Friday, April 15, 2011

If my thought dreams could be seen: May Day 1971 (THE END)


The next morning we hitchhiked back to Indiana. There were other actions planned for that day, in fact one was scheduled for Dupont Circle where we were staying, but we had no appetite for further fruitless heroics. These "new obstructions," as the headlines in that morning's Washington Post called them, were to begin later than the previous day's actions, so it gave Jerry and me a chance to leave early and to avoid another senseless arrest. The day before they were arresting anyone who wasn't wearing a suit or a dress and we did not want to get caught in that dragnet. 

We wisely stashed the Mao buttons, folded up our army coats and jammed them into our packs, then tossed our punctured gas masks in the trash as we left the Institute for Policy Studies. If we could have dressed like dorks, as John Travolta and Samuel Jackson were forced to do near the end of Pulp Fiction, we probably would have just to avoid arrest. 

We somehow caught a ride to one of the interstates ringing D.C., and after 30 minutes of numerous vehicles thundering by just a foot or two away, a candy apple red semi-truck with a long, polished chrome trailer passed, geared down, then came to a halt a couple hundred feet beyond us. We had both hitchhiked a lot by then, and you sometimes heard about rides from truckers second-hand, but neither of us had ever gotten one.  Truckers usually drove long distance, had food and water to spare, and one ride could get you all the way home. It was the gold standard of hitchhiking. When an arm shot out the window from the truck ahead and motioned for us to get in, we raced towards it along the shoulder of the road, our packs and sleeping bags banging on our backs, knowing we were greatly blessed. 

The driver opened the passenger door and beckoned us to enter his world. He was a medium-built man in his 50s with grey hair and a big smile. He wore a blue work shirt, a red cap, and jeans. "Crawl in quick before Smokey sees us," he laughed. "When they're in a pissy mood they'll ticket a guy for picking up kids like you." The cab was roomy and impeccably clean. Rosary beads hung from a push-pin stuck into the cab's padded ceiling, and next to it hung a pine scented air freshener shaped like a Christmas tree. They swung back and forth in sync with the motion of the truck as we rumbled down the road.  

"You look like all my daughter's friends so you don't scare me...anymore, that is," he said laughing, again. He seemed like the kind of man who laughed a lot. "People are just people," he said, and then fell silent for a moment. "So where are you headed?" he asked. "Oh, by the way, I'm Tom," and he leaned across the wide, cushioned seat to shake our hands.

We introduced ourselves and told him we were headed for West Lafayette, Indiana. "You're in luck," he said. "I'm headed to Indianapolis so I'll make sure I drop you off north of the city and you can take I-65 straight home." This was too good to be true, just like when that ACLU lawyer with the bag full of hamburgers arrived to tell us we were being released. One ride all the way to Indiana was as good as anyone could hope for.

Tom was not the prying sort and didn't ask us much more or feel obliged to make idle conversation when none was needed. He once let it slip that his daughter had passed away, and I wondered if he may have felt connected to her when he helped out people like us. I felt sad and grateful and tired, all at once. There was no way we could ever replace his daughter. After that, we spoke little and he turned on the radio but kept it low, and Jerry and I dozed in the cab, the big truck vibrating and jolting at each bump and imperfection the highway offered up. Tom would not laugh again for the rest of that drive which took over a dozen hours to complete.

I began wondering about the May Day action as I sat there, what I had accomplished, and why the war, the institutions, and the people supporting it were so imposing and impossible to change. We had gotten our asses handed to us again by the "system," just as the Vietnamese had with all their immolated grandmothers who were nearing the end of their lives and their grandsons in "black pajamas," cut down in their prime. 

I recalled the moment when I walked down the hallway and into the courtroom the previous evening. The hallway was narrow with high ceilings that made me feel small, perhaps even by design; and it was filled with men who viewed me with spite. But every now and then one or two of them would smile. I wasn't sure if they were on my side or if they could not help but be kind on occasion. And the courtroom was surprisingly rough-looking, with worn, wooden floors of great vintage, meager plaster walls, and a old judge's bench that towered above me in an almost ludicrous fashion. 

