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any one interested- i have boiled my movement material down to abt 200 pages- then am working on editing abt 150 more on personal life focusing on relationships and Offender Aid and Restoration (my creer)- will b lauded but only AFTER i'm dead (psike) what u read here has been edited (and it needed it!)
+ For All the Saints is tentative title for my whole book- or, at least this part of it (where the "saints" (there's debate about that!-as you will see) reside- this chapt and the nxt and nxt and nxt- need editing- am working on it! "The Armies of the Night" by Norman Mailer perhaps my closest model) (a "novel as history")
Another model should b- as little as I am enthralled w Hindemith- and yet- a Metamorphic fantasie on a piece/peace movement theme seems very appropriate!
Origin or involvement in civil rights
.....in this society- the lack of rites of passage for males- glimmers of old archetypes in my life- I create my own rite of passage- Prison, just as I chose the mentors- Walter Carter, Phil Berrigan, Louise Yolton.....
Shucks, I had grown up in North Carolina- with a black maid for the family who might swat us w a fly swatter and on whom I made advances (naturally) , - with cotton fields down the road, hardly ever meeting blacks since they all lived on the other side of the tracks, and watching my father do a little jig singing rag time, just for fun- for his own amusement- jes funnin. It was ten times easier for me to get along with blacks in Baltimore than the little prep school monsters I was teaching at Boys Latin. And until 1967 or so, when whites left the civil right movement because of the Black power "thing", blacks readily accepted a person like me- I was a big frog in a little pond and actually became Vice President of the local chapter of C.O.R.E in Baltimore. I met its leaders- James Farmer and Floyd McKissick. The racial divide in America has always, and still is, a defining one as to politics and culture. For me, the racism I got growing up has been hard to shed- and only to know another race in great detail (as I have from 30 years working at the Jail with a preponderancy of black inmates and staff) will you begin to see that they are, JUST LIKE US- w smart ones, dumb ones, racists of their own- the whole range, after all!Of course, my preference is for the classical music- like solo piano, and Seeger has a genius of a voice and musical sense that group singing never fails to mangle.11/24/10- I begin to see, now that I am retired- my whole career at the jail float off as if it were a dream- the period I have frustration dreams about so much- what rooms would I be in at the dorms of Mr. Hermon Prep and then Oberlin College, what courses to take?- all seem to me to have to do with a period of seminal gestation- between the age of 13 and 23- Oberlin representing tons of freedom after repressive Mr. Hermon- then, after Oberlin, dropping out of the Peace Corps where I was training at Georgetown to go to Ethiopia, and living with the folks not KNOWING WHO I AM AND WHAT I WOULD BECOME and SEARCHING.........SEARCHING. I returned to the prep school to teach for several years, then went into the civil rights movement- remembering the activism of Oberlin- and meeting the two mentors- Walter Carter and Phil Berrigan who would show me HOW TO BE. That led to a career in criminal justice- activism and helping others which only firmed up beliefs and ideals I had gotten all along- from the church and poetry.
In 1964 or, after I moved into Baltimore, after the murders of Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman, I stopped teaching and joined the Congress on Racial Equality and the civil rights movement. As the civil rights movement days merged into those of the peace movement, I came to hate the government, not necessarily the country- America. America had, after all, been a symbol of hope to the French- and to Wm. Blake, in spite of its savage beginnings in slavery and genocide and its endless wars. We have our bright side. Just seems to be submerged most of the time. We had been at war all my life! As M. L. King said- we were the greatest purveyors of violence in the world- and still are! For that, he had to be eradicated....just as Bobby Kennedy and John Lennon. For a couple of weeks, I substituted for a friend who was a guard at the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C. I remember the Klee, the Francis Bacon, the Arthur Dove. When I moved into Baltimore, I stayed at the home Hal Smith was trying to turn into a museum for postman William Moore, who had been martyred/ shot to death in Alabama or Mississippi.
photo here of Bill Moore
April 23, 1963 · Attalla, Alabama - William Lewis Moore, a postman from Baltimore, was shot and killed during a one-man march against segregation. Moore had planned to deliver a letter to the governor of Mississippi urging an end to intolerance..... (from the Southern Poverty Law Center's roster of Civil Rights martyrs- there is a memorial across the street from their office)
If I assign myself the role of artist, I look back on our action of pouring blood on draft files on October 27th, 1967 to protest the Vietnam war and the "underground" and prison that followed as fabulous sources of drama and intensity ... like a journey to Oz. As activist, our action was simply what we called it (we weren't the ones that coined the phrase), a move "from dissent to resistance," a phrasing also used at the mass demonstration against the Vietnam war one week earlier at the Pentagon on October 21st.
I talk w my mate, Cathy about her formation as an activist- it is the question most asked of me-why did you do this- what caused you to do it, or, what made you do it? The times, she says- my mother's sense of injustice, about rich and poor- my Uncle as a teacher was a big influence.
Yes, I say but most around us did not go the same
direction- it is almost unexplainable. People ask the great composers
where their ideas come from- Beethoven and Rachmaninoff commented on it-
but as to we activists? I know I go into it at length somewhere else in
these writings- I should find that discussion- of my "hairball" of
motives. As I grew older I wondered myself what made people in general
become sincere peace activists.
The motives that took me to the blood pouring are a hair ball- to list several items: influence of civil rights movement, of Phil as a father figure, rebellion against my own father, a real Holden Caulfield sense of being able to sniff out bull sh t and the phony and expose it, dating especially from Mt. Hermon, - anger in general, rebellion against Mt. Hermon, romantic desire to do something exceptional, wanting to have something to write about, boredom with teaching at Boys Latin, the murder of Schwerner, Cheney and Goodman in Mississipppi, love of guerilla theatre a la the yippees, free floating anger since birth (because it took me so long to come out?- 14 hours?!?). Salinger became so tired of it he retired to Cornish, N.H. and, apparently- an eastern philosophy- and it's a shame he hadn't turned his dismay into activism, He'd simply "had enough".
Hopefully, you will understand a little by reading the following. Certainly, the anger, the sense of drama, the imagination .sometimes, it just immodestly occurs to me that we had juice- there was something in me that made me a little more vibrant, searching. Cath, my io- intimate other- is that way too- but we me a large part of it is anger- with her- shes just super smart. Father Berrigan definitely had juice .a certain je ne sais quoi. One of the SDS leaders of the period, Rennie Davis -one of the Chicago 7-, has said: overnight you had freedom marches, anti-war protests etc .it was suddenly there (not so suddenly, in my des opinion (I can see the antecedents)- its one of the things that has fascinated me this whole time: what is it that ignites that kind of curiosity and passion for life and suddenly not needing approval from anyone else it almost takes on a mystical quality, to me, I mean, we want so much to root these things in the social conditions; and not to say social conditions dont create protest but there was something else happening here you almost feel like its more on a metaphysical level; it just does not root itself in political institutions or any easy explanation what was the energy underneath all of that? Thats really still the mystery of the Sixties. Lets just call it the juice. A reviewer of the Godard film Masculine/Feminine whom I hear in 2005 makes the point that he portrays the sheer boredom of youth- the banality of it. But that wasnt my youth- I hesitate to say our youth- for many in my generation were bored and listless slackers too, as are youth always. But some of us were not!
As time passes my memory makes a necklace of my peace movement past, stringing the dates together like so many beads. But time happens to you like the string itself without any pearls or polished gems.
Father Philip Berrigan, a Josephite priest, myself, sort of a "poet", an alleged poet, and Tom Lewis, an artist, were veterans of the civil rights movement who had become more and more deeply involved in anti‑war work. We were members of a Baltimore peace group, the Interfaith Peace Mission. The fourth member of our group, which came to be dubbed the "Baltimore 4" was a United Church of Christ minister, the Reverend James Mengel.
We attended the mass Pentagon rally the week before our blood pouring, proud to be planning our own action and buoyed up by the spectacle of the crowd and the socializing. We had become more and more angry about the war, escalating our opposition to it with a variety of civil rights style tactics: sit‑ins, road blocks, marches, as well as draft counseling, etc.
But I get ahead of myself. It was the murders of civil rights activists Schwerner, Goodman and Cheney several years earlier in Mississippi in 1964 that had moved me to join the civil rights movement full time, quitting a job teaching at the Boys Latin private school in Baltimore. I wanted to participate in my generation's history making. Youngsters made the same decision more than a hundred years before as the civil war loomed (of course the sacrifices of that generation‑ at Wilderness, Manassas, at Shiloh, at Brandy Station, far outweighed mine). Imagine sacrificing your life if you were a confederate for the wrong cause! After seeing the great English movie in 2011, "The Four Feathers"- about cowardice and valor in war (in this case the imperialist British war to retake the Sudan)- I can see how old men might embellish old "war stories" in their old age- and I might say- we wished to exhibit the same valor as young soldiers- only for a different cause- the cause of non-violence.
Teaching was boring but also difficult, in that even at Boy's Latin- an upper class school, discipline problems took up too much concentration; I remembered the creative "beatnik" friends I'd made at Oberlin College where I majored in English Literature between 1958 and 1962. I'd seen Joan Baez back in the kitchen at the co-op at Oberlin, I think she had a red flower in her hair. I guessed I could find such people again in "the movement". I needed them; I needed the romance, I needed some action, I needed to do something Joan Baez might accompany in my mind with her floating soprano. There was no way I was going to piddle out my days in these classrooms so similar to the ones I'd experienced myself at Mount Hermon, Massachusetts, where I'd attended prep school from 1954 to 1958. We never heard about the civil rights struggle abirthing in Alabama while at Mt. Hermon but in '56 the Supreme Court declared the Montgomery, Alabama bus segregation unconstitutional and somewhere during this period a young Martin Luther King was preaching about liberation from the "long night of oppression". Something was in the air. Sleepy little Baltimore was somewhat jolted when protestors sought to integrate Gwynn Oaks the amusement park in 1963. Todd Gittlin, author of The Sixties, Years of Hope, Days of Rage, was there as was Tom Lewis of the Baltimore four and he remarks, "It was official: I was in the movement". He felt the same way I did.
I was coaching a lacrosse team at Boys' Latin prep school when the news broke of Kennedy's assassination. It wasn't long after that I took the plunge into something more exciting than teaching.
