In 1966, at age 14, when I was a freshman in high-school, I took Latin and found out Anti meant against. I made up the word Antiwar. I said to the teacher and the class, “I am antiwar.” They told me there was no such word and I told them, “I know. I just made it up.” The teacher told me no one would use it. It was a nonsense word. After I explained it to the teacher and the class the teacher said, “No one will use it,” and added, “Everyone is Antiwar.” I answered, “If everyone is antiwar, we wouldn’t have wars.” She told me to never use that word because she thought it was un-American.
I designed the peace sign, something I had worked on for several weeks after I made up the word antiwar, and I had kids hold up two fingers in a V and I told them that that gesture symbolized peace. I had seen newsreels of people holding up their fingers that way when World War II ended. I found out later that it was a symbol for victory, but I had surmised that it meant peace. I drew my peace signs wherever I could and wrote the word peace under it so people would know what it was. I taught other kids how to draw the sign. I had everyone in my high school greet each other with the V finger peace sign. My Latin teacher told me to quit doing that and asked if I was a communist.
Soon after I made up the word, Antiwar, I joined a singing group at the local college called Up with People. The college was 40% larger than before the draft. I knew there were boys who went to college to avoid the draft so I thought up using College campaigning and decided that was where I would hold an Anti War rally. No one had heard the word antiwar, so they weren’t sure what I meant.
I picked a day, and every time I was on the college campus I told the students there was going to be an antiwar rally on that day. The day came and I walked over a mile carrying oak tag, paints and narrow pieces of lumber and some of the students brought their own signs. I made up signs and slogans – ‘Make love, Not war’ ‘War is not Healthy for babies and other Living Things.’ ‘Leave Vietnam,’ ‘Send our troops home’ and the best one – ’the Whole World is Watching.’ I thought by pointing out that the US was in an unjust Police State, that would help stop the war. I knew that Europe was none too happy with us, and the rest of the world didn’t like us for being the aggressor. The rally made the newspapers. For the first time in the history of the US, regular people began questioning why we were in a Civil War half a world away.
The idea of antiwar caught on like it was a fire. Kids on college campuses began holding antiwar rallies. The government started saying that antiwar was un-American. Citizens questioning their government was to be considered subversive. That didn’t stop the rallies. Then a warning came that if people held antiwar rallies the government would consider them outside the law. The government would use military force if necessary. A college in Ohio decided to hold a rally regardless of the consequences. They were warned that if there was any violence the National Guard would be called in to stop it. There had never been any violence at any antiwar rally previous to this one so it seemed an empty threat. The National Guard didn’t wait to be called in, they were there the morning of the rally. Since I was the one who got the ball rolling, and got people to question the legality of the police state, the Moocs brought me to the Kent State Rally so I would be an example as to what would happen to college students protesting the war. I was in the parking lot walking toward the rally when I heard gunshots. I felt something sting the side of my face and I could hear it cut away some of my hair and ear. There were a few more shots. At first, I looked around to see where the shots came from but then saw that a girl was shot dead. I knelt down next to her and called for help. One of the boys who came to help had been shot as well. I found out recently I had been targeted for starting the antiwar movement by *John Alexander, who was the shooter.
I had been brought to Kent State of Ohio because they were having an anti-war rally and they had military men there ready to kill students because they didn’t want college kids protesting. The men in the shadows thought if they killed me that would stop the movement. It’s a miracle I wasn’t killed. The antiwar people were blessed on the side of righteousness because the murders at Kent State had the opposite effect. If the government wants to kill its own people, I surmised, I must be right, we were in an unjust war.
So at age 16 or 17, my picture was on the cover of newspapers for kneeling and screaming next to the girl who was killed at Kent State. The actions the government took that day horrified the nation and people who had previously thought the antiwar movement was something kids should not be involved in, began to move slowly into a state of oblivion when it came to war. Parents began to think twice about sending their boys to the military. Adults, too, began asking the question, “What are we fighting for?”
After three years of war and protesting, I went to College at the University of Maryland, just up the road from DC. When I was a freshman in college there were many protests in Washington DC. Many other people had taken up the torch of Peace and I didn’t have a hand in planning any of those rallies. The only antiwar rally I planned had been that first one at Montclair State and the one to come on May 3rd. It was always important to get permits or there was a chance of being arrested. The Beach Boys showed up at one protest to show their solidarity with us. They took out their instruments and began to play so my friends and I left because they didn’t have a permit for a concert, only for the gathering. Sure enough, police in riot gear showed up to make arrests. The riot gear was completely unnecessary. Then on April 24 there was a massive protest on the DC Mall, between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. I was asked to speak and only spoke for a few minutes when my microphone was turned off. I was handed another microphone and that one was turned off and then I saw a military person turn off the whole electric supply, which I was pretty sure was illegal. I knew there was another protest on May 1 so I thought what if we had those people stay until May 3, and not get a permit, and stop traffic? Things would have been better for everyone if they had let me speak.
I told people of the press because I wanted everyone to know that I wanted to stop traffic in Washington. I wanted to be clear that if you came to that antiwar protest that you could be arrested. The press did an excellent job of getting the word out and once again the National Guard was called in. The people who worked in Washington decided to stay home. All or most of the businesses in Washington were closed. No one wanted to drive in Washington DC if protesters were going to shut down traffic, traffic in DC was bad enough on Mondays.
All before this, Nixon had been told by his advisors that there were only a handful of dirty hippies who were protesting. All the man had to do was look out his front window to see what was really going on, but he never did. He thought it would be 100 kids trying to stop traffic and they could just arrest them all. He told everyone if they hit a protester who was stopping traffic they would not be charged. He told the Military to arrest the protesters. The military person in charge knew better, and without ever declaring Martial Law, he gave an order to arrest anyone between the ages of 15 and 30 on the streets and on the sidewalks on May 3rd.
This is where I feel that I am blessed. What happened was, the National Guard got hold of school buses, since schools were closed, and use them as Paddy wagons and they drove around arresting everyone on the sidewalks between the ages of 15 and 30. I never did see anyone on the streets. When I was arrested my friends and I were walking along the sidewalk to see if there was some place to get breakfast. I asked what the charge was and the officer replied, “Eating a banana.”
So what ended up happening was far, far better than anything I could’ve expected or hoped for, like a miracle, really. No one got hurt, but, I believe somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,000 people got arrested. So many people that we filled the Red Skins practice field and the Armory. It was a gigantic wake-up call to the White House that war had to end.
We had effectively shut down Washington DC for a day. It was almost magical watching the empty streets and the traffic lights cycle through red, green, yellow with no cars at all to respond. The businesses who decided they had to shut down for the day were angry, but not at the protesters. They were angry that these protests had continued for so long with no response from the government. Business leaders began asking, “What are we fighting for?”
Nixon realized that he had been lied to and decided to de-escalate.
Never underestimate the power of The Force.
*See the tabs at the top of my blog for information on John Alexander.