It seemed quaint and improbable that the entire machinery of government and all our sprawling "systems" could be reduced to these people in these rooms and hallways. They  were such weak and unimpressive vessels for our soulless system to express its power through. The word "soulless" jarred my memory as it passed through my awareness and reminded me of Allen Ginsberg's poem Howl, which I had read on a lark one afternoon at a friend's house, and how it described the careening, disebodied machinery of death that a system really was:

Children screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks!  Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!  Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgement! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money!

And then I remembered those uncoerced smiles from the people in the hallways, like the sun burning through the clouds, just as it had done at the park in Dupont Circle a couple days before. Those smiles and that if their luminescence could break a spell that had held you captive all your life... Then a moment of bright, shining clarity arose like an effortless act of nature. Those smiles and that sun were real, I knew, without even thinking, and the system I imagined to be running amok was not. 

It was obvious. It was simple, but not simplistic. I had been spinning clothes in my mind upon the body of the emperor when he actually stood before me nude. We all did this. I had seen the man behind the curtain and he was vulnerable to defeat. It was entirely reasonable to be afraid of people, and especially people united by some consensus, either accepted or coerced. But it was not reasonable to be afraid of things that did not exist.

This is not an academic distinction to make. When you imagine yourself to be reined in by something that does not exist, or to be serving something imaginary, you give up the only power you have over your destiny. You give up the power to choose and you merely respond to the dictates of something that is not real. It's insane. You become an instrument, just one more body in the army of the walking dead.

There were only people in that courthouse that night, and only hallways and offices that those people occupied. That's all that was there and that's all that has ever been there, or anywhere. There has never been anything else.  People have done it all! There is no system making us do anything! We are not just expressions of a machine-like logic. We do it all, and we are responsible for what we do. No one just follows orders, especially from things that do not exist. We all have choices. It only seems that we have no choice because we are running on auto-pilot or because most of our choices suck.

Has anyone ever seen a system before, or even a government for that matter? No! First things first, please. Don't complicate what is easy with hearsay and mental sophistry. Don't mistake a practical metaphor for something that is real. "Systems" and many other fearsome things are just a way of talking about the agreements we have imbibed without examination concerning the way things are said to work. They do not exist apart from our beliefs and actions. They are not real, tangible objects even though we act as if they were. They are not "out there," they are "in here."

Walk into any government building and look for the government. All you find is people. Walk into a bank and look for power. All you find is people. There is no there, there. It's just people thinking things and doing things and occupying rooms in buildings, and people can think and do different things. Nothing would ever change if systems were real, tangible things, and not merely phantasms of the mind. If systems were real we would always be their robots. 

That judge, that ACLU lawyer, those angry-looking men in the hallway as well as those who smiled; they were all people, singular individuals just like me. There were no ghostly systems or clouds of ideas with lives of their own entering their bodies and animating their limbs and minds. When I looked at the Capitol or the White House, I knew there was no government or system inhabiting them. They were buildings with people in them and nothing more. Everything seemed so much less imposing from this view. All I had done was to see through the dream and discover what was really there.

It was so simple, too simple, and I fought the impulse to accept this insight as valid. And it was, indeed, an insight and not merely an idea. It had come to me all at once, fully-formed, and not logically in sentences over time, with one idea building upon another. I have had to put it into words to talk about it after the fact with knowledge I have today, but that is not how it made its appearance. It was something that was too obvious for words. After all, does an actual flower need the word "flower" to justify itself? 

In the end, I dismissed this insight as something pathetic and flawed, a product of my immaturity and inability to get with the program, the rules of which everyone else had agreed upon and were more than willing to serve. Everyone else had figured out the social cues and had learned how to think and how to behave and that is what I had to do as well. 

Everyone acted as if they had no choice and were simply doing what these disembodied systems and ideas told them to do. When the "economy" demanded they jump they asked the economy how high. When "justice" reasoned that they kill, they asked justice how many. Don't argue with "them," just do what "they" say. It's your "duty." 

And the "economy" and "justice" and "duty" were these real things with boundaries, weight, and feelings, just like people. Maybe more important and real than actual people themselves. And you had to serve these great entities, respect them, and feel rightfully dwarfed by the awesome power they wielded over you.  Sometimes you had to sacrifice people for the sake of these gods we were duty bound to observe. 

