During a summer break many college years ago I got a job canvassing for Tom Hayden’s Campaign for Economic Democracy (CED). After reading a Help Wanted ad looking for PEOPLE WHO WANT TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE I drove down to Los Angeles from my parents’ house in Woodland Hills, and met with Mr. Hayden in a tiny office. For all of ten minutes we discussed politics. Well, no, not really. He talked about his ideas for political reform while I nodded vigorously. He glanced at my spare resume, which listed little more than retail sales and kennel work, but he was impressed by my membership in STAND (Students and Teachers Against Nuclear Development). Enough so that he hired me on the spot.
I knew he was married to Jane Fonda, and I knew he’d been a radical anti-Vietnam War activist. But what mattered most to my nineteen-year-old self at the time, was that he was super sexy and smart; and that I would earn a decent hourly rate just for knocking on people’s doors, reciting a pre-written spiel, and asking for their help in supporting political change.
An hour later, I was hustled into a van packed with six other idealistic young people, and driven to Manhattan Beach, one of the more posh neighborhoods lining the Pacific Coast. “This is going to be a breeze,” I thought to myself. “So many rich people live here.”
In three hours I’d collected little more than four campaign signatures, about thirty dollars in donations, and over a dozen courteous thank-you-but-no-thank-you’s.
I looked at my watch and saw that I had about ten more minutes until the designated lunch break, so I figured I could squeeze in one more knock-smile-pitch. I walked up the steps of a modest house; one of those much further down from the beach. An American flag hung from its flag holder.
The door opened and a youngish man wearing dirty jeans and a flannel shirt answered. He was holding a beer. I said hi. He asked me what I wanted. I smiled, quickly rattled off the key components of Mr. Hayden’s objectives, and then asked for a donation, or, at the very least, a signature on this legislative petition I was holding.
The man asked me to repeat the name of who it was I was working for.
“Tom Hayden,” I said proudly.
“Oh. Him. Sure. Let me see what I’ve got to give you. Stay right there.” He narrowed the door and disappeared. I waited, hoping that he’d donate a much-needed large sum of money. I really wanted the bonus given at the end of the day to the person who collected the most loot.
I tapped my foot. Wiped some sweat off my cheek.
A few seconds later he kicked the door open and pointed a very large shotgun at me. “You get your Commie ass off my property right now, young lady,” he shouted, “or I’ll shoot you off it.”
I returned to the van, waved hello to the other canvassers, ate my turkey sandwich in silence, and then, when everyone else jumped up to start the second half of their work day, I politely said, “Thank you, but no thank you. I think I’m done for the day.”
RIP Tom Hayden. Thank you for trying to make the world a better place.