RESISTANCE: BOSTON STYLE
Monday, October 16, a young mother nursed her baby during a service at the Arlington Street Church. 67 draft cards were burned at the altar; another 281 were given to the clergy, to be returned to the warmakers in Washington. 5000 people on Boston Common declared themselves for life and freedom, and against the laws which force the many to die for the anti-human ambitions of the maniac few. Boston joined 40 other cities to inaugurate a national week of resistance to the annihilation of Vietnam by the United States Government.
The police were there, of course, about a hundred strong, with motorcycles, horses, dogs, and mute hostility. Their only action was the removal of the Polish Freedom Fighter, who stationed himself and his sign (Oppose Anarchy in the U.S.) directly behind the speakers' microphone and punctuated the speeches with war slogans. But their show of power and numbers was a good reminder that the war machine is huge and faceless and everywhere, and we are small and weak.
But we are growing. The coalition of people on the Common which signified and celebrated the shift from movement to resistance was amazing. it represented a simultaneous escalation of militancy and respectability: a mass commitment to illegality in the sanctuary of the church. An alliance of ministers. professors. and assorted over-30 professionals with all shades of students, political radicals, veterans, and social revolutionaries (sometimes called hippies). (Note to FBI: I couldn't find a single Communist Agitator: did you have any luck?) One question: where were the blacks?
Many speeches detailing the past crap and the present shit the government expels for our consumption. fitting food for animals sells to slaughter. Good wishes for the Vietnamese forces fighting to literate their country. And hanging over everything. the difficult recognition that there is a right side and a wrong side to this war. and we Americans are on the wrong side. and if we left it would end very quickly. and the Vietnamese would win it.
The job of the Resistance is to revive our own Revolution. so pitifully unfulfilled. and extend its message everywhere there is subjugation of one nation or race by another to raise the rights of people above the laws of rulers. On the Common handfulls of redneck teenagers clustered to cry "Treason!" and "Traitors!" and old men who had fought Hitler told them they should be fighting Johnson. An old Greek informed them his country has lost all freedom. while their country keeps its Sixth Fleet offshore. Standing guard.
One fellow carried a sign reading "Draft the Draft-Dodgers Yea LBJ." A woman stood silently holding her sign to tell you: "LBJ Killed My Son." And another sign asked you a very haunting and very revolutionary question: "WHAT IF THEY GAVE A WAR AND NOBODY CAME?"
Around the periphery of the crowd a few resistors tried desperately to communicate with the fringe of onlookers, to find a way to cut through blind chauvinism, white racism, the domino theory, misinformation, and aggressive fear of the yellowish-red menace.
Meanwhile we listened to Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, other academics and several ministers all quite safe from the draft openly pledge support of the resistors' direct confrontation with Selective Service. Nick Egleson, past president of SDS, spoke of the turning point in the movement and the difficult search for identity of the new American radical. Ray Mungo, ex-BU-rabble-rouser-turned-respectable-Harvard-graduate-student, harangued the crowd briefly and to the point, inviting everyone to join him in this necessary treason, if that was what it was. Someone reminded us of Thoreau's reply when asked, "Henry, what are you doing in there?" Henry said: "What are you doing out there?"
Then a long, slow walk off the Common, down Tremont and Boylston to the Arlington Street Church. Hardly lighthearted, but not without a quiet, solemn gladness and a tremendous sense of solidarity. Office workers in shirtsleeves and mascara lined the windows and shrugged. A woman crossing the street asked a cop, "Why don't you send them all back to Cambridge?" His answer: "Oh, they're from all over." Horns honked and traffic tied up a little; Boston got a tiny bit annoyed. I wondered if the horns would still honk and the people still shrug if napalm and fragmentation bombs suddenly came out of the sky.
The specially planned "service of conscience and acceptance" had a conventional format but rather a new content for modern America. The main address, "Church and Synagogue: Sanctuary of Conscience," was from Rev. William Sloane Coffin of Yale. Everyone stressed that a fundamental implication of saying No to the government was a larger and deeper Yes to greater principles of humanity. And that we have just begun the fight. 348 draft cards surrendered were more than most people were willing to predict. Evidently the service inspired many who thought they had come only to watch.
Along Boylston St. I saw a girl watching the marchers go by, looking for her friends. She spotted some and called out, "Where's Richard?" The answer was: "Richard went to history class." Meanwhile, history was marching in the streets.
The new American Revolution is still in its infancy; it is our fight, and the fronts are everywhere, not just in Vietnam or at the Pentagon. Boston is dangerously close to institutionalizing racism in City Hall. The Cambridge City council is dominated by fascistic mindlessness. Your freedom is threatened in your own home; your government threatens the whole world. What are you going to do about it? Come on, Richard, get out of history class.Skip Ascheim