As the war escalated in Vietnam, opposition to it escalated on campus. On December 1, 1966 a student strike was called. According to a chronology from the Free Speech Movement Archives website, five thousand students boycotted classes to protest Navy recruitment on campus. What I remember protesting as much as the fact of the recruiting was the use of police to protect it. Aside from the Free Speech Movement, there had been no use of non-campus police until that semester. I have been unable to document that assertion and can only state that I remember angry outcries from my fellow anthro students at the presence of police on campus, outcries that would have been different it if had happened before.
The only document I can offer is a mimeographed copy of a letter dated December 8, 1966, and written by my fellow museum worker, Pat McKim, from my own files, castigating the timidity of all but three anthro professors in protesting the use of police on campus. Excerpts from that letter are an indication of the level of wrath to be found on campus, since one can well imagine that similar letters may have been floating around other departments on campus as well:
In response to the recent crisis on this campus have come two resolutions put forth by members of the Anthropology Department. I have affixed my signature to that statement signed by Professors Berreman, Benedict and Potter. However, it is with the resolution signed by eighteen of the faculty of this department that I wish to express–in terms more explicit than the minority statement–my extreme dissatisfaction.
The point expressed first in the statement, dealing with the “disruptive” effect of police on campus, is to be applauded–but with the left hand only, for there is no mention whatsoever of concern for anyone or anything, save “the academic atmosphere necessary for our [my emphasis] work….” There is no expression of concern for the students (and non-students) arrested for protesting the use, without student sanction, of student facilities by military recruiters.
In the next sentence, there is no indication of feeling that the presence of police was morally unjustified, but that it was simply “playing into the hands of irresponsible persons…seeking confrontation…” There cannot possibly be any chance of misinterpretation on my part, since the very next sentence underlines this attitude by calling the administration’s actions “an error of judgement.” This whole point of view is a gross insult to the intelligence of the students.
… It would seem unbelievable that, in view of the administration’s repression of student political activity in the past two years, intelligent and world-renowned scholars could possibly interpret the events of Nov. 30 (and after) as being the work of “irresponsible persons…seeking a confrontation.”
Or is it so incredible? The resolution, as shown before, expresses nothing but a selfish concern for order on the part of the signers. It furthermore betrays a lack of concern for their students. . . .it betrays a lack of human concern and human commitment to the problems which face us all today. It is a lack bred, I feel, by a total commitment to a world of sterile academic research, where value judgements are worthless because all values are relative; where no view of human culture which cannot double as an analytical tool is acceptable. Is it not ironic that it calls itself the Study of Man?
You may think my rhetoric extreme, but ours are terrible times–times which demand not only commitment to reason, but also and equally to passion. I realize that this letter is less reasonable than passionate, and that is my intention. But your resolution reflects neither reason nor passion. Instead, it documents no more than a failure of nerve.
A potent image for me of just exactly how emotional things had become is what happened to me one day at choir practice. One of my most vivid memories of protest in Berkeley, this one was so distorted by emotion that it has only been through historical research that I have been able to associate it with the class boycott over military recruitment on campus. For decades, it has stood alone in my memory as a vignette demonstrating the way the political tensions on campus affected every aspect of student life, for many students, even for those least involved. I did not remember which protest it was connected to and was only able to reconstruct it by consulting my carefully preserved transcripts from Berkeley.
In the Fall semester of 1966, I was taking University Chorus for the second time, fulfilling my humanities requirement by doing something I loved to do—sing in choirs. This was a mild surprise for some of my activist anthropology friends, who had previously informed me that the Music Department contained some of the most conservative professors on campus. But, to me, music is music and one can almost always sing, even with Republicans. The first semester, the chorus had performed innocuous single chorus pieces, accompanied by piano, but my second semester featured a much larger and more serious project, Verdi’s Requiem Mass, performed by both orchestra and chorus.
By late November, we had learned all the music and were polishing up the rough spots. Rehearsal was in the afternoon. I was in the first soprano section. I came to class directly from the rally on November 30. We were supposed to be boycotting classes, but I had resolved not to boycott my choir class, being motivated by a performance ethic that the show must go on. I could not, in good conscience, remove myself from the soprano section so close to the performance at the end of the semester. My other classes did not require my individual attendance and I could hold up my grades in those classes without actually attending them. My chorus grade relied entirely on my attendance record and I certainly did not want to fail the class, but I also had worked very hard to master the difficult music and wanted the experience of performing it with the full orchestra. Sorry, guys, I’m not going to give that up. I kept this resolution to myself.
However, so convincing had been the speakers at the rally that rumors had flown around that some classes had been canceled in response to the boycott. I went to class with my heart still pounding from the demonstration, torn between loyalty to the chorus and loyalty to the antiwar movement, and with no guidance on what to expect in the Music Department. I was on my own with this one. I seem to remember being afraid, as if I were coming from a protest that involved police and tear gas, but I can find no historical back-up for that idea. There was a sit-in that night in Sproul Hall that did involve police and was described as a “melee” by at least one news source,1 but the demonstration beginning the boycott, apparently, was peaceful and did not feature police, so my memory of it has evidently been conflated with later demonstrations.
In any case, when I arrived at the rehearsal hall, a bit early and breathless, I saw no other students. However, the conductor was entering the hall just ahead of me. She was a tiny but fearsome woman I greatly admired. I was in awe of her conducting abilities, given her size and gender, as I was in awe of the fact that I was part of such an ambitious project. To hold us all, orchestra and chorus, together on such a complex and difficult piece of music with her will and skill, was quite a sight to behold.
Having heard some rumors at the demo that some classes had been cancelled and being too full of adrenaline to be thinking quite clearly what I was doing identifying myself to a potentially conservative professor as probably an activist, I asked her if we were having class that day. She was first startled at my question, then to my dismay, incensed. She asked why on earth would I think that the class had been canceled. I stammered out that I had heard rumors of classes being canceled because of the boycott and when I happened to see no students entering the hall, I had thought it might be true. I was careful not to mention where I had just been, but I suspect that she guessed it from my ill-concealed nervousness. She concluded the interaction in a huff, declared that of course we were having class, turned her back on me and stomped into the hall, leaving me to be glad that she probably did not know my name. Students were by now arriving and I followed them in.
