WERE YOU THERE?

Did you participate in or witness the 1971 antiwar protests in D.C.? Did you demonstrate? Did you end up in jail? Were you there to enforce the law? Tell your story, and read about what other people experienced.

To submit a posting for consideration, email it to stories@lawrenceproberts.com. If you have photographs and documents from those days, we’d love to post those too.

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 …

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“You are still a radical!”

From Charlie Sullivan, Washington: I am a former priest and my wife, Pauline, is a former nun. We were arrested together during the Mayday protests. Our first arrest was outside the Justice Department [on Tuesday May 4th]. I decided to go limp after we were tear-gassed. But Pauline was yelling at me not to, because “they are going to hit you with those clubs.” Thus, when a policeman started dragging me with his arms under my arms to the jail bus, she reached down and picked up my feet. I asked the policeman to stop and he did and I said, “Put me …

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A National Guardsman Who Held the Line

From Bernie Lebowitz, Rockville, Maryland: Civil disturbances were nothing new to the men of the 163rd Military Police Regiment of the DC National Guard. Mayday 1971 offered a different type of challenge for this outfit. On May 3rd, thousands of antiwar protesters were coming to Washington with the intention of shutting down the federal government. It was well known that police were given authority to indiscriminately make arrests which climbed to over 12,000 by the end of the day. My unit’s first assignment was patrolling around the fence of a makeshift detention area located on a former Redskins practice field. …

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The sting was intense

From Peter LeVine, Longmont, Colorado: I was arrested on Tuesday May 4 at the Justice Department, during that long sunny afternoon and was in the middle of the crowd when the tear gas began. The sting was intense when it suddenly ceased.  There were several federal employees looking down from both the IRS and Justice Department and I remember the crowd experiencing a ‘whole world is watching’ moment and have always attributed the change in police tactics to that fact. Several thousand of us were arrested one by one. I was sent to the Coliseum where we did eat baloney …

Read moreThe sting was intense

The last Mayday press conference

From Arnold “Skip” Isaacs, Anne Arundel County, Maryland: I covered the Mayday ructions for the Baltimore Sun, of course didn’t know all the behind-the-scenes details you uncovered in your research, but your book still awakened some vivid personal memories. Among those my favorite — actually one of the all-time most satisfying recollections of my entire reporting career — is of the coalition’s very last press conference after the demonstrations wound up. I and I’m sure pretty much all the other reporters were there for just one thing, a quote for our wrapup stories from the top leadership officially declaring success …

Read moreThe last Mayday press conference

Scooping up a future leader of the labor movement

From Andrew Stern, former head of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU): I came down for the Mayday weekend. This was not my first demonstration in Washington nor my last. I did not come intending to be arrested, but was certainly considering it. I was up early in the morning and headed downtown with a group of friends. I believe we got separated around Dupont Circle, where there were some activities going on. As we walked towards the White House on the sidewalk — trying to meet up with other people — two people who looked more like businessmen, I …

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Holding out for justice

From John, Washington state: I was 23 years old, graduated from SUNY Stony Brook a year earlier, and was at that time living in a slum apartment in Staten Island and driving yellow taxicabs in New York.  I had attended several marches/demonstrations in New York and Washington, including the October 1967 Pentagon March and sit-in, and, like many others, this was my last anti-war event. I was alone, and I did not run into anybody that I knew. I hitchhiked down from New York, probably leaving on Saturday morning [May 1], and arrived in Washington in the afternoon.  Somehow, I …

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Lessons for my activist granddaughter

From Robert Weiss, Grand Junction, Colorado: I remember being maced and thrown in a bus by D.C. police [on Monday, May 3] and taken to the practice field [near RFK Stadium] — being tear-gassed when people tried to push the fence down — being visited by [Rep.] Bella Abzug and Dr. Benjamin Spock — then taken to the old Washington Coliseum. [We were held] without charges until Wednesday afternoon (where we were regularly threatened by National Guard troops whenever we got rowdy, as we enjoyed our diet of water and bologna sandwiches.) Some events need to be cleared up to …

