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Catching Up With . . . Don Hazen

From Single Wing to Left Wing

by Brooke C. Stoddard '69  

Don Hazen grew up in Hawthorne, New Jersey, a then all-white, conservative working- class town across from what he describes as the "highly polluted" Passaic River from Paterson. "It was a gritty place," he recalls. He went to Hawthorne High School. "I was a fine student," he says, "though not a great one, but I was an all-state quarterback and president of the student body. In those days, Hazen recalls, Princeton was looking for the "well-rounded student." Princeton recruited him, and he became the first Hawthorne High student to enroll in our university in 30 years. Don adds: "The guy in his class with the 800 boards -- he went to Rice." 


Don played football at Princeton, majored in politics and became interested in social issues. Carl Fields, Princeton Assistant Dean, had established a Princeton Summer in the Cities Program placing undergraduates in anti-poverty programs during summers. (Fields was the first African-American Dean in the Ivy League and the Carl A. Fields Center of Equality and Cultural Understanding on campus is named after him.) Don went to work for with the NYC Council Against Poverty; he became interested in public education policy and deeply involved in issues of school governance in New York when John Lindsay was mayor. Senior year he wrote his dissertation on community control of the schools in New York for Prof. Dick Leone of the Woodrow Wilson School.


Don made a big decision at the end of his junior year: leaving football, because he had decided that social change had become more important to him. But he laughingly mentions the fact that Ellis Moore, a year younger, was starting ahead of him as fullback, and Moore scored five touchdowns that year against Yale, sealing Hazen’s fate as a second stringer.


Senior year Don commuted on the train to New York up to three days a week to continue his community action work. Along with the times he shifted further left politically and joined the campus SDS, influenced by the likes of Peter Kaminsky, Chip Sills, Jimmy Tarlou ’70 and Doug Seaton. Interestingly, over the years Seaton turned conservative and Sills taught at the U.S. Naval Academy. When SDS organized a major protest at the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), which was then situated on campus, Don ended up trying to persuade a few of his football playing buddies that they didn’t need to bring baseball bats when they visited the demonstration.  


In the spring of the following year, as Don was headed on a cross-country jaunt with girlfriend, dog and van, Nixon invaded Cambodia, producing widespread campus protests. Don detoured back to campus where a second IDA protest had erupted -- this time a group of several hundred, headed by SDS leaders, blockaded IDA and shut down access. The university obtained a warrant for a group of the leaders, who then received word they were on a list of persons about to be arrested, so they took off. But Don's name was not on the list because he had graduated. So Don ended up being the leader of the remaining protesters and made the speech just as the cops were massing to break up the demonstration. Don recalls: "The resulting article in the Princeton town newspaper the next day identified me as 'an outsider from Berkeley,' rather than a recent graduate and football letterman – so there was 'fake news' even back then!"


 A college days' story Hazen is happy to tell is how parietals bit the dust. Kaminsky, who was both SDS leader and UGC president, named Don to the five-member undergraduate Discipline Committee, with Neil Rudenstein as Dean and convener. A case came up concerning a student discovered with a date in his room after hours. Testimony was taken (Axel may have been the proctor involved), and it seemed an open-and-shut case of guilty. But as it turned out, one faculty member rotating on the Committee was a libertarian from the philosophy department. The faculty member, Don, and (Don believes) Marty Golub as the other student representative voted that no punishment should be inflicted. From that time, the parietal stricture was a dead letter.


Over the next two years Don drove a taxi in New York and organized on race issues in the school system. He was living with Rick Sears and Greg Sommerville ‘70 on Central Park West when he heard about a new and innovative school in the Bronx, where a famed educator, Dr. Caleb Gattengo, was innovating with his Words in Color reading technique. Don jumped in, lasted one year, and to this day says "the hardest job I ever had was teaching third graders in the South Bronx."


Don was next on the faculty of the innovative College for Human Services, which employed a "competency based” curriculum for poor women that taught them in classrooms two days a week and supervised them in their field jobs three days a week, the point being to help them earn a two-year degree and learn skills in demand in the marketplace.


Don then earned a Master's Degree in Counseling from the University of Massachusetts with the idea of becoming a clinical therapist. But he was also drawn to New York City politics. He set aside counseling to be campaign manager for Ruth Messinger, a progressive Manhattan Westside Democrat. He helped get Messinger elected to the City Council. 