Our assignment for that day had been the quieter movements of the mass, about eternal peace and perpetual light. It was the first time we were to rehearse with the full orchestra and, as we shuffled our music out and prepared to sing, the orchestra did the same. Then, to the great astonishment of all, the conductor announced that she had changed her mind about today’s rehearsal and instead of the Requiem, Kyrie Eleison and Lux Aeterna, we would be rehearsing the Dies Irae, the famous “Days of Anger,” which opens with angry sopranos at full voice accompanied by thundering syncopated timpani (kettle drums). Such a last-minute change being instituted by this usually predictable conductor was a bit of a shock for everyone, but we all hastily reorganized our music and shifted emotional gears from peaceful to angry.
It was the most incredible rehearsal I ever took part in, just thinking about it gives me chills—voices, Verdi, tympani, a tiny female conductor, an acoustically perfect auditorium and not one mistake. For me it even rivaled the radio performance of Handel’s Messiah by the combined Baptist church choirs of Georgia at the First Baptist Church of Atlanta in 1960, my other memorable musical performance. The piece that had formerly been performed somewhat routinely, somewhat technically and somewhat without understanding, was now performed from the heart, from the gut, and so perfectly that I cannot even remember that we paused once for notes or corrections. I was singing in the context of the day and I believe that I was not the only one.
The conductor never mentioned a word about what was going on not far from us, but I will wonder therest of my life if that clever woman changed her rehearsal plans because of our encounter in the hallway, tapping into what many of us must have been feeling, not missing her God-given chance to make us understand and appreciate what we were singing, no matter what her own political views may have been. When we performed the mass shortly thereafter, we did the Dies Irae the same way we had done it in rehearsal, and better, I imagine, that we would have done it without our own Days of Anger to inform it. Art reflecting life, well, I guess.
Stop the Draft Week
By October, 1967, I had participated in so many marches and other demonstrations against the war, while working halftime and maintaining my 3.5 GPA, that life had begun to seem much like a dance marathon from the 1930s. It was all I could do to keep moving, or at least it seemed that way off and on. The talk around me had become less and less pacifistic and although I never heard any desire expressed to cause bodily harm to any humans, I did hear some fantasies about causing damage to property, as well as talk of resisting the police. I believed myself to be committed to passive resistance, but I had to admit that I was, by this time, exceedingly angry and frustrated by the war, the images of the war and the increasingly repressive reaction to our peacefully and legally protesting it. Some people in my world were angrier still.
My group had begun to talk about revolution. It was still on the level of speculation, quite academic and full of historical references. I found it hard to believe that anyone I knew could or would become an armed revolutionary, but we had begun to use words like “underground” and tactical discussions took on an air of grim seriousness they had not had before. It was no longer that we were going to march, wave signs, chant and sit down in inconvenient places. I did not know quite what that change meant, but I knew that I was really tired of seeing pacifists get beaten up. I, myself, had not actually been beaten, unless you count the roughness with which I was busted in the FSM, but I had certainly seen it and I was ready to stop offering myself up to that possibility.
I knew that I had parameters and that I was not going to go beyond them. I knew that there were things I was incapable of doing. I was not going to kill anybody or hurt anybody. But, I was not going to stand there, be attacked by the police and not respond. It was unclear to me whether there was a line between active resistance and revolution and, if so, exactly where it lay. We asked each other, how do you become a revolutionary without actually hurting someone? I could have used some retraining on the concept of passive resistance, but no such retraining seemed to be available to me at the time.
It was at this point that Stop the Draft Week was organized by a coalition of antiwar organizations including, I assume, the VDC. The idea was to go to the recruiting office in downtown Oakland repeatedly, with as many people as possible, and attempt to, in some manner as yet unspecified, shut it down. In spite of the revolutionary talk I was hearing, I had decided to stick with it and see, moment to moment, what choices I could make. It is possible that I was no longer strictly a pacifist at that particular point in time.
Stop the Draft Week for me is a montage of highly charged memories I have only been able to connect to specific events in retrospect. I have therefore drawn on two different news accounts to present what it may have looked like from the outside. There were five days of demonstrations, Monday through Friday, each of which had its own character. According to the BBC, Friday’s was “the biggest demonstration yet against American involvement in the Vietnam War.”2 The BBC described Stop the Draft Week and placed it into context as follows:
. . .a nationwide initiative which has seen peace marches in cities across the United States. . . .The demonstrators are trying to disrupt military induction centres, encouraging large numbers of young men to turn in their draft cards. Many are burning the cards – an illegal act under a law passed by Congress two years ago. About 50 conscientious objectors have already been sent to jail for their protest. It is estimated up to 7,000 have left the country, mainly to Canada, to avoid the draft. Recent polls suggest that American support for the war in Vietnam is declining steadily.3
According to articles from The Movement, a newspaper that describes itself as “affiliated with SNCC and SDS” (Student Nonviolent Co-ordinating Committee and Students for a Democratic Society), the veer away from non-violence was a conscious choice on the part of the organizers:
. . .who wanted to move opposition to the war and the draft from the level of moral protest to a show of power. . . .From the first, the STDW organizers rejected traditional pacifist non-violence and emphasized the right to self-defense. The hard-core pacifists broke off and decided to hold a separate demonstration on Monday the 16th at the Induction Center.
. . . .Rejecting non-violence was seen as necessary to reach [black and lower class white potential draftees] and to forge cooperation with black militants. (Those are the POLITICAL reasons for dropping non-violence; the real reason was that the organizers were angry and fed up with getting themselves arrested and attacked and accomplishing nothing more than ineffective moral protest). [The source’s parenthetical.]