It would be ridiculous to just assert that these gods were merely ideas bouncing off the inside of our minds and that we did not have to worship at their feet and do their bidding. How could a mere 19-year-old hope to stand in the way of gods with such magnificent powers? Why, if that were the case and none of these gods existed, we would be free to do almost anything we could imagine, and that couldn't be good, right? 

Many years later I read a book entitled Engaging the Powers by the theologian Walter Wink. I understood him to be saying that the principle source of cruelty in the world is the belief in things that do not exist, and that when we act on behalf of these things that do not exist, we necessarily act without reference to genuine human need. Acting without reference to genuine human need in the service of an idea is so mindless that it is the sin qua non of Satan himself. 

But Satan is not a thing, a force, or spirit. Satan is our thoughtless choice to serve as the instrument of a machine that does not really exist, and at the expense of people who do. Now I finally knew I had been right, as I rumbled down the road in that semi-truck so many years before. Someone else had had the same idea as me. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty." In this case at least, I can attest to this truth.

During the Vietnam War, when some saw a communist enemy that needed to be destroyed instead of a grandmother in flames fleeing her grass hut, that was Satan marching through the world.  When others had a moment of clarity about that war and saw that same grandmother in flames instead of a communist enemy, that was God's saving grace. But neither God nor Satan did anything, in truth. We did it all and we continue to do every bit of it everyday, and no resort to any system or guiding idea that "made" us do it can get us off the hook.

Today, the great god to worship is the "market," the great transcendent deity that will solve all our problems and right all that is wrong with the world. When you see people on the streets that are homeless, or you find yourself without health insurance, or without a job, for market's sake don't try to do something that violates the "logic" of this god. Market will provide. But go looking for "the market" and wherever you go you only find people hiding behind words and refusing to take responsibility for what they have done by caring more about things that do not exist than about people who do. Just be selfish, the temple priests of the market tell us, and market will provide. By the way, how's that been working for you?

"Sorry, I can't do anything about it. The Market has spoken." Funny how you only find a person uttering those words. 

Tom the truck driver did as he promised and dropped us off north of Indianapolis. Jerry and I hitchhiked back to West Lafayette, Indiana without incident. Tom, I am sure is now dead, and Jerry and I are nearly 60. Forty years later I wish I could say that I live the truths I write about as faithfully as they were experienced when I dozed in out of consciousness in the cab of that truck back then, but I cannot. I seem to be a work in progress and never quite complete. 

Just remember this. Things that do not exist cannot change, but people who do exist can.  That is the only hope we have, and it's a good one because people are far more real than things that do not exist.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

If my thought dreams could be seen: May Day 1971 (Part Nine)


The bus turned a corner, took a tremendous jarring bounce, then swooped down a tunnel into what had to be a parking area under a police station. None of this had been in my plans.

We were hastily dragged from the police bus, processed at a row of portable booking tables in a busy hallway, then tossed into a large and harshly lit cinderblock holding cell. Jerry said it had to be a drunk tank or something of that sort. It was twenty by forty feet, and already jammed when we got there. The noise of so many people talking and shouting at once was painful. There must have been nearly 200 of us in that cell and it reeked of tear gas that had soaked into people's clothes. Tear gas smells 50 times stronger than the most piercing vinegar, with hints of black pepper and onion thrown in to make your eyes burn and tear. Everyone had terrible, throbbing headaches from the gas, but our bandanas finally came in handy as something other than radical fashion accessories. There were a half dozen free-standing toilets lined up against the longest wall of the cell, and we soaked our bandanas in the toiletwater then knotted them around our faces to filter out the gas. It was better than nothing and it made us look like fierce, street-fighting outlaws in jeans and olive-drab army jackets.

The time dragged on and my pants were full from being knocked around by riot police during our arrest. I kept trying to find a discreet way of taking them off without embarrassment but I could not so I had to live with it. At least the tear gas overwhelmed the fruits of my dishonor. We were in that cell for almost fourteen hours and I do not remember ever being read my rights or gaining access to a lawyer. More people kept shuffling in and the cell got tighter with every new wave. And as more arrived another wave of tear gas came with them, and we all lined up to drench our bandanas in the toilets anew. 

