Saturday, October 21, 2017

50 Years Ago Today—Marching to a Different Drummer at the Pentagon

Young demonstrators and troops outside the Pentagon.  Some of the troops lineing the roof of the Defense Department Headquarters were sharpshooters to used if "things got out of hand."


There were other big marches in Washington in opposition to the Vietnam War.  Starting in 1965 they had practically become semi-annual events.  There would be more—and larger—ones later.  But the March to Confront the War Makers on October 21, 1967 was different.  It signaled a new phase in the anti-war movement that incorporated the rising youth counter   culture on a large scale for the first time and willingness for more aggressive confrontation of authority.  It also introduced onto a national stage some figures who would become house hold names within a year.

The march was organized, as were previous ones, by the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam—universally referred to simply as the Mobe—a shaky coalition of more than 150 organizations including traditional pacifists, Ban the Bomb groups, liberals, the Old Left, the New Left, Viet Cong sympathizers, a sliver of the Civil Rights Movement, student groups like the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and anti-war veterans groups.  It was united only in opposition to the war

A Mobe flyer promoting the march had a distinctly traditional, Old Left look.  With the infusion of the youth culture into the previously mostly middle class anti-war movement, such calls would soon look far different.

The organization was so shaky that after the tumultuous events of this demonstration it fell apart.  It was re-assembled, minus its less militant components as the New Mobe the following year in time to organize protests at the Democratic National Convention.

The Mobe was led by veteran radical pacifist Dave Dellinger, the fifty-something editor of the Madison, Wisconsin based Progressive magazine.  In order to reach out to more young people—earlier marches, in retrospect seem like the sedate affairs of the middle class—Dellinger recruited California activist Jerry Rubin to be project coordinator for the march.  It was Rubin’s idea to add a March on the Pentagon after the main rally on the National Mall broke up.

Three central figures of the Chicago Democratic Convention protests of 1968, Abbie Hoffman, Dave Dellinger, and Jerry Rubin, first came together for the Marches on Washington Washington and the Pentagon.  Dellinger, head of the Mobe, recruited California student radical Jerry Rubin as his march coordinator to reach out to the growing student and counter-cultural movements.  Rubin and Hoffman with the aid of some righteous marijuana cooked up the Youth International Party--the Yippies--out of thin air and announced a plan to "levitate the Pentagon."

The rally and March were just part of a series of actions in and around Washington.  A day earlier a march of hundreds on the Justice Department organized by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and other anti-draft groups presented more than 1,000 returned Draft Cards to a reluctant Assistant Attorney General.  Other small demonstrations and picketing were organized by various component groups in the Mobe around Washington.

A highlight of the Rally on the Mall was to be the arrival of the Peace Torch, lit in Hiroshima on August 6.  It was carried across country from San Francisco in a highly publicized relay reminiscent of the journeys of the Olympic Torch.

Although several Blacks spoke from the podium of the Mall Rally—mostly long time members of Old Left parties—most African Americans boycotted the main demonstration where President Lyndon B. Johnson was sure to come under attack.  Many were grateful for his steadfast support of major Civil Rights legislation.  A separate rally was held at Howard University where opposition to the war was largely separated from opposition to the President.  The most important Black leader to come out strongly against the war, Rev. Martin Luther King, was absent from both events. 
 
Noam Chomsky, Norman Mailer, poet Robert Lowel, Old Left leader Sydney Lens, Dagmar Wilson, and Dr. Benjamin Spock link arms with other luminaries and speakers as they set off from the main rally on the National Mall to head to the Pentagon.
The huge rally was typical of others of its type—a parade of speakers representing the component organizations interspersed with brief entertainment.  Dellinger hinted at a shift in anti-war strategy by saying that it was time to “to go from protest to resistance.”  Norman Mailer, then the most celebrated novelist in America, famously spoke.  His role in the Rally and later events was celebrated in his book Armies of the Night, winner of the Pulitzer Prize

The main speaker was Dr. Benjamin Spock, whose baby care book was the Bible by which most of the young members of the crowd had been raised.  Spock had supported Johnson in 1964 and felt betrayed by his escalation of the war.  The kindly Spock was one of the last nods at getting the parents of Baby Boomers on board the anti-war movement.  But the days when he and organizations like Another Mother for Peace could be the face of the movement were ending.

When the main Rally broke up, a large portion of the crowd began the two and a half mile march to the Pentagon.  By some estimates as many at 50,000 began the long walk, which took them across the Memorial Bridge over the Potomac and up a long service road to the Defense Department headquarters.  Many did not finish the trip.  The line strung out so that it took well over an hour for everyone to get into the site.