. . .The feeling of the planners was that the angry tone of the week would make future organizing broader and easier.4
The week was to start with an all-night organizing teach-in on campus, which the UC administration had approved. However, hearing of the plans in advance, the Alameda County Supervisors obtained an injunction against:
“the use of any university property for ‘on campus advocacy of off campus violations of the Universal Military Training and Service Act,’. . .The students refused to let this stop them. They came onto campus anyway, in the thousands. Illegal rallies were held on campus before and during the week. Students brought loud speakers onto campus under guard and took them away afterward. In retaliation, the Administration suspended all campus organizations participating in STDW. The result was larger meetings, held illegally by illegal organizations using illegal loud-speakers to plan illegal off-campus activities. The momentum could not be stopped.5
. . .The final planning stage began Monday evening on the steps of Sproul Hall.. . . .6
On Monday, a peaceful demonstration was held at the Induction Center by a pacifist group that had been holding such demonstrations for several months previously and 120 people were arrested.7 On campus, violating the injunction:
“. . .6,000 students attended the organizing rally on the steps of Sproul Hall, to learn the plans for the next day, despite the rumor that cops might be called onto campus to disburse them. UC Chancellor Heynes declined to invite the cops in; he had learned from the FSM and Student Strike. . .Those willing to go to the Center were divided into groups, and held more detailed planning sessions with the monitors and monitor captains.”8
On Tuesday, starting at 4 a.m., rented buses began taking protesters from campus to Lafayette Park in Oakland, seven blocks from the Induction Center, a block from City Hall.9 Not encountering the expected police cordon around the center, people massed in the streets near the building:
During the period of time between 5:00 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. most of the activity took the form of marching up and down in the streets, chaining up the doors (which were very quickly freed after we lost control of the doors) and waiting for the cops to do something. . . .10
. . .At 7 AM, the police moved out from [their field headquarters across from the induction center] and waded into the crowd, forcing the people down the streets and clearing the area around the Center. Despite the heavy use of riot clubs and chemical MACE. . .the groups held firm at several intersections, blocking traffic and tying up the police in a wide perimeter around the area. Newsmen, bystanders and white-clad medics with red-cross armbands were clubbed and beaten along with the demonstrators. 22 people were injured. Police violence had been anticipated and preparations made, but many demonstrators were surprised by the fury of the attack.11
Jeff Segal’s account of the police attack provides some insight into the subsequent tactical reasoning of the antiwar organizers:
. . .a large segment of cops moved out of the parking structure, formed themselves into a wedge . . . and started to move down Clay [Street]. . . . Here was our first encounter with the cops and they won. The cops moved into the crowd of demonstrators swinging billy clubs and spraying people with MACE. This produced a lot of confusion in our ranks. People ran into each other and many panicked.
The most serious problem that we had at this point, however, revolved around the people who came down to participate in a sit-in. This was a group of people who were tactically wedded to the form of a non-violent sit-in and wanted to do that within our action. We had told them they could and sent them down to the IC [Induction Center] early as part of a “peaceful” protest group. This was contingent, however, on the possibility that only they would be able to get near the doors to the IC. When everybody got to the doors of the IC, it no longer became necessary for us to use the cover of a sit-in to get people stationed near the door and the sit-in became an unnecessary tactic.
These people reacted to the police charge by sitting down and proclaiming themselves a non-violent sit-in. This meant very little to the cops, who were after blood. They just stepped right into, on and over the people sitting. Most of our injuries resulted from people sitting down. . . .The cops then proceeded to slowly and methodically clear larger and larger segments of Clay and then 15th. They ended up pushing us to 16th and Clay, 14 and Clay, down 15th to Jefferson and up 15 to San Pablo.
Once this was done we ended up with the situation of a static perimeter around the IC. The cops stood on the inside facing us and we stood on the outside facing them. The buses were finally brought in, about 9 a.m., straight down Clay St.12
Having attended the rally on campus and a training session, I went to Oakland on Tuesday with my group of anthro friends. There were maybe eight of us, including Cowen, our direct line to the VDC. We had agreed that whatever we were going to do, it would be different from what we had done before. When we arrived, we found enormous crowds and little, if any, organization. There was a great sense of milling around aimlessly. There was a point at which we saw Joan Baez and a group with her sitting down somewhere, probably part of the group described as being in front of the center. I remember being torn between a desire to go and join them and a reluctance to leave my group, some members of which were saying that Joan and her tactics were an anachronism. She and her group were going to stick to this old thing, this Gandhi thing, but we were breaking off and we were going to do something else. What the hell we were going to do, nobody knew. As for me, I had no clear opinion on what the tactics ought to be. I was awaiting the decision of those more sophisticated than I on those matters, reserving to myself, of course, the option of not abiding by the decision.
When the buses went by, it so happened that I, being as usual short, had climbed up on a fire hydrant to see and was clinging to a nearby lamp post for stability. I was elevated above the crowd and, in a rare circumstance for me, was able to actually see what was going on. It seems to me that we had already confronted the cops and done some standard protesting, in an attempt to have some influence over events, but now it was no, here come the buses and there is not a damn thing we could really do about it.
The crowd, which had been chanting before, went silent at the approach of the buses. Some have described that sudden silence as expressing a feeling of complete failure and defeat. Perhaps that explains it in some cases, but for me it was initially surprise, then simply shock. I was right on the street. I could clearly see the young faces of the inductees, exactly as I had seen them in the troop trains in Berkeley, passing as close to me as those other faces had. I went silent in a sort of shocked deference to what they were going to face, an acknowledgement and reverence that I was looking at some people who might soon be dead. I wanted to physically reach out and grab them and say, “Listen, this is your life you’re putting on the line here.” But then, I snapped out of it. I was looking at a face in a bus window and I yelled, without thinking, the first thing that surged up from my gut to tell that particular young man and that was, “Don’t go.” In a second, hundreds of people had taken it up and were shouting “Don’t go, don’t go.” But the buses went on through.
In spite of that one clear memory of seeing the buses, it seems to me that we waited and wandered a long, long time that day, trying to hook up with somebody, trying to find the main group, but there was no main group. They had split up into a whole bunch of different groups going in different directions. Whether that happened before or after the buses, I cannot say. We heard rumors of police violence from protesters we encountered running away from it and we saw concentrations of commotion from a distance. Our aim was to get where the action was, but we could never figure out where that was before the action had been dispersed. Finally, we gave up, said, “let’s go home,” and went back to Berkeley.
