Tuesday, October 25, 2016
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Tom Hayden, 60′s Anti-War Activist Turned State Lawmaker, & Champion of Social Justice Causes, Dies at 76

October 24th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


Many on all sides of the political spectrum were stunned and saddened Sunday night to learn of the death of Tom Hayden. The texts and emails and Facebook posts that passed Sunday night between friends, or just acquaintances of Tom’s, were filled with shock and sorrow.

Hayden had been struggling with heart problems and a stroke, then reportedly became ill during the Democratic National Convention in July, according to his wife, Barbara Williams. He died on Sunday, October 23. He was 76.

Still, in typical Hayden fashion he managed to record at least one more long and chatty interview with an NPR reporter at the convention, talking about his hopes for the country’s political future, and how he hoped to contribute to that future.

Even those who disagreed with Hayden expressed admiration for his passion, his shimmering intelligence, and his commitment to causes he believed to be important.

It would be difficult to count all the ways he has mattered in the realm of social justice.

Due to his early days of activism, however, he was sometimes a polarizing figure.

Hayden began as an early 60′s radical and freedom rider who became nationally known for his opposition to the Vietnam War, and for his involvement in the civil rights movement.

He was one of the founders of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). In 1962, he was the principal author of the Port Huron Statement, the influential organizing document of the SDS.

In 1968, he helped plan anti-war demonstrations to take place outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. When after weeks of trying without success to get permits to gather legally, Hayden and the other organizers went ahead with the demonstrations anyway. The resulting clashes with Chicago police were violent, deadly—and televised. Hayden and seven others were arrested and slapped with the newly minted federal charges of conspiracy to incite to riot.

The subsequent so-called Trial of the Chicago Seven, veered between theater and farce. (Defendant number eight, Bobby Seale, was tried separately.) Hayden was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison, but the conviction was later overturned on appeal, because the highly colorful Judge Julius Hoffman had so opening sided with prosecutors.

By the late 1970′s, the FBI had a 22,000-page FBI on Tom Hayden.

He was famously—and sometimes infamously—married to actress Jane Fonda from 1973 to 1990. It was a second marriage for both Hayden and Fonda. Now that the Vietnam War had ended, anti-establishment Hayden decided to try his hand at conventional politics. Fonda financed the beginning of his political career, which started with an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate.

Then, in 1982, Hayden was elected to the California Assembly. Once he got his political feet under him, a newly-middle class Hayden served a total of 18 years in the state capitol—first ten years in the Assembly, then another eight in the state Senate.

After his divorce from Fonda, Hayden married Canadian actress Barbara Williams shortly after being voted into the California State Senate in 1992.

When he was termed out of the senate, Hayden’s political career ran aground. He ran unsuccessfully for California governor, for LA mayor, and finally for Los Angeles City Council, where he lost in a runoff by 369 votes to former prosecutor Jack Weiss.

Following the City Council loss, Hayden left politics, and went back to writing and organizing, championing a list of social justice causes, with the help of a new generation of young activists, including a group of former gang members whom he successfully mentored and championed.

Hayden began as a journalist during his student activist years, and remained a prolific writer, and author throughout his life. He was a member of the editorial board and a columnist for The Nation magazine, and was published with some regularity in the New York Times, the Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Boston Globe, the Harvard International Review, the Huffington Post and more

He also authored and/or edited more than twenty books, including “Inspiring Participatory Democracy: Student Movements from Port Huron to Today,” and his last book, “Hell No: The Forgotten Power of the Vietnam Peace Movement,” which is scheduled to be published in March 2017 by Yale University Press.

“Tom Hayden changed America,” wrote Nicolas Lemann of The Atlantic. During his time in Sacramento, he was described as “the conscience of the Senate” by the Sacramento Bee’s political analyst. The Nation magazine named Hayden one of the 50 greatest progressives of the 20th century.

