(The author worked during the summer as Los Angeles reporter for the Vietnam Summer News. Parts of the following have appeared previously in that publication.--Ed.)
When Lyndon Baines Johnson and Alexei Kosygin conferred in Glassboro, New Jersey for a few days last June, fanfares of great drums were heard across the nation.
But the soft sounds of summer were not disturbed by the tinsel thundering of the summit. By now, most have forgotten and few care to remember.
Shortly afterward began a series of events outstanding in the memory: the race riots of Newark, Detroit, Milwaukee. Sandwiched between these two examples of the breakdown of conventional politics was the first and biggest anti-war demonstration of the summer. In the shadow of Glassboro, it received little national publicity.
From the viewpoint of the anti-war movement, the march was a success for two reasons. It confronted the first major fund-raising dinner of the 1968 campaign with a disruptive mass protest, setting the trend for protest activity throughout the campaign. Also, it marked the first time white liberals in the peace movement experienced the police brutality formerly reserved for civil rights demonstrators in the South. For most, it was a radicalizing experience.
President Johnson arrived in Los Angeles three hours late because his summit meeting ran overtime.
An estimated 10,000 to 25,000 persons gathered in Los Angeles on June 23 to carry the Vietnam War protest to President Johnson's dinner table.
More than one-quarter million leaflets were distributed announcing the demonstration to Southern Californians. Los Angeles Mayor Sa mYorty cancelled all days off within the police department in an attempt to guarantee order for the President's visit, which "was greeted by more hostility than any other Presidential visit in the city's history," according to CBS news.
While President Johnson dined on julienne of raw spinach and filet mignon forestiere at a $1000 dollar-a-couple Democratic fund-raising dinner at the Century Plaza Hotel, the protestors marched to meet him from a public park one mile away.
When the front of the column reached the hotel, the march stalled. The line of people, which stretched all the way back to the park, remained immobilized for more than one hour, in spite of the march officials' frantic attempts to get people moving again.
Police then decided the demonstration was in violation of the parade permit obtained by the organizers of the march and declared the crowd an "illegal assembly."
The 1500-man security force, more than twice as many police as deployed at the height of the Watts riot, converged on the massed demonstrators. An hour and a half later, the crowd was dispersed to the satisfaction of the police department. 51 people were arrested and more than 50 reported injured. President Johnson never saw the demonstration.
But most Southern Californians could not avoid a confrontation so easily. June 23 was a day of protest. Pages 21, 22, 23 of the Los Angeles Times were covered with the names of 8,000 "Dissenting Democrats," enlisted by actor Robert Vaughn.
The political advertisement was entitled "An Open Letter to President Johnson and the Democratic Party" and concluded: "MR. PRESIDENT, WE ADVISE YOU AND THOSE ON EVERY LEVEL OF GOVERNMENT THAT, FROM THIS DAY ON, OUR CAMPAIGN FUNDS, OUR ENERGIES AND OUR VOTES GO TO THOSE AND ONLY THOSE POLITICAL FIGURES WHO WORK FOR AN END TO THE WAR IN VIETNAM."
Later that morning, H. Rap Brown, new president of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, arrived in Los Angeles and told a primarily caucasian press conference, "The black vote and the peace vote will be absolutely necessary next year if Wallace can carry as many Southern States as the Gollup Poll predicts. With this kind of dissent, we can bring Lyndon Johnson to his knees."