When marchers got there they were confronted with a building encircled by 2,500 Federal troops and 200 U.S. Marshals.  A rope line was set up in advance of the security forces and authorities announced that anyone crossing the line would be arrested.

Marchers also encountered a smaller group already at the Pentagon.  Organized by Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, festooned in an American flag shirt and Uncle Sam hat, the newly formed Youth International Party—the Yippies, an organization that hardly existed except in flyers circulated on college campuses and in big city youth culture enclaves, were there to supposedly levitate the Pentagon.

The most enduring image of the Pentagon march--young people putting flowers in the barrels of Army M-15 rifles. 

Many of those first on the scene peacefully approached the defense line.  Images of young people putting flowers in the barrels of Army M-15s became iconic.  But soon more militant demonstrators were challenging the line.  Arrests began.  Small groups managed to get partially up the steps of the building.  Others found an unguarded access ramp and charged in.  They were met with rifle butts and particularly by the aggressive batons of Federal Marshals who busted several heads. Tear gas was used on the crowd and there was some chaos and panic.

But the majority of the demonstrators continued to stand by.  Many sang America the Beautiful and other patriotic and anti-war songs as the battle raged.  By 7 pm things had settled down.  Authorizes announced that the permit for the demonstration had expired.  Most of the remaining demonstrators drifted away, but about 7,000 chose to stay.  No move was made to dislodge them, but as overnight temperatures dropped, many more left.

At dawn a few hundred left to march to the White House to “wake up LBJ.”  There were more arrests there, including those charged with picking flowers in Lafayette Park.  A few hundred others stayed behind to keep a vigil at the Pentagon.  At midnight the remaining 200 were rousted or arrested.

White helmeted U.S. Marshals with heavy batons were particularly aggressive against demonstrators and inflicted several cracked skulls.

In all 681, including Hoffman and Mailer, were arrested over the two days.  Many demonstrators were bloodied or overcome by tear gas.  Over 100 demonstrators were documented to have been treated for injuries.  Many more were undoubtedly hurt.  In addition some soldiers, marshals, and police sustained minor injuries, mostly from objects thrown at them during the confrontation at the Pentagon or scuffles during arrests.

The events in Washington that weekend set the stage for even more tumultuous and confrontational protests around the country in the next few years.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Cast Announced for the Word Players’ Chatting With the Tea Party



The Word Players, the new reader’s theater company at the Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation in McHenry has announced the cast for its upcoming presentation of the acclaimed play Chatting With the Tea Party by Rich Orloff on Friday, November 10, at 7 pm at the church, 5603 Bull Valley Road in McHenry.

Sue and "Kaz" Kazlusky
Sue and George “Kaz” Kazlusk are retired educators with many years of performing and theater experience in McHenry County.  They both appeared in several editions of the Paradise People and Dille’s Follies revues and are longtime members of those seasonal favorites the Dickens Carolers.  Sue directed the annual Woodstock Children’s Theater productions at the Opera House for nearly 30 years.  She also participated in a reader’s theater production of 400 Years of Unitarian and Universalist Poetry conceived and directed by Patrick Murfin. Kaz is well remembered as the P.A. announcer of Woodstock High School games. They are also long time members of the Tree of Life Adult choir.
Daniel Pegarsch is a veteran of community theater productions including performances at the Raue Center in Crystal Lake.

Ron Relic.
Ron Relic has been a professional actor with stage credits in summer stock and regional theater as well as community theater productions.  He sings with Kaz in the Frothy Boys a cappella group with which his turn as Elvis Pressley’s lesser known brother stops every show the ensemble does. 
Director Patrick Murfin is returning to theater roots stretching back to his high school and college days when had leading rolls in such productions as Damn Yankees, Pygmalion, Inherit the Wind, Oliver!, A Man for All Seasons, Little Murders, and The Rivals.  He also directed John Millington Synge’s Riders to the Sea, and Dylan Thomas’s Under Milkwood.  More recently he created and directed two reader’s theater plays including Thomas Jefferson Still Survives.  Murfin is also an amateur historian, blogger, and published poet in addition to being a well-known local social justice activist.


Chatting With the Tea Party is about one person’s journey across America exploring the question, “Who are these people?” It’s a documentary style play about a New York liberal playwright who decides to travel around the country interviewing leaders of local Tea Party groups, to get to know people whose political beliefs are diametrically opposed to his.  For a year playwright Rich Orloff attended Tea Party meetings and events in cities large and small in every region of the country. The play shapes the highlights of over 63 hours of interviews plus notes from the events to go beyond sound bites and stereotypes to show the people behind the politics. In a journey that’s at times disturbing, humorous, moving, and always thought-provoking

The program is part of an on-going series highlighting the arts in Resistance.