At WitnessLA we considered Tom a treasured friend. We sometimes disagreed with him, and he with us. But we were far better for having known him. We will miss his wildly intelligent and impassioned voice more than we can express.

If you’d like to hear more from Tom Hayden personally, here’s the NPR interview with Tom at the Democratic convention in July that we mentioned above. It’s weirdly poignant, given the timing. His energy, and his enthusiasm and optimism for affecting political change is still there in full force, despite his failing health.

Then if you’d like to read more about Tom Hayden, the Los Angeles Times obit by Michael Finnegan on Hayden is a good one.

Here’s a clip:

Looking back on the war in his memoir, Hayden voiced a few regrets. Time proved him “overly romantic about the Vietnamese revolution,” he wrote. Hayden also admitted “a numbed sensitivity to any anguish or confusion I was causing to U.S. soldiers or to their families — the very people I was trying to save from death and deception.”

As the war came to an end, Hayden embraced mainstream politics in California with a campaign to unseat U.S. Sen. John Tunney. He lost the June 1976 Democratic primary to Tunney, who was ousted in November by Republican S.I. Hayakawa. Some Democrats blamed the defeat on Hayden.

But the campaign laid ground for Hayden and Fonda to start the Campaign for Economic Democracy, later known as Campaign California. The group fought for such causes as Santa Monica rent control, public spending on solar power and divestment from apartheid South Africa.

Much of the group’s money came from Fonda, whose movie career was booming and whose workout video business would spawn a fortune in the ’80s. It helped elect scores of liberals to local offices statewide and campaigned for Proposition 65, the anti-toxics measure that requires signs in gas stations, bars and grocery stores that warn of cancer-causing chemicals.

Hayden represented Santa Monica, Malibu and part of the Westside in Sacramento. His legislative achievements were modest — research into the effects of the herbicide Agent Orange on U.S. servicemen in Vietnam; repair money for the Santa Monica and Malibu piers; tighter rules to prevent the collapse of construction cranes, to name a few.

Hayden paid a personal price for his work as a radical.

His father, a Republican, refused to speak with him for 13 years. They reconciled before his father’s death, a few days before Hayden won election to the Assembly in 1982.

PHOTO by Jay Godwin courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Posted in Life in general | 1 Comment »

Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day

October 10th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

Most states, cities and counties still call today Columbus Day.
But the movement to celebrate the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day is growing.

South Dakota was the first state to do away with the Columbus-related designation in 1990, replacing it with Native American Day. Seattle changed in 2014. Last year 19 municipalities and the state of Alaska embraced the new holiday. This year, at least 17 municipalities plus the state of Vermont voted to ditch Columbus day in favor of a day that celebrates the nation’s first people.

Denver, Co. made the change on October 3. The city council of Boulder, CO, voted in August. Phoenix, AZ, Santa Fe and Albuquerque, NM, also recently switched.

A few years ago, the California state legislature tried to pass a bill to rename today, however it didn’t pass. Yet, nationally, the movement is expanding, not slowing down.

So, Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day everyone.

And happy day after John Lennon’s birthday, while we’re at it.

NOTE: The two videos above are not from an October celebration but rather from North American Indian Days, the fabulous annual powwow held the second weekend of July in Browning, MT. The first video features the Chicken Dancers’ competition. The second is the performance of one group, known as the Bull Horn drummers, in the drumming competition.

Posted in Life in general | 3 Comments »

Many Mourn Respected LA Sheriff’s Sergeant Steven Owen, Slain in Lancaster

October 5th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

Like many in Los Angeles County, we are devastated at the news of the fatal shooting of highly-respected Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Sergeant Steven Owen, 53,
who died on Wednesday after being shot by a suspect while responding to a call about a residential burglary in Lancaster.

We will have a full story about Sergeant Owen late tonight. In the meantime, our thoughts go out to Sergeant Owen’s wife, his two grown sons, his step-daughter, extended family and friends, and the many members of the Los Angeles County law enforcement community who knew Steve Owens as a friend and colleague, plus the members of the wider LA County community, many of whom also knew and valued him, and whom he protected and served for 29 years.

