There was no online.
I suppose we saw flyers. Or read about it in The Old Mole (a short-lived Cambridge leftie newspaper of the time.) Or heard through the grapevine. Maybe it was announced at the October 15th Moratorium Day demonstration on the Boston Common.
But my friends and I knew about it. And we were going.
November 15, 1969. The Moratorium, an anti-Vietnam War demonstration that brought half a million largely peaceful protestors to Washington, DC.
In July of 1969, I’d had negative interest in going to Woodstock.
But I was sure going to Washington.
The first anti-war protest I saw was in April 1967, in New York City. I was on the sidewalk, watching, a high school senior on my first trip to The City. I remember that a lot of the marchers carried daffodils. And that, for my English class, I wrote a poem about it. I mentioned the daffodils, but the only line I remember is “Chanting their shibboleths: anti-war.” It was perhaps the only poem in the history of the English language that include the word shibboleth.
But in the fall of 1967, having spent the summer working in a combat boot factory (while my friend Marie worked in the office of a factory that made the M-16 rifles that were being used in Vietnam), I heard Howard Zinn speak.
I heard a lot of speakers that fall.
I went to hear Ayn Rand at Jordan Hall, and thought she was full of hooey.
Zinn, an anti-war activist and Boston University professor, I agreed with.
The Vietnam War didn’t seem to make a boatload of sense.
So there I was in the fall of 1969, with 100,000 others on Boston Common. I member the excitement when the large group of students marching down through Kenmore Square met up with the even larger contingent coming over the Mass Ave Bridge from Cambridge. On the Common, John Grady, Emmanuel’s wild-haired Sociology Professor, was, I believe, waving the anarchist flag.
There was at least one counter-demonstrator, Jozef Mlot-Mroz, also known as the Polish Freedom Fighter. I can still hear him screeching, in his heavy Polish accent, “International Communist-Jewish Conspiracy.” (Con-speer-AHHH-cy) And Brandeis Jews. (Jooooooos.)
And there I was, a few weeks later, heading over to the American Friends Service Committee in Cambridge, the Quaker organization that was sponsoring the buses to Washington. As best I remember,the tickets cost $9.50. Or thereabouts. It was definitely somewhere between $9 and $10 – not a trivial amount for me and my friends Joyce and Mary Beth, who were making minimum wage at our crummy (but fun) snack bar jobs.
I can’t remember what we carried. I think I had the Boy Scout knapsack that had belonged to my cousin Rob. I suppose we threw in a few sandwiches and candy bars, maybe some gloves. There was no such thing as bottled water. Maybe I brought the matching canteen.
The night before the March on Washington, we all gathered in front of the Unitarian Church in Harvard Square to wait for our buses. Me, Joyce, Mary Beth, MB’s boyfriend Stan, and a couple of our other MIT guy friends.
We waited and waited. There were rumors that the buses weren’t coming, that the drivers had refused to drive.
And then they began rolling in.
We were on bus 40-something.
I think that ours was a yellow school bus. (I checked with Joyce, and she doesn’t remember, but thought that sounded about right.) Uncomfortable seats. No toilet. I’m sure we stopped on the NJ Turnpike. But we made it to Washington by dawn, and parked alongside hundreds, maybe thousands, of buses that had pulled in from all over.
I remember little of the demonstration itself. We marched, and then collected on The Mall. I think Dr. Spock spoke. Peter Paul and Mary were there. Pete Seeger. We sang, “All We Are Saying, Is Give Peace a Chance.”
We ran into Bob, our bus driver, who had changed out of his bus driver uniform and was there actually participating in the rally with another driver in civvies.
And it was cold, brutally cold.
Joyce and I both had on pea coats that we’d gotten at Mickey Finn’s War Surplus. Only they weren’t war surplus. Real pea coats were made for sailors freezing on ships, and were built to keep the cold out. Ours were cheap knockoffs that were stylin’ but didn’t exactly keep us warm.
The rally was winding down, but we had a couple of hours until we needed to get back on our bus. So Joyce and I started looking for someplace to warm up. We made our way to some sort of discount store, and bought a couple of bright yellow blankets for $3 a piece. God knows what they were made out of, but after we’d huddled under them for a few minutes, our cheapo pea jackets were covered with cheapo yellow fuzz.
We headed over to the Justice Department, where many of the rally-ers had dispersed to. We got there just after the protestors had been tear-gassed. So we missed that.
The ride back to Boston took forever. It took nearly five hours to get to Baltimore Airport, which is about 30 miles north of DC.
Bob was getting tired, so the guys on the bus took turns sitting next to him to keep him awake. Every few minutes, we all yelled, “Bob, stay awake.” At one point I think he let someone spell him. Hopefully, it wasn’t one of the guys passing around a flask of Southern Comfort. Between the exhaustion, the unpadded seats, the combination of too much heat and radiant freezing from the windows, and – I don’t remember but I’m quite sure occurred – smoking, it was pretty uncomfortable. Not getting shot at in a rice paddy uncomfortable, but uncomfortable enough. But the Southern Comfort was what got to me. Just the smell – I passed on taking a swig. I pressed my face against the cold window and tried to zone out. I didn’t want to have to ask Bob (or whoever was driving at that point) if he could pull over so I could puke.
For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been watching the Ken Burns documentary on the war on PBS. (More on that some time next week.)
When they showed the November 1969 Moratorium March on Washington, I searched the crowds, looking for a couple of 20 year olds with long straight hair and pea jackets that weren’t yet covered with yellow fuzz. I texted Joyce. She’d been looking for us, too.
That was nearly 50 year ago.
All we were saying was give peace a chance…
And then, six months later, they were shooting at us, cutting down the students, the protestors. (Four dead in Ohio…)