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.



  1. Oh yea bring it on war machine!!!!!!! Can't wait to here what happens next (as I've forgot)

  2. We shut down the government, McGovern gets elected and we all live in nice big homes with universal health care and we all retired at 55 with great pensions.

  3. Oh, it's going to be so, so...intense...that its intenseness will intensify to a crescendo and--hoo just wait.