Reassurance in a church basement

From Eve Klotz, Effingham, New Hampshire: 

I was 20 years old and living in Lyme, New Hampshire. I heard from friends that there was a caravan leaving DO IT, a natural food co-op in the town of Lebanon, heading to D.C. for an antiwar protest. I hitchhiked to Lebanon with a small backpack of clothes and a sleeping bag, prepared for a three-day siege of the federal government. Our goal was to stop the government due to a mass protest. We wanted our voices heard. We wanted an end to the Vietnam war. I was armed with peanut butter, carrots, cheese, and gorp, a tin cup and a spoon. I had $20 in my pocket.

There were five or six vehicles in our caravan and 25 people. I crammed myself into the back of a VW bus with six others. We left at 5 p.m. expecting to get to D.C by 6 a.m. Saturday, May 1. Our “orders” were to walk from our campsite in West Potomac Park to the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge during rush hour on Monday, May 3. Our goal was to create a peaceful human blockade, a sit-in, to prevent government workers from Virginia from getting to work in D.C.

I remember being forced out the park [by D.C. police] on Sunday. I don’t recall where we slept Sunday night.

On Monday, I never made it to the bridge. Walking with six others, through a residential area, headed to the bridge, we were a motley ragtag of hippies. My only acquaintance in the group was a thirty-something nurse, mother of two girls for whom I had babysat. She was a leader. A police car pulled up beside us and we turned toward the car, she walked forward to see what they wanted. They rolled down the window and maced her directly in the face. I was behind her so got some of it but not the face-full she got. She fell down screaming as the police sped away. I grabbed her and dragged her toward the front porch of a nearby house. She was blinded and crying, convinced she would never see again. The people in the house took her in. The rest of us dispersed, haphazardly heading off again toward the bridge. I was still having trouble seeing so I stopped and sat down as they headed off. I had no idea where I was.

My eyes began to clear after awhile. Although still dazed, I began to walk into a maze of streets. I had no idea which way to go, how to get back to the campsite or onward to the bridge. And I was afraid.

My assistance came unsolicited when a car pulled up beside me. The driver asked if I needed help. There were three other guys in his car, a lopsided vehicle, the back end dragging behind its front. The muffler was shot. I did not hesitate to get into the car even though its occupants were all men. Theirs were the first friendly faces I had seen in that moment. They took me to a Black church in Anacostia. I was fed and reassured in the basement of that church.

I have no memory of the rest of that day. Somehow I did get back to our campsite. It was nearly dark. I smelled trampled grass, whiffs of weed, and the steam of endless pots of soy-soaked bulgur, carrots, onions being dished out. It was supper time and weary protesters were returning to their campsites. I remember stories of arrests and worried queries of missing comrades including my friend who got maced in the face. There were speakers ranting from the head of the park and the music of protest swirling into the night and following day. Covers of Dylan and Woody Guthrie songs. Abbie Hoffman, Vietnam Vets against the war, all encouraging our actions to protest the war and the government’s failure to act.

In hindsight, I do not believe that I was actually arrested. It is all a blur after the first day. My nurse friend returned unscathed physically and we all went home to New Hampshire. That was my first protest. That was the protest where I was most aware of police and National Guard presence.

Many others followed. The 2016 Women’s March on Washington was my most recent in Washington. Then and now, I see these protests as fundamentally a group effort to have the peoples’ voices heard. I have not participated in a protest where a violent end was encouraged as was evident in the well-armed attack on the U.S. Capitol 1/6/21. That seemed more like a declaration of civil war, violent terrorism encouraged by our soon-to-be EX president.

1 thought on “Reassurance in a church basement”

  1. On the afternoon of May 3, 1971 I was walking with a friend in the area of the George Washington University campus, where we were both former students. Unbeknown to us, the D.C. police had orders to arrest anyone walking in that area who could not produce a GWU ID. Fortunately for me, I had an expired GWU ID with me. The officers weren’t so careful as to note the expiration date, so I was allowed to proceed. My friend however, was not so lucky. He wasn’t carrying his former student ID, so he was hauled off to jail. That friend was a guy named Lawrence Roberts who years later wrote a book titled Mayday 1971.


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