There is no doubt that I was among the people deeply impressed by the police violence that day, even though I did not directly experience it. On that subject, Segal, considering future tactics, writes:
1) A good proportion of the police violence came as a result of individual or small groups of cops flipping out (out of fear, hate, lust, etc.) and charging the people. Many people were attacked just because they were standing near cops. 2) The most difficult thing for people to handle and what caused most of the fear on our part was the use of MACE. People were unfamiliar with the small MACE cans and did not know what was happening to them. . . 3) The police seemed to have a beat-up and disperse policy as opposed to an arrest policy. They had very little ability to “take prisoners” and were more interested in driving us off than arresting us. 13
It must have been on the way back to our car that I came across the scene that finished me off on any similar action in the future. We walked into a black residential area often referred to as the “West Oakland ghetto” and encountered a lot of outraged black people. Some protesters had gotten into a screaming fight with a group of black women, who were looking around yelling, among other things, “What are all you college kids doing up here?” It was clear to me that they saw our protest, or whatever we were doing, as an invasion, and I could easily see why. And, I did not like the way some of the protesters responded to their complaint. There should have been no response in kind. If there had been damage to their homes or yards, it should have been repaired or paid for. There should have been “soft words turning away wrath.”14 Instead, I was seeing white protesters yelling at black people, whom we were allegedly fighting for at the same time we were opposing the war. I was deeply chagrined.
I took the black women quite seriously and thought “What ARE we doing here? We have no right to be here in this way. This is their turf, their neighborhood, their homes. There was no prior effort to alert them or explain ourselves. No wonder they’re pissed.” I looked at one angry black woman’s face and tried to think of some way to tell her that what we were doing there had a lot to do with her. I imagined myself asking, “Do you have a husband that’s draft age? a brother? a son? We’re trying to prevent your people, black people, from being sent off disproportionately to this war.” But I realized that there was no way to break through to her in this physical context. She was too angry at our being there for us to engage her in that somewhat academic conversation. I was more than ready to go back to Berkeley after that experience. When the main event occurred on Friday, I did not go.
On Wednesday and Thursday, organizers decided, in view of the level of violence Tuesday that there would be only peaceful pickets at the center. Although I have no clear memory of being there, it is possible that I was, since I do remember talking about it, a conversation that went much like the one Terence Cannon reports:
The monitors, rather than acting as street leaders, merely kept the crowd orderly and aided the police. The mass of demonstrators accepted this without enthusiasm. Rather than being intimidated by the police attack, they were angry and wanted to take back the streets. “Is this all we’re going to do — walk around the Induction Center 50 times?” asked a demonstrator Wednesday.15
The climax came on Friday, where, as an organizer announced on campus Thursday, “We’re going back tomorrow, just like we did on Tuesday, only smarter.” 16 Segal estimates that there were 10,000 demonstrators.17 According to the BBC:
An estimated 4,000 people poured onto the streets to demonstrate in a fifth day of massive protests against the conscription of soldiers to serve in the war.
The city was brought to a standstill as protesters built barricades across roads to prevent buses carrying recruits to the Army’s conscription centre.
Police reinforcements came in from San Francisco as the protests turned violent.
Demonstrators, many wearing helmets and holding plywood shields, overturned cars and threw bottles, tin cans and stones at the police. Four people were injured and seven arrested.
There was no repeat of the scenes three days ago, however, when police in Oakland used clubs and chemical sprays to clear the streets.
The heavy-handed treatment of demonstrators [had] caused outrage throughout the country.
Today’s demonstration was part of what is being called “Stop the Draft Week” – It is expected to move to Washington D.C. tomorrow, and demonstrators are said to be targeting all roads to the capital.
It is thought up to 40,000 could join a protest march from the Lincoln Memorial to the Pentagon.
President Johnson is under attack from those who believe he is not being aggressive enough on Vietnam as well as those who think he should withdraw.
A Gallup poll published earlier this month showed his popularity rating plummeting to the point where if an election were held at this point in his term of office, he would lose by a landslide.18
According to Segal:
People were mad about Tuesday and the brutality they saw and were determined to make the power structure pay for what it did. They went into the streets and built barricades from whatever they could find handy — benches, large potted trees, parking meters, garbage cans, and cars and trucks (these were placed in the middle of the streets and the air let out of the tires.) People would run up behind buses and rip the ignition wires out or would climb into trucks and steal the keys. They ran into the streets and let their imaginations and new-found sense of power run wild.19
What happened on Friday had been discussed beforehand, according to both Segal in his article at the time and Frank Bardacke, speaking in Berkeley in the Sixties years later. According to Bardacke, “On Friday, we in fact had the riot. The riot that we had planned.”20 I was unaware that a riot had been planned but I did imagine that one might occur, given the new emphasis on resisting the police. I was not aware of the discussion described by Segal, on how Friday would differ from Tuesday, which provides some insight into a thread of thinking that was present in all subsequent antiwar discussions I was party to until I left Berkeley:
The first [part of the plan] was that we were going to eliminate, as much as possible, the use of the sit-down. The second, and more important change, was a redefinItion of our tactical focus. The focus changed from the doors of the IC [Induction Center] to the buses bringing the inductees in. It was felt that our real strength lay in our mobility. We would bring our monitored groups into the area around the IC and plan ahead for the dispersal. Groups would be assigned intersections and attempt to block them up. We would stop the induction process by fucking up traffic in downtown Oakland. We would not wait for the cops to come and beat on us, rather, we would split from one intersection to another and require the cops to come out after us.
. . . .This time people were more prepared to engage the cops — a good portion of the participants wore helmets of one kind or another, most wore heavy coats, and people generally brought a wide variety of protective equipment.21
In Berkeley, I received a full report from my friends who had gone on Friday and I watched the news reports. I was surprised that I caught no flak for my decision not to participate, an indication, I decided years later, that there was quite a bit of waffling going on in the hearts of some of my compatriots, as well in my own. Cowan bragged about throwing tear gas canisters back at the cops, in what I believe might be the first time I learned you could do that. Billy was oddly quiet about the whole thing. If there can be said to have been a point in time when the non-violent and the pro-revolutionary mindsets first came into clear conflict, I would place that time in October, 1967 during Stop the Draft Week.
