I was thinking about past anti-war demonstrations I've participated in as I made the short drive to Poulsbo, Washington today. Motoring along in bright sunshine through cathedrals of Doug fir, hemlock, and cedar, I concluded it had been 44 years since my last demo, at Stop the Draft Week in Oakland, 1967.
My memory was faulty -- that happens a lot these days -- but in this case I know why. There were thousands of us on the streets of Oaktown that day, fully expecting to be charged and clobbered by the Oakland cops, many of whom were recruited to the OPD from the deep South. They were younger men who loved hippie punching, and many of them were looking forward to a repeat of the action two days previous, when a line of Oakland's finest charged the crowd, which was attempting to block access to the Oakland Induction Center, and scattered it with flailing clubs, leaving blood, broken eyeglasses, hair, and a few injured bodies in their wake.
But even a conservative police chief has to remember that public relations demands one abstain from unnecessary brutality, and the press is always watching. People all over the US were outraged by film of the Police attacking demonstrators. When the crowd swelled to about 4 thousand by late afternoon, We were surprised to see the line of cops back off. I was near the front, and for the next couple of hours no one came or went through the Induction Center's main door, since (I later learned) demonstrators on streets a block away had barricaded the buses full of draftees from approaching the Center.
Then, late in the afternoon, down the street comes the California National Guard, with bayonets fixed. Many of us had been there since before dawn, and prudently decided to call it a day.
As I drove home on this calm and bright Saturday afternoon, it occurred to me that I've been to several such events since 1967, but they were all sedate affairs compared to the '67 rising. The liveliest one was the most recent, 8 years ago in Seattle, and I wrote it up for the other blog, newser style.
Today's march and demo was a placid affair, consisting of a mile-plus march along the side of the road from the Ground Zero organization's site to the Bangor Trident Submarine base. Arriving at the base, I noticed that the leaders of ground zero are on cordial terms with the police -- in this case the State Patrol -- and that the cops knew exactly how this would go. There were maybe 50 people in this demonstration, and half a dozen of us got cited for attempting to block traffic in a choreographed sort of interlude, (I was one) although there was precious little to traffic to block, and we were into, and out of the street before anyone's progress into or out of the base was interfered with.
Nearly all the demonstrators were over 50, and the organizational leadership is all 60 or more. I heard one leader noting the cost of printing leaflets, and remarked to myself that "leaflet" sounds awfully 20th century. These are solid people -- the kind you'd meet at a Universalist-Unitarian Church, and I'll bet there's quite a lot of overlap there -- and the organization is characterized by the same careful politeness, attention to protocol, and scrupulous commitment to non-violence as any UU church. I liked everyone I met, and I met quite a few.
However, 50 people turning out at the Trident base to protest nuclear weapons is pretty sad. The leaders say they want more young people at these things, but do they? I could probably recruit a couple hundred young, hoody-clad, unemployed 20-somethings to show up, but they would be hard to control. Even if they behave immaculately on that occasion, the youth of America these days are dangerous and unpredictable, because they have nothing to lose. The leaders of Ground Zero, if such a thing was to happen next year, would quickly find themselves on the WSP's shit list.
I've been in the habit of writing once a week lately, but tomorrow, I'd like tell why I think next year's 70th anniversary of the doomsday bomb at the Trident nuclear sub base is so extremely important to this country.
Photo © Dave B.,a.k.a. Catboxer 2009, 2014.