Read moreLessons for my activist granddaughter

The Richard M. Nixon Memorial Sofa Bed

From Andy Gilman, Washington: The Mayday protest was one of several “visits” to Washington in those days. Our group from the University of Pennsylvania thought we would be nice to the government workers, and would hand out doughnuts to those stuck in traffic. As [the book] describes, the D.C. police and other “security” forces were ahead of us — and we were scattered before we could begin to protest. We were arrested while just walking down the street behind the White House and sent off to the D.C. jail. For the details, here’s the Op-Ed I wrote for the New …

Read moreThe Richard M. Nixon Memorial Sofa Bed

“I hope you get arrested right away”

From Dave Newman, Wisconsin: Thank you for putting in the work to write an intelligent book. Like the story of the [1932] Bonus Army this was an event in American history that needed to have its story told in writing. I was an anti-war freshman in college who had been a high school football player. I was 18 at the time. Our group traveled to D.C. from Madison, Wisconsin, in a 1951 panel van bought from Oscar Meyer. I remember my mother saying to me: “If you are going to do this, I hope you get arrested right away so …

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Billy-clubbed in the shin

From Beatrice Van Horne, Corvallis, Oregon: I send my deepest thanks for all the research you have done on this subject. I have told my own story for many years but it has felt like I was relating a visitation by a UFO. It is great to have it validated. I was with a contingent from Oberlin College. We drove straight out from Ohio in the back of a long-bed U Haul with bales of hay and about 70 students. Spent the night in Bethesda at someone’s parents’ house. We had trained and prepared to block traffic on Roosevelt Bridge …

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“My notes got flushed”

From M. Johnson, Virginia: I was one of the thousands swept up on May Day 1971. It was my second year in college and I was 19. By then I had been to several protests and there was a group of us working with Jerry Rubin’s crowd. I was at the steps of the U.S. Capitol listening to members of Congress when the arrest was made [Wednesday, May 5]. I do remember Bella Abzug spoke. While we were gathering to climb the Capitol’s steps, the Park Service police pointed to two lines. One of the groups was not going anywhere. …

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“I grabbed my girlfriend’s hand and ran like hell”

From John Harrold, Aurora, Illinois: I went with a group of folks from Valparaiso University. We left Friday evening [April 30] and drove all night. Saturday, we set up camp in Potomac Park. I recall listening to the music as I fell asleep thinking how nice the concert was, especially when Linda Ronstadt’s name was announced. On Sunday, we were chased out of the park by the police. We ended up spending the day at George Washington University. I think that we were outside the student union. Periodically, the police would line up down the street as if they were going to …

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Casualty reports

From Jim O’Neill, Hillsboro, Illinois: I was a draftee at the Pentagon, working as a clerk in the OSD Comptroller’s office. This office was the official scorekeeper for anything Vietnam and the last thing I did was file every casualty report for each soldier killed or reported missing from 9/8/1968 to 12/12/1969 and I read every one to see if I knew them. At the same time I was grateful it was not me, knowing full well it it could have been me…I watched the evening news faithfully, especially the nite the weekly casualties were reported. Prior to Nixon the …

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Stage pass from the Mayday 1971 rock show

On May 1 and 2, 1971, the Mayday Tribe staged a rock concert in D.C.’s West Potomac Park, to get people charged up for the mass civil disobedience in the streets of Washington on Monday, the third of May. This stage pass was contributed by music journalist Richard Harrington.

Up against the wall

From Jay Belsky, Davis, Calif.: Thank you so much for putting in one place a story that has been neglected—really forgotten—for so long. As a freshman at Georgetown I intended to participate in the shut-down-DC event on May 3—after hearing Rennie Davis speak at the University the night before, reminding the audience about “good Germans” who stood by in the ‘30s and thus became complicit in Hitler’s atrocities. To this very day, perhaps due to my Jewish ancestry, I can still recall the electricity that shot through my body upon hearing those words, convincing me I had no choice but …

Read moreUp against the wall