The Banana Republic
Although I technically graduated from UC in June, 1967, I had finished all my course work in December of 1966 and lost my job at the museum because it was a job for students only. I was nevertheless affiliated with the university as staff. I was working as a typist-editor in the Art History Department and still hanging out in the Gifford Room and the Anthro Department while lobbying for admission to Graduate School. There was thus little or no respite for me from antiwar activities or departmental politics related to them and the contrast between the two departments I spent time in was a constant reminder to me just how precarious my position was in the academic world. Fortunately, my job isolated me from all but a handful of Art History faculty, students and staff and the ones I did work with tended to be sympathetic with the antiwar movement, but I knew from overhearing conversations in the outer office that I would do well to just sneak into my cubicle quietly each day and keep my mouth shut as much as possible. It was far too late for such a strategy in the Anthro Department. I knew my professional goose was probably cooked already there because of my well-known political activities, in combination with my gender, and my only hope of being admitted to graduate school was that Gerry and his allies on the faculty would fight for me and prevail.
I remember this period as being somewhat free, for me, of the need for actual antiwar or civil rights activity, beyond conversation, though events were occurring elsewhere in the world, such as the Detroit race riot of July, 1967, that helped maintain a general air of crisis. The next thing I remember that tore me out of my five-month fragile bubble of normalcy was the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., April 4, 1968. While we had been protesting the war, in part, we liked to think, on behalf of black men being drafted more than white men because they were less likely to have student deferments, the civil rights movement and deteriorating race relations had continued unabated. The death of MLK was a wrenching reminder of that fact.
That event may have had a more emotional effect on me than on my colleagues other than Billy, because of my southern roots and my own experiences with southern racists. Even Billy probably had not experienced southern racists as I had, since his class status and location in urban Virginia would never have led him into the kind of situations I encountered as a low-class hick in Norman Park, Georgia. Martin Luther King, Jr. was not the first civil rights leader I had become aware of, but he was the one to whom I most related, through our shared Christian backgrounds. From him I had received the validation I needed, as a Baptist in the process of “backsliding,” that fighting for the rights of black people was a thoroughly Christian thing to do and those who opposed it had no standing at all to call themselves Christians. His voice on the radio, when I could find it and once I was free of my Georgia Bible college and allowed to have a radio, was the voice I believed and trusted and that gave me the most comfort. His sudden death by violence, much more than that of JFK, ripped the emotional rug out from under me in a way that is hard to describe.
There was a vigil on campus that I attended alone, by choice. I did not trust either my friends or my new black boyfriend to understand the depth of my grief and I did not want to risk hearing one, even one, comment on MLK as no longer relevant or on my political backwardness in revering him. If I broke down sobbing uncontrollably, I wanted to do it sans explanations or analysis. I also was praying, an engrained habit that surfaced on only this occasion in the 60s, that the riots I knew had to be coming would be held off for just a little while in honor of the non-violence of the deceased and so that I could grieve in peace. As it happened, I did not break down sobbing at the vigil and my hope that it would be in no way disrupted by calls for action was almost fulfilled. There was only one such call, when a black man stood up from the sea of quietly seated people and began to shout, as I expected, that we should not be sitting but moving. He was quickly shouted down by the people around him and, amazingly, sat back down for the duration.
Real riots broke out that night, but nowhere near me, for which I was grateful. It seemed to me that a kind of unseen Victorian long black veil descended around me for a time after that and I could not be drawn into any discussion of the riots, the status of the civil rights movement, or how the assassination should affect the tactics of The Movement, in general. I think of it as mourning, but I am sure it must have involved a lot of personal assessment as well. For me, much more than my friends, the death of MLK was an emotional turning point.
There was a routine phone call from my parents somewhere in there, wherein I beseeched them to understand me, what I had been through, why I continued. When my mother tried to pull Christianity on me, I hit her over the head, metaphorically, with MLK. “Mama,” I said. “A black preacher was just shot dead for trying to convince people that black people are equal in the sight of God. You taught me that all people are my brothers and sisters in Christ and that I should stand firm for my Christian values no matter what. Don’t you dare try to tell me I am not behaving like a Christian. Don’t you even dare.” The conversation did not end well.
I was still wearing my invisible long black veil when, two months later, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated on June 4, 1968—another major figure in the civil rights movement and the presidential primary candidate for whom I had just voted in the California primary. I had seen him in the packed Greek Theater on campus in October, 1966, speaking on civil rights and stating his support for the student movement. Always more reliant on my own response to voices, which I trust completely, than the analysis of pundits, all I had to do was hear his voice to believe that he meant what he said and had the integrity to follow through as best he could on the goals we shared. Whether he was already eying the presidency at that point, I do not know, but when I voted for him in 1968, I had certainly not forgotten his words of praise for Berkeley students and the civil rights movement a year and a half before.
The crowd at the Greek Theater had been enthusiastic, my friends and I had left saying this guy’s with us. When he decided to run for president, I was much more drawn to him than Eugene McCarthy, accusations of opportunism from that quarter notwithstanding. For him to be assassinated, no matter that, as with MLK and JFK, it was claimed that the assassin was a lone nut case, did nothing to change my sense that I was, personally, on the receiving end of the far right. When JFK was assassinated, there had been a lot of talk about assassinations being typical of third world countries, dictatorships and “banana republics.” Now there had been two in a row, both directed at a leftist opposition. I was a teeny little part of the movement being targeted, but it was becoming more and more conceivable to me that even a small potato such as myself might someday be in greater danger than anyone could have predicted. It was one emotional shocker after another, in close succession, and I was not doing very well in coping with them.