It was 1964 and I knew where I could find some excitement‑ CORE, the Congress on Racial Equality. CORE in Baltimore had started back in (more on origins). In '64 I went to Atlantic City to urge that the Mississippi Freedom Party be allowed to represent the state- I met Louise at a CORE meeting- I held such part time jobs as Welfare Case verifyer and librarian at the Milton Eisenhower Library at Johns Hopkins and later worked as an organiser for Catholic Charities getting the churches involved in forums on the latest political issues (in other words joining church and state!). Freedom Summer was slowly "tipping over" the power structure in Mississippi (wording is Bruce Watson's- author of the eye opening book Freeedom Summer). While Martin Luther King was perfecting mass marches and demos and jail-ins- not always effective- SNCC was perfecting grass roots organizing. The white students- some from Oberlin- who came to Mississippi for Freedom Summer would have to turn over the burden of organising to the locals- the "nitty gritty" so to speak. Atlantic City showed us the futility of working within the system.
I had stopped the teaching and had moved out of the parental nest (after long gestation) and down into the city. A friend in the civil rights movement, Hal Smith, let me stay in his house on 25th Street. He was turning a basement into a memorial to a previous tenant, Bill Moore, a martyr to the civil rights movement. Moore had been a postman in Baltimore and went to the deep South on a one man walk to protest segregation, truly a suicidal mission. He walked roads in Alabama wearing a placard that read "Black and White, Eat at Joe's". He was shot and killed. Hal hoped to make the basement into a combination civil rights reading room and museum.
I began attending CORE meetings, finding new gurus and "father figures", notably the colorful Baltimorean/North Carolinian CORE leader, Walter Carter. (I didn't know it at the time of course, but I would have one more "father figure" to apprentice under‑ Phil Berrigan and "mother figure", my wife Louise whom I met at a CORE meeting‑ before I became my own father and had my own son). Perhaps I should also count Jay Worrall, founder of Offender Aid and Restoration (hereafter OAR), but by the time I got to Jay (1977), I was basically my own man.
Louise was my flower girl. She bore an uncanny resemblance to the girl draped in flowers in Botticelli's great painting of Venus- the woman to the side with the long thin nose. I always thought of Louise as "sandy"- that word stuck in my mind. She was sexy. I had dreamt of meeting someone and then I did. In relation to us, I also often thought of the Michel Legrand song, "What are you doing for the rest of your life" , although, alas, for the best, our relationship was not to last. It certainly was intense in the 900 block of Charles St. over the Bier Stube!
CORE - which is where I met Louise- provided opportunities for accomplishment and grist for the writing mill. I advanced to the status of vice‑chairman of the Baltimore chapter and wrote and produced a booklet which was a combination of text and photos (by Carl X) called the "Soul Book" describing CORE and the ghetto conditions CORE was protesting in Baltimore. I drew courage from the inspired poetry, singing and imagery of the movement. With all the energy of youth it was even possible to find beauty in the shattering heat and poverty of the inner city, in the gray, humid light that fell on worn brick colors late afternoons and the gritty green of the slum growing weed tree, the ailanthus.
The civil rights movement was an incubator for the development of exciting new techniques of non‑violent direct action and civil disobedience. One Saturday meeting we decided that a small group would test racist practices in apartment rentals and risk arrest to dramatize the issue of segregated housing. A Mr. Myerberg who built apartments in the inner city (and crammed Negroes, as they were called then, into them) also developed segregated suburban apartment complexes. We went in three cars to the Baltimore suburb of Reisterstown to one of his apartment complexes called Chartley. There we joined forces with Fred Nass, a white member of our housing subcommittee. Fred, with his wife and kids, would test availability of apartments for whites; then Walter Carter, a black who was Housing Committee chairman would ask about renting an apartment. If they turned Walter down we would begin a "sit in" protest demonstration. Other CORE members came with us to set up a picket line and begin marching outside if needed. The police had been informed. We brought walkie‑talkies for communication. There was to be no obvious connection for the rental agent between Fred and Walter.
Its not so much that blacks would want to live at Chartley- but theyd be damned if they werent going to have the right to say, No!
Fred went into the rental office and the agent told him there were two apartments vacant. Then we came in with Walter. The agent introduced Fred: "Mr Carter, this is Mr. Nass." Walt must have been nervous for he replied, "O yes, Fred Nass." The agent didn't catch the slip and went on to tell Walt that Fred had bought the last apartment. The agent then went outside with Fred and gave him a confidential nudge. According to plan, Fred told the agent he would reconsider when Walt asked Fred (as if he didn't know him) if he (the "kind gentleman") would give up the apartment. "I can't let you sign the lease. I can't give you an application," the agent told Walt, even though he had just mentioned six possible apartments to Fred.
"What's your policy on selling to Negroes?" Walt asked. The agent replied that he'd never done it, refusing to give us any policy. We were wondering whether our fellow COREmate Jim Divers had ruined things by noisily moving around upstairs supposedly "looking the apartment over" because he'd left his walkie‑talkie on. We could hear CORE organizer Herb Callender (who was on the outside) coming in loud and clear through the walkie‑talkie from his position outside, "Freedom one to Freedom two, over."
"It looks clear cut, wouldn't you say?" Walter asked and Fred agreed. Then Walter told the agent, "We're from CORE and we're sitting here 'til we get a policy statement and the same treatment as our white brothers." We were glad things were going according to plan.
The evening brought more pickets, blankets, food, curious onlookers and police, but no response from Myerberg. It looked like he was going to wait us out. But we were ready. "If Conrad and Cooper (who had just returned from space) can orbit for eight days," said Walter, "we can outlast them ...an inner space orbit." Herb, a bona fide "outside agitator", a CORE leader who had come down from headquarters in New York, dressed all in field hand denims like movement organizers in the South, led the pickets outside. He told us that we would need a continual picket in this neighborhood to publicize the sit‑in and to protect us from any mob. "The police might look the other way," he warned. But our excitement was not to come from the onlookers, who were Marylanders, after all, not the more dangerous Mississippians or Alabamians.
We waited through the next morning, groggy from a night's rest on the floor. Some of the tired picketers came in and stretched out on the floor to get some rest. At about noon a representative of the Maryland Interracial Committee came out to mediate. Myerberg's attorney was also on hand offering various ploys to get us out of the sample apartment. We were beginning to draw unwelcome publicity for his boss. First he offered to meet us on a Wednesday, then a Monday, then immediately...anywhere but in the model apartment. He still refused to give any policy statement. So, it's obviously segregated, we "happily" concluded.
Then the hammering began! Burly men were covering the back of the apartment with sheets of plywood. They came in and tore out our only toilet. They attached a hose to the only water tank. We got a little nervous. "Maybe they're gonna flood us out," Walt speculated as they brought the hose in. But for some reason they drained the tank. Did they think we were drinking it?
The crowd of pickets and onlookers was growing. A lumber truck pulled up in front of the apartment and a carpenter made measurements as if to block up the front windows. We had stocked up with food for the long haul: jugs of water, gallons of peanut butter, loads of crackers, grapes, bananas, candy, even bags as replacement for the toilet.
But the end was near. Myerberg called the police in and had us charged with trespassing. They led us out to a paddy wagon and took us to the nearest station where we waited for processing. We chatted with the very agent who'd sworn out the warrants. Somehow the conversation drifted onto reincarnation and the agent allowed that he wanted to come back rich. "But let me come back a man, one honest and angry man!" Walt rejoined. We signed a prisoner's meal ticket and the jailer took our belts (so we wouldn't hang ourselves I suppose) and then took us into the lockup. Walt regaled us with imitations of civil rights leaders; we chatted with a Mr. Smallwood who was awaiting trial for assault and battery and listened to the jailer kidding our friend Ray as he took his fingerprints. Soon they transferred us to a magistrate. We asked for a jury trial and I requested that the word "wantonly" be stricken from the trespassing charges ("He's a poet," Walt explained). We were quickly processed out on bond.
Some persons with baseball bats at the exit alarmed us but it turned out they were softball players who had disturbed the peace. Walt remarked of Herb Callender, "He looks so young ... so young ... and you know why? He's paid his dues, suffered, but is the freer inside for it." It was the kind of thing Walt would say.
Violent events further South made our struggle seem quite tame. We were emboldened to continue by the freedom riders and comforted and supported by the huge demonstrations in D.C. we joined knowing they would go into the history books, like the march on Washington in August of 1963 when Dr. King said he had a dream. I went. Kings amplified voice drifted up the mall towards the upside down bell of the capitol, even more bell like than usual .
Inspiring music accompanied my civil rights involvement, accompanying the beads on the memory string, songs like "O Freedom" or "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round". We sang as we sat with joined hands in a circle in the middle of Calvert Street to block traffic in protest of the segregated high rise Horizon House (where some 40 years later in 2003 I would deliver Sunpapers to apartments) ; we sang amidst thundering congregations in black churches. All my life any time the going got rough, "Ain't gonna let nobody, turn me 'round, turn me 'round, 'turn me 'round; keep on awalkin, keep on atalkin, walkin down to freedom land" might pop into my head. Later, all I had to do was fill in appropriate new lyrics as we had in the movement days, i.e. "ain't gonna let my divorce, or ain't gonna let obsessive compulsive behavior" etc. In one interview before his death, CORE leader James Farmer, talks about the Freedom Riders singing in the Jackson, Mississippi jail- driving the jailers crazy. There is a wonderful cd with "Sweet Honey in the Rock" and Berneice Reagon where you can hear these songs.
I can't tell you how much the "black experience" has meant to me through out my life- let me explain- I joined the civil rights movement, in part- in rebellion against my own up tight upbringing- at prep school and in the church- and that led me to the whole "black"- for which now more politically correct substitute the correct "African American" attitude- which is one (and I'm being careful here not to sterotype) of a certain animus and suspicion of whites, a somewhat looser attitude towards matters musical, humorous, linguistic, sexual and religious, and a definite left leaning political stance- formed by long years enduring prejudice and oppression.
I can't tell you how much the "black experience" has meant to me through out my life- let me explain- I joined the civil rights movement, in part- in rebellion against my own up tight upbringing- at prep school and in the church- and that led me to the whole "black"- for which now more politically correct substitute the correct "African American" attitude- which is one (and I'm being careful here not to sterotype) of a certain animus and suspicion of whites, a somewhat looser attitude towards matters musical, humorous, linguistic, sexual and religious, and a definite left leaning political stance- formed by long years enduring prejudice and oppression.
