Tom Hayden vs. John Halle: An Exchange



An Open Letter to the Left Establishment is currently being circulated here. Tom Hayden’s response to that Open Letter is published below and is followed by John Halle’s rejoinder.


First, Tom Hayden writes:

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.

Peace and Justice Resource Center


John Halle responds:

Dear Mr. Hayden,

You refer to our letter urging you to strongly support militant protest against the Obama administration as “vile” and “toxic”.

These words are misapplied.

Rather these are adjectives appropriately directed at the policies of the Obama administration, those which we mentioned, and provide documenting links to, along with others which we don’t. (For many of us, the omission of the Obama administration’s disgraceful policies with respect to Israel and Palestine was regrettable.)

We note that you do not attempt to defend any of these noting merely that you remain “glad . . . that you supported Barack Obama for President.”

Rather, the main focus of your response is protest directed against Obama’s expansion of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in particular, the civil disobedience action on Dec. 16 which you refer to as “somewhat justified.”

This action, and other protests to come, are not “somewhat” but absolutely justified on any reasonable moral, practical and political grounds.  They need strong unqualified support, from you and the others who claim to speak for the left,  not the provisional, weak endorsement you provide here.

You then accuse us of undermining the “fragile social ecology” required for growth of the peace movement.

Again, this is a charge which is not appropriately directed at us but at you.

For citizens do not protest only when they feel their protests are “somewhat” justifiable.  They do so when they are aware of the fact of the matter: that protest against this and numerous other Obama administration policies is now, and has been for some time, an urgent necessity.

We hope that you reconsider your continuing failure to come to terms not only with the catastrophe which is the Obama administration but also for the damage which your insufficiently critical support has inflicted on the only force which has the capacity oppose it:  mass, organized, and militant expressions of popular protest.

We therefore thank you for this response which demonstrates far better than we could why you are a deserving recipient of our letter.

Best Regards,



Tom Hayden served 18 years in the California Legislature. He has taught at numerous colleges and is the author or editor of 18 books and hundreds of articles for publications. He currently leads the Peace and Justice Resource Center.

John Halle is a former Green Party Alderman for the city of New Haven, Connecticut, and is on the faculty at Bard College in New York State where he teaches music theory and is active as a composer. His political writings can be found at his website

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5 Responses to Tom Hayden vs. John Halle: An Exchange

  1. Mr. Haydon has regressed light years away from his once defiant role as agitator in Lincoln Park during the 1968 Democratic Convention. Whether his actions then, when he urged his Youth International Party minions and other fellow members of SDS to physically take on the Chicago police, were tactically feasible or not, he at least showed some moral courage, which he has long since abandoned.

    Tom Haydon now effectively endorses virtually everything he once fought so courageously against. How would the Tom Haydon of 1968 view this pathetic, abject FAKE who now defends Obama-nation’s wars in Iraq & Afghanistan, the Patriot Act, TSA Gestapo tactics, and all the other atrocities that have become part and parcel of this disgusting and most victorious of all ruling class masquerades.

    Face it, Tom, you married into Hollywood, and sold out —hook, line, & sinker.

    Here’s to your hopefully imminent new promotion to American Ambassador to Davy Jones’s Locker!!!

    Go get yourself buried.

  2. Seeing as as how Tom Hayden has been among those writing the best critiques and exposes of Obama’s ‘Long War’ in Afghanistan, and has been relentlessly touring the country since the day of the election, and before, using his energies to mobilize opposition to the wars and deepen the peace movement, I fail to see Halle’s point.

    Same goes for Bill Fletcher, and myself as webmaster for our Progressive America Rising web project, formerly know as ‘Progressives for Obama’. Check them out at and You’ll find opposition to the policies of war and austerity from the Oval office and Congress across the board. The mass organization the three of us belong to, Progressive Democrats of America, has monthly actions at Congressional offices across the country, waged a ‘Heathcare Not Warfare’ campaign for HR 676, and is now initiating a jobs not war effort for full employment, as well as building for mobilizations like ‘One Nation.’ We know Halle’s home site,, doesn’t care for any Democrats, independent progressives or otherwise, but hasn’t made third partyism a point in this letter, unless you what to consider it a hidden subtext surrounded by misinformation.

    If the authors of this letter simply want more street heat vs wars and austerity, go for it. Get out and organize them. It’s not crowded, and the ‘Left Establishment’ targets here are already up front. I’ll support any reasonable actions you pull together, including the one this week. I do more than support; I’m in the streets every week against the wars in my area, and attended and organized support for ‘One Nation’ and the School of the Americas as well. But if you really want to move forward, barking up the wrong tree with circular firing squads doesn’t help.

  3. Conrad Borovski says:

    Tom Hayden’s objections to John Halle’s urgent truthful appeals are misplaced. Pres. Obama has surrounded himself with Bushmen in his administration and in the military.
    He is also refusing to listen to any criticism that points out how many of his policies are clearly destructive to world peace and a sane financial recovery from our dependence on Wall Street, the oil cartel, and the Pentagon. His refusal to reign in the sponsors of our military expansion and the brutality exercised by “allies” like Israël and Saudi Arabia deserves strong opposition as does our administration’s backing of corruption in the countries we have created and claim to be democratic, e.g. Iraq and Afghanistan.
    Worst of all, nothing has been seriously done to eliminate torture still practiced by our military and police and those of our allies. Women are now worse off in Iraq and Afghanistan than they were before our “liberation”.

  4. I must be stupid. Hayden’s arguments seem absolutely incoherent to me.

  5. I guess the lesson is call bullshit, and bullshit will respond.

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