I throw a brick by proxy
In June, I finally crossed over the line from non-violence to violence against property. In my defense, I would point out that I had just received my first dose of tear gas while doing absolutely nothing whatsoever even remotely threatening or illegal. My significant other, John, and I, had heard that something was happening on The Ave that was new. My experience of rallies had, up to that point, been rallies on campus. This one would be in front of “The Med,” the Mediterranean Cafe, three blocks down The Ave from campus. We were under the impression that it had been permitted and no kind of action was planned, so I was open to just walking down The Ave to see what was up. Whatever it was, I figured, would become clear at the rally.
We had been told it was a rally “in support of French students.” I was not exactly sure what the French students were doing but I was more or less willing to support students acting as a non-violent group as long as somebody I trusted said it was worthwhile. As spectators more than participants, John and I went down to check it out. It was singularly unimpressive, aside from the novelty of loudspeakers on The Ave. It was taking place after dark and there were bright spotlights, which was also novel. From a distance, we saw a crowd in the street and heard the voice of antiwar activist “Pete” Camejo, later to be Ralph Nader’s running mate and to run for president himself on the Green Party ticket. John and I had begun calling Camejo “Squeaky Pete” in honor of the fact that his voice tended to rise with his level of excitement until I, at least, was unable to hear his message because his voice was so irritatingly loud and high. As soon as I heard Squeaky Pete screaming away and had satisfied my curiosity, I thought, “Well, this is both irritating and dull, the hell with it.”
We turned around and started walking away, enjoying the beautiful warm evening. I think a lot of other people had come to a similar conclusion, since many other people were also moving away from the whole scene. We ran into some friends and decided we should all probably go have a beer. Being poor folks, John and I felt most comfortable at Robbie’s Cafeteria, a Chinese place where one could get more chow mein than I could eat at a sitting for practically nothing. I ate lunch there frequently. Part of its appeal was also that it was the nearest place to us on The Ave that night where you could get a beer, and we liked the ambiance, old-fashioned high-backed booths. It was a long place, with booths and tables arranged to accommodate the long cafeteria counter perpendicular to the door.
The five us piled into a booth near the back and were just quietly having ourselves a beer when, all of a sudden, a large group of people poured in frantically with tears streaming down their cheeks. I began to wheeze and tear up, while simultaneously looking around bewildered and wondering why. Abruptly, John yelled, “Tear gas! It’s tear gas!” We realized that these people had gotten gassed and it was all over their clothes. They were coming into Robbie’s trying to get away from it. Upon that realization, we said to each other, “Oh, well, I guess we’re pretty safe here, probably best to stay inside.”
That was when the cops tossed a tear gas canister right into the front door of Robbie’s. They did not follow it, but let the door shut as it began to spew. It was a good throw. It had come well into the restaurant and landed not far from me. I got a big blast of it and descended rapidly into blind panic. John shoved me out of the seat, grabbed my hand and began pulling me behind the serving counter, where he assumed there would be access to the kitchen and a back door. I could still see just enough to notice how startled were the people behind the counter and I was just coherent enough to notice that people nearer the door were screaming and following us. It had a bizarre, dark comedic flavor, slapstick horror, the Keystone Kops from hell,—the surprised Chinese cooks, the wildly running black man, the panicked, stumbling people behind us. It could have been written by Stephen King, had King been writing yet.
We found the back door and stumbled out, followed by a dozen or so other people, including our friends. Breathing fresh air in deeply, coughing and mopping my eyes with my shirt tail, I began to notice that I was just about as pissed off as I had ever been in my lifetime, including Norman College and my mother. I had not been part of anything. I had decided not to be part of anything. I was not even blocking traffic. I had rejected the rally, removed myself from the area and decided specifically that I was not going to participate in whatever it was. And yet I got gassed. What was the explanation? It did not take us long to conclude that the police were deliberately inciting a riot, either per instructions or just for the fun of it.
As far as I know, that is the first time that happened in Berkeley. It was a police riot from the word “go.” People had been streaming away rapidly, just as I had been, bored stiff with the whole thing. There was probably a little coterie of diehards up in the front, but pretty much the ordinary run-of-the-mill followers like me had opted out. There was nothing happening to justify the use of tear gas to break up that scene. The scene was breaking up all by itself. Subsequent descriptions of that event have described it as a student riot in sympathy with French students. I strongly disagree with that description. The event that ended in a riot was in sympathy with French students, but the rioting was in response to rioting by the police and any rioting that occurred in the days after that was rioting more over police actions in Berkeley, than it was over anything having to do with French students. That’s how I remember it.
Our friends departed and made straight for home. Our home being further away, we ran on down towards campus, knowing that non-campus police had never before come on campus without being invited by the administration. It was hard to imagine how they could have been invited on campus in this situation. We found ourselves on the campus side of Bancroft Way, looking east toward the intersection with The Ave, waiting to see if the cops would come that far. For the moment, the spot where we were standing was actually somewhat deserted, since we had escaped out a back door and run immediately to campus. The police riot and people running from it had not yet reached Bancroft. It was after hours for most classes and businesses, so there were few cars on the street.
I looked away from the intersection. Directly across the street from me was the plate glass window of the Wells Fargo bank. I remembered what had happened to me that morning in that very bank. There had been an ugly scene over my checking account or something. It had not been about an overdraw, I scrupulously avoided those, but I had been made to feel like scum over something, perhaps even a complaint I made about some mistake of theirs. The woman had been, and probably without cause, sarcastic and snotty and I had whipped out my prize-winning sarcasm and snottiness in defense. But, whatever it was, she had won. I had left feeling quite oppressed, that I was at the very bottom of the totem pole in society, or pretty damn close, and yet I was a hard-working, ambitious, conscientious citizen who did not deserve to be treated that way. I was certain it had been because I was a student, and it had been at the hands of someone looking directly at my financial information, therefore someone who knew I was a nobody and could do nothing to back up any complaints I might have and, quite likely, she had correctly gathered that I did not always receive oppression lightly, therefore needed to be taken down a peg by persons in authority.