I basically hung with my friends and talked to a few other people most of the time. Some had been in D.C. for two weeks and had attended the previous week's half million person march, camped out at West Potomac Park for days, taken part in other actions that week, and were planning to go out the following day to get arrested all over again. That was not my plan, if I were to get out at all. Actually, being released seemed unlikely. No one knew what was going on and release was by no means assured. I also had this small thing I had to attend to called "college" and I knew I had to get back.

It got boring. I wondered what I was missing outside and I was pissed about it. When new arrivals joined us they said the city was an armed camp and that they had never seen anything like it. We learned that our jail had filled up so quickly that most people were getting shuttled to an emergency outdoor detention center at a Washington Redskins' practice field near RFK Stadium. When that filled up they were bussed to the Washington Coliseum. Some people really had played cat-and-mouse with police and troops all day before their arrest. They had disabled cars by yanking out wires from distributor caps, pushed other vehicles into intersections and abandoned them, and tossed trash cans in the way as well. Some just clogged the streets with their bodies, as we had hoped to do. We were supposed to explain our actions to the citizenry we inconvenienced but I understand that precious little of this actually occurred. Entire sections of the city lay under clouds of tear gas, and tanks and troop trucks streaked through the streets. Newsweek would later remark that the government response seemed more appropriate to Saigon than to D.C. Still, 95% of everyone got to work on time. The action had truly and totally failed.

The women in an adjoining holding area started singing after a while and one male "movement heavy" shouted, "Quiet, our sisters are singing to us!" But that may not have been true. Did these women really feel obligated to shore up our resolve? Were we men really that much of an object of their concern, and did the world really revolve around us that much? Maybe they were just singing to themselves. 

Men in the movement had always held themselves in high regard, and a huge element of machismo and sexism had been present right from the start. "Chicks" were still seen as decorations by a lot of movement heavies, and women rightly resented it. Some women had momentarily taken over the stage at West Potomac Park during the rock concert two days before to justly rail against their subordinate status, but the sound system was so bad it was hard to hear what they were saying. To our credit, most of us in the cell ignored this man's melodramatics.

Around eight o'clock that night we were herded out of the holding cell, down long brick corridors painted dull gray, and back to the buses in the garage under the jail where we had previously entered that morning. The busses were idling and their exhaust fumes just added to the headaches we still had from the tear gas we had inhaled all day. We sat there for an hour, then our busses rumbled up the tunnel to the street and out of the underground garage, winding their way through now empty avenues to the rear of a large court house. Once again we sat in the busses behind the building for an hour. We were then unloaded, marched through a somber-looking back entrance, down stark high-ceilinged corridors filled with stern-looking men in suits and police uniforms, then herded into a dark, antique holding pen that was secured with a tall and imposing sliding gate made of cold brass lattice. 

We stood there like sardines jammed upright in a can for another hour and saw numerous people just like us--wearing jeans and army jackets and bandanas--slogging out of the court room and walking to a bank of pay phones directly across from us. They were calling their parents or friends and telling them they needed two hundred dollars to get out of jail (which is the same as over $1,000 today). Many were angry and more than a few were crying. Our spirits sank. Damn...Then came the great miracle of that day, one of the great miracles of my life. 

When you experience a miracle it is often hard to explain to others why it seems so significant in your eyes. A miracle often appears at an intersection of so many unpleasant events occurring all at once that the light and grace it represents seems intentional in a way you cannot explain. When you try, lacking the ability to re-create or elaborate the depth and significance of every thread of experience, feeling, and thought at that moment, you invariably fail and people will just nod their heads politely, unaffected, and say that it must have been "nice." This was not merely nice.

The strongest and most beautiful black man you have ever seen, wearing a handsome suit and with the deepest and most sonorous voice you have ever heard, walked up to the sliding metal gate we were caged behind saying, "You can stop worrying. You're all going to be freed. Charges have been dropped." He held up a large shopping bag bursting with hamburgers and smiled broadly saying, "Courtesy of the American Civil Liberties Union." God had let his people go! We shrieked with joy and we grabbed the lattice and shook it so hard that fifteen heads atop their suits and uniforms turned and glared in our direction. You just have no idea of the relief I felt. I fought back the tears. I was so grateful. I couldn't believe it. At that moment--and to this day--if I had to lay down my life to save that man I would.