Posted in LASD, Life in general, Uncategorized | No Comments »

Witness LA is on Vacation This Week, Back on Monday

August 23rd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

Unless news breaks that we absolutely can’t ignore, we’ll be on vacation this week.

But we’ll be keeping an eye on things, and will see you next Monday!

Then after Labor Day we’ll launch a new version of WLA that will give us—and you—a little more room.

Happy end of August!


Posted in Life in general | 2 Comments »

Muhammed Ali: Simply, The Greatest – January 17, 1942 – June 3, 2016

June 4th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

― Muhammad Ali

“The Service you do for others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.”

― Muhammad Ali

“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion’.”

― Muhammad Ali

“Inside of a ring or out, ain’t nothing wrong with going down. It’s staying down that’s wrong.”

― Muhammad Ali

“The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”

― Muhammad Ali

“The man with no imagination has no wings.”

― Muhammad Ali

“Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It’s not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.”

― Muhammad Ali

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can’t hit what the eyes can’t see.”

― Muhammad Ali

“I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me.”

― Muhammad Ali

“I know I got it made while the masses of black people are catchin’ hell, but as long as they ain’t free, I ain’t free.”

― Muhammad Ali

Posted in Life in general, Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

For Those Who Have Served, With Deep Appreciation, Respect and Sorrow.

May 30th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

For those service men and women whom Memorial Day honors,
here is Jason Isbell’s beautiful and heartbreaking song Dress Blues, written for his high school friend, Marine Cpl. Matthew Conley, who was killed at age 21 in Iraq in February 2006 when his Humvee rode over an improvised explosive device.

Conley left behind his young wife who was pregnant with their first child.

Then, of course, once again The Band Plays Waltzing Matilda. written by Scottish-born Australian singer-songwriter Eric Bogle in 1971, four years before the fall of Saigon.

Below you’ll find two versions. The first sung by the great Liam Clancy.

The second by the Pogues’ Shane MacGowan.

Both versions are devastating and unduplicable.

As you listen, remember that Los Angeles County has the largest population of homeless war veterans in the nation.

Posted in Life in general | 2 Comments »

Brave & Beautiful: Prince – 1958-2016

April 22nd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

Posted in Life in general | 1 Comment »

Wounded Teen Activist Returns to City Where He Was Shot – by Matt Smith

January 11th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

Semaj from JJIE Multimedia on Vimeo.

A year ago, 18-year-old Semaj Clark was already gaining recognition for his courage.
He had been in foster care from age six onward, after he and his baby brother were taken from his drug-addicted mother who first got pregnant at 17-years old. While he was eventually adopted by a kind family, for years he was placed in a series of foster homes where the adults who should have been keeping him safe, instead used beating and drugging as their go-to parenting methods, to the point where Semaj’s body was always tattooed with bruises. Not surprisingly, the young Semaj took to the street and it wasn’t long before he was arrested for burglary, with a string of low level arrests and lock-ups to follow.

When he was 16, his probation officer told him to go see the Brotherhood Crusade, a community organization which ran the BLOOM program (Building a Lifetime of Options and Opportunities for Men). Semaj was initially suspicious of the group. But over time, BLOOM’s “strengths based” approach won him over and, gradually, Semaj began to radically reroute the trajectory of his life. By the spring of 2015, he was enrolled in Mt. San Antonio community college, taking classes at Cal Poly Pomona, and working as a “youth ambassador” who was impressing youth advocates all over the state with his energy, dedication and ability to inspire others.

Then, in October 2015, as part of his outreach work for BLOOM, the inspired and inspiring young man took a trip to Savannah, Georgia—and everything changed when he was shot three times in the back and paralyzed.

(We reported originally on Semaj here.)

