The Crusade Hits Indiana, Which Is Not The Promised Land
AT THE airport, someone picked up a pamphlet titled "How to Survive in Indianapolis" from the Hertz girl. We laughed. Surely it wouldn't be all that difficult. Our ride into headquarters had yet to show up. The air terminal was quiet. Two members of the Royal Laotian Army arrived and were greeted by a couple of U.S. soldiers. An advance scouting party, we joked. Or, perhaps, a remake of The Manchurian Candidate. They were hurried off in a dung-colored government car. So we stood, a few sat, in the middle of the lobby, 18 of us, sleeping bags, suitcases, and McCarthy buttons. No one had told us crusading would be so much fun.
Eventually we made it into downtown Indianapolis. We had to go by taxi. It wasn't that the McCarthy people couldn't supply enough cars to pick us up; their gas pool had run out of money. The cabbie showed us the area's few points of interest. Indianapolis is a city whose parks are littered with preserved tanks and artillery the way some people clutter their coffee tables with bronzed baby shoes. Many of its public buildings are self-conscious copies of old Washington favorites. Its war memorials offer some of the most embarrassing examples of social realism west of Leningrad. And right smack in the center of the whole city is the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument -- a phallic shaft of stone topped by a 200-foot representation of a frightfully winged female, supposedly "the happiest lady in town."
Home of John Birch Society
We were soon briefed on the city's more relevant distinctions. Indianapolis is the site of the American Legion's National Headquarters; the home of the John Birch Society; and a few weeks earlier the Ku Klux Klan had received a permit for a full-dress parade down the main street. Not quite the peace candidate's territory.
IT IS AN odd kind of war you must wage when you are not even allowed to dirty your hands. But that is what we were told to do. Keep it clean for Gene. The staff was cynical, but serious about it. Indiana was confused. Its primary had never before attracted such national attention. Suddenly crowds of students had made its capital a convention city without a convention. The papers were already misrepresenting the Senator. The cops would have loved to bust his kids.
The Senator--despite the obvious confusion, we rarely used his surname when speaking among ourselves--set the tone of the campaign. A kind of unavoidable, occasionally inopportune, honesty. During the final week of the campaign, he suggested that Communists would probably have to be accepted in a Vietnamese coalition government. Hardly a move motivated by the political realities of the state. We found it difficult to be as scrupulous. Someone mentioned that we might be asked whether the Senator was a relative of Joe McCarthy, and, well, we would have to decide for ourselves how to answer.
Nonetheless, the operation really maintain the purity of a crusade. Most of the staff was under 30; many had dropped out of college during the course of the spring semester to become more completely involved in the campaign. We were assigned to Dave's storefront in Barrington. Dave was one of the lucky ones. He had managed to talk Northwestern into granting him a free term to examine the campaign in terms of his anthropology major. Norm, his assistant, was more characteristic. A few months earlier he had been a 5.0 student at the University of Illinois; he was now on pro. Dave only knew two kids that had joined the campaign in hopes of future political gain. The majority brought only the committed dedication that enabled them to survive on a salary of seven dollars a day. They were punctilious in disciplining themselves. Those who dated interracially were asked not to wear McCarthy buttons, not in Indiana. Beer wasn't allowed at parties for the volunteers. No one wanted the police to point out a minor drinking, however innocently.
The staff hotel was demonstrative of their whole attitude. The Antlers was seven blocks from headquarters and just a step away from becoming a bona fide flophouse. The cockroaches attested to that. Or the bathrooms that flooded with cold water whenever you tried to take a shower. The single, cardboard elevator was operated by Maggie, a rough, surly old woman. Single men were warned not to ride the elevator with her alone, especially if they were going all the way to the eighth floor. The Antlers had been chosen for one reason--it was cheap. The staff responded to the challenge. Accordingly, Senator McCarthy announced his willingness to stay in the staff hotel when the campaign reached California. If they were gutsy enough to take, so was he.