He passed the hamburgers through the gaps in the metal lattice gate and everyone got at least two. He told us that the ACLU had spent hours talking to a judge and that he had agreed to let us go. The next day, the Washington Post would report that Chief Judge Harold H. Greene of D.C. Superior Court had ordered the police and the National Guard to justify how they could arrest 7,000 people without even recording their names or any details of where they were arrested or why.

When we left the courthouse and walked outside--down the broad stone front steps this time and not through the back door--we were mobbed by throngs of supporters that cheered as if we were rock stars. And they were not the kind of people you might have expected. They were not wild and wooly freaks like us. They were normal people. Congresspersons, pastors and priests in clerical collars, Federal workers, and housewives.  They cheered for us trouble makers, and they cheered because they too had experienced a profound moment of clarity about the utter moral evil of this war and they were happy we had tried to do something about it beyond what had been tried before. One congressman shook my hand and told me we had all been brave and that the city had needed our action. Others rushed up the steps and invited us to stay at their homes overnight. They would be honored by our presence, they said. It was amazing. We thanked them all, but headed back to the Institute for Policy Studies to be re-united with the rest of our friends. It was after midnight when we returned.

When I got back to the Institute I spied some reporters and a congressperson talking to the heavies in the study. I sighed with resignation regarding my own deserved obscurity, and lumbered up two flights of winding, old-fashioned wooden stairs to the office where I'd stashed my pack. I noticed my gas mask had been punctured with an ice pick by the police and I was not surprised. I also took off the underwear I'd filled earlier that morning during the police assault, and not knowing what to do with them, I tossed them behind the desk of one of the radical intellectuals who occupied that office. I am sorry I did this, whoever you were, but any other method of disposal at the time would have been even more embarrassing. Besides, you know who I am because my mother had sewed my name in those underpants anyway. Yeah, that was what it was like. Downstairs, movement heavies were chatting with their peers from other fields, while upstairs I was stashing my soiled pants from view behind the desk of man ten times my intellectual superior. Always the bridesmaid and never the bride.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

If my thought dreams could be seen: May Day 1971 (Part Eight)


I fell asleep on the floor of a small office that had room for only two or three others that night, the shade drawn to block out the street lights glaring in. I was unaware of this at the time, but at that precise moment 15,000 additional troops and police were arriving by convoy and airlift into D.C. to arrest us on-sight, with or without provocation. There were only maybe 20,000 of us left by then. Almost one heavily armed soldier or cop with the entire repressive machinery of the state at their disposal would confront every one unarmed activist that had only their bodies and their hopes for protection.

About twenty of us left the Institute for Policy Studies at 4:30 AM on Monday morning in four separate affinity groups and we all took a different circuitous route. Our mission was to block the intersection of Pennsylvania and Constitution, a few blocks from the Department of Justice and the FBI. If we had taken a fairly direct route at a brisk pace down Massachusetts to 9th St., then from Pennsylvania to Constitution, we would have gotten to the intersection in 45 minutes at most, even quicker if we jaywalked and ignored stop lights. We were young and daring and we could walk fast. But we were not going to jaywalk our way into jail when we had more a more important mission to accomplish. 

It was rightly assumed that twenty people with gas masks walking together at 4:30 AM down major streets in a highly-publicized exercise of direct action might attract too much attention. It was hoped, however, that four groups of four to six people each with gas masks zig-zagging up and down different side streets for an hour and a half would meet the challenge of getting us to our corner unscathed. We were all supposed to meet up at the same time at the intersection of Pennsylvania and Constitution around 6:00 AM and merely keep crossing the street back and forth until we had enough people to fully shut it down. Our understanding was that many other affinity groups leaving from still other sites would meet us there at that time.

The mild chill in the morning air from the rains the day before did not dampen my optimism for success. I expected to play a game of cat-and-mouse with the police for most of the day, to set up make-shift barricades, then return to the Institute for Policy Studies to watch the news of the day's events just in time for dinner. I really did.

I had no idea where I was going so I merely followed Chook, the anarchist mad man, who had procured a map from the movement heavies on how to get to the intersection in a round-about way. All of us, Jerry, Amos, Doug, Steve and Chook and I kept pretty silent most of the time. We were trying not to attract attention, as if that were possible. It was dark as hell but there was no one else out on the streets. We didn't even see a cop car. Hey, this thing is going to work out fine, I thought. 

