Up from Charlottesville

From Stephen Vagnini, Monterey, California:

During my first two years as a student at the University of Virginia (1970 -1972) I went to just about every anti-Vietnam War rally that took place in Washington D.C.  The Mayday demonstration was obviously the big one. [My friend] Fred and I met up Saturday morning [May 1st] with a Vietnam Veteran that we met through a UVa bulletin board and drove the 100 mile trip from Charlottesville in his van. Once we arrived in Washington we split up at Potomac Park. I believe that our ride went to the area where the Vietnam Vets were gathering and we camped out wherever we could find space. I ended up spending more than a week up in D.C.

I remember being cold that night at Potomac Park and I remember that there was a concert going on pretty much non-stop.  The next morning – very early – we were awakened by the sound of someone speaking over a megaphone. We were surrounded by the D.C. Police Department in full riot gear. We were told to leave and we did.

We spent the entire day [Sunday, May 2nd] trying to figure out where we were supposed to be and finally made our way to Georgetown University where we camped out for the night. I remember listening to Dick Gregory speak and to a performance by Pete Seeger. There weren’t as many people as the night before, however there was more of a feeling of community having spent the whole day wandering together through the city.  Somehow food was provided.

The next morning, Monday, we navigated our way through small Georgetown streets on our way to the Memorial Bridge to see how we could help stop the government. And then my memory goes blank until [Wednesday May 5th] when I was sitting on the steps of the Capitol listening to [New York congresswoman] Bella Abzug speak. In between I do not recall what occurred or where I slept.  While listening peacefully to speeches on the Capitol steps we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by the D.C. police (once again in full riot gear) and we were then one-by-one arrested and taken away in a bus to the Washington Coliseum.

I spent at least one day in the center of the arena, where we were served bologna sandwiches as we chanted anti-war slogans and waited to be arraigned. We were transported to another building and held in small crowded cells for another extended period of time and eventually taken to a courtroom where we were formally charged with some sort of crime and given a fine which the ACLU paid. Upon being released I made my way back to Charlottesville (I don’t remember how) and arrived back at my dorm more than a week later.

About 10 years later I received a letter from the ACLU (which I still have) and a check [from the government, as compensation for improper arrest] for about $2,500.

Again, thank you for writing the story.

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