The casual observer must sense a precipitous decline in anti-war activity since April's peace march brought several hundred thousand daffodiled protestors to New York City. Throughout April, the demonstration--and Martin Luther King's much publicized switch to active dove --captured headline after headline. But since then the peaceniks have not been in the top of the news at all. Where have all the flowers gone? Has the movement really wilted? Don't believe it.
The protestors have simply moved off Fifth Avenue and onto their neighbors' porches, where they are making their appeal in a much quieter, but (they hope) more effective manner. They are going door-to-door to seek out and organize latent and unarticulated opposition to the war.
The nationwide canvassing project is called Vietnam Summer and it was born in Cambridge, quietly, just as the New York march hubbub was dying. The idea originated with Gar Alperovitz, a fellow of the Kennedy Institute of Politics who resigned his State Department post last year in protest against the war. Martin Luther King, who visited Cambridge to lend his prestige to the launching of the project, contributed the name which is reminiscent of the famous Civil Rights Summer of 1964.
The national offices of Vietnam Summer consist of a dozen classrooms at the glamorous Friends School on Cadbury Street, 2 miles north of the Square. But the real action is in hundreds of local projects across the nation. They receive a lot of ideas and a little money from the national office, but no directives. They run their own show.
Cambridge has more than its share of local projects. Some areas of the City will be canvassed by three different peace groups. One of these, the Cambridge Neighborhood Committee (CNC), headed by Michael Walzer, associate professor of Government, is circulating a petition urging Congressman Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. "to return to your district to hold open hearings on the war." The CNC now has door-to-door canvassers working in about one-third of Cambridge's precincts, and in all eleven wards. Walzer estimates that about 1500 signatures have been collected so far.
"We need more social and geographic spread before we take the petitions to the Congressman," Walzer said last week. The crucial issue which the CNC now faces is how to get working class people to support the petition. In the early stages of the campaign, the canvassers stuck pretty close to the largely sympathetic university community. But just recently they have begun to concentrate on some of Cambridge's working class districts and so far the returns from those districts are inconclusive.
Walzer reports that the number of signatures obtained in one such working class ward--North Cambridge--was very low. But Joe Emonds, who coordinates a canvassing group in Ward 3, says that early returns from that non-university area are running about the same as in the Harvard community--50 to 60 per cent sign.
There is good reason to predict that the signature campaign will get widespread support even in the working class districts. The wording of the statement is so tepid that several canvassers in Ward 3 were reporting that one-half of the people who signed were actually "all for the war." The petition stops short of any direct criticism of the Johnson Administration, settling for "We, your constituents, are worried about our nation's involvement in Vietnam."
Most of the CNC canvassers themselves favor immediate orderly withdrawal from Vietnam but they are moderate in their politics. Emonds says he does not believe a single one of the twenty or so canvassers in his group is a member of Students for a Democratic Society. They are mostly college graduates in their twenties, many of them married.
They canvass in the evening because most of them work in the day. Whenever possible, a man and a woman work together as a team. The presence of the woman dispels any fear that the man might be dangerous.
The canvassers generally express amazement at the warmth with which they are received everywhere, including working class districts. The story is true, however, about the resident on Inman Street who came out swinging when the canvasser rang his bell--his next door neighbor had telephoned a warning that the peaceniks were on their way. But that's the only story of its kind in Cambridge. "We have met no aggressive hostility," Emonds says.
Emonds explains that his group generally takes an intellectual approach in trying to convert hawks. The ignorance of the basic facts among many working people is amazing, he claims. "I have run into some people," he says, "who think the U.S. is fighting China in Vietnam and that Ho Chi Minh is Japanese." He is convinced that by educating them, even scantly, in Vietnamese history, he has moved many "one step closer to a dove position." Complete conversions don't happen, but at the very least, Emonds concludes, "the hawks find out that the peacniks aren't all beatniks, dope fiends, or Commies."
But sometimes there is a complete breakdown of communication. A man and a woman who had canvassed Springfield Street reported at the weekly canvassers' meeting that they had failed completely. "House after house they spoke nothing but Portuguese," the man complained. The next week a CNC team revisited the neighborhood, this time with a canvasser who could speak Portuguese.