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Posted by: Doug Henwood | December 11, 2010

Tom Hayden doesn’t like that letter

Tom Hayden didn’t like that open letter to him et al. His response—sent to John Halle, organizer of the letter, but not as I erroneously said at first addressed to him in the polite “Dear John” salutational sense—follows. (The subject heading of the email was, inexplicably, “Weirdness.”) Gotta say, this is a beaut: “I supported Barack Obama for president in 2008, and am glad I did so. At the time I also said progressives should disagree with him on Afghanistan, NAFTA, global warming and Wall Street….” Well, what’s left to support, Cde Hayden?

So I started reading this letter which sounded pretty good and it looked like I signed it, so I read further and discovered that it was to as a member of a group I didn’t know I belonged to called the “Left Establishment.” As I kept reading, it was a vile, toxic diatribe ending with a demand that I, along with the rest of the “Left Establishment”, endorse a demonstration this week in Washington featuring civil disobedience at the White House fence.

To whomever sent the letter, I have to say I’m sorry that I just don’t respond positively to nasty invitations. I hope you can understand. Calm down and tell me who you are before the conspiracy theories mushroom.

Actually, I thought the Dec. 16 action seemed somewhat justifiable in light of current events – the WikiLeaks releases and erupting divisions within the Democratic Party. And I love the people who plan to get arrested. Maybe a big crowd will show up, but not because it was a smart idea to begin with. Mid-December is not the best time to turn out masses of people. But stuff happens, and now many people are boiling.

My personal best to those who are being arrested. They include a former Pentagon official, former CIA agent, a former New York Times reporter, and a mother who lost a son to war and was radicalized as a result. The lesson for me is that people can change from hawks to doves, from spies to whistleblowers, if organizers organize and events reshape their perceptions. That’s the lesson of WikiLeaks, that folk on the inside sometimes come find their situation intolerable and break away from old thinking.

Civil disobedience is a moral expression, and can be a personal healing. Sometimes it ignites a larger movement, or inspires other individuals to step up. We need more of it.

But I also think we need an outside/inside strategy that shifts public opinion more and more against the war. We need to persuade the undecided, not simply to create images of dissent. The peace movement will grow steadily in the months ahead, on its own, but also in its relation to other compelling causes, among them: Wall Street regulation, clean energy/green jobs, and the steady shift towards an unfettered market philosophy over our lives. Civil disobedience can light a flame, but the case for thoroughgoing radical reform must be made on our streets, our workplaces, our religious institutions, and yes, within the Democratic Party – whose overwhelming majority support progressive objectives. Members of the Progressive Democrats of America, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus, are vital elements of our movement.

I would like every person who signed this letter to read it again, and be kind enough to retract their signatures or explain why.

This is not the time to inflict internal damage on a community which is already weak enough. It’s important to get a grip.

The peace and justice community is a fragile form of social ecology, with diversity being an essential quality. Everyone is entitled to a different approach, but there also is an essential unity that can be achieved, unless a malign force is introduced.

I have been working every day since 2002 to end these wars. I will never stop. I supported Barack Obama for president in 2008, and am glad I did so. At the time I also said progressives should disagree with him on Afghanistan, NAFTA, global warming and Wall Street, and I have pursued progressive alternatives every day. I have been so busy on the WikiLeaks crisis since August that I just haven’t had time to drop by the White House and pick up my marching orders.

TOM HAYDEN

Director

Peace and Justice Resource Center

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Responses

  1. Why would anybody have been supporting Obama in the first place?

    Tom Hayden is part of the problem, not part of the opposition…..

    I am sure glad I voted for one of the alternative candidates, despite the fact that I
    “wasted my vote” by not voting for either the liberal Republican or reactionary Republican candidates.

    It would be nice to have two parties!

  2. What a tool, should disabuse anyone that still has doubts about the craven nature of liberal/lesser evil politics.

  3. “Everyone is entitled to a different approach, but there also is an essential unity that can be achieved, unless a malign force is introduced.”

    In other words, anything and everything is permissible, let a hundred flowers bloom, with two cardinal exceptions: 1) Don’t you dare damage Obama’s re-electability. 2) Don’t you dare organize outside the auspices of the DP. That would be cancerous and intolerant!

  4. Doug, I’d really wish you would interview Prof, G. William Domhoff, of UC Santa Cruz, author of “Who Rules America?”. As he points out, given the structural nature of single member majority districts, third parties of the right and left, in the U.S. when mounting strong candidates and campaigns, have brought energy, new voter bases and political ideas, to the fore; even as they strengthened the hands, of their direct political adversaries, by drawing off voters likely to cast votes for the center right or center left party; i.e., Republicans or Democrats. Given this sober fact of American Political life, would it not make more sense for “Greens”, “Labor Party”, activists, etc., to organize and mount primary campaigns and candidates for local, state, and federal office, as a overt “Left”, “Progressive” or as Domhoff suggests, “Egalitarian” constituency within the Democratic party.

