Chapter 22: At United Parcel Service and Queens College, 1969 (vii)
In November 1969, there was another large anti-war demo scheduled for Washington, D.C. At a pre-demo planning meeting on the weekend before this mid-November mass gathering, I noticed Mark. The meeting was well-attended and was being held inside the Washington Square Methodist “Peace” Church. It was the first time I had noticed Mark since the early summer demonstration at JFK Airport which had greeted Nelson Rockefeller, following Rockefeller’s Latin American tour.
Mark really looked like a wild hippie now. His hair was longer than it had ever been and he was again bearded. He also now wore a cowboy hat and he seemed like he was stoned. Because Mark and the other Weatherman men had been beardless and short-haired only a month before, during the “Days of Rage,” at first I did not realize that Mark was attending this meeting, because I did not recognize him. Mark did not bother to speak at this meeting and, after observing the meeting briefly, Mark walked out in the middle of the meeting. So I did not get a chance to exchange thoughts with him at this time.
The November 1969 D.C. anti-war protest was attended by large numbers of both anti-imperialist youth and by youth who were simply anti-war. Weathermen with motorcycle helmets on their heads also showed up in D.C.
On a Friday night during this weekend, just before a Weatherman march from DuPont Circle to the South Vietnamese government’s embassy was scheduled to begin, I bumped into Nancy and Gus in a Movement center at George Washington University. Preparing for this demo in the same room, and wearing a motorcycle helmet, was Dave. Dave smiled at me in a friendly way. And, after he left the Movement center for the DuPont Circle Weather “kick ass” demo, Nancy rolled her eyes at me and grimaced; indicating that she felt that Dave and the other Weatherman had really flipped out by coming to D.C. with their helmets and their super-militancy.
A few minutes later, curious about what would happen when the Weathermen confronted the D.C. police at DuPont Circle in their Weather affinity groups, I left the Movement center and headed up toward DuPont Circle. When I got there, the D.C. cops had begun to use tear-gas and clubs on the anti-war demonstrators. Weather or Yippie affinity groups were either fleeing or regrouping on the various side streets that formed a spoke around DuPont Circle. As they retreated or regrouped, the Weather or Yippie affinity groups heaved rocks through store windows and then quickly ran to other streets in order to continue the nighttime trashing, in response to the D.C. cops breaking up a peaceful anti-war march before it was even able to start marching.
After a few hours of running away from clubbing D.C. cops and police cars which had sirens blaring—and trying to avoid inhaling too much of the air that was filled with the stench of tear gas—I ended up spending the night in a D.C. church; uncomfortably stretched out in a room crowded with sleeping anti-war demonstrators, between a church wall and a bohemian anti-war artsy woman in her late 20s.
The following morning, 500,000 anti-war demonstrators gathered on the grass near the Washington Monument to protest the War, while Nixon watched a football game and pretended to ignore the crowd. Less than 5 years before, only 30,000 anti-war demonstrators had gathered at this same spot, indicating to what degree the rising body count in Viet Nam had turned U.S. public opinion against the government’s war policy. Most of the 1969 demonstrators were white left-liberal middle-class youth who were neither consciously anti-imperialist nor militantly anti-racist. Most of the November 1969 anti-war crowd was still largely into the kind of hip capitalist pacifism that John Lennon had expressed in his “All We Are Saying, Is Give Peace A Chance” song, which the crowd sang in unison.
The Yippies and other hard-core Chicago 8 supporters were more radical and militant than either the white middle-class pacifist youth or the SWP and CP left-opportunists and peace movement bureaucrats who had organized the demo. The pacifist, SWP and CP bureaucrats acted like cops while marshalling the demo, in order to discourage any kind of spontaneous civil disobedience or militant street actions.
Dave Dellinger, however, managed to announce a post-rally militant march to protest the fascist repression that was being legally implemented at the Chicago 8 Conspiracy Trial, but which had not been mentioned by any of the day’s previous speechmakers. So, despite the opposition of the big rally’s marshals, about 10,000 of us started to march to the Justice Department building, demanding that Bobby Seale be free and the criminal conspiracy charges against the Chicago 8 be dropped.
After we had gathered outside the Justice Department building for about 5 minutes, chanting “Free Bobby Now! Free Bobby Now!”, the D.C. cops broke up our demo by shooting a heavy dose of tear gas on the crowd. People retreated rapidly from the building and, within a few hours, were heading back out of D.C. in buses or in cars. Once again, the limits of non-violent militant street protest were demonstrated. As long as we had no effective weapons to use against their tear gas, it did not matter how militant or how numerous we were in our political confrontations with the Warfare State on the street.
After the sun had been down for a few hours, I was offered a ride back to New York City by a young couple in love, a few blocks from the Capitol. A few weeks later, the guy mailed me a postcard saying that, as a result of our discussion in the car, he and his woman friend had decided not to postpone any longer splitting from their parents and moving down to Florida to set up house together.
People changed their lives rapidly in the ‘60s and people drifted into and out of each other’s life rapidly in the ‘60s, in a spontaneous, yet intense way. The combination of the immediate draft threat, the repression from the cops and being high on pot most of the time seemed to produce this readiness to make quick, spontaneous moves.
James and the Twenty-Seven Bicycles
10 years ago