February 1, 1962
Hundreds of Villagers and other New Yorkers are putting most of their energies this week into protests against nuclear testing and the “war economy.” The Worldwide General Strike for Peace began on Monday at points all around town with high enthusiasm if relatively few participants. The elaborate schedule of activities comes to a first round conclusion on Sunday evening, February 4, with a rally at the Village Gate and a torchlight parade up Sixth Avenue to Times Square.
Following last week’s refusal by the New York Times of the ad for the General Strike, the New York Committee submitted the ad to the Herald Tribune and the Post. Both rejected it. According to Julian Beck, an initiator of the strike concept, the Herald Tribune gave no reason for this rejection. The Post, he said, demanded deletion of the words “strike,” “work-stop-page,” and “boycott,” and required that the ad not announce picketing at the U.S. Army recruiting station in Times Square or at the New York Stock Exchange. The Post has recently initiated a stock-market report section.
Picket the Times
On Friday a group of about 20 advocates of the strike picketed the Times, wearing placards explaining the aims and planned activities of strike week. Retreating from the rain into Cobb’s Corner Coffee Shop, on the corner of 43rd Street and Eighth Avenue, the picketers held a brief press conference, at which the Times, the Tribune, and The Voice were represented.
On Monday a group of strikers estimated at more than 300 marched down Fifth Avenue from 59th Street to Washington Square. In a kick-off speech in front of the Plaza Hotel, David McReynolds, of the War Resisters League, said: “We declare peace against all the governments of the world.”
The mood of the occasion was festive despite the 26-degree cold and the apparent indifference of most passers-by. A large group of the walkers, centered on folk-singers Pete Seeger and Gil Turner, sang “I Ain’t Gonna Study War No More,” “You Can Dig Your Grave in Your Own Backyard,” and other songs of protest. Arriving at Washington Square, the group was diverted by good-natured police to the sidewalk along Sixth Avenue south of Waverly Place. There Julian Beck spoke briefly, telling the demonstrators: “It is beautiful to see you here today. You are the hope of the future.” “Peace torches” were then lighted and carried to points where vigils will be maintained throughout the week of the strike.
Later that day a General Strike rally was called at Community Church on East 35th Street; Paul Goodman spoke of the philosophical basis for the strike. He said: “When the institutions of society threaten the very foundation of the social contract, namely, biological safety–then the social contract is very near to being dissolved. He continued: We have now not a political but a biological emergency. The government’s almost total commitment to the cold war cannot be stopped by ordinary political means.
Dorothy Day, editor of the Catholic Worker, spoke of the present need for “responsibility, sacrifice, and asceticism.” Julian Beck described the act as a “call” to action, “our way of declaring the pollution of things as they are, of the governments’ deep involvement in war-preparing.” Judith Malina said the strike is a “means of satisfying our most urgent need to take some action.”
No Civil Liberty
The meeting also heard Specialist 4th Class Aulden Fowler, the solider who had picketed in mufti the Fort Jay ferry entrance the Battery earlier in the day. Fowler described being taken to Governor’s Island for an “investigation” being told eventually that “there was no regulation” against what he was doing–he was on a six-day pass at the time–and finally being released under certain orders not to participate further in the demonstrations for peace. Fowler ended his brief talk by reflecting: “There is no civil liberty in the Army.”
Also on Monday Villager Robert Nichols organized a vigil at Sixth Avenue and Waverly Place from 2 until 10 p.m. The office of the Manufacturers Trust Company at that location called the police to request that the vigil be moved elsewhere, and this was accomplished without incident. Nichols reports that the police were “unusually tactful.”
Police are Gentlemen
Further evidence of police gentlemanliness came on Tuesday, when 38 demonstrators sat down in front of the New York Operations Office of the Atomic Energy Commission, Hudson and Houston Streets. A picket line of more than 100 persons gathered before the building at 11 a.m., where a police line had been set up.
The group intending to sit down in front of the building’s entrance adjourned at 12:30 to a nearby sidewalk, where last-minute advice was offered by those experienced in non-violent demonstrations. Jim Forest, an initiator of the action, told the group it was likely that some or all of them would be arrested. “It is extremely difficult to be non-violent,” he said. “You can’t be sure that your non-violence will be met with non-violence.” He continued. “I ask you who are not sure of your belief in non-violence not to participate today. This is not a time for testing yourself.”
The group was solemn during the two-block walk to the AEC building. On arriving at the police barricade, the demonstrators tried politely to pass through the line of policemen. The police, apparently under orders to avoid using or provoking force, made no great effort to prevent the protestors from reaching the building’s door, and within a few minutes the entire group was sitting on the sidewalk effectively blocking the entrance.
“I’m a Playboy”
The day’s only violence occurred when a man in a black coat and hat attempted to bodily drag several of the sitters away from the door. Asked whether he was a member of the police force, he replied: “No, I’m a playboy.” Pressed further, he snarled: “I don’t have to tell you a goddam thing!” Before long, meeting no opposition, he gave up and vanished.
A number of people apparently employed in the AEC building were seen looking out of windows and peering through the glass entrance doors at the demonstrators who, when a soaking rain began to fall, borrowed placards from the continuing picket line to use as umbrellas. But few persons were seen entering or leaving. A police officer explained that there was another entrance around the corner, but that employees had been instructed to eat lunch at their desks on the day of the demonstration.
Later in the afternoon one demonstrator, Michael Graine, was arrested on a charge of “simple assault” and taken to the 4
th Precinct station. According to Julian Beck, this occurred when the door of the AEC opened from the inside and Graine attempted to enter the building. As The Voice went to press, Graine was scheduled to appear at Tuesday night court.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 18, 2005