News & Politics

“Will Marching Up Sixth Avenue Get Us Anywhere But Uptown?”

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Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.
November 11, 1971, Vol. XVI, No. 45

Why do they still march?
By Robin Reisig

Why are you marching? I ask the only three blacks who had showed up at the assembly point for blacks, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and Asian-Americans. Why? I ask the head of an eight-man Chinese dragon formed of billowing Vietcong flags. Why? I ask old veterans of the Lincoln Brigade and young founders of the Attica Brigade. Why are you here in the Sheep Meadow on Saturday afternoon?

“I’d feel bad if I didn’t come.” “To protest the nuclear blast at Amchitka.” “To protest the war so things don’t get even worse.” “To recruit peep for more radical action.” “To fight cynicism.” Unlike earlier seasons, no one says, as though one march might do it, “to end the war.” We’re much older now.

“When will it ever end?” a girl sang softly. “Peace now! PEACE NOW!” people screamed. The marching speakers were completely surrounded by an enormous ring of marshals separating them from the rest of the marchers, “protecting them from threats and people who might want to get at Dr. Spock’s throat,” explained Andi Burd, a marshal leader.

As usual, a group came in order to walk out on the speeches — the “Attica Brigade — Attica means fight back.” They burned Rockefeller, pregnant with dollars, in effigy as close to the Chase Manhattan Bank as the police would let them get. Some 30 or 40 paraders costumed in pink burlap and ash and yokes, eyes skyward, moaned and rapped long staffs in unison.

“When will it ever end?” sang the girl. I think she was talking about the war.

Meanwhile in Washington Solicitor General Erwin Griswold was telling the Supreme Court the Amchitka blast was designed “to preserve peace.”

“Fellini going backwards,” Kate Millet called the day. Senator Vance Hartke urged the election of peace candidates. A small peace-by-any-means-necessary contingent reviewed his speech: “Bullshit, bullshit…” Beulah Saunders, chairwoman of the National Welfare Rights Organization, told them to lay off or she’d “bust your asses…bullshitters.” Reverend Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick tried to explain “nobody on the stage is your enemy.” And kindly Dr. Benjamin Spock said, “If the Vietnamese were bombing me, I’m not sure I could send a message thanking those who were demonstrating on my side.”

A radical I’d met before, now wearing the insignia of the warriors of the rainbow and saying he was a weatherman and at the rally only to recruit people, tells me, “People should vote Democratic.” I blink. “We need breathing space,” he explains. I say I thought three years ago people were saying we should not vote for either party, or should vote for Nixon to bring on repression that would radicalize people. “I know,” he apologizes, “but the pressure started coming down and we weren’t ready to deal with it.”

Last Wednesday near Macy’s, at a rained-out women’s “speak-out against the war” that attracted all the attention of the perennial Salvation Army-ladies who sing at Christmas shoppers, Helen Lynd, a writer and mother of Staughton Lynd, recalled that during the Spanish civil war she and her friends felt the anti-Franco forces “must win or history will end.” That is a hubris my generation cannot share.

In reply to questions like “will marching up Sixth Avenue get us anywhere but uptown?” the people at the National Peace Action Coalition who coordinated the march (which was also supported by the People’s Coalition for Peace and Justice) insisted that the peace marches have had enormous effect. Cathy Perkus of NPAC said the Cambodia demonstrations prevented Nixon from pulling another Cambodia in Laos, that because of the demonstrations the devastation and bombing haven’t been even worse. And this is probably true. And yet…And yet…

At last summer’s NPAC conference, purportedly called to decide what action to take next, failure to endorse the leaders’ plan for November 6 regional marches would have been as likely as McCloskey’s unseating Nixon. More time in the general sessions was spent discussing whether to condemn or commend the marshals for their battles in evicting disrupters than was spent in discussing whether another peace march was the most valid tactic. NPAC claimed the conference was supported by a broad coalition of labor leaders and liberal politicians. And if you believed all the names the factions at the conference called each other, it was a conference of even greater breadth, being dominated, the epithets had it, by ruling class capitalist imperialists, Trotskyists, Stalinists, and skunks. Anyone not at Saturday’s march, one active NPAC member told me, “is not part of the left.” Period.

There are fresher ideas in the peace movement, even if they draw fewer people — and sometimes involve arrest. The vigor of the Mayday tribe. The interesting idea, with the low turn-out, for a Dump Nixon rally and indictment two weeks ago in Washington. And starting this week, plans for 300 people a day to go to the White House and lay the day’s death toll at Nixon’s doorstep. As Ron Young of the Fellowship of Reconciliation reminded Saturday’s crowd, 300 Vietnamese are killed each day in Vietnam — even if a myopic Times headline, without even courtesy of the words U.S.,” proclaims, “War Dead for Week: Two.”

And a few times Saturday I heard a precipitous cry: “Remember San Diego.”

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]

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