albeit for very different reasons.

For one thing, the party turned its back on Hayden and the '68 protesters, voting down the anti-Vietnam War plank. Following the convention, Hayden's efforts were rewarded with a conspiracy trial and Richard Nixon in the White House.

Hayden hopes the party and Al Gore will eventually accommodate protesters by tempering free-trade positions with measures to secure labor rights and environmental protection. Doing so, he says, will avoid alienating another generation.

He also wants the protesters to give the party a chance. "The convention should not be disrupted. This is different from the [World Trade Organization]. The convention is an elected body with a lot of supporters of the protesters inside it," Hayden said.

Trying to nudge the party to the left while drawing the left toward the party might seem a departure from the combative actions that first brought Hayden fame. It may also, however, be another step toward answering a question Hayden says has guided him since 1961, the formative period of the radical Students for a Democratic Society: Can he be both visionary and relevant?

It is a question Hayden ponders with a reporter in his Westside office recently when the phone rings. It is Jerry Brown.

"Hi Jerry, I'm doing fine. I miss you," Hayden says cheerily to the Oakland mayor, former California governor and past presidential candidate who also walks the vision-versus-relevance tightrope.

Brown is asking about the party platform committee meeting. "I'm telling you, I'm very worried about it," Hayden tells Brown, referring to the party's reluctance to take a critical stance on trade.

"You have a much more strategic sense. I wish you'd talk to these people," Hayden urges. "You should call Jesse too."

Before hanging up, Hayden describes his convention role to his fellow iconoclast: "I'm everything. I'm a Gore delegate, a protester, a shadow," he says.

Despite being everything, will Hayden accomplish anything? Has he lost relevance by pushing a vision the party doesn't want to see?

Hayden turns the question around. The party, he warns, may be making itself irrelevant by giving up on vision.

By avoiding policies critical of corporations, the Democrats are not distinguishing themselves from the Republicans, Hayden said. His party, Hayden warns, may be blinded by its need for corporate money.

"Maybe when you're getting $1 million from Motorola for your convention," he said, "it's hard to start speaking out against them paying Chinese workers 25 cents a day to make things we buy at Wal-Mart."

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