Monday, October 24, 2016

Hooray for Hayden

My reminiscence of Tom Hayden, excerpted from the book I may publish someday. I'm devastated. What a loss, and how lucky we are that he lived. 

Chapter 8—Hooray for Hayden 

Tom Hayden and his wife Jane Fonda in 1976.
When I tell people about Tom Hayden, I love to say that I went to hear a politician speak on the night before an election, and the question I most wanted to ask was, “Can you recommend a good translation of the Tao Te Ching?” 

In fact, the night of the lecture, which took place at the Phoenix bookstore in Santa Monica, I went up to ask Hayden that very question, because he had spoken so eloquently about it. It took a while, because I was last in line behind a group of his students from a class he was teaching at Santa Monica College. My friend Genie (a.k.a. She Who Remembers), who was taping the event and is also a big hemp activist, saw me approach him and yelled out, "Ask him about hemp!" I kind of paused, not knowing what to say, when he started picking up his papers to leave. Damn, I'd lost my chance to ask him anything. … 

A year or so later, when Hayden was running for Governor of California, my friend and fellow activist CJ started lobbying his office for him to appear at one of our hemp rallies in L.A. Finally, he agreed. This was an amazing accomplishment, since no elected official had set foot at one of our rallies before (in fact the only political parties ever represented were the Libertarians and the Greens). This one, on May 1, 1994,  was strange because the flags on the Federal building property on Wilshire Blvd. that was the site of our protests were at half-mast because Richard Nixon had just died.

Not only did Hayden come, he signed our initiative, and he gave a beautiful speech. He stood, very unassuming, with his hand on his heart, and he seemed to be speaking from there when he said:

I want to express my appreciation and respect for the many years in exile that many of you have suffered because of the cowardice of the political leadership of this state to address the issue of why we have legal tobacco and alcoholwhich my family has suffered from and your families have suffered fromand we have continued to impose not just criminal penalties but a social and moral prohibition and taboo on marijuana. There is no reason for this except cowardice and a generational conflict that seems to go on and on. 

Do you know what I am doing later on tonight? I'm going to a performance about the Chicago conspiracy trial. Some of these things never end. 

Let's express our compassion for Richard Nixon, who passed away last week, and let's express our apprehension for the Nixonism, the law-and-order-ism that continues to be mainstream political bread and butter in Sacramento. 

I'm here to say that the War on Crime and the War on Drugs have got to be re-examined. They are a quagmire of crime, of blood, of alienation, of tax loss, the destruction of our cities, the destruction of our people. 

This is one of the hardest issues for me, and for you, since the Vietnam War. It is a quagmire like Vietnam. There is no military solution in the long run to this madness. It's even worse than Vietnam in this sense, because you can't pack up and withdraw, you can't go home. We are home.

So I wish you well and certainly in my campaign I will speak with respect to the efforts you are making. I will try to raise the issue of the morality, the double standards, the economic benefits, the total political and moral blindness of our political leadership and challenge them to debate these issues. Thank you.     
To say he electrified the crowd would be an understatement. After his speech, CJ walked him to his car and told him she was concerned about the impending Three Strikes You're Out law, which would put people in prison for life upon committing three felonies. She told him that growing any amount of marijuana was a felony. “That's not true, is it?” Hayden asked. “Check it out yourself,” she said. “If that's true, I'll raise that issue in my campaign,” he pledged.

CJ came back to the rally and told us all the story. Then, she said, someone tried to give him a copy of The Emperor Wears No Clothes. “I know that book,” he said, “that's more popular than the . . ." “I can't remember what he said next,” CJ said. I took a guess. "The Tao Te Ching?" I asked. "Yes," she said, grabbing my arm. She took me around to everyone else to whom she told the story and when she came to "that's more popular than the..." I filled in "the Tao Te Ching." I realized he must have made that assessment from that night at the Phoenix, one year before. Was he actually disappointed that after hearing his lecture, all some hemp chick could think to say was, “Have you read The Emperor?” If only he knew, he did get through to me. 

A month or so later Chris and Mikki were in town and Greg and I staged our first-ever dinner party at the Love Shak. I ran out and bought second-hand plates at the thrift shop and saw this really cool coffee table for $15. I checked with Greg before making such a huge purchase, and he loved it too so we bought it. So just in time for this party we had plates and something to put them on! Ain't life grand.

CJ came by with a tape of the gubernatorial debate between Kathleen Brown, John Garemendi, and Hayden. Brown wouldn't allow the debate to be aired over the networks, but CJ had a friend in SF who got hold of it. Brown did badly (no wonder she wouldn't air it), but Tom was amazing. He came off so much more reasoned and intelligent than the other two. It was two politicians and a statesman. If the people of California had watched those debates, they would have immediately carried Hayden on their shoulders up to the Governor’s mansion. 

Already it was making my day just to see anyone with anything logical to say in a political debate, when the question was asked, “Do you support the Three Strikes You're Out initiative?” Of course, Brown and Garemendi couldn't wait to jump all over it with their support, no doubt hoping for the lucrative endorsement of the prison guards’ union. When it was Tom's turn, he said, "I am opposed to Three Strikes because it will put check kikers and marijuana farmers in prison for life." 

Hallelujiah! You could have heard me yell for miles. We all stood up, cheering. He called us farmers. Not dealers, even growers, but farmers. Not only that, he KEPT a PROMISE. I couldn't remember the last time any elected official had done that. 

I walked right over to CJ and told her, "You are responsible for that!" It was great to be able to congratulate her for her work. Those moments are too rare. It was by far the best political moment of the year for me. 

Of course, we called and got Hayden literature and passed it out at our tables and told everyone we could about him. It was hard to raise hope in such a bleak landscape, but as with Jerry Brown, I figured if Tom could keep fighting so could I.

Excerpted from Confessions of the Happy Hempstress, by Ellen Komp. Copyright 2016

Hayden won the International Awareness Tokey Award in 2012. 

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