We walked down leafy streets, past tall row houses and by businesses, all under the glow of street lights reflecting off damp sidewalks. We appeared to be very exposed, yet we felt so invisible. We went in circles. We back tracked. We would come to a red light and just stand there obediently on a completely still and empty street corner, red bandanas, Mao buttons, gas masks and all, waiting for the light to change. It was like we were just ordinary citizens out for our morning stroll at 4:30 AM. "Top of the morning to you, Professor Kant." "And top of the morning to you as well, Meister Bert." We weren't breaking any laws. We were just out...walking, right?

Federal troops totaling 10,000 had entered the city overnight but we didn't see any. Not one. At Andrews Air Force Base transport planes bursting with paratroopers had been landing every three minutesWhen you toss in over 5,000 D.C. police and 2,000 National Guard and other security forces, I marvel in retrospect that we saw no one remotely close to that description as we ambled quietly and unnoticed to the corner of Pennsylvania and Constitution. Every park, every monument, and every traffic circle (like Dupont Circle, which we had assiduously avoided due to our fairly good instructions for getting to the site of our action) were being protected by heavily-armed men. 

I guess there was a reason our government was successful in killing so many of those over-matched peasants in South East Asia. They understood the element of surprise. When we came within sight of the intersection my pulse quickened and I could feel my heart pounding in my chest and beating in my throat. Nearby the Justice Department and the FBI buildings rose ominously from street level above us. There were already twenty people just like us slowly crossing the street and our additional group swelled their numbers. There was not a whiff of the man anywhere.

We had barely entered the intersection when we were surrounded by 30 to 40 riot police with visors down and clubs drawn. They had been hiding! The bastards! Hey, we hadn't done anything yet! They scorched toward us with amazing fury. They shouted and some of us screamed. They encircled us quickly, holding their batons horizontally to their chests by each end then thrusting them forward and bashing into us with the force of a freight train. People stumbled and fell over, we were trampled under foot by hard, thick boots, then crushed into a small, tight clump of moaning humanity so compressed we could not breathe. In a few moments they started to peel off those on the outside of the clump and literally toss us into a large, idling police bus. How had they been able to hide that thing from sight? It was gigantic!  

This was at 6:00 AM. Two hours later 2,000 people had been arrested and by 11:00 AM 7,000. At Dupont Circle, where we had spent the previous night, a Marine battalion with tanks was stationed, their barrels pointed out at the populace. D.C. was under military occupation. Anyone wearing jeans was arrested, and numerous people just on their way to work were caught in the dragnet. My former babysitter, a Republican stalwart who had moved from my small town in Indiana to do clerical work at the CIA, later told me that she did not go to work that day because she was sure she would be arrested  just for leaving her home.

I was brokenhearted on that short ride to jail. We all were. We had accomplished nothing. We hadn't even broken a law or stopped traffic for a minute. They had arrested us so early and easily we hadn't even been teargassed. We had set up no barricades. There had been no cat-and-mouse. A lot of good that damn gas mask had been. I wished I had gone with the people from Connecticut I'd met the day before and blocked that residential intersection with the telephone poles we'd seen lying in a vacant lot. 

I was also mad at myself and ashamed. When the police had charged and knocked us down with incredible force, they had literally knocked the crap out of me and I had shit my pants, right in the same underwear on which my mother had written my name on a small tag which she had sewn above the Fruit of the Loom tag in the back. She had not wanted my clothes to get lost in the shuffle in the dorm laundry room at Purdue. Note to self: when next time confront forces of repression, go to bathroom first. The bus turned a corner, took a tremendous jarring bounce, then swooped down a tunnel into what had to be a parking area under a police station. None of this had been in my plans.


Saturday, April 9, 2011

If my thought dreams could be seen: May Day 1971 (Part Seven)


If my thought dreams could be seen: May Day 1971 (Part Six)

So after the clash at Georgetown with the riot police, and thanks to the leadership of the movement heavies I was emulating, I made my way with my friends to the Institute for Policy Studies on Dupont Circle to regroup.  That night we would discuss tactics, sleep on their floors, and the next day attempt to bring Washington D.C. to its knees.