I kept trying to turn the civil rights grist into poetry. Although drawn to it, the role of movement organizer was not an easy one for me. My field of expertise according to my college degree was English literature. I'd left Boy's Latin to get out from the front of the classroom, that so public, performing position. I had trained for a couple of months for the Peace Corps at Georgetown and would have gone to Ethiopia but dropped out and spent about a year living with my folks in vague anticipation of a writing career. I had always scoffed at Dad when he had said he thought I'd make a good monk, but there was a side of me that truly loved the contemplative (or was it just a lazy, scared side?). Staying at home was no answer. I left choosing teaching because I had to make my own way in the world and I was familiar with it. Then I joined the civil rights movement for adventure and belief without much thought of pay. Was I competing with Dad, to beat him at his own game of public achievement (he was a beloved teacher with a flair for the dramatic, imitating camel whinnies and so on to spice up his Bible classes. Pop was probably talking about himself as the contemplative. He liked performing no better than I!
Sotto voice, I asked myself the stock questions, why wasn't I taking my place in society along with my Mt. Hermon classmates? Why wasn't I pursuing money like other Americans. (Of course, little did I know it, they were also doing odd and rebellious things.) Why wasn't I meeting my father's expectations? What were my father's expectations? the youth's gnawing inner questions. Even more nagging was the realization that I'd only be young once, and that this was the time to take some risks in order to discover myself. If not, I could go straight to the grave without ever having lived! Someone else might make all my decisions for me! I would have to dare to become myself and, like one of Dad's favorite heroes, T. E. Lawrence. I would become more of an adventurer.
What I didn't realize was that the mystical father/mentors, the Walter Carters (who died while I was in prison?), the Phil Berrigans would not always be there to guide me, and if I wished to be truly alive I would have to continue adventuring and keep on creating myself. In later years I sometimes thought with relief that I had taken my big chances early on and could now sit back and relax (in my job at the Baltimore City Jail), cruising into old age with a paying job, no longer a part of any special movement struggle. Activists became rarer and rarer through the seventies, eighties, and nineties it seemed. Or maybe these decades lacked turmoil like the Vietnam War to bring out the activism in ordinary persons like myself. My adventures became white water rafting or fighting with neighbors over a barking dog. Having exited real prison, I joined up with society, got a paying job with which to support myself thus entering another sort of prison, literally and figuratively. But, since I knew myself better because of my own prison experiences, my job in the rat race was, at least, my own choice.
Adult life was not going to be a freebie, it later dawned on me.
Where did I ever get the impression that it would be? No one was going
to pay me to just be myself. I just hadn't given these issues much
thought. And none of the excellent schools I'd attended or gurus with
whom I`d associated, nor my own father, had given me any advice about
these decisions which we all face.
There had been, regrettably, no course entitled "Life 101", or, to be more specific, "How to get along with a woman 401", or "How to manage money 501" 0r "How to choose a vocations or career rather than a job 601". Pathetic. I often jokingly thought that Dad had only taught me two things: how to drive and that it's a good idea to put paper down on toilet seats in dirty bathrooms. I came to realize that Dad had taught me quite a lot of things in an unstated way. Dad was a minister and many of his and Mom`s religious ideas had rubbed off, as had other ways of doing things, no doubt.
Barbara Mills has written an interesting book about the period- focusing in on our lawyer for most of the civil rights arrests- Fred Weisgal- quite the character. In the book And Justice for All, she wrote about some of the same actions I wrote about plus actions I had completely forgotten. We were fighting for Open Occupancy- black and white together, it was 1966. Barbara went on to write another book- on the history of the civil rights movement in Maryland, entitled, Got My Mind Set on Freedom. She used several of the photos I had in my Soul Book, taken by Carl X Harden.
Fred became involved in the anti war cases after a demonstration that happened on March 28th. Mostly student demonstrators picked an Army Recruiting Center on Greenmount Avenue- among them one of my friends to this day, Dave Harding. The students were from Johns Hopkins and were members of S.D.S.- the Students for a Democratic Society. They were jailed but Dave received an added charge of Malicious Destruction of Property. Supposedly, as Barbara points out, he had used a key to scratch on the painted cell wall, Cops are against people and two other words, unstated, described as obscene. Dave told me some 36 years later that these words were Fu k the Pigs. He had passed his keys to a next door cell but the cops figured out what happened and sent the keys out to analyze for paint residue. In court, a somewhat sympathetic judge asked the police: You never charged before for writing on the wall. This was funny to all concerned- but Dave was still fined. He later worked for U-JOIN - a community organizing venture similar to CORE and knew my friend Cath before I met her- my true life partner and official I.O.- Intimate Other. Dave is still a dear friend.
Barbara Mills also remained an activist, while living in Baltimore and after, and for a while had even been on the Board of the organization I had started in 1976- Offender Aid and Restoration (O.A.R.).
Some 25 years after it was written, I read Lou Goldberg's 300 page dissertation on Target City CORE which he had written for a doctorate at Johns Hopkins. I had remarked to Lou that Target City CORE had not lived up to its promises. It was a noble effort that failed. CORE had decided to emphasize the economic problems of the ghetto and de-emphasize the old style demonstrations against segregated facilities. The reasoning was, why integrate a high rise apartment if most blacks couldn't afford to live there in the first place?
When CORE along with the rest of the civil rights movement began to
emphasize black power (1966), many whites left. I moved over to the
peace movement. It wasn't hard to do: the spirit, the elan, the
creativity were the same. These were good years to be young, with plenty
of outlet for anger. Our generation was making a name for itself that
history might recognize, we immodestly thought (as had many other
generations). I became a draft counselor for the American Friends
Service Committee. My own draft status? I had applied for and received a
1-A-O Conscientious Objector status- that would put me to Vietnam as a medic's helper. Later, while in prison, my draft board mailed me an insulting letter: they had changed my status to 4F- "unfit for duty"- like giving me a feather for cowardice, I suppose- as they had at the turn of the century to English soldiers (before the anti war poet, Wilfred Owen and the expose of the 1st World War as a sham!)
Friend Barbara Mills's second book on civil rights activism and colored peoples, negro/black/African American (in that order of wording) struggle in Maryland- Keep on Walking with My Mind Set on Freedom comes out in Jan. of 2003. She tells me that she had tried to get Johns Hopkins Press to publish it but that an editor at the Sun, C. Frazier Smith, was also (supposedly) doing a book on the same subject that they planned to publish. Barbara concentrates on the 60s and Baltimores part in the story. The great writer on the civil rights movement- Taylor Branch, at the time of this writing, lives in Baltimore.
I was struck by parts of the story Barbara told that I have forgotten about. I came to realize that a lot of difficult behind the scenes work was done of which I, at the time, knew little or paid no attention- like the writing of press releases, the sending of letters to Mayor McKeldin, various landlords and realtors like Victor Frenkil Samuel Gorn and the Meyerbergs- activity at high levels without which nothing would have resulted. At pr. 550, Barbara describes certain actions of mine and I have to ask her did she have the wrong person? Surely I would remember doing this in a courtroom setting? But it was me and I do not remember it at all. I had forgotten the rift between the local C.O.R.E. and Target City C.O.R.E., to which latter I gravitated and with which I worked. Barbaras segments on my first grand mentor, Walter Carter are indispensable.
Friend Bill OConnor tells me I was in and out of a fog half the time then, maybe hes right. Do I have the selective memory because I was not attracted to the more soldierly, risky, glamorous stuff....like getting arrested? Did I not prefer to retreat into passivity?
Anyway, Barbara had done her homework. She had also served for a spell on the Board of my organization, Offender Aid and Restoration, and, then and at the time of C.O.R.E., I thought of her as a very bright but abrasive and annoying person. She suffered no fools. She had a great sense of humor which saved her. And now, having provided me with some new understanding of self, having used some of my writing and the photos I have by Carl X (some how she found out that his last name was Harden), she is definitely MY FRIEND.
Taylor Branch was to me THE historian of the movement and he lived right here in Baltimolre. His three books on Martin Luther King were masterful and I was happy to be able to talk with him by telephone. His book on Clinton came out in 2009. In August of 2004, I came across a book that spoke in the same voice as mine: Blood Done Wrote My Name by Tim Tyson- a history of the movement in North Carolina- centering on a murder that occurred when Tim was 10 in Oxford, N.C.
Mary Kings (later an official in the Carter administration) book Freedom Song was also especially moving to me. I had dated Mary, ONCE, back in the 60s. I can't say we had much chemistry. How were we even introduced? Hers one of the best, most thoughtful books on the Civil Rights Movement- love her quotes from one of her friends, one of my favorite poets- Jane Stembridge. Jane had attended the same school as my Dad- Union Theological Seminary. To me, she was a great poet of the movement- as was Gil Scott-Heron. Karl Fleming has also written a good book on the period- Son of the Rough South.
The civil rights movement, which after all, had been going on all the time anyway- shaped my generation, shaped the peace movement and the feminist movement and the green movements that came after. All these movements seemed to die away in the 80s and 90s and with the next generations....what went wrong? Was this a century occurrence, a blip, a fluke, a cyclical thing? No, it was the shoulders on which the next revolutionaries (which we were not) could stand, it had not been in vain, despite the Republican and retrograde, capitalist, years to come. Marge Piercy had described it well in her novel on the French revolution- City of Light .
In his masterful book, Tyson
states: "Most of the white people who appear in film footage of civil
rights marches were brave followers of Leon Trotsky or radical Catholic
sisters, saintly kooks of one description or another"- and these were
exactly the directions my life would take, saintly or not. When I
consider the happenings in Tim's North Carolina town of Oxford,
as described in this book- which. along with Taylor Branch's 3 books
on M L King is the most gripping civil rights account since To Kill a Mockingbird , or Styron's Confessions of Nat Turner or the original Nat Turner Diaries. I realize how sheltered was my upbringing in the college town of Davidson, N.C. True Tim only realized what really happened researching his book- not at the time it had happened. I visited the area in southern Virginia where Nat Turner events had taken place? It was plain that the power structure had tried to erase all memory of it- plainly whites wanted to forget it. There may have been one historical marker out on the highway.
Tim on Eddie McCoy: one of the black leaders in Oxford at the time and after- McCoy ia dismissive of "outside agitators" when it comes to civil rights advances. He claims, "I didn't need that." (meaning the persons who came down from the north to help start a movement). No? Did blacks fight back as hard before the Freedom Riders? Why diss allies? Sounds like swagger to me- boastful, unneeded comments. Sure, it's foolish to attribute the successes of the movement all to non violent civil disobedience when there were also such events as the torching of tobacco and lumber warehouses in Oxford. Non violent boycotts of white owned businesses surely moved the whites along- yet and still.........as in the labor movement, militant destruction of property (and assuredly guns) contributed a lot to the movement.
One of the black Viet vets that Tyson quotes says of Ben Chavis- a militant black organizer) that he "didn't know sh t! We didn't give a damn about his Martin Luther King bullsh t,"
writes, "the nation has comforted itself by sanitizing the civil rights
movement, commemorating it as a civic celebration that no one ever
opposed." He implies that blacks with guns- like the militant leftist, Robert Johnson in North Carolina, gave backing to the non-violent troops.