Peanut Butter Sandwiches
The student volunteers, McCarthy's weekend warriors, were even more enthusiastic. Like World War I veterans, they loved to search out old friends and rehash the campaigns they had already seen. Some had known the snow in New Hampshire, many more recalled the friendliness of Wisconsin. For others, it was their first crusade. For those of us from Harvard, reading period had made it easy to respond to latent activism. McCarthy had become something of an intellectual's cause celebre. As self-conscious, guilt-ridden liberals we joined the battle.
No one seemed quite sure how many of us there were. Some press accounts claimed 7,000 students had entered the state. Mary McCarthy told reporters it was more like 9,000. In Indianapolis alone, there were 2,500 of us. All Friday night, reports kept reaching headquarters of groups still due to arrive: some kids from central Massachusetts, flying half fare, had been bumped in New York, a bus had broken down in Ohio. At midnight, they were still trying to house 300 unexpected volunteers.
THERE is a certain way people react to hurricanes and floods. It is the same way New Yorkers approach day-to-day living. You adopt a sort of crisis mentality. You make your difficulties seem much larger, your stamina appear more courageous. It is a marvelous game of competitive purported deprivation when played correctly. The McCarthy volunteer revels in it.
With no little degree of self-satisfaction, we slept on church floors and lived on peanut butter sandwiches. During the last 36 hours of the campaign we hardly slept at all. To be sure, there were exceptions. Saturday afternoon, a rather unusual call came through: four beds were offered to anyone from Harvard. We quickly junked any egalitarian tendencies and accepted. We never discovered just why we had been requested. The house, an extremely comfortable place near the Governor's estate, was owned by a Nixon Republican and his wife, a Kennedy supporter. Neither had any connection with Harvard. They, like many others, had been impressed enough by the Senator's following to lend a little non-partisan support.
At the same time, we were developing a certain contemptuousness for Kennedy's canvassers. Many of them had been attracted by ads offering a free weekend in Indiana. Some, we knew, received daily meal allowances; others, it was rumored, were being paid outright. Often they were still in high school. We derided the tactlessness of Bobby's teeny-boppers. Of course, they tried to adopt our own air of self-sacrifice. It was generally unsuccessful. One giggly girl proudly announced that she and her friends would be spending the night in a church. "God must be on our side," she laughed. Well, if He weren't, you'd buy Him, she was told.
WE WERE assigned to Ward 14, in the southeastern corner of Indianapolis. The ward was composed of five precincts. Three belonged to the Negro ghetto of Barrington. The other two were white--largely PWT (poor white trash) and Neanderthals (Appalachians) as we facetiously referred to them. The ward had initially been written off as a loss for McCarthy.
The McCarthy operation is based on a network of storefronts, neighborhood headquarters, from which door-to-door canvassing is organized. Most storefronts handle up to 50 precincts. Ours, due to the nature of the ward, was to concentrate on only five. It was just the kind of lost cause McCarthy volunteers like best. The Negroes were solidly Kennedy; the whites were basically conservative, leaning toward Branigin and Nixon.
The Barrington project most closely resembles World War Two army housing. It is not an urban ghetto like Roxbury, but neither does it have the suburban appearance of Watts. There are few trees, but many open sewage ditches. The air is warm and heavy like a Southern town. Down at the Barrington Lounge, the local hotspot, you wouldn't be surprised to find Rod Steiger roughing up a few of the "nigras."
The people of Barrington, once you get them to talk, are discontented. Their apartments are crammed in files of one or two level units. Each contains two bedrooms and a living room which melts into a kitchen. No room is larger than ten-by-ten. The FHA is soon to take over the private project. Monthly rents--already high--will be replaced by compulsory fiveyear leases. It will be impossible to raise a growing family in any of the available units.
But the blacks are generally passive. The local chapters of SCLC and CORE have little practical structure. There is no black power movement. Most of the local Negro leaders endorsed McCarthy, with little noticeable effect on their people. The Negroes of Barrington have been intimidated for years. They don't want to risk what they do have. Even McCarthy's proposed guaranteed annual income through a negative income tax was suspect. The people of Barrington work for what they get. They resent it--silently.
