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.
Walzer hopes that if the CNC can collect several thousand signatures, Congressman O'Neill might agree to public hearings in spite of his hawkish stand on the war. Several of Walzer's group recently conferred with O'Neill and reported him to be much more dovish in private than he has been in public.
But a spokesman for Vietnam Summer national headquarters said recently that "No one really expects O'Neil to hold the hearings."
It doesn't really matter that much anyway. The petition provides a convenient issue for approaching people, but a Vietnam hearing is only the secondary goal of the CNC. The prime purpose is to activate politically anti-war Cambridge citizens, and mold them into an effective bloc. As Walzer puts it, "We want to stir up as many people as possible."
What to do with these people once they've been stirred up is a question no one's trying to answer at CNC headquarters. Walzer expects the local residents to learn how to flex their own political muscle. Neighborhood residents mobilized by the CNC have already formed two research committees to discuss possible courses of action.
The electoral politics committee is now weighing the advisability of running CNC people for School Committee, City Council, Democratic and Republican committemen, and delegate to the national party conventions. Another committee is studying the effect of the war on Cambridge residents--for example, its effect on local industry and welfare payments--in order to arm CNC endorsed candidates with arguments against the war that hit home...literally.
The orientation of the CNC toward electoral politics contrasts sharply with the stated aims of a second Cambridge peace organization, the Boston Draft Resistance Group. The people of the Draft Resistance Group are so filled with revulsion at the war that they have settled on a more immediate, direct, and personal "No!" They have all publicly announced their determination never to enter the military while the U.S. is fighting in Vietnam. In the Boston area, more than 400 have already taken the pledge.
With $1000 of Vietnam Summer money, about 30 of the resistors opened an office at 138 Rivers Street, Cambridge, where they counsel young men in methods of avoiding the draft. They are also thinking of working more closely with the CNC, whose canvassers generally keep records of which Cambridge families have draftage sons. The Draft Resistance Group may send people around in the wake of the CNC to offer their services to these families.
There is a federal law against advising anyone how to avoid the draft, but the resistors have not been deterred. They are quite open about what they are doing. Ray Mungo, a member of the group, describes their activities in these terms: "We are unabashedly using every means possible to inhabit, retard, and be dishonest with the Selective Service System...Our position has been philosophically anarchistic. That is, we make no moral judgements about why a kid wants out. If he wants out, we get him out the best way we can."
Most people who seek help from the Draft Resistance Group are not interested in trying to prove they are conscientious objectors to war. The few who want to try for C.O. are referred to the Americans Friends Service Committee in Harvard Square, which has a staff more experienced in the intricacies of the C.O. procedures.
The Draft Resistance group specializes in loopholes. "There are 14,000 different ways to get out," Mungo proclaims. It is perfectly legal, for example, to refuse to sign the security oath at the pre-induction physical, and you don't even have to give a reason for refusing. The army generally doesn't want anything to do with non-signers and classifies them 1-Y, Mungo explains.
Mungo also claims that many more people can be saved from the draft on the grounds of physical disability. He said that many young men who are eligible for 4-F miss out because they don't bring medical documentation to their pre-induction physical.
At Army Base
The resistors spend a lot of time at the Boston Army Base leafletting the men undergoing their physicals. They tell the pre-inductees, among other things, that they still have 21 days after their physical in which to present new evidence of eligibility for a 4-F deferment.
The Draft Resistance Group can offer free legal assistance. Victor Rabinovitz, a prominent left-wing lawyer, has agreed to send up a man from his firm, Mungo says, whenever a client of the Group faces trial. So far, two have been put on trial for refusing induction and one of them has already been sent to jail.
Mungo says that most men who seek help from the resistors are working class people, and he believes this is very significant. "It's nothing new for intellectuals to protest wars," he said, but he called the evidence of dissent among "plain ordinary guys" an "unprecedented movement." Yet, he admitted that this "movement" is still infinitessimally small. His office has aided a few more than one hundred people.
Organized draft resistance was a new phenomenon last fall. But there are now some two dozen draft unions--groups of men who have publicly declared they won't go to Vietnam. The Boston Draft Resistance Group is trying to call a national conference of resistors for sometime in August in order to establish some sort of national machinery. At present, the local groups are very loosely coordinated.
The third group active in Cambridge is the Vote on Vietnam project, which is circulating a petition to put a "Get Out of Vietnam" resolution on the ballot in the city-wide election next November.
A popular initiative must get the signatures of eight per cent of the registered voters--about 4000 names--before the Cambridge charter requires the City Council to put it on the ballot.
Steve Newman, a member of the group, claimed they have already collected about 3000 names.
The Vote on Vietnam Group was organized by three members of the Progressive Labor Party, a Marxist-Leninist organization that sides with Peking in the Sino-Soviet rift over coexistence vs. revolution. Although nearly all of their 50 canvassers describe themselves as "independent radicals," the wording of the petition largely reflects PL's philosophy, especially in its appeal to the working class.