  5. Of course Hayden’s letter betrays hurt feelings – at least he has the honesty to react.
    However, he does say some truth in the midst of some egregious howlers.
    The original letter is silly – whoever signed their name to it is delusional, yet that is the one word that the “left” has been exemplifying since its meteoric rise and now complete fall since the 60’s.
    1. No sane person should be waiting to “take their cue” from the opining left “establishment.” The implication that the great left unwashed sit at the feet of the feet of lecturing masters of the podium, ready to do exactly as they intone, is laughable. There is no “left” establishment that commands political power – so why write to them as if they are somehow towering figures of social might?
    2. The protest that lies behind this letter is not going to cause the mighty forces of the American military to suddenly pack it up. A few religious types are going to pray and then chain themselves to a fence to go to jail, to be arrested by happy police. And then tomorrow, the global bureaucrats of war are going to go to work to weaponize space, among other atrocities. And so all the left-liberals are supposed to renounce their delusions of cheerleading for the crafty con Obama for that specious reason of misdemeanor morality only?
    3. Why try to claim some sort of moral higher ground? So the left-liberals were entirely wrong about Obama – and there are some beauts that are helpfully colleted there. The signatories to the letter are hardly saints of the left. Cornel West, are you kidding me? He is a charter member of “Progressives for Obama,” and went on and on about “Brother Barack,” so why is he writing to himself? Chomsky, John Halle, Louis Proyect, probably some more on that list of importuning advocates, all have duly deposited decades worth of paychecks from American higher education, as corrupt an enterprise as any shakedown racket. Michael Moore has done more effective work than any of them to lampoon the on-going horrors of the American political system, yet now he is the enemy, because of his admittedly recent moronic pronouncements? And the author of this blog, for all of his great work, somehow saw great possibilities for “change” in the great financial meltdown – how well has that prophesy turned out?
    4. People who signed this letter felt “betrayed” – which is precisely their own fault. They were not listening to the few folks who bothered to raise the point that people must do their own work to figure out the truth. There should be nothing but quote marks around any of the people named in or cited by or signing this pathetic (about a thousand leagues from “vile” or “toxic” ) letter -we command no ground, not moral, not political, not intellectual. That said, if we start from that point of common understanding, then we can ethically propose an anti-politician to run in 2012, and celebrate the power of knowing absurdity when we see it.

  6. Martin, I sign just about any letter that espouses reasonably good things. Your comments about taking checks is pretty petty. We all have to work for a living. Who can imagine that this letter will do much of anything? Someone I liked asked me to sign, and I did. I don’t hate all the people like Hayden to whom the letter is addressed. I don’t know most of them personally. I’d ally with them in many cases I am sure. I don’t feel betrayed by them. I figured things out a long time ago.

    I guess I don’t see the points you are making. Or maybe they are too obvious to talk about!

  7. Michael, I’m with you on most things, and I think on this as well, so I’ll try to explain a bit. No one should sign on mindlessly to letters, even if destined for the wind. What other viability do we have except to say exactly what we intend to?
    Anything involving money is not petty – I agree fully that we have the right to make a living, but we should never pretend that our choices and jobs do not involve great compromise. The academic left has had this high road of the alleged greater moral purpose of higher education, and that is what I wish to question. Of course, my job is loathsome, but I ended there because I couldn’t stand the hypocrisy of higher ed. You can chalk it up to jealousy on my part, including the inability to spell the word prophecy correctly when clicking keys, but I don’t think so.
    Of course I’m defending my unaligned turf with exactly zero and a half people on it, and yours is always an admirable struggle. I took a half-hour to write that response, because it was early in the day, I had nothing better to do, and as much as I respect all on the left from liberal to anti-establishment, I still think there needs to be some old-fashioned nihilism, as much as that approach mystifies good folks like you.

  8. Well, these days I think things in the United States are pretty hopeless, so maybe nihilism isn’t so bad! And you may be right about signing letters. I go round and round on this. I agree about academe. A racket might be too kind a word. I was a teacher for a long time, and I have written about this a lot. In the end I couldn’t stand it and left. I do teach a class to working people once a year, and even this seems a losing proposition most of the time.

    Anyway, I take what you said seriously. Thanks for it.

  9. […] Shared Tom Hayden doesn’t like that letter. […]

  10. Voted for Cynthia McKinney. Don’t regret it at all. Now, in Harlem and Washington Heights, I’m watching the Obama signs disappear fast. I nearly wept at the sight of an African American nurse with an SEIU button on one lapel and an Obama with a red slash button on the other. The man was and is and will always be a loathsome criminal hack for Wall Street and the Pentagon. It’s true, the rotten “they” could manufacture some Geraldine Ferraro moment – some white Democrat will say: “I think Obama is getting good press because he’s black”… and there will be a defensive uptick in black support. But I think the suspicions about Obama may not be as easy to waive by 2012… too many people like Social Security, Medicare, and public schools.

  11. Sometimes I wish I had voted for Obama; then perhaps it would be less tedious, boring and obvious repeating what I’ve always told friends, acquaintances and relatives: that Obama was an avowed, die-hard disciple of the free market and the Milton Friedman school of economics; that he had a conservative agenda and functioned as a mouthpiece for the Washington and Wall Street elite; that he was giving every sign of keeping in place most of the Bush era foreign policies, not to mention his intentions to sustain the US imperialist project throughout the world, especially the Third World; and of course, that he didn’t strike me as someone who was “progressive,” black or white, or who give a whiff about the plight of the minorities, working class or the poor; in fact, one would be hard pressed to find an instance, if any at all, of a reference from the then presidential candidate to a system that neglects to address its inherent contradictions and bias on race and the oppressive judicial and penal system it keeps in place with relentlessness.

    I firmly believe it does a great deal of good, and makes a lot of sense, for anybody who feels that things are out of kilter (aren’t they?) to take the trouble to offer their consent and dissent in opposition by protesting by any means available, via letter or otherwise. One can only truly hope for the best.


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