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The Price of 1970


In 1970, the antiwar movement was faced with a crisis of similar magnitude. Then, as now, a massive U.S. escalation of the war demanded immediate and strong response. The antiwar movement felt--then as now--that this was the moment of supreme crisis to which we must react decisively and unequivocally.

The 1970 student strike achieved real successes as cited in yesterday's editorial. But faced with a demand for immediate action, many activists stopped asking the questions which had shaped the movement and given it strength: questions of internal democracy, broad organizing strategy, and purposeful tactics of protest. The rush to action--any action--proved irresistible. The result, in Cambridge, was a pair of window-breaking sprees in the Square and a confused strike, centered around grades and exams; in the nation at large, it was a succession of adventurist and terrorist acts.

It cannot be denied that these actions helped put material pressure on the government to curtail its activities in Cambodia. But by ignoring the central questions which had shaped its identity, the antiwar movement, it is now clear, paid a terrible price for its success. 1970 was the year of the nationwide strike and the burning of ROTC buildings; it was also the year of polarization and the hard-hats.

Since then, the movement, which seemed the vibrant and growing expression of a nationwide cry of outrage, has become tenuous and confused. So great is our isolation, in fact, that Nixon has become convinced that we no longer exist; this isolation is largely due to the mistakes of 1970.

This must not happen again. We are again in a moment of crisis and great opportunity. Public opinion polls and primary results show that vast numbers of Americans share our concerns, not only with the war but with the broad range of social issues at home.

Yesterday's action represents almost every mistake of the 1970 strike; as in 1970, similar actions will forfeit our chance of building a broad coalition of Americans who share our views, and will leave us with only temporary success.

We must not make that mistake twice; we must seize the moment in a way which will enable the antiwar movement to build and grow. A serious, disciplined student strike is the first step toward that end.

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