Our storefront was located in one of the housing units. Our permanent staff had become part of the community. In three days, we visited every family in the ward, many of them twice. In three weeks, the staff car had logged 1700 miles criss-crossing the area. One by one, we hoped we were prying votes away from the other Democratic contenders.
"Hey, man, here's what he looks like!" The kids, especially the younger teenagers, would have his picture. A dedicated head on white cardboard emitting all the warmth of a high school graduation photo. Whenever one of our cars was parked for a few moments, it would be plastered with his bumper stickers. "Man, we don't none o' that McCarty. We want Kennedy--Kennedy!"
Who is this man, Kennedy-Kennedy? For the Barrington Negro, he is a great white god in the guise of a handsome young man who has somehow transcended his whiteness. He is the man, they tell you, who spent his time during the Kennedy administration pleading for the Negro through the South. He has given tremendous amounts of money--10 percent of his worth, one lady claimed--to SCLC. He talks nice, he cares. He reminds some of them of his late brother. For others, he is quite literally John Kennedy.
You can't knock a god, though we tried. We knew the people trusted us as much as they trusted any white man. We took part in their activities. One night we went to a fair in School 64--the Harriet Beecher Stowe School. Sunday morning, we went to one of the local Baptist churches. The neighbors would occasionally cook something for us--fried fish, perhaps, or a cake. The smaller kids adopted us and conducted guerrilla forays in the name of McCarthy. But they were our only converts.
SOMEHOW, McCarthy remained a distant, dangerous politician to the community. He hadn't visited the McCarthy in each precinct. By noon, we knew only a handful were registered voters. In one precinct, the vote ran: Branigin, 25; McCarthy, 27; area, as Kennedy had. It probably would have made much difference. Paul Newman had visited Barrington and received a cool reception. The people couldn't be talked out of Kennedy. Their reasons for voting for him had hardened. Some left he would clean up the garbage. One woman preferred McCarthy, but said she would vote for Bobby because he "quivers my liver." That's charisma, man.
The election results were not surprising. We had estimated that there were about 50 people leaning toward Kennedy, 550. In the white areas, the vote was distributed much more equally. But Indianapolis is 45 per cent Negro. Kennedy captured the city.
The Caucus Race
Senator McCarthy denied it, but the fact remained that all the candidates had been running a caucus race. And now they would all demand the prize. It was another inconclusive primary.
Since the polls had closed at seven, the volunteers had been dragging back into headquarters. McCarthy Headquarters occupied the first two floors of the Claypool Hotel; the remaining floors had been gutted by fire a few months earlier. Tuesday night, it was filled with exhausted, slightly depressed volunteers. A dixieland band only aggravated the prevailing tension.
About ten, the Senator arrived. He was excited, but, characteristically, he tried to control a smile. Most of the volunteers had forced their way into the press room, where he was to make his first statement. The room was crowded, hot. The crowd became jubilant. We were still two points ahead of Branigin. "I am not here to dismiss the troops," the Senator began.
The kids responded with cheers and victory signs. Many tried to touch the Senator with all the abandon of a Kennedy crowd. He worked his way through the room, shaking hands and quietly thanking us.
It had not been a victory, true, but neither had it been a defeat. McCarthy, even in an uncongenial state, still couldn't be beaten. Some staff members were leaving that night for Nebraska. Others would be going on to California the next day. The staff room was jammed with volunteers asking for full-time staff applications. Many had decided to screw school and stay with the campaign. Others would get out to the Coast after exams. And everyone promised to meet in Chicago. The crusade was still snowballing; the entourage of idealistic college dropouts was growing. Someone made a sign: Robert Lowell for Secretary of State. We were dreaming once again.
The next day, a few of us were waiting at the airport trying to catch a flight back to Boston. A flight through Cincinnati and Washington was about to leave. We stood, un washed, bleary-eyed in the half-fare line. Just before take-off, Larry O'Brien, ex-Postmaster General now masterminding Bobby's campaign, arrived. We hissed. He turned, glanced at our buttons, smiled. We told him we would see him in California. The Crusade had still to reach the Holy Land