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The eyes have it The March Against Death

By Bennett H. Beach

Tinsley Bryant is dead. I don't know exactly what happened to him, but he's dead all right. I sort of buried him myself at 3 a. m. Friday in front of the Capitol in the city which, through administrative decisions made during the last few years, made it possible for me to meet Tinsley.

After a wait of an hour, I had walked out of three circus tents in Arlington National Cemetery with Tinsley's name written on a piece of white cardboard which was strung around my neck. The two of us were taking a four-and-a-half-mile walk through Washington in the cold, the rain, and the dark.

This walk meant a lot to us, so even when it started dismally, we didn't think of turning back. Over the bridge to Washington from Virginia, where Tinsley lived when that was his habit, the wind blew like hell and the name placard flapped around, twisting and turning. It gave up on that after a while and then just hung there doing nothing at all. And I froze on that bridge.

Then a marshal lit my candle, and my new project was to keep it going until I said goodbye to Tinsley. I didn't succeed despite constant practice at those Christmas candlelight services. My candle burned faster than anyone else's, and it became clear that I would be lucky if the candle lasted the length of the walk.

I saw lots of cops on my walk, but most of them were policemen and didn't seem sickened by me, my black arm band, my buttons, or the fact that because of people like me they were standing out there in the cold morning drizzle directing traffic. They smiled back and said "hi" back. And the marshals, freezing all along the route, were good people. Almost all the people were good ones, not rotten apples. But there were lots of not-so-good people sleeping, "ignoring" this childish demonstration.

But most of the time, I wasn't thinking about who was good and who was bad. I was thinking about my quiet companion. When Tinsley got out of bed on whatever day it happened, did he think that he might he might be killed before he might sleep again? Did it happen quickly or did he have time to lie there and think how rotten it all was? Was it a hand grenade, a shelling, a bullet, a knife? What put Tinsley around my neck?

And on we walked through the streets of this city which I had never seen before. After marching most of the route, we came in sight of a great blur of light. All that we could see was the brightness attacking our eyes, and we were told that it was the White House. So those of us who were live people had to shout the name on the card around each of our necks. I felt very angry now. I yelled as loudly as I was able to, but inside, Richard Nixon was probably snoring.

But Mr. Nixon was awake the day before, and he would be awake later on, and he would know that all that time that he slept, people walked by his house shouting the name of a dead man every two seconds. And how warm does he feel inside when he knows that he is being assigned responsibility for a lot of those names and for those to die later? How human is he if he tries to convince the public that this type of thing is to be ignored? Tinsley and I wondered why Nixon wanted us to think that his death should be ignored.

The Capitol was coming closer, but my candle was down to a small stump. I wanted so badly for it to last until we got there. We passed a pair of cops, poised with night sticks. They were bored.

At the Capitol, 19 cops were standing around with nothing to do. It was a beautiful sight to see them so inactive. We walked around the front of the building, and then my candle quit on us. There were only 50 yards left.

I saw the ten coffins on the big platform and I started to really concentrate. I tried to think about what this whole procedure had meant. We were told to rip the cards from the string around our necks. So I carried this card in my hand and stared at the coffin where I was to dispose of Tinsley Bryant.

I had carried the placard for two hours; now it was time to give it up. I stepped forward, and slowly, with the greatest deliberation, I placed Tinsley on top of all the others. He didn't take up much room, and I thought about what a great number of such cards would be needed to fill all ten coffins. But every two seconds, another, joined the group.

I went up some steps and from a raised spot watched the names pile up. And in the background, the Capitol shining as brightly as ever. I looked to my left, and I saw people who just kept coming, one after another every few yards. Here it was 3:30 a. m., and it seemed a certainty that there would be a lag. But these people just kept coming, and they were to march into view there for another 28 hours without a letup. Each one with a name.

After that, about 500 of us sat, stood, or lay down to wait for buses to come and take us back to the reception centers at various points in town. We were drained. Most of the people had gone directly to Arlington as soon as they had arrived in the city. People who had been riding in buses for hours had gone on this march through the cold drizzle.

There was one guy on crutches. He said it had been painful near the end. There were a few middle-aged people, but not as many as I had expected. One older couple had been right in front of Tinsley and me. I asked them if their friends ever thought them abit deranged or if they ever made it unpleasant for this couple because they differed in beliefs. "Those people aren't our friends," the man explained. The couple had marched a month ago in Chicago, and now here they were in Washington, after a bus ride from Minnesota.

After I got back to the reception center, I sat, dozed, talked, and ate a cheese sandwich until 8 a. m., when I got a ride to Frank's, where I was staying. As I crawled into my sleeping bag I felt good, and a bit self-righteous. Then I remembered that Tinsley Bryant was still dead.

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