Vietnam War Protests

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My friend Ellouise wanted me to record some of the tumultuous ’70s, the marches, conferences, demonstrations . . . mostly about the war in Vietnam, but also Women’s and Civil Rights.  Coverage of the War in Vietnam brought violent images of war to our attention, whether we wanted to see it or not.  My own moment of awareness was reading of an effort to provide medical care for children burned with napalm and realizing that a better effort would be to stop burning children with napalm.

Patched Jeans in College015

We were so young, so energetic, so idealistic and determined to make the world better. Male friends waited out the results of the draft lottery and then made plans, to enlist, object, or move to Canada if they couldn’t face “killing people halfway across the world.”  I don’t remember ever discussing the dangers to themselves . . . that invincibility of youth, perhaps, but as a friend remarked later about the many single women my age, “You sent your husbands to Vietnam.”

Most of the demonstrations in Minneapolis/St. Paul were actually well-organized with legal parade permits, not a publicized fact, but a fair and orderly expression of the right of assembly.  The usual route was from the U of Minnesota campus, through downtown to Loring Park.  Once we were told that we’d have to move to the sidewalks as we passed through downtown.  We weren’t sure it was going to work, moving masses of demonstrators onto sidewalks,  At the appointed intersection, police dogs were on hand to make sure we got out of the street, and we meekly moved to sidewalks.

After the Kent State shootings, we planned a longer march from the U of M to the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul.  St. Paul had more conservative rules, requiring six months’ notice for planned demonstrations.  I was asked to present our plans. * I remember telling them that of course we’d have given six-months notice if we had known . . . or if we had known, perhaps we could have prevented the tragedy, but we didn’t know.  People would be marching, but we’d like to help make it orderly and safe.  I was asked to assure them that we wouldn’t be drinking (10 a.m. march) or littering (of course not, we loved the planet, too), and I added that we planned to have first aid providers as well, in case of blisters.  We must have seemed responsible and determined; we got the permit.

It is true that spring demonstrations on campus were often extra-large as the warm weather drew people who didn’t want to go inside for class anyway.  However, we also stood vigil in the winter, even in the early morning as our friends appeared at the federal building to answer the summons of the draft board.  “We shall not be moved” took on an added dimension with the half-fear that we’d be frozen to the spot, and one must be very careful using a bullhorn in -20 degree weather.

The long bus rides, to New York or Washington D.C., were amazing experiences of working together for a cause, having adventures and enduring hardships.  I learned to bring homemade granola, better for a traveler’s stomach, and the young can sleep anywhere, on the long bus ride, on church floors.  One chilly day we asked the guard at the Smithsonian if we’d be allowed in for a while to warm up.  “Of course,” he replied.  “It’s YOUR museum, after all.”

The year my hippy friends tried to levitate the Pentagon, and SDS provoked tear gas near the White House, our busses decided their contract did not include waiting through mayhem.  We looked for our bus back to U of M, when we heard a friend calling, “St. Paul.”  — close enough!  He informed us that if he found all his people, there wouldn’t be room for us, but I knew in my heart he would not abandon us, and we made it home . . .

On one trip, we were joined by an older woman, a Quaker perhaps, probably around my current age, which of course seemed ancient to my young self.  Asked how she maintained the energy to do so much, she replied that it “helps to choose your ancestors wisely.”

These recollections are blurred by time, and I didn’t keep a journal.  I rather wish I had the FBI’s records to consult, as they seemed to have kept good track of us, but they seem to have put a freeze on all SWP and YSA files.

  • I was recognized as one of our more diplomatic members.  One semester someone had painted “Free the Eight” (perpetrators of a draft board office break-in) on a campus building. It was quickly cleaned off, but then someone painted “Hang the Eight” and it stayed up for several days, infuriating us every time we saw it.  Finally, I shushed everyone in the antiwar office and called campus maintenance.  In my very sweetest voice, I shared my distress at this blemish on my campus and my concern that my parent’s (ficticious) visit would be spoiled by seeing it.  He pointed out the “other” graffiti, “Oh, yes.  Your people did a wonderful job of cleaning that up, but this has been there for DAYS . . . and it’s just so ugly.”  After I hung up, my friends laughed at me, and one called me a sell-out for not launching into a tirade, but I was after results, and Mom had taught me about getting “more flies with honey.”  When we left the office, workers were already scrubbing away the “Hang the Eight” graffiti.
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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Vikki Thompson
    Apr 25, 2014 @ 04:13:20

    Just stopping by from the A-Z Challeneg list to say “Hi” and well done for getting this far! Good luck with the rest of the challenge…we’re on the home stretch!

    Great post 🙂 xx

    Reply

  2. ellouise schoettler
    Apr 25, 2014 @ 17:51:02

    Love this piece about your efforts for peace, Mary. You do tell a story that brings that time to life again. Thank you for capturing and sharing these memories. I feel richer for reading your experience.

    Reply

  3. storytellermary
    Apr 25, 2014 @ 22:15:44

    Thanks for your kind words and for the nudge to write it down . . . ❤

    Reply

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