Given my proclivity to non-violence- I am interested where one of
Tim's characters gives his .38 special pistol as much weight as non
violent civil disobedience. There is also a wonderful account of the
Lumbee Indians breaking up a Klan rally with rifel fire- the Klan's wife
driving their car into a swamp in her panic and the Indians helping her
out. One thing that southerners understand, apparently- all too
readily. Guns and firepower, as Jimmy Hoffa recommended to us later in prison.
Me, I'll take a civil war vintage Sharp's rifle- the kind my ole
buddy John Brown liberated at Harper's Ferry. Either that or a lever
action Winchester. Just kidding (but my dad did know guns and I shot em a plenty in my youth) (the smell of bluing oil you will never forget). Guns- is this a place dave for more or , don't get me started?
Note that Robert Teel's son (son of the acquitted murderer and himself a suspect in the case Tyson narrates- I gather he is arguing self defense- eg- Marrow came at them w a knife) has a web site trying to "set the record straight" and calling Tim a "race hustler". Tell me issues don't still exist in the Carolinas and the rest of the right wing south- land of the Repubublican's "southern strategy". America has yet to come to grips with the race issue. It occurs to me that Oxford, NC owes reparations- that this case should be re opened- as should many in the south. White racists who have gotten away w stuff should be brought to justice. Towns like Oxford should pay reparations; southern states should. One gets the feeling reading Teel's shabby, ignorant web site that he fears something coming- would that it would- like a call from the Justice Department. Maybe he sniffs the, hears the hounds of justice baying (at least in his red necked brain)? He obviously knows what happens but doesn't reveal it on his web site- if it wasn't him? who was it?.
See the documentary on the Freedom Riders that came out in 2010. Also the must to read- Hands on the Freedom Plow- by women who worked w SNCC and NAG in the Freedom Summer and in the deep south- accounts of speeding at 125 mph to avoid whites in cars brandishing rifles, and stints in jail and the singing- always the singing- compared to them we were ants.
Black Panthers, Eddie Conway, still sits in prison for his role in radical activities of the 60's- as do others- notably- David Gilbert in Auburn Correctional Institution in New Yorki state for his role in a Brinks robbery- of Dave more later.
Unfortunately, in 2012, as an exhibit on the civil rights movement was mounted by the Md. Historical Society- I realized this is how the real history gets sugared over- one of the participants on a panel discussion- Ms. Helena Hicks, had actually had a sit in at Reads Drug Store in downtown Baltimore in the 1950's as a protest to discrimination- although no one waited around to be arrested. Others on the panel had taken no risk and did not seem to understand Dr. King's philosophy of militant non violent civil disobedience. One of the panelists had done little more than organize the campaigns of black politicians who were as Uncle Tom as you please! They wanted to praise the efforts of the NAACP's Lilly Jackson and the moderate Republican mayor of Baltimore- Theodore McKeldin when, back in the day- we thought of these folks as "sell outs"! The shades of grey were not being discussed- the struggle part was being left out!
The Baltimore 4 Action
Because I look so "distant", am I saying, " Where am I? or, What did I just do?" or just, "what comes next?" I seem sort of analytical and out of it- as do Tom and Phil- pensive. I swear I was in this very room later in my criminal justice work- but, maybe not- Courthouse East- the old Post Office- a building that figured momentously three times in my life. -110, 111 N. Calvert St. - at this moment of the blood pouring, later at our trial held herein and later again having to pass a civil service test to sdave my own job as Director of OAR). . We were young! We were on fire! We were changing the world! In a coat and tie? Couldn't I have looked a little more like Rod Stewart in the great rock group: "Faces"?, or Brian May and Freddy Mercury in Queen? or the Muppets performing Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody"? about which the fellow band member ? says: "It's one of those songs which has such a fantasy feel about it. I think people should just listen to it, think about it, and then make up their own minds as to what it says to them... "Bohemian Rhapsody" didn't just come out of thin air. I did a bit of research .....although it was tongue-in-cheek and mock opera. Why not?
"Scaramouche, scaramouche, won't you do the fandango", or "We will, we will rock you"? The anti war groups deserved as much adulation as the rockers- that's for sure! People will say- why put this distraction here? To me- it's not a distraction- the radical distention of reality occurs to the cutting edge actors everywhere- like evolution.
Norman Morrison, like William Moore, from Baltimore- a Quaker, went to the Pentagon one day. He set his daughter down at a distance, doused himself with kerosene and burned himself alive. The Stony Run Meeting House, where he had presided, is where I first met my longest life partner- Cathy. A North Vietnamese stamp was created with his image. "By the light of burning martyrs, Jesus' bleeding feet I track"- from the hymn- "Once to Every Man and Nation".
Dan Berrigan had visited Roger La Porte, a similar immolator, as he lay dying in a New York Hospital. Bhuddist monks were setting themselves ablaze in protest. Likie the Irish revolutionary, Bobby Sands, one might even offer one's life in protest. Easy enough to burn draft cards!
I worked at the American Friends Service Committee as a draft counselor when whites left the civil rights movement- parsing the arcane details of draft law as ably described by the Handbook for Conscientious Objectors put out by the Central Committee for C Os in Philadelphia. My heroes- besides the singers of the "Jefferson Airplane" rock group? the leaders of CCCO who might come down for a seminar, bringing all the latest legal lore. I was also working as a reporter during this time for such underground newspapers as "Harry" and "Dragonseed". Louise and I lived in the centrally located Mt. Vernon neighborhood- not far from the Peabody Conservatory.
The blood pouring was but the strongest end to a long series of actions against the Vietnam War, which were taken under the aegis of the Interfaith Peace Mission. Father Phil Berrigan and Tom Lewis and I knew each other from the civil rights movement- as opposition to the war grew- we organized more and more protests at local city draft boards, picket lines with placards with skulls and cross bones and the like. We applied enough pressure that the draft boards were consolidated into the downtown Customs House.
We almost got into trouble for ripping up a semi replica of the American flag at a local coffee house. We worked closely with the media, who seemed to sympathize and enjoy our antics.
The local Induction Center was down in Dundalk-Ft. Holabird- and one day we decided to go up a step from the usual leafletting of the bujsses that left from the Customs House and actually get on the busses with the inductees. Some informant or other had given authorities advanced notice and they had the whole route the buses took blocked off and had motorcycle police in front of and behind the buses- little realizing that we were THERE ON! O we enjoyed such triumphs- sot us nothing and was much appreciated by the young men about to be processed.
On another occasion- we decided to picket the homes of the Joint-Chiefs of Staff at Ft. Myers. I thought of Mormon Morrison as we tllk out our placards beside the cannon pointing across the Potomac towards the capitol- chrysanthemums as crisply spiky and as yellow as flame in the cool autumn air. A bus came to take us off the bus- but, as they ushered us off- who remained behind, starting to sing- but Jim Mengel- whom they had to drag out. We got back into cars and, followed by the Associated Press, headed right back to the Joint Chiefs bungalows. What a view was afforded them...nothing but the best for chief killers....the stern warriors so like eagles- handsome but rapacious and, in the end, disgraceful and ugly scavengers for capitalism. Not far away- the Bobby Lee mansion- monument, I suppose, to a gentle and handsome gentleman willing to sacrifice thousands for a wrong cause. Great.
Re the origins of our action: an amusing incident as described in the best book on the Berrigans to date- Murray Polner's Disarmed and Dangerous: " Phil B arranged a meeting between members of the Baltimore Peace Mission and Philip Hirschkop a lawyer in Alexandria Va, ( was I present?).Phil opened the meeting by informing H that the group had been considering a plan to blow up the U.S. Customs House in Baltimore where thousands of military draft files were stored, but wanted to keep the action "nonviolent" by ensuring that no one would be anywhere near the building. H said "My God, don't do that", then jumped out of his chair and ran from the office (I don't remember any of this- is this Bill O Connor's embroidering?). O'Connor says he and the others had to search up and down the halls before finding the shaken lawyer and guiding him back behind closed doors. P adjusted to H's alarm by disclosing the group's Plan B: entering the draft board and jamming up its door locks with a jelly like substance. What, he wanted to know, was the legality of such a protest? H thought it over, then suggested that the group do something less serious, like pouring blood or honey or red paint on the locks. That way, he said, they'd avoid doing serious property damage while making our symbolic point...on the drive back home, Phil derided H's idea as the tepid proposal of "just another bourgeois lawyer." But pouring blood in a draft office struck David Eberhardt as a prophetic stroke worthy of Amos and Hosea. Phil began to change his mind". I think because I do not remember this meeting, I may not have been there- but the part about the prophets and the blood at the Howard Johnson's, I do remember. I tell George M- yes- I was in a fog at that time- plenty. But one of my strong points was imagination- I loved guerrilla theatre and still do. At one point when Bush's Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, was testifying about the war in Iraq, a Code Pink member came close to her and held up a hand with a bloody glove. Fantastic! My own induction into the Code Pink army?- 4/26,2011 as I shouted "no platform for war criminals" at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (where I had also performed with the Symphony Chorus for 15 years).
So then I- me and Phil H- were the brains behind the blood pouring. But without Commandante Phil Berrigan, you'd best believe it would not have happened!
Regardless of my memory of this, Hirschkopf and I met again, "providentially" you might say if you were Christian, as we were on a panel of discussion after a play "Something You Did", by Willy Holtzman, presented at the Theatre J aat the Jewish Community Theatre on 16th street in DC on Sept. 12th, 2010. "Something You Did" is based on two careers- one that of leftist revolutionary Cathy Boudin (Allison Moulton) and the other Trotskyite turned right wing talk show host traitor neo con- David Horowitz.
Phil H was not "just another bourgeois lawyer" (probably another embellishment by Bill O'C- Phil H had all ready defended Phil B in a case) - he had trained as a Green Beret , but after graduation from law school, went south to Mississippi (during "Freedom Summer"-'64 )and defended civil rights workers who had gotten in trouble there and Danville, Va. Phil had got King out of jail.
He was friends with all the storied movement and left lawyers of the time- Arthur Kinoy, Bill Kunstler, Lenny Boudin (Cathy's father). He defneded the writer Norman Mailer and is featured in a chapter from Mailer's Armies of the Night. At 79 in 2010 K was hardly retired in that he is the main lawyer for the Persons for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
The play- "Something You Did" was the best movement play I've seen- a true political play- touching so many issues of my life. It is based on the lives of Cathy Boudin (see Eve Ensler's documentary -"What I Want My Words To Be" on her and C's (or was it radical with a life sentence- Judith Clark's?) work with inmates at a womens' prison in New York) and David Horowitz, red diaper baby turned conservative writer and blow hard.
