Washington, Moratorium Day
In 1969, anti-Vietnam war organizations set out to organize a moratorium i.e. a nationwide strike, to protest the bombing of Cambodia and to demand an immediate end to the war. Richard M. Nixon and his cohort set about to destroy the credibility of the organizers and sabotage the moratorium. Despite their “best” efforts, the moratorium succeeded, perhaps beyond anyone’s wildest dreams:
Vietnam Moratorium Day lived up to its advanced billing as the most widespread demonstration for peace in America’s history as hundreds of thousands joined in demonstrations, rallies, teach-ins, and every conceivable form of political protest throughout the nation today.
Senators McCarthy, Kennedy, Church, McGovern, and other leading doves stumped the country pleading for an end to the war. It was not a day of confrontation. It was a day of preaching to the converted, and the demonstrations, which had the support of 80 Senators and Congressmen, were mostly all peaceful in spite of underlying passions. Guardian/UK
Wow. Imagine that. Senators, Congressmen … well, it took them years to come round but, eventually they did. And the American people, the great silent majority, took to the streets.
In Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America, Rick Perlstein documents Nixons savage attack on the anti-war movement. It’s excerpted at AlterNet and here’s an excerpt from the excerpt:
Two million Americans protested — most for the first time in their lives.
Everywhere, black armbands; everywhere, flags at half staff; church services, film showings, teach-ins, neighbor-to-neighbor canvasses. In North Newton, Kansas, a bell tolled every four seconds, each clang memorializing a fallen soldier; in Columbia, Maryland, an electronic sign counted the day’s war deaths. Milwaukee staged a downtown noontime funeral procession. Hastings College, an 850-student Presbyterian school in Nebraska, suspended operations. Madison, Ann Arbor, and New Haven were only a few of the college towns to draw out a quarter of their populations or more (New Haven’s Vietnam Moratorium Committee had called up every name in the city phone book). The nation’s biggest college town brought out 100,000 souls in Boston Common. A young Rhodes Scholar out of Arkansas, Bill Clinton, got up a demonstration of 1000 people in front of the U.S. embassy in London. Newsday publisher and former LBJ right-hand-man Bill Moyers, Paris peace talks chief negotiator Averell Harriman, the mayor of Detroit, even the Connecticut state chairman of Citizens for Nixon-Agnew participated in protests. The Washington Post drew a man-bites-dog conclusion: “Anti-Vietnam Views Unite Generations.”
George McGovern spoke in Boston and Bangor, Maine — backyard of the new front-runner for the ’72 Democratic nomination Edmund Muskie — where the Great Plains back-bencher was announced as “the next President of the United States.”
Conservative Houston was one of the cities where the names of the war dead were read out in public squares. (A reader stumbled and stopped; he had come upon the name of a friend.) The Duke student newspaper editorialized: “We believe a careful study of history shows that the war in Vietnam is an imperialist conflict. And we support the struggle of the Vietnamese people for their liberation.” At the University of North Carolina, the Village Voice’s Jack Newfield won an ovation from 2500 children of the Dixie elite for arguing that the United States had already lost “because we fought on the wrong side.”
There wasn’t a single Viet Cong flag in evidence. There were hardly any signs at all. There were candles, shimmering in an unbroken line all the way back to the Washington Monument. (Charleston, West Virginia’s police chief described his city’s pro-war counter-demonstration: “We won’t creep around in the dark with candles like those traitors do…. We’ll march at high noon on Monday and let free people fall right in line.”) An NSC staffer took a break from working on the President’s November 3 speech on Vietnam to witness the flickering encirclement of the White House. He looked up with a start: it included his wife and children. The President affected to have noticed nothing: “I haven’t seen a single demonstrator — and I’ve been out.”
Nixon couldn’t stop it so he chose to ignore it. In the end, not a useful strategy. The press back then often backed up the Prez, even at his most ourageous. The New York Daily News of the day:
the moratorium has been “snapped up, amplified, and financed by kooks, reds, dupes, and, a few idealists. ”