Suddenly it all came together in my head. They are all in this. Somehow, they are all in it together—the banks, the university, the police. I had a vision of just exactly how much the capitalists were behind the war, racism, my FSM arrest, the current police riot and who knew what else. You might call it the moment when the profit motive became concrete for me. Seething, I looked down at my feet. My eye landed on a loose brick lying in the gutter. Why or how it could have been there, I cannot explain. There was no construction nearby. Perhaps it fell off a passing truck or something, but there it was, right at my feet, almost as a cosmic suggestion. I picked up the brick and thought, “I’ve always wanted to throw a brick through a plate glass window.” I pulled back my hand as John watched in wonder and threw the brick just as hard as I could at the bank but it was almost too big for my hand and much too heavy for me. It did not quite make it and landed in the middle of the street. I was not the first activist in Berkeley to throw a brick through a window, but I believe that I might have been the first person to make the attempt. I did not have time to either curse or try again because a guy had run around the corner from The Ave just in time to witness my failure.
Without hesitation, he picked up the brick, backed out into the street and threw it through the window and the window broke with a mighty shattering sound. We watched in silence as he picked up a rock from in front of the Student Union and proceeded to run west on Bancroft into darkness, smashing out the glass window in every parking meter on our side of the street as he went. I have to confess that I watched him with joy and satisfaction. The shame came much later. The unjustified actions of the police had sent me over the top, briefly, but that is the only time I ever felt that sensation, joy in destruction, I think maybe ever. I would not dismiss the idea that the successful brick thrower was a provocateur of some kind, but he just looked like another pissed off student like me.
Our bemused observation of the meter-smasher lasted only a minute or two before we heard noise, looked back towards The Ave and saw crowds of people running across the street onto campus, followed by police with batons raised, following them right into Sproul Plaza. We ducked quickly around the Student Union into the lower plaza to decide what to do. My instinct was to head toward Kroeber Hall, where I would expect to find Billy in the archaeology lab and get his take on this new turn of events. But, the most direct routes, east on Bancroft or on campus past Sproul Hall were blocked by the police riot. The only way to Kroeber would be to swing wide north on campus and hope the cops had not penetrated much past Sather Gate.
I was shaking and fighting back tears of, not tear gas, but frustration and anger. John wanted to go home. We finally decided to try the wide swing and go find Billy. My memory gets very fuzzy right about there, but I believe we must have run into Billy on our way to Kroeber because I distinctly remember him leading us into Strawberry Creek and saying we should follow the creek to Kroeber Hall because the cops would stay on the pavement and sidewalks and the creek bed would provide cover. Our group were all either field scientists or country people, quite easy walking in a creek bed, so that is what we did. With sounds of yelling, screaming and running all around us, we followed the creek bed and came out near the buckeye tree next to the music building, right behind Kroeber Hall where, it may be assumed, some vehement conversation surely ensued.
You Ask Why I Don’t Live Here, Honey, How Come You Don’t Move22
Throughout my time in Berkeley, my relationship to my family continued to deteriorate, a circumstance that must have had some impact on my outlook, if only to reinforce my feeling of having no real personal support other than from whichever man was currently my significant other. I did, at first, manage to get back East for a couple of Christmas holidays, once on a trip paid for by Gale after he had moved to New York. We drove north to visit his family in upstate New York and then south to visit mine in North Carolina, prompting both families to hope for a wedding and some settling down into a much more predictable pattern for both of us. But, I had already met John a few weeks before, could not envision any sort of rewarding life for myself in New York, or anywhere but Berkeley, and was weary to the bone of marriage, in general. Our families were disappointed to learn that the Bach/Arnold wedding would not take place anytime soon, or ever.
The war-related alienation trend had begun in earnest soon after I broke up with Mike and moved into my apartment in Berkeley, though the third degree Mike gave my Marine brother-in-law on his way to Vietnam through Oakland had been a clue. Before I married Mike, I had spent a few weeks with my sister in Cherry Point and had dated a Marine, the same one who provided me with my first marijuana. After Mike and I broke up, this Marine, hearing the news, wrote me from Vietnam, probably hoping to reinstate our brief relationship.
By the time I got Artie’s letter, I had changed so much from who I had been when I had dated him for lack of better choices, that I did not quite know how to respond. But, I felt that I had to keep my promise to myself that I would no longer lie about anything I was doing, at least to anyone but my parents or siblings. So, in answering his letter that had asked what I was doing now, I said that what I’m doing now is being involved in troop train demonstrations. He never wrote back, of course, but the words certainly got from him to my sister, the scuttlebutt machinery of the Marine Corps being much more efficient than people realize, and I began receiving upsetting phone calls from her and from my mother, both of them dissing on my hero, Joan Baez. It was clear that they had no understanding at all of the anti-war movement’s view of the war. It made the already giant chasm between me and my family even more hopelessly wider.
One of my mother’s phone calls consisted of her beseeching me to stop what I was doing because it was having an impact on the careers of both my brother and my brother-in-law. Jack was moving on up in the federal government, having transferred from the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Justice, and Harry was in Marine Intelligence in Vietnam. Any time either of them were up for a promotion, according to my mother, they had to go through a security clearance involving the FBI. The security procedure invariably turned up the little sister in Berkeley with the FBI file, started either when she applied for the Peace Corps or when she got busted in the Free Speech Movement, or even earlier, when she hung out with busted integrationists in Tallahassee.
My mother’s pleas fell on deaf ears, since I was unable to grasp why the careers of my brother and my brother-in-law were more important than my own integrity. Let’s see, they get promoted, they make more money, that’s nice, but it really sounds to me like I am being asked to subordinate my own deeply felt convictions, based largely on what used to be my religion, for filthy lucre to be obtained by people who could give a rat’s ass about my own goals in life and have both essentially thrown me out of their houses on my ear for not conforming to sexist and racist expectations from which I have, through great suffering and pain, extricated myself. It flew in the face of the advice Jack had given me when I was at Norman College, to “cut that old umbilical cord” that bound me to the life my mother expected me to have. Uh uh. You’re on your own with the FBI, my brothers, and good luck to you, was my sentiment.
That phone call must have occurred after my last visit to the East since, had it been before, Jack, at least, would have had no compunctions about bringing up my political activity and its alleged impact on his career. Harry probably would not have. The possibility cannot be excluded that my mother made up the whole story in her effort to bring me back into the fold.