The petition reads: "We are opposed to the U.S. policy in Vietnam. The war in Vietnam is against the interests of American workers and students because it spends our men and our money to suppress the Vietnamese. The war serves only the interest of business. The U.S. should get out of Vietnam."
The Vote on Vietnam canvassers have concentrated exclusively on working class parts of Cambridge, mostly north and east of Central Square. Getting the resolution on the ballot is only a secondary goal, much as Vietnam hearings are secondary for the CNC. The primary purpose, according to one member, is to start working class people thinking about the war.
The canvassers try to convince the people they approach that the war is imperialistic and that imperialism is not in the interest of American workers. They argue that business, with its "drive to keep access to the cheap labor and resources of Vietnam," is responsible for the war. They often draw an analogy to "runaway shops" in the U.S.
"People up here have a very clear understanding of what runaway shops means," a report by the group reads. "A lot of towns around Boston have been 'depressed areas' for a generation since the textile and leather mills packed up and headed South. Running away to cheap labor of Asia is very understandable to workers around Boston."
When a Vote on Vietnam canvasser runs into a pro-war worker, he tries to stir him up by asking questions such as:
* Who is the enemy in Vietnam?
* How come the enemy holds out in spite of the material superiority of the U.S. forces?
* How come the South Vietnamese don't "defend" themselves against the National Liberation Front (the Vietcong)?
* Why are the Vietnamese fighting so hard?
* Would you let some guy come along and take 50 per cent of your income as rent?
* Would you want foreigners to pick the president of the U.S.?
Report on Mrs. K.
A report published by the Vote on Vietnam Group contains several paragraphs describing some typical encounters between canvassers and workers. The description of Mrs. K's response--written by the canvasser--goes:
"Mrs. K., a middle-aged worker in light industry who lives in East Cambridge, read the petition but was too shy or afraid to sign. Then her daughter (a student at Cambridge High and Latin) spoke up and told her to go ahead and sign; she teased her mother and told her off, and went and got her a pen to sign with. Obviously proud of her daughter, Mrs. K. then signed and invited us in to talk....
Mrs. K and her daughter were pleased that students had some idea of how the war oppressed workers. They asked us about our college work and discussed Mrs. K's plans to become a teacher. One of us told her he was going into city planning, so we talked a while about the Cambridge Inner Belt. The other said he was giving up academic work in the capitalist university (a self-service supermarket for U.S. corporations and the government). Mrs. K. nodded in understanding: I felt she knew who the class enemy was, and how a student could prefer fighting this enemy to taking its lousy pay-off.
"Mrs. K. and her daughter are bright, strong women who see through the government lies and have strong class consciousness. This encounter could lead to good work in Mrs. K's shop and in the high schools."
Even if the Vote on Vietnam canvassers have as much success with all Cambridge as they seem to have had with Mrs. K., there is some question whether their resolution qualifies to be put on the ballot. It is uncertain whether the charter requires the City Council to place on the ballot a statement directed at a national issue, outsode the pervue of local government. The canvassers people expect the council to try to disqualify the petition "on technicalities," and they are preparing to fight the matter out in court.
In spite of their common goal, one would never expect three groups of such varying philosophical outlook as the CNC, Draft Resistance Group, and Vote on Vietnam to work side by side in complete harmony. And indeed there has been at least one minor scrape between the CNC and Vote.
Several weeks ago the CNC began canvassing working class areas whch were covered by Vote weeks before. The question came up in a CNC policy meeting whether to establish formal relations with Vote and agree upon a division of labor between the two groups to prevent double canvassing. Walzer, the head of CNC, urged "no relations whatsoever" with Vote and that policy was adopted. He brought up the role of PL in Vote in such a way that many of his own group criticized him severely for red baiting.
There are two lessons to be drawn from this intergroup backbiting. First, it is obvious hat the moderate-radical coalition which produced Vietnam Summer is an uneasy alliance. The moderates, like CNC, tend to concentrate in middle class areas trying to trying to build a peace bloc. But the radicals deplore electoral politics--they don't believe the U.S. will ever vote itself out of Vietnam. Since they are convinced that the System can't solve the problem, they seek the aid of those who will be most likely to take action outside the System. They organize in the ghetto and poor working class areas around issues like draft resistance. The moderates scoff at this approach, and point to the small numbers the draft resistors can muster.
But the second lesson is that this alliance is workable, under the Vietnam Summer umbrella. The key is local autonomy. The moderates can have their project and keep the radicals out, as the CNC did. The radicals can do the same. About the only place the moderates and radicals have to work together is in the national office, and although that office is sometimes in turmoil, the local projects go right on functioning as though nothing has happened. It is too early to tell whether all the canvassing will mobilize an effective opposition to the war, but it is clear that the coalition of moderates and radicals will at least put out a new message to thousands who have never thought to question the Administration's policy