When we got to Dupont Circle we discovered a pleasantly green, round, tree-ringed park with a tall white marble fountain at its center. Wide walkways lined with flowers led to the hub where the fountain stood, and between them damp grass warmed in the sun. It was late afternoon, the rains had ceased momentarily, and light poured in between the clouds and through the trees. Three classical carvings representing the wind, the sea, and the goddess of the stars wound around the fountain's shaft. Water glittering in the sun poured over the sides of the imposing stone basin that the carvings and their shaft supportedThe entire outside of the park's circle was lined with benches, and on one side of the park chess tables sat where a few brave enthusiasts played.

Scores of intimidating policemen also ringed the park, obviously there to keep people like me from camping out. They were not faceless riot police with their protective visors pulled down, but they were not meter readers either, and they struck a very disquieting pose. One of them kept eyeing me suspiciously for any hint that I might sit down in the park. All the while he observed me he was twirling a police baton with stickers plastered all over it that said "The King is Coming." Our eyes met and I was determined not to flinch. "What does 'the king is coming mean?" I asked, with my long hair, my red bandana, and my army coat with a Mao button on the pocket and a gas mask hanging off my belt. He narrowed his eyes and stared at me menacingly, "You'll find out soon enough tomorrow," he shot back. There was no token of respect in his bearing that opposing armies sometimes have for each other. It was obvious that he loathed me with every fiber of his being and it cut me to the core. In retrospect, I should not have expected anything less. I am embarrassed to admit that I really was that naïve.

The streets radiating like spokes from Dupont Circle were densely lined with tall attractive row houses, stores, and embassies. It was, and remains, one of the most impressive areas in Washington D.C. Our destination, the Institute for Policy Studies, was a left-wing think tank housed in a huge four-story Romanesque brick structure. It sat on the northwest corner of 20th and Q Streets amidst a profusion of tall, narrow dwellings exuding substance, history, and prestige. The Institute's building was the former home of George Alexander McIlhenny, the wealthy president of the Washington Gas-Light Company.

Mr. McIlhenny's old home retained much of its original appearance outside, but the interior had mostly been converted to utilitarian office space. It was crammed with people. It was loud and boisterous and a light scent of tear gas was in the air, carried in on those that had been gassed in the police assault in Georgetown that afternoon. These were not the mere concert-going hippies who had come to get high then had fled home when the police attacked and drove us from West Potomac Park earlier that morning. We were all volunteers and we knew what it meant. 

No one had conscripted us, or ordered us to be here. We were young and we were the shock troops you find in every revolution. People just like us had stood in front of tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989 and dared them to run us over. We read Common Sense in 1776 and were winter soldiers with Washington at Valley Forge. We shouted ¡No pasarán! and gave our lives to halt the fascist advance in Spain in 1936. We read, we sang, we loved life and we wanted to live it fully, just as others like us do everyday in internment camps, in occupied territories, and behind barricades confronting both dictators and the tyranny of ordinary democracies that have betrayed their purpose and destiny. 

That night we learned that our affinity group and several others would be quietly winding our way to the Justice Department to block a nearby intersection around 4:30 AM. A few famous people came by to wish us us well and to talk to us. Nicholas von Hoffman, the well-known journalist and former activist-colleague of Saul Alinsky, stopped in as did a couple other men in coats and ties which I later learned were members of Congress. All these people had had a moment of great moral clarity about the war that cut through all the lies and obfuscations the government fed us to keep us believing that leveling South East Asia was both moral and in our national interest. They were much older than we were, and seemed to be a part of the "establishment," in some respects, but we were united in common purpose against the great evil this war represented. Our cultural and age differences were surmounted by this common purpose that might otherwise have kept us apart. 

I fell asleep on the floor of a small office that had room for only two or three others that night, the shade drawn to block out the street lights glaring in. I was unaware of this at the time, but at that precise moment 15,000 additional troops and police were arriving by convoy and airlift into D.C. to arrest us on-sight, with or without provocation. There were only maybe 20,000 of us left by then. Almost one heavily armed soldier or cop with the entire repressive machinery of the state at their disposal would confront every one unarmed activist that had only their bodies and their hopes for protection.