The effect on me was to make me that much more dependent on my friends and lovers for emotional support. I became quite wary of the telephone and if I heard either my mother’s or my sister’s voice on the other end of the line, I changed gears into a much more guarded mode. I kept the conversation as far as possible on non-controversial subjects and ended it as soon as I could. I did try to avoid deliberately hurting either of them, but that task got harder and harder, since they both maintained that just the way I lived my life was my effort to deliberately hurt them. The gulf between me and my parents and sister was greatly affected by their utter inability to understand the fundamentals of my life. I was supposed to have ended up a lawyer’s wife. Why had I chosen my freedom, my slim hopes for a career doing something I loved and political activism over the assurance of security with a lawyer who loved me, a nice house and probably children? It was incomprehensible to them, but not, I suspect, to my brother, who had had his own difficulties explaining why he majored in literature in college rather than engineering. He, at least, was married to a woman who later became a lawyer—he could understand smart women wanting a career.
The situation never improved and only got worse. When I graduated in 1967, my mother sent me $25 and an incomprehensible note mentioning a graduation picture. All around me, fellow students were being congratulated and gifted by their families on the occasion of their commencement. Their families were traveling from all over the world to witness it. (I was not going to participate in the ceremony because I could not afford to rent a gown, no one who cared about me would see it and, anyway, it was uncool.) I was graduating cum laude from one of the most prestigious universities in the world, having triumphed over two expulsions and no financial assistance, while working halftime and having few experiences that could be described as vacation or rest. Perhaps it was wishful thinking, but I interpreted the money as a graduation gift and went and spent it on frivolity. I sent my mother a picture of the item I had bought, thanking her for it, whereupon she called me and said, no, the money was for a graduation picture.
I told her I was sorry for the mistake, but the way the note was worded had confused me. She said the note had not been worded in any particular way. There was no point in arguing with that, the response would have been much too academic for her. So I got very stoned, went to a professional photography studio near campus and paid the man to take my picture in a gown he kept on hand for that purpose. I was in a very bad, very bitter mood. The gown, for women, was supposed to have a little white collar on the V neck, where a man’s shirt and necktie would have appeared. I told him, “Screw the silly white collar, take it with just the V.” When the shutter clicked, I projected to the camera just exactly how I was feeling and he, having picked up on my mood, dropped all efforts to get me to smile. I wrote a sarcastic “to my beloved parents” on it, put it in an envelope and mailed it off to Florida.
A few days later, at 4 a.m., the phone rang and John picked it up, then handed it to me, saying, “Its your mother.” I said, “Hello” and my mother, sounding as if she had deliberately exaggerated her nasal southern accent and pretending to have forgotten about the time difference, said, “Barbara, are you living with a man?” I stared at the phone and let go of the last tie to my family. I had had enough. Walking into the next room with the phone, trailing the extension cord behind me, I said, “Mama, don’t ask me a single question you don’t want the answer to, because I have just had it from now on trying to please you. Yes, I am living with a man. I am well over 21, divorced, earning my own living and am no where where your neighbors can be offended. What else would you like to know?”
It was a long, probably expensive, conversation. Yes, I had taken LSD. Well, can you kick it? Don’t be silly, it’s not addictive—can you kick coffee? (I knew she couldn’t.) Do you smoke marijuana? Yes, I do, and I am deeply grateful that it has preserved my sanity and enabled me to graduate with honors from UC Berkeley. Are you going to church? Hell, no, you know perfectly well what the church did to me for behaving like a Christian. I will never, ever step foot in another church as long as I live. Who is the man you are living with, what is his nationality? He’s an American, what do you think? (I knew the code on this one, she suspected he was black.)
We finished that conversation with me never having to state outright that John was black, which I would have done if she had asked me outright instead of beating around the bush. Some days afterward, I received a call with a very bad connection from my mother. It sounded like she said my father was in the hospital, but I could not be sure, so I called my sister, who proceeded to light into me. My father had had a heart attack, she said, because of my mother’s report on the early-morning phone conversation. He was in the hospital, still under sedation from an emergency operation. “If he dies,” she said, “it will be your fault.” She said my mother, upon receiving the graduation picture, had seen my emaciated, miserable face, with the chewed lips and the dilated pupils from the pot, unsoftened by a sweet white collar like the one in my high school graduation picture, and the ambiguous sentiment written on it, and had cried for days.
I called the hospital and was told my father was still sedated, but would survive. I sent him a bouquet of yellow roses, his favorite, I knew. The next day my father called me, the one and only time in my life that he ever called me himself, rather than just talking to me a minute or two when my mother called, and said, “I heard your mother and your sister talking. They didn’t know I could hear them, they thought I was still under. I want you to know that it was not your fault. I’ve been chain smoking cigarettes since I was 13 and working too hard since I was 17. I was long overdue for a heart attack. Don’t you ever think it had anything to do with you.”
And that was BEFORE they knew for sure that my significant other was black. My father recovered and my parents, who were spending their retirement traveling around the country, worked in a visit to me after a trip to Yellowstone and before the Grand Canyon. I had chickened out on introducing them to John, largely at John’s request. He wanted to have nothing to do with causing my father a second heart attack. I told my parents to get a motel room in San Francisco and I would visit them there, but I did not want them to come to Berkeley and don’t ask me why. They agreed and we had a great time sightseeing in San Francisco, after which I went with them to the Grand Canyon and my father paid to fly me back.
During the trip, my mother fished some more about whether John was black, bringing up the movie Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. I was with John on not endangering my father, so I deflected her. It was some time after the trip that my sister got it out of me on the phone and hastened to blab it to my parents. She was then eager to call me up and report that my father had “shook and cried” for some time, to which I replied, “Well, I hope you’re satisfied with screwing up my timing. This time if he dies, I’m saying its your fault.” That was where it stood for many years after that, while I continued my life with John, continued my anti-war and civil rights activities and my personal evolution. It was several years before my sister and I spoke again.
© Jentri Anders, 2016