Thank God for leftist lawyers- Phil K had suggested we get Freddie Weisgal for our defense (because he knew it would be a conflict of interest for him to represent us!) And his friends went well back into the McCarthy and Smith Act Era (in the all is connected to the past department!)
I joke w Phil H- you ruined my life- rather he wisely retorts- I saved you guys from blowing up the Customs House (I don't think we would have). He tells me on 9/13 that he had never ran scared out of his office. Nor does he remember Phil talking about bombing the place.So let's chalk that part of the story up to Bill O'C's story? Phil and I have a phone converstaion on 9/14 in which he adds: "It's possible that I stepped out of my office to allow you and the others to continue the discussion amongst yourselves- and to avoid being a part of a conspiracy"- but running down the hall? There was no hall to run down. George Mische tells me hie is prone to believing Bill O C's version- in that Phil also thought of bombing the heating ducts under DC in the Harrisburg 8 conspiracy and that he disses Hirschkop as having been fired by the D.C. 9? .
Some random notes on the play: the fact recounted in the play that over 1/2 of the volunteers for "Freedom Summer" were Jews; the moment at her parole hearing where Allison is about to name Biddle as being with her when she purchased the nails (which were put into the bomb by "Malcolm")- but she holds back and does the honerable thing, saying, "At my side was.... at my side was....the hopes of a generation", rather than naming and snitching out the David Horowitz character, as reprehensible as he may have become. The issues of non-violence and violence are investigated- I note a poem was written by James Merrill about the explosion in the townhouse that killed three weatherpersons (a town house owned by his family?) that it is incomprehensible- like poems by the poet, John Asbury (New York School of poets); the panel after the show includes me, Phil Hirschkop, Mark Goldstone (a lawyer who defends many DC demonstrators), and owner of Busboys and Poets, Andy Shallal...questions; questions from the audience raise such issues as -when is violence justified- French Reistance, bombing the rails to Auschwitz, plots against Hitler-, story of the Bhudda,the killing of abortion Drs?
The biggest Pentagon demonstration took place a week before our blood pouring; I was there but don't remember trying levitate the building as had been planned by the Yippees and Jerry Rubin and Abby Hoffman. Robert Lowell and Norman Mailer were featured speakers!
On to the Customs House
On the morning of October 27th we met at Phil's parish, St. Peter Claver's Catholic Church at Pennsylvania and Fremont over in Baltimore's west side ghetto. We proceeded to South Gay St. and the Customs House. The ever present (because invited by us) media was especially helpful that day. It was they, employees of the Baltimore Sunpapers who drove us to our staging area, an artist's loft across from the Customs House. They could have been indicted as co‑conspirators, but these were different times than today (2012) when the "mainstream media" is all on the right or center/liberal side..
The day before the blood pouring a nurse friend was going to draw our own blood to fill the Mr. Clean detergent plastic bottles which we'd emptied. The only syringes available were oversized so we supplemented the few drops of our own with duck's blood purchased from a local market. (Polish Baltimoreans used it to make sausages). Another account reads, "Using a pint of Berrigan's and Tom Lewis' blood, complemented by blood from a poultry liver from a Polish butcher in South "Baltimore, the four Peace Mission activists, in their October 27th action, put Baltimore on the national map of resistance to the war," this from a 38 page paper done April 15, 1991 by Jonathan Roberts for the Johns Hopkins University Department of History. The paper is entitled "Voices of an Antiwar Movement: Baltimore During the Vietnam War".
The FBI analysis done of the blood for the trial showed it to be "poultry" which led some right wing journalist/wag to declare it to be "chicken blood" i.e. poured by cowards. I was later told that a friend squeezed livers to add yet more blood to the concoction. The fact that my version may not square with the facts, the realization that there are details of the action unfamiliar to me annoys me to this day! I want to be included, it seems, even in events gone by! I want, at the least, to remember the details.
I approach these incidents in memory as might explorers finding such Mayan ruins as Bonampak or Tikal. It is misty- howler monkeys surround me, hotoing and hooting. Great roots are smothering the stelae, whose heiroglyphs we can barely decipher.
On the night before the action, Phil married me to Louise Yolton in a highly abbreviated ceremony. It was the dramatic thing to do, fitting that wonderful slogan of the time "Make Love, Not War!". I worried about the wolves who might steal my girl while I languished in prison. Besides, Louise standing beside me just before I acted conferred some kind of authority. I had a lot of respect for her. Looking back, I'm lucky she agreed to such a marriage. What I was about to do would be OK if she approved; she was, after all, someone my own age, of our generation. I never could quite be sure about doing something the oldsters only, namely Phil, approved of. Our generation had good reason to distrust "anyone over 30" as have all generations before and after! The blood pouring had, first of all, to feel right to me but it was good to have peers like Tom and Louise who agreed.
We tried to draw our blood and I got married in the same house where I had lived on the first floor- the Bill Moore house (with a museum in the basement), 319 E 25th St., courtesy of Hal Smith. Hal had bought the house and lived there after Bill's fateful martyrdom in Alabama where he had gone on a lonely long march bearing a sign reading "Black and White, Eat at Joe's". He had been shot by a sniper on the highway.
connection between our movement and that for civil rights could not
have been clearer! We had all (except for Jim Mengel) been involved in
the earlier movement through CORE. Ramparts Magazine did an article on
us, after the blood pouring, calling us The Saints of Baltimore and
their photographer set us a screen in the Bill Moore House as well.
We were about to turn our backs on our "normal" lives.
Tom Lewis was to give us alol an "all clear" signal as he mounted the Customs House steps- he pulled out a hanky- BUT- only to blow his nose- a false start given.
We crossed South Gay Street and strode through the massive doors of the Custom House. We gained entry to the draft files using various ploys: I needed to see certain records to assist a counselee, Phil expressed concern about a draft age parishioner. Jim Mengel waited at the door into the file room to divert any security guard who might arrive. With a photographer from the Sunpapers shooting away, we pulled drawers out and drenched the files with blood. Clerks stood by, aghast, until we finished. We returned to benches set aside for waiting by the main door. As had Gandhi, we would accept the consequences.
well known (only) photo here of Tom and Phil
I was off photo to the right, having found out the IA QXalified for Induiction files which meant that the persons therein were ready to be shipped off to the killing fields of Vietnam- thus making my work the only read damage to files although they were'nt really damaged. The files Phil and Tom are defacing - who knows what they were? At least they made the action available to the photogs and thus- the rest of the world.
We waited excitedly about an hour for the F.B.I. to arrive. We tried to hand out paperback bibles and the following statement, written mainly (if not completely?) by Phil:
On Friday, October 27th, 1967, we are entering the Customs House in Baltimore, Maryland to deface the draft records there with our blood.
We shed our blood willingly and gratefully in what we hope is a sacrificial and constructive act. We pour it upon these files to illustrate that with them and with these offices begins the pitiful waste of American and Vietnamese blood 10,000 miles away. That bloodshedding is never rational, seldom voluntary‑ in a word‑ non‑constructive. It does not protect life, but rather endangers it.
We wish neither notoriety nor labels of martyrdom or messianism. We desire merely to stand for human life and human future. We realize painfully yet clearly that what we have done goes beyond the scope of Constitutional right and civil liberty, and is therefore not to be taken lightly.
WAR AND PROPERTY: We believe that war proves nothing except man's refusal to be man and to live with men. We say that man must end war, or war will end man. We deplore our country's hot and cold warring and its crime against the often unwilling and powerless bodies behind these files.
Thus we unite with our servicemen against their real enemies. We shed our blood as they do theirs. We disrupt our lives as the draft does theirs.
We quarrel with the idolatry of property and the war machine that makes property of men. We confront those countrymen to whom property means more than human life. We assert that property is often an instrument of massive injustice ‑ like these files. Thus we feel this discriminate destruction of property for human life is warranted.
Nonetheless, we take every measure to protect the personnel here from hysteria or injury. We are content to remind them of their complicity in the untimely death of young soldiers, in the murder of innocent civilians, in the pain of parents and sweethearts. We ask their resignations.
AMERICA: We agree that America is the greatest manufacturer and salesman of violence in the world today. We feel this is so because power rests not with the people to whom it belongs, but with an economic, political and military cabal whose aims can tolerate neither foreign autonomy nor domestic freedom.
We charge that America would rather protect its empire of overseas profits than welcome its black people, rebuild its slums and cleanse its air and water. Thus we have singled out inner‑city draft boards for our action.
We love our country and celebrate its greatness. But our love cannot accept its evil with silence and passivity. We withstand that evil with our consciences and bodies, and invite the punishment that this entails.
LAW: We state that any law which forces men to kill and face death furthers war as surely as it encourages those who profit from war. We feel that Vietnam is a rich man's war and a poor man's fight‑ it is an unjust war backed up by unjust laws of conscription, tax preferences and suppression of dissent.
We indict such law with our consciences and acts and we appeal to Americans to purge their law, conform it to divine and human law, apply it impartially, and build at home and abroad with it. We cannot accept the law as it protects injustice. This is not law but a travesty of it. Thus we refuse any counsel that would bargain for our benefit within the law, and stand on our merits alone.
We seek neither to avoid detection nor to escape, but submit to apprehension and the consequences of our action.
We implore our countrymen to judge our action against this nation's Judaeo‑Christian tradition, against the horror in Vietnam and the impending threat of nuclear destruction against, finally, the universal human longing for justice and peace.
We invite" (this was the conspiratorial part) "friends in the peace and freedom movements to continue moving with us from dissent to resistance. We ask God to be merciful and patient with us and all men. We hope he will use our witness for his blessed designs.
One of the clerks took a paperback Bible from Reverend Mengel and bopped me on the head with it. Maybe it gave her a Christian feeling.
Amazingly, but for the hanky waving, the blood pouring had gone smoothly. Of the million and one things that could have gone wrong, none did! I little realized then that this was the easiest part. Once the action went well, it marked a peak from which I easily descended into a muck of worry, pressure of follow through, pressure of trial, uncertainty of appeal and certainty of prison, etc. I hadn't given follow through much thought. I learned that strong action continues to reverberate into the future.
Often, as Auden says, "motives are like stowaways found out too late." The draft did not end. Pop had put up my bail so I didn't go to jail but Tom and Phil stayed behind bars fasting for a couple of weeks. Our trial was not to begin until the spring of '68.
