Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Occupy DC -- April-May 1971

Amazing what you can find on the internet.  This video is from the first national peace march I went to on April 24, 1971. I was fifteen -- I went on a bus from Philadelphia organized by the Student Mobilization Committee with a 16-year-old girl I really liked (more than she liked me) and her very cool parents, leaving Philly very early in the morning and coming back that night.
I vividly remember Peter, Paul, & Mary taking the stage that day (I didn't know from my vantage point that they had been joined by the less cool John Denver) and singing Dylan's "Blowing in the Wind" and Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance". They brought a connection to a famous earlier march in 1963 that made a very strong impression on this young peacenik.

This mass march on the weekend was only part of a much bigger couple of weeks in late April and early May that bore more than a passing resemblance to the current Occupy movement. In the days before the mass march, the Vietnam Veterans Against the War  conducted their "limited incursion into the country of Congress" that included camping, demonstrations, throwing medals back over the walls around the Capitol, and Lt. John Kerry's famous testimony in front of the Winter Soldier Investigations -- "How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake?" -- that announced this young veteran as a political figure on the national stage.
The days after the mass march saw planned acts of civil disobedience around the Capitol by the Mayday Tribe that led to the arrest of over 13,000 people between May 1 and May 4 (one year after four were killed by the National Guard at Kent State). These events deserve a larger space in our collective memory.  The public reaction against the mass arrests is one of the many events in the late sixties and early seventies that helped turn the mass of the American people against the war in Vietnam.  I wanted to be one of those Mayday demonstrators blocking avenues, running from tear gas, and being penned up with my fellow radicals behind fences around RFK Stadium. I guess I understand now why my parents didn't let a high school sophomore take that extra step.  I'm glad they let me take the bus for the one-day demonstration. It was one of the highlights of my life.
Thanks for sharing this moment of nostalgia with me.

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