Monday, October 13, 2003
Just ran across a copy of a letter written to a dear friend long ago. It also involves bullhorns, as I recall. It involved the demonstrations at the Oakland Induction Center, one of the turning points in the anti-war movement of the Seventies:
Mr. Robin King
Radio Station KNEW
San Francisco, CA
I'm extremely tired tonight. I guess the old term is "soul weary."
Bob, my 17 year-old, is caught up in the dilemma of the draft. He was among the demonstrators on Monday and again on Wednesday. As he told his Dean upon returning to school on Tuesday (after having cut classes), "I'm facing the draft in another 6 months. There are lots of things that I need to learn in order to make my decision about that -- maybe the decision of my life. There's nothing here in school to help me to do that -- my answers were out there in the streets ... I had to go." The Dean (rather untypically, I thought), was very understanding and admitted that, were he in Bob's place, he would surely have done the same. No disciplinary action.
On Wednesday, I joined the demonstrators (after the melee of Tuesday, I had to go). It was interesting and frightening. You know that courage in battle is not one of my strong points, and, for all the words we use to justify actions once taken (when they're controversial); when the evidence is in, I was really there taking my risks in support of Bob; a tiny piece of the whole of this war is all I can really grasp.
I did meet a few people there whom I knew; Clinton White, Attorney for the NAACP standing with U.S. Attorney Cecil Poole ("Brotha" Poole) and a small group of black leaders. In my view, standing on the wrong side. They peered at me out of the corners of their eyes for a few minutes and then I walked up to them and re-introduced myself. Two were old acquaintances. I imagine that they thought I was an observer, too.
While I stood with them, a young man passed by with an old hat extended and a plea for funds for bail for those jailed on the two previous days. I, grandly, reached into my purse and tossed in a ten dollar bill. I really needed that money for an errand I was going to do before returning to Walnut Creek. Never had ten dollars bought such a feeling! I stepped back to them just in time to see another young man (Negro) recognize Brother Poole, call "someone bring me some fire," and watched as he burned his draft card but two feet away from where we were standing. This was scary. His face was contorted, his eyes had a strange look (drugs?), and it seemed for just an instant, that there was no sanity on either side. I wanted to look away. I couldn't.
At just this moment, a crowd began to run around the corner to the other side of the Induction Center. I joined them, and, as we rounded the corner, I could see the police marching in formation behind a paddy wagon moving toward the side entrance. The protesters formed a marching picket line. Together we marched and sang and yelled and prayed while the police gathered up those who were blocking the doorway.
In all, I was there for about three hours, singing "We shall Not Be Moved," hearing heroic stories of the day before, sharing in the bravery (which it was possible to "catch", even for a soul as timid as I) and witnessed the arrests of ordinary people, valiant youngsters ... Saw clerical collars, nuns in their habits and wimples, and academic stoles. There was a contingent of youngsters from Berkeley High School -- complete with banners, and accompanied by a young Episcopal priest, sitting in at one of the entrances. Saw a young man cry as he loudly pleaded with a busload of inductees not to go! I yelled "Hell no, don't go!" along with the rest and I meant it way down in my soul.
Looked into the faces of the Oakland Police Department ... now that is an experience. I know that these men are someone's next door neighbor .. that they put up Christmas trees, love their mothers ... but I witnessed the strangest phenomenon. Do you know that garage on the corner (the one from which they emerge with each new crisis or when a new busload of inductees is arriving? And when they -- in greater numbers than I'd ever seen in one place -- come out in formation, carrying clubs with that facelessness that by now has become a part of the uniform ... all of comparable size ... identically uniformed ... standing at arms length in rows along the gutter in full riot gear. I knew that were I to step off the curb... just step off quickly ...I would be struck ... me. There was a law that I was breaking (though I'm no longer sure which one that is). Soldiers, our marines, cutting off the ears of the enemy in the war,.. souvenirs and I could be struck for stepping off the curb -- if I moved in any way, interfered with the job at hand ... .
I heard a young man shout ... "Here they come again, out of the Cop Factory! They snap 'em together in there."
Robin, I laughed. It was absurdly true. They seemed completely dehumanized. I had the wild feeling that these men were so conditioned that one could almost imagine some giant Wizard at a master switch down in the bowels of that garage, an activating switch of some kind ... .
On the way home I suddenly felt my blood run cold. It dawned on me that this was the way it would be with my lovely gentle poet Bobby. That here was the missing piece, so obvious as to get lost in the hysteria of war. Because I am so awed by the Vietnam scholars, the great debaters, the arguments pro and con, "to escalate," to "de-escalate," "to withdraw," "extend the bombing," "the infiltration of commies within the ranks of the peaceniks," all irrelevant.
I'm certain that there are as many reasons for being here as there are protestors, contrary to those who believe that we who protest are controlled by some foreign element, subversive or otherwise.
Speaking for me. I'm here to stop the "Soldier Factory." I realized while driving down the highway tonight that this was why I couldn't ever equate the smiling joyfilled faces of returning cleancut GIs, being met by loving young wives and children (as viewed on TV) and the other film-clips; the ones showing the atrocities committed against "Charlie," the killing and maiming of civilians in the name of "freedom and justice for all!"
These kids were all "Bobs" and as unable to see themselves in the role of killer, in some cases, less than a year ago. It's the same as the "Cop Factory." These are loving fathers and husbands, good neighbors. Conditioning of the sort that must be experienced in order to produce those inhuman creatures must be stopped. Both sides are right in their descriptions of these men; both man and beast. These people marching and sitting-in -- at some level -- know this. They're aware that "There but by the grace of God go I". This is why the young man cried "Hell no, Don't go!"
I now know why I will go back. Yes, even tomorrow when violence is expected. Scared? Yes. Paralyzed? No. My Bob is another Johnny; musket, carbine, M-1, what's the difference. After a trip to the Soldier Factory, he will accept just as millions before him have, down through all of time -- that this is right -- in order to save the world. These young people know this.
I'm an ordinary middle-aged wife and mother. I've seen for myself. I've no more doubts. Anyone with an ounce of integrity left must act, and now, if any of us is to be saved.
Why this letter? Tonight as I was driving home from one of my endless trips to deliver kids, I happened to tune in to KNEW (didn't know that you were with the station). You were just beginning to read from a piece by Henry David Thoreau. I parked beside the road and listened to conclusion. Felt so moved. Wondered if you knew how those of us who have been on the line have needed just that? I felt soothed. Bathed in the silence of the night for awhile. Started the car up again and came home to write this note. Our friendship has known many fine moments, friend, but tonight was a special time. The more meaningful because I could take this familiar voice as a personal message, just to me, but at the same time to know that there are others out there who, like me, will be comforted by the love and conviction in your voice. It was one of your finest hours,
I do so love you, friend