A struggle began over the right to define our act. We had made an opening move with our action and statement. The government responded with a floridly worded indictment. Their language was the usual overkill, stating that we "did mutilate, obliterate and destroy government property, did obstruct Selective Service, did conspire to commit such acts" and, zaniest of all, "did depredate" (that is plunder or injure) "government property". This wording represented four counts in all with a possible total of 40 years of punishment, not to mention tens of thousands of dollars in fines. With "depredate" the government animated their property, like primitive idolaters, to gain for it the appropriate awe and worship. The conspiracy charge, soon to become a favorite government tactic, was later dropped in our case.
Under the law, then, lives of draftees had less value than these pieces of paper! In our statement we had suggested that the draft board clerks should resign. Although the politicians, generals and soldiers themselves were higher on the killing pecking order, the clerks were also reprehensibly involved. How would they have reacted had we brought them the real fruits of their labor: GI corpses? And yet they didn't seem capable of imagining the war or connecting their work to it. You would ask them if they felt guilty at all and they would respond, "Oh, it's Fort Holabird that actually processes the men, not us." Evildoers always rationalize in this fashion- as don't all of us adults- me included!. If the clerks believed in what they were doing they should have had the guts to say so. Concentration camp employees were no doubt the same. The ones who knew they were doing wrong probably said, "it's not us that kills the Jews, its those guys over there who run the ovens.
Later at our trial when the clerks took the witness chair, they described how they had been "obstructed" in their duties that day, and how they were unable to handle records we had doused due to the sight of the "loathsome" blood. Our judge termed it a "grisly" crime. Of course the prosecutor had prepped them about "obstruction" as he prepared them for the trial, making sure to state that we'd destroyed over $300 worth of files, thus subjecting us to that much more in fines and years of prison sentence. Destruction of less value would have meant less punishment.
We had made the clerks' dull routines a little more interesting that day; now they had something to gossip about and remember.
The feds' fancy indictment, as lengthy as it was, remained imprecise. We had defaced the files. We hadn't really destroyed them, for you could have pulled them apart and cleaned them and read them despite the loathsome blood. Only I had poured blood on pertinent files, and very little of the Selective Service process had been "obstructed"; nor had we truly "mutilated, obliterated or destroyed." I wondered why our lawyer never brought up some of these details at trial. Our intent was to destroy, that was bad enough. Rather poetically, Jim Mengel said that we had "anointed" the files.
It was a poetic, Biblical act. In October of 2011, on his book tour for All is Grace- a biography of Dorothy Day) , Jim Forest (of the Milwaukee 14 draft file action) tells me that at first Dorothy was very enthusiastic about the Catonsville 9 action soon to follow ours)- but once she got to thinking about it- decided the symbolism of fire was too destructive and tending towards violence. I guess she would have liked out blood pouring! Jim had advised the women who formed the Women against Daddy Warbucks draft action to cut their draft files into confetti - which they did!
Since we were the first group (at least w press coverage) ( did Bondhus pour his sh t alone or with help- the guy in Minnesota?) to act against files in a major way, the government wanted to make examples of us and scare any imitators away.
Most of the war‑accepting public thought that our action was outrageous. People told us, "You wouldn't be able to do this in Russia," to which we would brashly answer, "If we lived in Russia, we'd be protesting there also!"(with, I might add- worse consequences. Never think I'm ungrateful to live here- where I can get a pardon from a President (of this later).
Our action stirred excitement and controversy in the peace movement, centering on issues of violence versus non‑violence. We had argued that it was proper to destroy certain property, like the railroad tracks leading to concentration camps or these draft files. Was it then non‑violent, as our judge later posed the question, for blacks to burn down certain ghetto grocery stores or slum apartments? This had just happened, after all, in the Baltimore riots of '68 after the murder of Dr. King, just before our trial began. The judge was trying to make a connection for the jury. Dr. King had made the connection between Vietnam and conditions in the inner city and we had also as we moved from the civil rights to the peace movement. There were very few blacks in our anti‑war groups. Not that they didn't agree, just that they had more pressing struggles of their own. Wasnt it King that condemned capitalism AND racism and the Vietnam war?
To answer the Judge's question- slum property MIGHT well be a good target for burning- as long as it was a symbolic burning and no one got hurt. The demonstration would have to be crystal clear- would the perpetrators wait around for arrest as did we? These are relevant ;questions in the tactics of militant non vilent action.
Those directly opposed to our action argued that our action deprived enthusiastic warriors of their join up files although names on the files were visible enough under the blood. Later actions undoubtedly did destroy files, for which some draftees were no doubt grateful. Even some peace movement friends argued with us, claiming that we'd created a repressive atmosphere or that we'd inspired others to commit less responsible acts than ours. Careless militants might blow up buildings with researchers inside (as happened at a University of Wisconsin physics lab). But none of the draft action people made such mistakes. Jim Forest restrained a cleaning woman during the Milwaukee action and Walt Skinner of the Pasadena 3 scorched himself with some spilt kerosene. That was as violent as we ever got!
The first question we were always asked about the act was, "Whose blood was it?" and secondly, "Do you regret what you did?" To answer the first came the elaborate story about the "duck's blood". And to the latter question, I could easily answer, "No." The blood pouring, besides any effect it had on the war, was a good event in my life. My father even claimed it would be the "high point". It gave me much needed mental direction, almost a "kick in the ass". It led to a career in criminal justice. It happened early in my life, so that I would not live out my days wondering what strong, decisive action was about. In fact, there were days when I felt quite proud of myself, imagining myself as a kind of peacenik Siegfried, in the mythic or Christian tradition of warrior ("Onward Christian soldiers"). I had done something "big" to help humankind. To me the competitor came the added pleasure of thinking, I have done something bigger than you have. There was a bit much of this holier than thou quality to the Catholic left and it drove some potential supporters away. Righteous indignation, let's call it.
Another question asked of us, increasingly as years went by was, simply, why did you do it?, i.e. pour blood. Simply put, there was no way I was going to die for some crusty-ass generals and politicians who happened to be wrong. It is was easy to see they were wrong. They weren't the ones who would be doing the dying. That was easy to see, also. These realizations made be very, very angry, especially the fact that misguided fools might ask me to die for them, the "them" being way behind the lines. A word that obsessed me at the time was "equivalent"- shouldn't we take action resulting in suffering somewhat equivalent or commensurate to that undergone by Vietnamese? We saw the photos of the little girl running down the road naked after a napalming (see similar civilian murders in Iraq and Afghanistan). Norman Morrison had immolated himself for Lord's sake. This was a good reason to resist any modern war- the fact that the powerful, the ones who wanted the war, were never the ones to risk their lives. Some 30 years after the war, in 1995, one of the war's key architects, Robert Mcnamara admitted "we were wrong". He listed 10 or so reasons, and opined that the war should have been stopped at three or four key junctures. Great. Can you imagine having died for such a clown?!
My country had been waging war since I ws born (1941) and only ONE of the wars was just!
Mcnamara stated in 1995 that he remained silent after Johnson had eased him out of the administration, "You shouldn't use your power that you've accumulated as the president's appointee to attack and subvert the policies of the elected representative of the people". I disagree. And to the question, was he morally wrong about Vietnam? He states, "I would love to discuss the morality of it but it opens up such a field, I can't get into it". (This from an interview by Washington Post staff writer David von Drehle, 4/24/'95). Precisely. Mcnamara was claiming stupidity, that he and the others around him had not realized certain facts that persons like me and Phil had easily seen. And he was called one of the "best and brightest". A film entitled The Fog of War came out in 2003- a lengthy interview with Mcnamara, showing him to be as slippery and manipulative a self-justifier as always. In fact, he was simply, like Henry Kissinger, a war criminal.
In his book The Sixties, Years of Hope, Days of Rage , Todd Gitlin quotes Tom Hayden: "Not being able to be Vietnamese- those people were taking the brunt of the punishment- the least one could do would be to stand in front of the war machine...where you would definitely pay a price. The larger result would be that the system would pay a price for inflicting that punishment on you".
People would ask me, "Did the action affect your life in any negative way?" For a while it disrupted my hopes for a normal life, but how could anyone lead a normal life while the Vietnam war continued or, to take it one step further, as we lived under threat of nuclear annihilation?
Our trial took place in May, 1968. Of the more than 100 prospective jurors in the voir dire, only one teetering oldster let out a peep of anti‑war sentiment. Our lawyer, a greenhorn at political trials, raised none of the niggling technicalities of obliteration and mutilation, perhaps it's just as well. But he raised very few of the larger issues either: the politics, the right or wrong of the war, morality, divine law, international law, all of the points Phil had made in our statement. Fortunately, Phil reiterated many of the points in his closing statement to the court.
kept telling us not to get into arguments with the supposedly brilliant
young federal prosecutor, Steve Sachs, later Attorney General for the
State of Maryland. Steve struck me as ambitious and pompous with few visible ethics. "He'll tear you to pieces," Fred would say. I was shocked to see how
friendly Fred was with the prosecutor and judge; it was just the
camaraderie of the courtroom, members of the criminal justice club doing
their jobs. In many peace movement actions to follow, defendants
represented themselves and left the lawyers to merely assist with the
courtroom procedures. We learned that few lawyers of the day shared our
values. Do lawyers of any period have values? Well, William Kunstler did!...Leonard Boudin, Harold Buchman.
Our trial had little of the openness of those to come. The Milwaukee 14, for example, and others visibly affected judge and jury. But ours occurred in a leaden atmosphere of oppressive fear. We were beginners. We had put too much faith in the law which, as Phil would say at the later Catonsville trial, only protects power after all...the golden rule- them who have the gold make the rules!
If our jury was representative of "the people", apparently the people also protected power!
The judge's instructions alone were enough to convict us, for the jury was
only to consider the "facts" of the case. They were not to draw any
connections between what we did and the Vietnam War, they were not to
consider international law or higher moral law (instructions that would
be repeated ad nauseam at trials to come). Did we pour blood on draft
files or didn't we? Yes? Then we were guilty. Of course, the judge had
great latitude as to what he would or would not allow to be presented as
evidence. He, godlike, determined the context in which all would be
considered. Such juries are admonished to observe only such facts as suit the government.
Tom Lewis wisely introduced a note of farce to the grim proceedings in his closing remarks, quoting Laurel and Hardy to Judge Northrop: "Your honor, you can lead a horse to water but a pencil must be lead." The judge told Tom there should be no more facetious remarks. I was very brief, certain that Phil would do the honors in an elaborate analysis of the political and moral issues (he never disappointed). I mentioned Louise and my marriage and "sentenced the people of America to make love not war" (that so wonderful slogan of the time. "Our lives were our work", I said; we were not going to be the "good Germans" who manned the concentration camps with the rationalizations we always heard, "I"m only doing my job".
