Tom Hayden, well-known American icon of the 1960s anti-war movement and champion of progressive politics, had a clear message for Wichitans on Friday evening: Fight for peace and social justice and work to increase liberal representation both locally and statewide.
As part of an hour-long speech that included the political call to action and an appeal to reject any law that might suppress the rights of voters, Hayden asked a few hundred people to continue advancing progressive social change in the face of a Kansas government dominated by conservatives.
“The strength of this movement – if we can call it a movement – is in local communities like yours,” Hayden told the crowd, who gathered at Fairmount United Church of Christ for the Peace and Social Justice Center of South Central Kansas’ 20th anniversary meeting.
The center’s focus is to support justice and peace worldwide through nonviolent means, such as education and mediation.
Hayden, one of America’s best-known radicals of the past century, was the event’s keynote speaker.
“You’re the people who hand out leaflets to young people and their parents telling them whether it’s a good idea to sign up for the military,” Hayden said. “…You’re the heart and soul of any support group” that comes to the defense of inmates long-held in Kansas jails and prisons.
Later he added: “As first responders, people in Kansas have a role to play. You need to warn people like me … about what’s coming from your statehouse.”
“We don’t need to know in four years. We need to know now.”
Hayden emerged as an anti-war activist in the 1960s. He is the co-founder of Students for a Democratic Society, a member of the Chicago Eight – a group anti-war activists prosecuted for leading what become violent protest that disrupted the 1968 Democratic National Convention – an 18-year veteran of the California legislature and a protester of the Vietnam War.
Hayden is also famed for marrying – and later divorcing – actress Jane Fonda.
Decades after the Vietnam War, Hayden continues to oppose armed conflict – including those in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq – and speak out against unfair labor practices. He is also the director of the Peace and Justice Resource Center in Los Angeles.
Peace and Social Justice Center of South Central Kansas Executive Director Bill Brittendall said Friday evening Hayden’s presence in Wichita “means that the Peace Center is relevant and that we have an important progressive voice in the community.”
“We are not going away,” Brittendall said. “We are not going to move out of state. We are going to elect reasonable people – of whatever party.”
Hayden told the crowd that while in Wichita on Friday, he asked to tour two local organizations. The first was Planned Parenthood, which provides women’s health services, including contraceptives.
The second was physician George Tiller’s abortion clinic, which remains closed more than three years after the doctor was shot to death by an anti-abortion activist in 2009.
Earlier this fall, the Trust Women Foundation purchased the building and announced plans to reopen the clinic, offering similar services.
Hayden said he spoke early Friday with two women who are connected to reviving abortion services in Wichita.
The abortion clinic “was a fortress, and they were bound to defend the cause and willing to do whatever it takes and promise that the facility would open again and provide services within a few months,” he said.
Hayden said he also was struck by Occupy Wichita’s “movement to monitor and pressure law enforcement to do something over” a number of police-involved shootings that have injured or killed some residents in 2012.
Hayden wrapped up his talk by speaking in favor of increasing voter registration among Americans and opposing laws that may heighten voter suppression.
“It’s a right they require by human dignity, but it’s also a strategy,” Hayden said of Americans’ right to vote. “The more Americans who vote, the more progressive the outcome. … The broader the base in voting, the broader the base in all progressive change.
“Everyone deserves to have a voice in the decisions that affect their lives.”