Vietnam Summer Evolves From Phone Call To Nation-Wide Organizing Project

Copyright 1967, by the Harvard Crimson, Inc.

When the group at Walzer's house asked what they could do about ending the war, Alperovitz shot back with "ring doorbells." He talked a great deal about the political inactivity of American middle cdlass and discussed how they might be prodded to undertake political action. He outlined Teach Out to the group, but placed little or no emphasis on his summer plan. He hoped then that the Teach Out concept would spread spontaneously and rapidly.

Reaction to his idea was not unanimously enthusiastic. Many thought his goal of influencing the Republican party to choose a liberal presidential candidate in 1968 unrealistic. Chester W. Hartman '57, assistant professor of City Planning who has since become the acting executive director of the Vietnam Summer Committee, was skeptical, considering the plan "very fuzzy." He objected to its "classroom" orientation and its university base.

The project members saw right away that the experienced student activists from such organizations as SDS were desperately needed to get the program off the ground. But when several prominent SDS members--including Michael S. Ansara '68, Harold B. Benenson '67, and David O. Loud '68--came to a meeting to help draw up a list of political actions, dissension was apparent.

Alperovitz's organizing plan focuses on the middle class, which tends to look to electoral politics for social change. The SDS members contended that the Teach Out approach should be aimed at students and people living in ghettoes. They objected to the emphasis on electoral politics because they believe that people must learn to take much more responsibility for making the decisions that affect their lives through new forms of political action, such as draft resistance. Without a "radical transformation" in America that would bring about a new distribution of political power to the people, they foresaw many more Vietnams.

Organizing Tool


After many lengthy discussions, the SDS people decided that the central issue of the war could be their most effective organizing tool. So long as SDS was organizing around the war and then going on to more fundamental issues, the project's aim of ending the war was not endangered. And since each local organizing group would be autonomous, ghetto and student organizing efforts could certainly be included in the project.

Publicly, few project people will admit to seeing any possible conflict between the two groups' objectives. Whether one arises is something that some of the original project people are very much worried about. Alperovitz freely admits that the concept of the two groups working side by side is yet to be tested. Whether it will work is one of the important questions in the project.


To emphasize the program's immediate organizational thrust, the directors rechristened it "Vietnam Summer." The idea of a summer doorbell ringing campaign was always part of Teach Out, and the shift was merely from one catchy phrase to another.

Recruiting began the weekend before the anti-war marches with a meeting in Winthrop House. Nearly 75 people attended, and although it was clear that the group hadn't thought out a concrete set of activities that could end the war, many promised to help. About 30,000 pamphlets describing the project were distributed at the marches.

Alperovitz contacted King's aides about Vietnam Summer two weeks before the march, and King was immediately receptive to the idea. King was a logical person to enlist for support and publicity because of his highly-publicized switch from civil rights to the peace movement. The Negro leader agreed to issue a call for summer volunteers at the New York rally. His aides offered King's services on the weekend after the rally, when he would be in Boston for a speech at the Ford Hall Forum.

King, then, did not in any way "launch" Vietnam Summer at his press conference in Cambridge on April 22. He was not there at its genesis, and he is still not involved in any of the project's programs. Officially, he is a "sponsor," but the extent of his personal participation is yet to be determined and will probably be slight. However, he does make headlines -- perhaps one too many.

That one extra headline appeared in the New York Times on the Saturday before the press conference. The story reported that William F. Pepper, executive director of the National Conference for New Politics (a new leftist group established to bring opponents of the war into politics) and Sheer were urging King to run for president on a peace ticket in 1968.

The link between King-for-president and Vietnam Summer could have proven disastrous. Vietnam Summer is not aimed at promoting King's candidacy and for the public to think so would obscure one of the project's aims--to get people to devise other means than candidates for political action.

The Times story caused bitter disputes between the project members who supported Scheer's move and those who thought it would destroy the project. At one point, Scheer was cancelled from the press conference in an attempt to avoid linking the two issues. With Scheer out of the conference, Carl Oglesby, former national president of SDS was brought in to replace his appeal to radical students.6A summer of nationwide "Alperovitzing" begins in Cambridge as door-to-door canvassers ring local doorbells.