For his part, prosecutor Sachs accused us of a "quintessential arrogance" and asked, "What, for God's sake, can be done in the name of 'sincere'?" He was countering our lawyer's claim that our actions constituted "free speech". In one of his more poetic moments Sachs stated that the government was not a balloon tied to Phil Berrigan's conscience. I thought, what better conscience to be tied to? Sachs later told Phil's sister in law, "If there is a heaven, these men will be there." Then, "I have to do my job in the courtroom." Our jury deliberated a scant hour and a half before finding us guilty. They were clearly not our peers.
If I were able to go back in time and respond then with what I know now? (2009)? I think I would have tried to make it more personal- I might have said: "Judge? you and Steve are trying to play the characters of "Dudley Do right"- that is, you are claiming to be more righteous than we are....but, we are trumping you! We are, in fact, more righteous than you because- we are following a more just, a higher law. It may not be the law that surrounds us here in this court room. And Sachs would have responded, "Well, I for one, am following the law of this room" (which is to say he knew on which side of the piece of bread lay the butter of power- it was the side that paid his salary.
I realized in 2010 after watching the excellent HBO series on World War II- "Band of Brothers" that in a way we had laid down suppressive fire- cover for more moderate peaceniks to do what they had to do and point at us saying- "well, I'm not as controversial as they are"!
top tow- lft to rt- Mische, Berrigans, Phil and Dan, Lewis, bottom row: Darst, Moylan, Hogan, Melvilles, Marjorie and Tom
Shortly before our sentencing, on (DATE PLEASE), another more powerful antiwar action took place. Phil and Tom took part. The "Catonsville 9", strongly motivated by Phil and including his brother Dan, carried the logic of our action forward from blood to fire. I had not realized until I heard Phil in Lynn Sachs film Investigation of a Flame (2002,3) that Phil felt that the blood pouring had confused people, had been a murky symbol, and that fire would be a clearer symbol.
The riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King took place April 4th, 1968. Phil was incensed when his church- St. Peter Claver offered to host, or hosted the National Guard brought in to maintain law and order. His order- the Josephites, existed to serve blacks- not oppress them!
The 9 took draft records out of a draft board in suburban Catonsville and burned them in the parking lot. This time the files were truly "mutilated and obliterated" for the nine had brewed up some homemade napalm‑ the hideous explosive that was being used in Vietnam‑ by following an Air Force manual that called for a mix of kerosene and soap flakes.
In an interview, Bill O' Connor describes the making of the napalm used at Catonsville: I did the resarch on napalm, which was made at night in the basement of my house at 27th and St. Paul. Me and another guy (meaning Dean Pappas) made it. Then after they saw it we came up here and did some kind of ritual with it but I dont
remember that. Meaning they said a prayer I suppose (DE)
How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?- isn't the most important thing to do more actions that can change the state of things? After long pondering- turning over the "origins of the 9" over and over like some stone with facets, it was George and Phil who played the strongest roles in getting the action at Catonsville together. Who cares? Well- a historian would rise here and say "I care". And I have to admit- who sets history in motion, gives it a spark- and why- AND HOW- that's important!!!!!
When he vistited me w George in 11/'07, Tom stated that George WAS the key organizer for the C 9. While attending our Baltimore 4 trial, one of the prosecutors jacked up the damage done to the files by the blood so that it would be a felony- (I believe it had to be over 500 dollars). Our lawyer asked- "couldn't the files have been washed off? " And then, "you mean to say you don't have duplicates of these files?" No. "You mean that if I took a match to a file it would be gone forever?"
"One of those cartoon light bulbs went off in my head"- George says. This has the ring of authenticity!
Tom (again, 11/'07) describes a meeting where the C-9 action was discussed and a vote taken and out of some 40 persons, many raised their hands. Tom came in late and asked afterwards: "What were you guys talking about? Holy smokes that's great!" He then agreed to join, He told Margee and she got mad! "You've got a helluva nerve! Don't you know what it is to be married? You're supposed to consult with your partner! Margee goes over to DuPont Circle where, she later tells Tom, she cried for several hours. She comes back to say, "Count me in too!" Tom joined the action providing that they related the action to Guatamala- which the 9 were glad to include as well as Mary Moylan's experiences in Africa. Tom has written eloquently on Guatamala- Through a Glass Darkly
John Hogans version of the instigation of the C 9 ? Before his death, John tells me probably the best version to date- better than Georges or ...maybe...just different. George led him and others up to Baltimore to meet w Phil and Tom at Bill OConnors house. The action wasnt specified but it was to be a continuation of our Baltimore 4 action. John signed on and there was a meeting in the basement of the house in DC where hands were raised. Whose idea was it? I always thought it was Phils, says John. He also tells me "not to worry about it".
Liz tells me the instigation of it was the Baltimore 4. Touche. She is trying to be nice.
Over the years I learned more and more of the details of the action- as I attended many reunions, and watched the play and discussed same: Brendann Walsh's role as driver although an impatient Phil took the keys and drove- at least on the way out (Phil rode back in a paddy wagon after the action!); Dean Pappas' role as phone liaison, Willa Walsh and Mailyn O'Connor's role as press relase distributors, why George's pants ripped, how Mary Moylan held the phone button down so that the clerks could not call out, how Dave Darst was look out, the fact that it took a long time for the police to come- they could have all walked away, easily! The 9 were actually tried by the state as well as the feds- although any sentences (if there were any?) were run concurrent.
I find it humorous that George Mische is adjusting his pants as the draft board file flames rise in the WBAL TV footage. Marjorie Melville stands behind him, "fixing him up". Typical of the tricks time plays on memories- when I ask how this happened- George says that the draft board clerk, Ms. Murphy, pulled at his pants w such force that they split. Marjorie Melville tells me that George's pants caught on a corner of a table.
Tom Melville takes the most active part in the actual burning, turning the wire basket of files over and scattering them class="single"out so that they burn more thoroughly.
Did the 9 really disrupt Selective Service (any more than we did in the Baltimore 4, except that the 9 had burned files?. If only 4f files were destroyed at Catonsville?- as one, Mr. Narowski's has commented) the only thing accomplished was symbolic! And yet it DID disrupt the SS in that it inspired so may other actions, and you can be sure some were very much more destructive. I remember the lady who was at a meeting (when Lynn Sacxhs discussed the action and her film at the Catonsville library) who was from Pennsylvania and said the draft board in her town was burnt to the ground? Persons have come up and told participants that their files had indeed been destroyed, saving them from Vietnam. Then too, the 9 helped the Vietnamese people by ending the U.S. participation in a bad war- but , on the negative side, on the shades of grey side, how much did we help them by ushering in the North Vietnamese regime? Indeed once we ended the draft, the military industrial complex plowed right on with a volunteer army. Let's ask some hard questions, shall we? Then too, the FBI claimed that files helpful to inductees had been destroyed by the 9.
The trial of the Catonsville 9 took place Oct. 5-9, 1968. ( months ?) elapsed until we were required to turn ourselves in. Our Baltimore 4 appeal had been turned down by the Supreme Court. I had a chance to redeem myself by refusing to cooperate with Steve Sachs order to turn myself in so I joined Phil (and Dan and George and Mary) in "the underground".
I had been in a dismal funk through out the Catonsville 9 proceedings- the action, the trial- feeling left out and letting it get to me, backing into a depression that pretty much immobilized me. This was to happen at other times in my life- the needle playing the record in my brain stuck in a groove, repeating over and over the mantra of would have, could have, should have been-the other times being, separation from Louise, at her request, separation from Jane- again at her request, (and both times well deserved) and finally, in 1997, separation from my beloved OAR by the powers that wanted it removed (see chapter on OAR). After the worst bout- in 1997, I had burned up the kindling my brain kept using for these depressions- returning, thank the Lord, to work never to break down again.
Joining Phil, Dan, George and Mary in the underground continued the action narrative for me- redeemed me in my own eyes- I had been in a fog after the blood pouring- retreating into myself as might a snail into its shell- maybe a protective, defensive device? When Sean Peters wrote about their action in his masterful book- The Catonsville 9, I felt as if finally, his details revealed to me, I had no longer to obsess over-as I read the book in 2012, I realized that he lived it through for me- a relief. I could erase a great deal of my speculative jottings about the action which, after all, I did not know. Had I been left in the dark? (my paranoid self)- no I had chosen to be left out.
I stood close to this enormous event and can well imagine how I was regarded. I participated in the organizing for the Catonsville 9 trial from the Peace Action Center, I even reconnoitered the Towson Draft Board- my own- as a possible target. I read some poetry at one of the rallies. Other than that- I was not in the loop.
The Peters book is revelatory in some details- how the other side reacted- the draft board clerks, the prosecutors- he tells their side. Then how Phil had to put down the blood pouring as messy and bizarre- O Phil had that side. He had a derisive, dogmatic, put down side as do we all- he put down his own brother.
How poetic Phil could be- as Peter s quotes him putting down lawyers and the court system in general as - asthat monstrous euphemism indeed .
How central and luminous in the action of the 9 were these two brothers- anything said against them- where is it coming from? That derisive, cynical side we all have- particularly us American men.
Throughout my life, I have been suspicious of all loud speech givers, all preachers, no matter how correct. When they sound dogmatic and thunderous? I get ironic and sarcastic -And yet, having read Peters book, even I could pen a stem winding speech:
Oh the shades of grey- juggling the 2 balls- revolutionary Marxism and militant Xtian non-violence- I read snarky sniping from the most heroic C-9 supporters (not so much from C-9 members themselves). Note the connection between the Catonsville 9 member, Mary Moylan and the Weather Underground Organization- note how the books by Cathy Wilkerson- Flying Close to the Sun, , Elaine Browns A Taste of Power, and Susan Rosenbergs An American Radical. They give a whole another side to the 60s story.
As a poet, the member of the 9 I can relate most to is (7/9/12) the elfin, merry poet- Dan Berrigan.
In the 60s we started civil rights, peace, feminist, lgbt, criminal justice- etc. movements.
The same enemy confronts us today- the disgusting retinue of politicians, military, businesspersons, prosecutors, etc., - all with their new prevarications, defense mechanisms, all dancing on the heads of pins!
All the draft actions behind us now- it ill suits us to be finding fault or revising history- such a beautiful past and its participants (see Hit and Stay). We all had out feet of clay, our foibles- Lets not forget the shades of grey- that the military has cleverly replaced the draft with a volunteer army and contractors like Black Water- and how great is the government that replaced the old one in South Vietnam?!
