Lessons from Stop the Draft Week 50 years ago

In 1967, protesters filled the streets of Oakland to stop the draft. Seven faced serious charges — and their message still resonates today

With great fanfare PBS is airing a 10-part series about the Vietnam War. Critics charge that under the guise of being even handed, series producers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick say the US and Vietnam share equal blame for the war. Foreign correspondent  Reese Erlich offers a different historical perspective.

October marks the 50th anniversary of Stop the Draft Week, the largest militant anti-Vietnam War demonstration up to that time. Ten thousand people jammed into the streets of downtown Oakland to shutdown the federal draft induction center.

Demonstration organizers, who became known as the Oakland 7, faced an 11-week conspiracy trial. In a major victory for the anti-war movement, a jury acquitted them of all charges…

In October of 1967, the U.S. war effort in Vietnam was failing. In just a few months, Vietnamese rebels launched the Tet Offensive, a political defeat that proved to be a turning point in the US war.

Throughout 1967 President Lyndon Johnson sent more troops to South Vietnam, and that required bigger draft calls. The sons of the very rich and well connected always avoided the draft. Donald Trump received a medical deferment due to “bone spurs” in his heels. They didn’t prevent him from a lifetime of skiing, however…

We didn’t consider ourselves hippies, but the anti-war and counterculture movements were intertwined. Both groups used drugs, listened to rock, dressed unconventionally and engaged in the kind of sex that outraged our parents. But hippies tended to protest society by “dropping out.” We wanted them to “drop in” to the anti-war movement.

We also sought to broaden the anti-war movement by including workers and allying with black, Latino, and Asian activists. Dave Harris and his pacifist allies believed they could do that with an appeal to conscience and traditional, nonviolent tactics.

Others of us argued that working class youth were turned off by traditional pacifism. It was time that anti-war demonstrators become more militant and defend ourselves against police attack.

Our call for militant action was hugely controversial. Of course local politicians, university administrators and business people were opposed. But even most leaders of the mainstream peace movement were hesitant. Our rejection of non-violent tactics ran against the grain of protests at that time. Few leaders and no traditional peace groups endorsed STDW.

But we picked up grassroots support. I still remember walking the streets of Berkeley in early October and seeing scores of houses displaying Stop the Draft Week posters in their windows.

Our timing was spot on. “Our political antennae picked up something out there,” Oakland 7 member Terry Cannon told me years later… (more)

How the mighty have fallen. An unofficial Summer of Love celebration did squeak by with little fanfare in the fall of 2017 in the San Francisco Golden Gate Park Bandshell, with Wavy Gravy and some die hard local bands and their fans.
It is a sad day when San Francisco officials nix the 50th anniversary Summer of Love concert that ushered in the peace movement, especially now that we are dealing with a clash of cultures and political upheaval.
To add insult to injury, Silicon Valley officials and the 49ers Management want to extend a 10 PM noise curfew to allow for later performances to make up for the poor ticket sales at Levis Stadium. Money is king in the the former home of the peace and love movement.
Pay to play or just pay, as California turns itself into the most valuable real estate with the highest rate of poverty and one of the worst education systems in the country.

 

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