Ray Reece :
Remembering Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda

Tom was not only a world-class leader in the movement but also a beloved brother in struggle.


Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda speak at news conference about 
the Paris Peace Accords, New York, 1973.

By Ray Reece | The Rag Blog | November 2, 2016


rag-radio-logo-smallPeace activist and spiritual leader Rabbi Arthur Waskow and activist and SDS vet Carl Davidson, joined Thorne Dreyer on Rag Radio, Friday, Oct. 28, 2016, 2-3 p.m. (CT), to discuss the life and legacy of Tom Hayden. Listen to the podcast here:

Peace and justice activist Tom Hayden, founding spirit of SDS, principal author of the Port Huron Statement, and arguably the most influential figure in the Sixties New Left, died Sunday, October 23, 2016, in Santa Monica, California, at the age of 76.

Tom was a dear friend and colleague: a frequent contributor to The Rag Blog, a regular guest on Rag Radio, and a strong supporter of all our efforts.

This is one of several tributes to Tom Hayden we are publishing on The Rag Blog.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? That’s the title of a Coen Brothers film I haven’t seen. The phrase comes to mind as I reflect on the death of Tom Hayden recently in Santa Monica at age 76. Like most veterans of the anti-war, civil rights and other progressive movements of the last 50 years, I remember Hayden not only as a world-class leader in those movements but as a beloved brother in struggle. It’s hard to believe he is gone.

the-sun-betrayedHayden and I weren’t close friends, but we had several encounters over the years that were important to me. I saw him last at a Rag Blog benefit in Austin in April of this year, where his wife, Barbara Williams, was also present, signing copies of her memoir, The Hope in Leaving. I visited with Hayden briefly and showed him a copy of one of my own books, The Sun Betrayed, published in 1979 by South End Press. He didn’t remember that he had written the cover blurb for the book in his capacity as chair of the SolarCal Council in California. He smiled as he read the blurb, which was quite effusive in its praise, and then, at my request, he signed the book for me.

The book is subtitled “A Study of the Corporate Seizure of U.S. Solar Energy Development.” My work on the book was financed in part by the Fund for Investigative Journalism in Washington, D.C. Here’s what Hayden wrote in his cover blurb:

Why hasn’t the U.S. government embarked on a crash program of solar energy development aimed at energy independence for the American people? Why have thousands of small entrepreneurs and solar inventors been deprived of government R&D support in favor of Westinghouse, Exxon, Arco, et. al.? This book is a superb and much-needed investigation of the shoddy campaign by large corporate interests — in league with utilities and government officials — to control the sun. It is also a primer for community self-defense.

My book was critical of Carter, and this led me to a memorable encounter with Hayden and Fonda.

The U.S. president during my research for the book was Jimmy Carter, and he proved, alas, to be one of the “government officials” whose policies had favored the “large corporate interests” over “small entrepreneurs and solar inventors” mentioned by Hayden in his blurb for the book. Ergo, my book was very critical of Carter, and this fact led me to a memorable encounter with Hayden and Jane Fonda, his wife at the time, in Los Angeles.

Shortly after my book was published, I was invited to be a guest lecturer at UCLA in the fall of 1980, which coincided with Jimmy Carter’s re-election campaign against Ronald Reagan, the former governor of California. I was in touch with Hayden in Los Angeles, and he suggested I attend a meeting of a group of activists working feverishly to foil Reagan’s election as president. To my surprise and delight, Jane Fonda was present at the meeting, indeed was the facilitator. Hayden introduced us before the meeting, and things went downhill from there, at least for me.

The principal objective of the meeting was to decide how best to support Carter in his campaign against Reagan. There was a protracted discussion of the wording of the group’s endorsement of Carter. It was during this discussion that I spoke up for the only time during the meeting. I pointed out to the group what I had shown so clearly in my book, i.e. that Jimmy Carter’s policies related to the development of solar energy and other renewables had been profoundly wrongheaded, especially in its support of large utilities and corporations over “small entrepreneurs and solar inventors.”

I recklessly suggested to the group that they think very hard before endorsing Carter. If they did endorse him, I suggested they qualify their endorsement to reflect the errors in his thinking with regard to energy policy.

Beautiful Jane Fonda was not pleased. She glared at me in disbelief.

Beautiful Jane Fonda was not pleased. She glared at me in disbelief, the room gone silent, and then asked: “Really? Do you think Ronald Reagan would be better than Carter for solar development?” She paused and glanced around the room. “Do I hear a second to the visitor’s motion?” She might as well have said “the moron’s motion.” There was no “second,” and soon the group had approved the wording of a pubic endorsement of Carter, who of course was doomed to lose to Reagan anyway.

As the meeting broke up, its 30 or so participants heading for the door, I was approached by a smiling Tom Hayden. He doubtless saw the distress on my face and clasped my shoulder. “Don’t worry about it,” he said. “Jane is hungry. It’s past her dinner time. And you can’t imagine how much she hates Reagan.” Then he gave me a strong hug, and, as I left the room, I was a happy comrade again.

[Ray Reece is an Austin-based writer and environmental activist. His latest book is Abigail in Gangland, a novel.]

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1 Response to Ray Reece :
Remembering Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda

  1. Philip Russell says:

    It’s time for a second edition, or at least a sequel. Would it be “The Sun Betrayed, 2nd ed.” or “The Sun Embraced At Last”?

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