Tom Hayden wrote in the Huffington Post last week about his journey from Bobby Kennedy to Barack Obama, beginning with his rage and disappointment in electoral politics and the American system after Bobby Kennedy was assassinated:
On June 4, 1968, I watched from a New York townhouse the murder of a second Kennedy in five years. Martin Luther King already was gone, Vietnam and our cities were burning. I was in the midst of chaotic planning for anti-war demonstrations at the Democratic Convention coming in August.
I drifted off with friends to St. Patrick’s Cathedral where Kennedy staffers let us through the doors late at night. After sitting a while in silence, I found myself as a member of a makeshift honor guard standing next to his simple coffin. I was wearing a green Cuban hat and weeping. The last political hope of the Sixties vision – a movement-driven progressive government – was finished, whether by chance or plot, it mattered little. The violence I had resisted under white racism in the South was seeping into my veins. Like many who took their rage even farther, I was hardening, and never dared again to recover my young idealism.
Hayden seemed to have lost faith in the democratic system after Kennedy’s assassination, though he remained involved in California state government. Nearly forty years later, he refused to see Obama as an authentic progressive leader, despite pleas from his son to take a look at the candidate. Hayden was skeptical. But, after the landmark wins in Iowa and South Carolina, Hayden endorsed “the movement Barack Obama leads”:
Barack Obama is giving voice and space to an awakening beyond his wildest expectations, a social force that may lead him far beyond his modest policy agend. Such movements in the past led the Kennedys and Franklin Roosevelt to achievements they never contemplated. [As Gandhi once said of India’s liberation movement, “There go my people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.”]
We are in a precious moment where caution must yield to courage. It is better to fail at the quest for greatness than to accept our planet’s future as only a reliving of the past.
Hayden remains skeptical and demanding – as he was towards Bobby Kennedy while working with him in 1968 – but Obama’s candidacy has allowed him to hope again:
Those who denounce Obama – and the possibilities of all electoral politics – should ponder the effectiveness of sitting judgmentally on the sidelines while an Unexpected Future arrives through the sheer will of a new generation. They should consider whether politics and history can be reduced to a fixed determinism that is endlessly repeated, as if there are no surprises. We can have our differences with Obama’s specific policies, as I certainly do, but those should be measured against the prospect that a movement might transform him even as his very rise continues to transform the rest of us.