I believe in the most creative and militant non violent tactics: Norman Morrison immolation, Plowshares actions, the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and monkey wrenching and CODE PINK, Rachel Corrie bulldozed in Israel. S to the violent tactics? John Brown? Che Guevara?
We humans are innately timid and passive- will probably, in the end, get rolled over by huge events the SILURIAN/ the CRETACIOUS!!
In the meantime, let us rage against and sabatoge (sp?) the machine!
Let us applaud the meteors, the brilliant flashes of light of a Dorothy Day, a Dan Berrigan.
In the mighty cadence of the John Lennon song: POWER to the people, Power to the people right on!
Never forget that actions against the state can be FUN- guerilla theatre, YIPPEE!
Free Bradley Manning (who helped alledged wikileaker Julian Assange) ! Free David Gilbert (participated in driving a getaway car with Kathy Boudin) ! Free Eddie Conway (Baltimore Black Panther)! All still in jail as of this writing.
We traveled north to stay with some Sisters in Sea Girt New Jersey, then to the "Pimple hills" in the northwest corner of the state where these photos were taken. Louise came to visit me; we planned an "Up from Under Rally" in Manhattan. I realized that this would be a place to put in a Hemingway sentence (I always had dreams of making more of an exciting narrative out of this material- just never got around to it)- something like- "The new spring leaves surrounded us in the last few days of freedom- the nights still clear and cold". Note to writers- try to avoid bs. The FBI made plans to arrest Phil and me as soon as possible to avoid future embarrassment. Hopefully, Dan would be with us, they thought. But he wisely decided to sit our New York rally out. He would remain on the lam for as long as possible, surfacing now and again in public ways, here to give a sermon, there a workshop, giving clandestine interviews, tantalizing the feds and turning others on to the peace movement, inspiring them by his courage, allowing them to join the risk by providing him shelter and platforms from which to speak.
Dan Berger has written the best book on the Weather Underground- besides their own books- Outlaws of America. He mentions Dan Berrigan's "Letter to the Weather Underground" in his book and also Catonsville 9 member, Mary Moylan's relationship with them in the underground (she had apparently written a letter criticizing Jane Alpert who had in turn criticized the Weathers for their sexism); I wrote Dan to say I was enjoying his book immensely and drawing his attention to Joe Tropea's documentary on the draft actions- "Hit and Stay". He enjoyed my feedback and mentioned another book that he edited entitled The Hidden 1970's: Histories of Radicalism with articles on revolutionary nonviolence. Dan later gave me David Gilbert's address at the Auburn Correctional Institution. Another juncture between us and the WUO? the raid on the FBI office at Media Pennsylvania- in which the FBI's efforts to combat us with "Cointelpro" were revealed to the world. I can only guess who accomplished that fabulous action.
I think that after their townhouse blew up killing three of their own, the Weathers' decision to destroy only property through strategic bombing- made a lot of sense. They realized what we did that- "some property has no right to exist". (who coined this phrase?) ( was it Dan B.?) ( I noted later that M L King said: "Man will change the world without destroying people or property")...namely the property of those most responsible for committing violence around the world- like (at the time) ITT in South America, the Pentagon, Bank of America, Dow Chemical, the N Y Dept. of Corrections (afteer Attica), etc, etc. The Weather bombings killed not one soul other than the three of themselves in the town house accident and the two deaths in the Brinks robbery which were committed by the Black Africa movement, while Nixon and the later Bushes established themselves as pariahs and war criminals, killing thousands. Clearly, those making anti personnel bombs in the townhouse in Greenwich Village were engaging in what Black Panther Fred Hampton called "Custeristic" tactics.
Anybody could see there wasn't going to be a revolution in America- I don't know what they were thinking. They were like the Baader Meinhofs- a few against millions! Besides I was scared about being beaten or killed by thug FBI agents or police! But the Weather bombings were very surgical and brought great joy to all of us in the movements as well as the oppressed around the world. The Weathers were more a part of the world movements- our actions were a bit more arcane and obscure. The only people they killed were three of their own, sadly. I had asked Mark Rudd- was the townhouse bombing like the bombs in the Ralph Featherstone death possibly planted by the FBI? (kind of thing they would do). "Definitely not"- he tells me- and that's from personal recounting. As I aged, more and more names came to light of heroes and heroines unknown to me at the time- such as Marilyn Buck and Cathy Wilkerson and David Gilbert (still in prison) (more on David later) - who was with Kathy Boudin and Judy Clark in the Brinks robbery, and Susan Rosenberg (author of An American Radical) who spent 16 years in federal prison for her action in 1982 and was treated the worst. The government of today does not want you to know about such persons. I am tempted to think we got better treatment from prison and police and FBI employees because, one we were male, white, and two, we didn't pose much of a threat- more a curiosity- as practitioners of Ghandian and Kingian non-violence. When you read about the treatment received by a Susan Rosenberg the "kike cut"- the beatings, the torture in prison- you get quite a different picture. Laura Whitehorn got her radicalism from Fred Hampton, and the FBI was a racist outfit.
We would continue our underground like Dan and we started making absurd (in retrospect) plans to escape during our St. Gregory's rally. Probably the FBI was watching when we arrived at the church on the early morning of the 21st. That night we were scheduled to be last on the program, giving us time, we figured, to slip out a rear door in the dim light as two stand‑ins pretended to be us. They would be the ones arrested by the FBI waiting patiently, we thought, outside the doors for the end of the rally. But the escape route we'd mapped out (with some help from Father Brown) was torturous, to say the least. It involved crossing a barb‑wire fence, then a large vacant lot, then dropping down into a combination crevasse/alley behind the buildings fronting the street. I think there was a 10 foot cyclone fence and garbage filled pit along this route as well. Once we'd negotiated these hazards, we were going to be carried to safety in a get‑away car. Felipe Luciano of the "Young Lords", a militant New York Puerto Rican group, was, with us in the rectory, planning a diversionary street fight for a nearby corner (throwing garbage cans, etc.) and some Jesuit friends planned to lead our two stand‑ins out the church door in a protective phalanx. Felipe went out onto a second floor fire escape in plain view of any surveillance to "look things over" and a couple of other young priest friends wandered through the rectory with huge wire cutters. All in all, it was something of a "lollipop revolution", as one bystander put it disparagingly at the rally.
I knew we weren't Houdinis and would probably be caught. The strain was great and part of me may have looked forward to the coming bust. I was ready and the pending capture would be a relief to a degree. A large number of agents had surrounded the church.
"Father Dan, Father Phil", we could hear them calling, politely at first, as they got closer. We were hiding in Father Brown's closet as he pretended to take a nap. We turned out the lights. The knocking and hollering grew louder and louder. With considerable irreverence, the FBI smashed the locks on the stain-glassed door to Father Brown's office and quarters. It didn't take long for them to find us in his closet- or was it the bathroom? One detail I found very strange: they had their guns drawn!
I hoped one of them would say something philosophically revealing as did an agent later when they finally captured Dan Berrigan on Block Island; he quoted the Jesuit motto "A Dei Majoram Gloria", to the greater glory of God, as if the capture, not Dan's actions, were God inspired. Many agents were Catholic and supported the war in Vietnam. But our agents just whisked us away to headquarters without comment. They were just doing their job (is this the refrain of the 20th century, or what?)
"Berrigan, Pal Flushed from Closet" read the unfriendly News American headline from Baltimore. The word "flushed" was telling, for we were excrement to them. As previously they had described us as "dribbling chicken blood" on the files, leaving the inference of cowardly action. That's how much these oldsters loved their war, I thought, that generation of liars who wouldn't be caught dead fighting at the front lines. It was easy to think of that generation as sell‑outs were it not for the fact that Phil was already 44 and had seen active duty in World War II. Phil`s war experience had helped form his anti‑war beliefs. Then too, after all, my parents, one of them anyway, had taught me that life is sacred and unique.
"The FBI couldn't find Joe Lewis in a bowl of rice"- line by David Mamet in the movie "Homicide" (set in Baltimore!)
Right-wing reporters wouldn't say that we had "poured" blood on draft files, they would say we "dribbled" it to detract from the serious purpose. Government prosecutors wouldn't say that we "defaced" files, they had to say that we mutilated, obliterated and destroyed them" because that's how the statute read. Your choice of words is political. If you wanted to warp language your way you could describe even a bombing raid in North Vietnam in glowing terms, it became a "protective reaction". Lieutenant Calley's murders of civilians at My Lai were not "murders" of Vietnamese, they were "wastings". Similarly, a left wing writer might say that we had heroically "hurled" blood on the files. Language is used for camouflage. Bad diction conspires with violence. In all wars, the perpetrators of violence finds euphemisms to cover up what's really going on.
At any rate, the language of the federal law was the law and now we had to suffer it by going to prison.
One of Steve Sachs' accusations made against us as the case developed rang somewhat true, that of arrogance. We were arrogant in the sense of having egos and acting with purpose fairly sure that we were right. But the word "arrogance" had overtones of "overbearing". "You think you're so smart, don't you Dave", a young FBI agent said to me as he processed the arrest. As Abbie Hoffman said of us, "we were young, we were arrogant, and we were right"!
After the usual paperwork, they sat down with us to "chat". One presented himself to me as coordinator for all Selective Service violations in New York City. He showed me a photo and I recognized the scene. Another agent was dragging women we knew out from a rowdy crowd of supporters. The women were members of a group called "Women against Daddy Warbucks" who had raided New York City draft boards. They had snipped the files into teensy pieces and brought them to Rockefeller Center for a confetti celebration (which was the suggestion of Jim Forest- informed by Dorothy Day's antipathy to the fire of the Catonsville 9). He wondered didn't I know them? No, I answered, although I always hated to lie. My interrogator went on..."Violence ... we could have been hurt in that mob; don't you see what your actions cause? Why don't you tell us where Dan Berrigan is and there won't be any trouble tonight," meaning at the upcoming rally, I suppose. Off in another section of the office a score of agents huddled, many in hippie garb, probably game planning their approach to our rally which was yet to take place. They hoped to catch Dan but he eluded them for several more months.
We had entered J. Edgar Hoover's world. There were giant plaques on the corridor walls in red, white and blue titled "methods of Communist subversion".
The questioning brought to mind a grade C movie. It was tiresome and I found myself dreaming that my friends at the rally would come over and beat these guys up and free us. The rally went off well, we later learned; Louise had given one of the speeches. Prison was fast approaching.