 As part of his local political engagement, Don was a longtime member of the Westside’s Community Board 7. As chair of the Parks Committee, Don mentioned that, slyly, he was instrumental in making sure that a yin yang symbol on the walking path in Central Park’s Strawberry Field’s was of sufficient size -- Strawberry Fields is the 2.5-acre section of Central Park where Yoko Ono had trees planted from all over the world in honor of John Lennon whose murder occurred in front of the famed Dakota building -- his and Ono’s home at West 72 Street and Central Park West. According to Don, every day of the year, people still gather at the yin yang symbol, lighting candles, singing Beatles songs and reminiscing about John Lennon. 


In 1985, Don was running David Dinkins' successful campaign for Manhattan Borough President when he was asked to be publisher of the investigative reporting Mother Jones magazine. Taking the job meant moving to San Francisco – but not giving up his Westside apartment. So began a bi-coastal life style that continues to this day. (Four years later, Dinkins was elected mayor of New York; his successor as Borough president was Ruth Messinger.)


In 1992, after the Mother Jones gig, Don was hired to direct the Institute for Alternative Journalism (IAJ), which evolved into the Independent Media Institute (IMI). Combined with Mother Jones, the work for IAJ has translated to almost 30 years that Don has spent in the world of independent journalism. IAJ’s main engine has been Alternet, a syndication service for the roughly – at its peak -- 150 weekly newspapers across the country and Canada. Then, in 1997 and ’98, Don organized, with the support of Bill Moyers, two Media and Democracy Congresses, attended by a couple of thousand people, aimed to tackle the concentration of media ownership. 


About that time – 1997 -- came the tech transformation that was to change virtually everyone’s life, the Internet. Clearly, the Internet offered direct contact with readers without having to cut down trees for magazines and newspapers. Along with Salon.com, Alternet.org was one of the earliest Internet adopters. Soon Alternet was building a broad audience that eventually reached the upper echelons of high-trafficked independent news sites, averaging six to seven million unique monthly visitors and ranking in the top 400 most popular websites in the country. Alternet won a few Webbies as well -- for best of the Web -- and has published virtually every well-known liberal and progressive pundit, journalist, and thought leader while developing many investigative reports. Alternet became a media mainstay, sustaining its brand over time as many entities jumped on the Internet bandwagon to the point where there are now hundreds of news publishing entities in cyber space. AlterNet (www.alternet.org) publishes stories about education, the environment, human rights, activism, relationships, immigration and more. 


Don divides his time between California, where he has a house in the Montclair section of the Oakland Hills, and New York. Both Oakland and New York have AlterNet staffs, the majority being in New York. Married once, and long ago divorced, Don has shared his life for the last 17 years with Vivian Dent, a psychotherapist in San Francisco. Recently he had thoughts of retiring from his work at AlterNet, "but then Trump came along," he says. So he hasn't retired.  The author and editor of several books, Don is currently working on a book tentatively titled:  How to Stay Sane in the Time of Trump.


"I have a good life," Don reports. "I have my NYC apartment from long ago – with great views of the Hudson River. In Oakland, I have six giant redwoods in the front yard, a stream, and an acre of greenery. My health is good, though I did have a hip replaced – necessitated by kicking too many footballs."

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Hazen’s professional life has been primarily focused on publishing hundreds of powerful independent voices – a long stream of radicals and progressives such as Norm Chomsky Robert Reich, Barbara Ehrenreich, Michele Alexander, and hundreds more. "You might say, I am a long-distance runner still fighting for the kind of transformational change we dreamed about in the '60s," he says. "But now that dream seems further away than ever." He has written about, commented on, and published an array of work on numerous issues, including militarism, media, money in politics, and homelessness, but of special concern is the massive inequality of income and wealth – "all of which is going to get much worse under Donald Trump," he predicts.  


Recently Don interviewed (http://www.alternet.org/books/move-fast-break-things-jonathan-taplin-tech-interview) Classmate Jon Taplin about Taplin's new book Move Fast and Break Things, which discusses the rise of the immense and sometimes destructive power of Google, Facebook, and Amazon – he wishes Taplin's book wide exposure. Another interest – hearkening back to his time at UMass and the doctoral dissertation he never wrote -- has been "raising men's consciousness about sexism and gender roles, often destructive to men as well as woman.”  


Classmates interested in Don's AlterNet work can find much of it at http://www.alternet.org/authors/don-hazen


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