In the story below, Matt Smith reports on the next painful and challenging phase of Semaj Clark’s life, a phase that seems to have brought out in the teenager an even deeper brand of courage.



by Matt Smith

Semaj Clark is a determined young man.

The Los Angeles teenager’s steadfastness helped him emerge from a childhood punctuated by a string of foster homes and arrests to become an ambassador to troubled youth.

Now he’s determined to learn how to get around in his new wheelchair.

And he’s determined that his anti-violence campaign can take root anew in Savannah, Georgia, where he’d taken that message of hope and transformation in October — only to find himself with a bullet in his spine. The outpouring of support he received after being shot and paralyzed during a robbery attempt made him want to come back, he said.

“I never experienced as much love in my life until I came to Georgia,” Clark said after a recent round of physical therapy. “I have no hard feelings against Georgia. Thanks for the love.”

Savannah police say the 18-year-old was shot on Oct. 10, after speaking to a community safety forum held by the Chatham County Juvenile Court. He was there with a group of teens from the California-based Brotherhood Crusade, which he credits with showing him a life beyond running the streets of south-central Los Angeles.

“They were the ones that probably connected with the group more than the others, because they were telling personal testimonies,” said Chatham County Juvenile Court Administrator Adam Kennedy. “The others were adults that were implementing programs with young people. But when you actually hear the voice of the young people, I think there’s a stronger connection — and all of those young men did connect and impacted the people that were there.”

Clark was 13 when he was arrested the first time, for burglary. He had been in foster homes since he was 6, when his infant brother was born with drugs in his system and authorities removed him from his mother’s home.

“I cried every day,” he said. “Six-year-olds know what’s going on. They’re not dumb.”

His first foster home was fine, but he had to move while the home was being renovated to accommodate extra children. The second home was awful.

“That’s where I got beaten,” Clark recounted. “The lady was drugging us, putting stuff in our applesauce to make us calm down and stay in one spot, and stuff like that.”

After two years, he was adopted by his original foster mother, Cynthia Clark, who also adopted Semaj’s brother. But by the time he was 13, he was hanging around older kids who led him into trouble. In the next two years, he would be arrested several more times for what he called “little small stuff, like stolen property.”

“I probably spent, like, a year and a half, two years altogether in juvenile hall,” he said. He dropped out of high school in 10th grade. But then he was introduced to the Brotherhood Crusade’s BLOOM program — Building a Lifetime of Options and Opportunities for Men — and its Reintegration Academy, which teaches its kids to see beyond their own difficult circumstances and raise their sights.

“If you say you want to be a lawyer, they’re going to put you around Attorney General Eric Holder,” he said. “You want to be a rapper, they’re going to take you to a concert with Kanye West and Jay-Z … Whatever you want to do, they put you around that stuff, and it gives you a bigger picture.”

Once removed from the “chaos” of his neighborhood, he said, he could breathe — “And once you can breathe, you can think. Once you can think, you can excel.”

He became one of the Brotherhood Foundation’s youth ambassadors, speaking to other teens, to elected officials and policy wonks. In August, he was among a group of teens who met with President Barack Obama during a presidential visit to Los Angeles.

By then, he had earned his high school equivalency diploma and was enrolled in political science classes at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona. He was under the tutelage of Professor Renford Reese, who said he looks at Clark “like he’s my son.” It was Reese who took Clark and several other BLOOM alumni to Savannah — and who got the call from police when Clark was shot.

“You almost brace yourself to hear something like that when you’re at home in Los Angeles,” Reese said. “But you don’t get them out of one of the most volatile, dangerous places in the country and then bring them to Savannah and expect them to get shot in Savannah, Georgia. That’s really a cruel irony.”

After the community forum, Clark and one of his friends were walking down River Street, Savannah’s waterfront tourist strip, when some local kids approached them.

“I was just talking to them, telling them positive stuff,” he said. He called it “a natural instinct.” They talked him into coming with them a few blocks down the street, to the Yamacraw Village public housing complex.

