Anti-draft activists in Boston and across the country yesterday held protests in response to the first federal indictment of a young man for failure to register for the draft.
Members of the Boston Draft Resistance Committee, including a local public resister, organized a small press conference at the Arlington St. Church to condemn the draft registration program and its enforcement as the first steps toward a draft and a war.
The Boston protest came the day after the San Diego U.S. Attorney's office charged 21-year-old Benjamin H. Sasway with "knowingly and willfully failing to present him self for and submit to registration" Sasway was arraigned yesterday in a U.S. District Court and released on $10,000 ball pending another hearing July 6.
Demonstrations and press conferences took place in more than 75 cities, from San Diego, to Philadelphia, to Billings, Mont. In Washington, D.C. 75 people staged a one-hour picket line outside the Justice Department. At least 25 more protests are planned for this weekend, a spokesman for the Washington-based Committee Against Registration and the Draft estimated.
"I'm just very sorry the Justice Department wants to fill the prisons of this country with men of conscience." Barry Lynn, head of the national coalition Draft Action, said in a press conference in Washington yesterday morning. Lynn called for anti-draft activists to organize for the upcoming Congressional elections, forcing candidates to take a public stand on draft registration.
Rep. Robert W. Kastenmaier (D-Wisc.) announced that his subcommittee on Courts, Civil Liberties and the Administration of Justice would hold hearings at the end of this month to review the enforcement process. Kasteamaier has indicated that he will soon introduce legislation to sharply reduce the current penalty for non-compliance five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
"We see this [indictment] as the first effort of the national administration to bring back the draft." Michael Useem of Parents Against the Draft said at the Boston conference.
David Dellinger, a leftist organizer for 40 years who gained national fame in the 1960s as a defendant in the so-called Chicago Seven trial, called registration prosecution "the next step on the slippery slide towards a nuclear holocaust."
Will Doherty, a 19-year-old public register, told that audience of 10 reporters that he would go to jail before signing up to register.
Boston activists are planning a protest march for Saturday July 10 across from that military recruiting station on Tremont St. in Boston.
No indictments in Massachusetts will probably occur before August, John Roberts of the local American Civil Liberties Union branch said. Officials in the state U.S. Attorney's office have repeatedly refused to comment on their enforcement policies, though Washington officials have vowed to carry out a through enforcement program.
Several area lawyers said that they could use several strategies to defend young men charged with failure to comply. Roberts said most lawyers would plead selective enforcement and violation of First Amendment rights. The Justice Department has cleared only 160 names for indictment, but Selective Service officials estimate that 527,000 young men have failed to register.
Robert Hernandez of the national Military Law Task Force said technical challenges stemming from the initial implementation of the registration law in 1980 and protests over the use of social security numbers in identifying non-registrants will also be cited by defense lawyers.
Draft registration has been a political problem for President Reagan since his campaign, when he promised to eliminate the program. He reversed himself this January and has extended the sign-up indefinitely