Long before he became a well-known scientist who fought for environmental justice in Los Angeles and beyond, John Freynes was an anti-war activist who became known as a member of the legendary Chicago Seven.
The Vietnam War was in full swing, racial tensions rocked the nation, and college campuses turned into battlefields when Freins joined Abby Hoffman, Tom Hayden, and others at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago to protest the long-standing and increasingly unpopular war.
The convention was a loud, blurry, chaotic event. Activist Jerry Rubin tried to nominate a pig for president and then speak for the pig. The police beat Dan Rather as he tried to interview the delegates, and writer Norman Mailer made his way through the crowd, trying to figure out what it all means – if anything at all.
There was so much tear gas in the air that it leaked into nearby hotels, including the room where Vice President Hubert Humphrey was camping.
A year later, Freynes and six others were charged with conspiracy to incite convention riots and were put on trial in a play that became a solid emblem—and a couple of films—of an era when the nation was almost at war with itself. .
Freynes, who was one of two acquitted at trial, lived quietly with memories of his days as a street activist, but lived even more comfortably as a leading environmental scientist who helped shape government standards for lead and clean air, especially in the poor. areas.
“We still need student protests because many of the problems of the 60s persist and new problems are emerging,” he told The Times shortly after he was named director of the UCLA Occupational Health Center.
“But no one is a student activist at 50. You need to check your head.”
A contented grandfather who ran marathons and was an obsessive skier, Freynes died Wednesday in Santa Monica, said his wife Andrea Chrico, professor emeritus at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine. He was 83 years old and suffered from Parkinson’s disease.
As the 1960s slipped into the rearview mirror, Chicago 7 took off in all directions.
Hayden married Jane Fonda and served as a California Assemblyman and State Senator for 18 years before he died in 2016 in Santa Monica. Rubin became a writer and stockbroker who was fatally hit by a car while crossing Wilshire Boulevard in 1994. Hoffman committed suicide, and Bobby Seal, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, whose trial was separate from that of others, became a lecturer and college recruiter and wrote a book on barbecue.
Freynes returned to the academy. And the fervor that he once aimed at the Vietnam War, he now turned to lead, diesel fumes and other environmental hazards that affected the lives of so many, and often those who lived in near poverty.
As head of the occupational health division of the Vermont Department of Health, he helped persuade the state’s nuclear industry to adopt stricter sanitation standards than federal regulations. As division director of the Office of Occupational Safety and Health in Washington, he was the principal author of federal standards governing worker exposure to lead and cotton dust.
As a professor at UCLA, Freynes conducted research to determine which jobs and industries in Southern California are most exposed to 500 different chemicals. And as head of the UCLA Center for Occupational Health, he led research to determine how certain industrial chemicals cause early brain aging and how others contribute to the early stages of cancer.
John Radford Freynes was born June 13, 1939 and grew up in Oakland, where his parents worked in a shipyard. His father was killed while walking home from the shipyard when John was 3 years old. He became a runner star in high school, graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and received his Ph.D. from Yale University.
At Yale, he joined the Students for a Democratic Society, then a center of left-wing activity, and met Hayden, Rennie David, and David Dellinger, all future members of the Chicago Seven. The three convinced Freynes, along with Hoffman, Rubin, Seal, and Lee Weiner, to join them in protest at the convention.
Thousands of protesters were met by riot police and dozens of people were injured in the ensuing violence.
The ensuing trial was a circus. Hoffman was dressed in a judge’s robe and walked in front of the judge shouting “Heil Hitler!” Dellinger called the judge a liar, and Rubin slammed his boots on the defendants’ table and pretended to be asleep. Seal was so enraged by the lawyer assigned to him by the court that the judge ordered him to be bound and gagged. In total, the judge accused the defendants of contempt of court almost 200 times.
Freynes was acquitted, and the appeals court dismissed most of the charges against the rest.
After the trial, Freynes went on an anti-war speech tour and joined the Black Panther Party Defense Committee, which worked with Seal and Erica Huggins in their controversial murder trial. Both were on Friday when the jury was deadlocked.
Freins kept in touch with some of his fellow indictees and attended the Chicago 7 reunion in 1996, staying long enough to get a Crosby, Stills, and Nash concert before heading to an environmental conference in Mexico City.
“People always ask, ‘Is John Freynes as radical as he was in 1968?’ he told The Times years after the trial. “No one is the same now as they were then. I think it’s more valuable to look at a person’s history to see if they’ve been consistent in the context of their values. And I believe that I have.”
Freynes is survived by his wife, who is 42; daughter Rebecca Freynes Stanley; son Jonathan Freynes; and two granddaughters, Kayla and Jessica Stanley.