“I had an instinct or a feeling that told me to stop, but I just didn’t listen to it,” Clark said. “I love to help kids. I love to help anybody that I see that used to be like me.”

But when they got to Yamacraw Village, beneath the landmark Talmadge Memorial Bridge, one of the kids pulled out a gun. When Clark and his friend tried to run, he opened fire. Clark was hit squarely in the back, the bullet ripping into the vertebrae behind the heart. His doctors told him he won’t walk again.

Clark just completed a month of physical therapy at the Shepherd Center, an Atlanta rehabilitation center for survivors of spinal and brain injuries. He’s got full use of his arms and “is getting to be fairly independent from a mobility standpoint,” said Dr. Gerald Bilsky, his attending physician.

“He can really take care of all his needs,” Bilsky said. “People who have injuries more in their neck often don’t have the ability to raise their hands. His balance is really good. He’s a young, 18-year-old, healthy kid.”

In his first two weeks at the Shepherd Center, Clark focused on the basics: getting dressed, bathing, getting in and out of cars. He had to exercise his arms, trying to build them up to be able to propel himself around.

“He’s a strong kid, but he’s going to be using his arm muscles in place of his legs. It’s easy to wheel down to the Panera Bread Company down the block,” Bilsky said, referring to an eatery downhill from the hospital. “Wheeling back up from Panera Bread Company is a challenge.”

It’s a challenge — but, Clark added, “I take everything as a challenge.” He still holds out hope of walking again, saying doctors “are just flesh and blood. They’re not God.”

“I can do a lot of things by myself. I learned a lot here,” he told JJIE shortly after being discharged. “It’s hard, but you’ve got to play the cards you’re dealt … I’ve got to just deal with it the best way I can.”

Now he’s gone back to Savannah, about four hours south of Atlanta. He’s working on getting enrolled at Savannah State University, where he plans to resume his studies, and transplanting his California-based outreach mission to the youth of Georgia.

“People see something really unique, and I think he realizes even more so now that he can be a voice of change,” said Reese, who is helping him get set up there. “He can be the spokesperson for an anti-violence movement, and his voice can be more powerful, more authentic, more credible even now than before he was shot. I think it takes a certain amount of maturity to understand why this happened and to see the positive consequences of something like this happening.”

A 17-year-old, Daquan Bryant, has been charged with armed robbery and aggravated assault in Clark’s shooting. Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police are still looking for two other people it described as “persons of interest” in the case, but no further arrests have been made, police spokeswoman Eunicia Baker said.

Clark says he has forgiven his attackers and wants to convince others to do the same.

“It’s about second chances and forgiveness,” he said. “You don’t know what that person has gone through. I don’t know what they were thinking or why they did any of that, so how can I judge somebody if I don’t know? I’m not a judgmental person. I’ve been in their shoes before.”

This story was produced by Youth Today the national news source for youth-service professionals, including child welfare and juvenile justice, youth development and out-of-school-time programming.

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David Bowie: Jan 8, 1947 – Jan 10, 2016……Goodnight Sweet Prince

January 11th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

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WitnessLA Will Be On Vacation (Mostly) Until January 4

December 21st, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

We’re taking a break to work on some stories for the new year
—and to decorate trees, wrap presents, cook holiday dinners, read books, hike hills, and to go to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. (Naturally.)

We will be back at full reporting speed on Monday, January 4.

However, if there is news we absolutely feel we must discuss, we will reappear briefly to post, as needed. So check in.

Oh, and our weekly newsletter, The California Justice Report, is also on vacation, and will be back on January 4, with the usual great collection of must read stories. (So if you haven’t signed up, now is the time to do it!)

In the meantime, have a merry Christmas, happy holidays…..and a very happy winter solstice. (At WLA we are very fond of the winter solstice.)

We’ll see you in 2016!

Posted in Life in general | 5 Comments »

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