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January 18, 1968, Vol. XIII, No. 14
Viet Critics: They Put Themselves on the Line
by Sally Kempton
Last Sunday night at Town Hall more than 500 people put themselves on the line in active support of draft resistance. They were members of the audience at a rally which had been called to demonstrate solidarity with young draft resisters — and with Dr. Spock and the other men recently indicted for their support of draft resisters. The audience’s action came at the end of an evening of speeches, after chairman Douglas Dowd had asked supporters to come up on the stage and sign a huge scroll which contained a pledge to counsel, aid, an abet any young man who wished to refuse the draft. Dowd also asked that in order to make their support a legal fact, signers put money in an envelope with their names and addresses and donate it to a resister.
The audience responded so quickly that they seemed to have simply surged into the aisles. Within two minutes nearly 300 people had lined up to sign the scroll, and before the first of them was halfway across the stage another 300 were out of their seats and jostling their way to the end of the line.
People filed forward, speaking their names into a microphone, until to speed things up the sponsors put two more microphones and another scroll.
Not all the people who rushed forward to put their names on the list were habitual activists. Norman Mailer and Allen Ginsberg and Conor Cruise O’Brien and Susan Sontag and Jane Jacobs signed, Noam Chomsky signed, ladies from Women Strike for Peace signed, as did a man from Trade Unionists for Peace. But there were schoolteachers who signed and social workers. A retired police sergeant signed, and several war veterans, and a taxi driver. A lady came down from the balcony and said she’d never done anything like this before, but she had two sons off draft age and felt she should.
Most of the signers did so in full expectation of facing prosecution for support of draft resistance. (The maximum penalty for aiding and abetting draft refusal is five years imprisonment or $10,000 fine or both). One gray-faced middle-aged woman stood on the stage waiting to drop her check in the collection box an said she was afraid to go to jail “I don’t think I have five years left to live,” she said. “Then don’t do it,” said her friend. “Oh,” the lady answered in a trembling voice, “I couldn’t not do it.”
When it was over the leaders counted 560 signatures. A spokesman from Support-in-Action, one of the sponsoring organizations, announced herself astonished at the extent of the response. “We expected 50 to 75 people to sign the statement,” she said. “I can’t even convey how important this is for the peace movement.”
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