Tickets will soon be on sale for the program for $10.  Proceeds will support the social justice ministry of the Tree of Life Congregation. 

For more information call Murfin at 815 814-5645 or e-mail pmurfin@sbcglobal.net.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Treading Where Perhaps No Man Should and Murfin Verse



Floundering Puerto Rico, California ablaze, the latest cruelties and crudities of the Oaf-in-Chief, Constitutional crisis du jour all be damned.  The headlines of the week and the focus of countless hours of broadcast and cable babble have come from the graceless downfall of Hollywood super predator Harvey Weinstein and the subsequent fallout.  Neither the rapt attention paid to the story nor the lurid details themselves should have been no surprise.  After all it had all of the elements—a famous name of great accomplishment, glitz and glamour, wealth and privilege, and famous, fabulous victims. 
In many ways it came as no surprise at all.  The casting couch is a cliché as old as the theater and a long assumed common practice in the motion picture industries.  Abusive and lecherous power figures in Hollywood lore have stretched from the ridiculous—Fatty Arbuckle—to Howard Hughes, more than one legendary Golden Age of Movies studio Czar, to the middle age director caught sticking his tongue down the throat of the still teenage star of the Twilight franchise.  Great stars from Gloria Swanson to Joan Crawford and Barbara Stanwyck to Marilyn Monroe boosted their early careers by being compliant.  A few stars like Shelley Winters have even been open about it in their memoirs. 
One would think that given the open secret of Hollywood sexual exploitation that the Weinstein story would make a splash and sell a lot of supermarket tabloids and slick entertainment magazines and then fade quickly as the public’s fickle attention was diverted elsewhere.
But it became a story that would not go away and which has taken a life of its own with far deeper than usual social consequences.  Perhaps because of a parade of other famous predators including the once beloved Bill Cosby.  Perhaps because we suffer under the reign and misrule of an open and notorious pussy grabber.  Perhaps because it came hard on the heels of the death of Playboy founder Hugh Heffner whose passing set off a national debate on his role in popularizing sexual exploitation.  But I suspect it was the sheer volume of women who stepped forward with their own tales of abuse.


Somewhere along the line that triggered the Twitter #MeToo which rapidly spread to Facebook and other social media.  Women of all ages, races, social classes, professions, and sexual orientation came forward to testify that, yes, they too were victims of sexual harassment, exploitation, assault, and rape.  Many did so by simply sharing the hashtag.  Others tore the scabs off of old wounds and told deeply personal stories.  Day by day the hashtags grew, seeming to take over social media platform.  Wednesday morning Facebook alone reported 4.7 million posts using #MeToo.
Tuesday I was stunned to see a never ending parade of dear friends, family members, college friends, former work associates, ministers, writers, and colleagues in social justice struggle, women I deeply admire and respect.  I created my own simple hashtag—#NearlyEveryWomanIKnow.  It didn’t exactly go viral, but it did set off a long string of reaction and commentary.  Some of that commentary chastised me at my naiveté for being surprised. 
A male friend jumped in to remind the thread that men, too could be victims of abuse and harassment which set off further discussion of the phenomena that so resembles the insistence that all lives matter when confronted by Black Lives Mater.  While acknowledging that such abuse was both possible and deplorable women in the discussion were unanimous in resenting a male attempt to co-opt the discussion and divert their outrage.  He responded with a graduate level seminar of defensive justification and classic mansplaining. 
The response of men to all of this cultural brouhaha was telling.  Most ignored the whole thing and I suspect a lot were hunkering down waiting for the hurricane to blow over.  Others, like my friend on the thread I started tried in one way or another to include men as victims of abuse.  In some threads this was welcomed or allowed by women, especially if the claimed trauma was a result of childhood abuse or in retaliation for gay or transgender identification.  Other women fiercely objected to any diversion from the issue of systematic patriarchal domination.
Given my self-selected friends I personally saw none of the vitriolic attacks and did not experience the vicious reaction and threats that many women faced for claiming their own experience publicly.  But I saw examples posted by others and know that there is a lot of hate and misogyny out there, some of it systematically organized and encouraged.  In the face of that reaction it took real courage for women to continue to speak out.
All of these testosterone driven responses gave me pause to examine my own life and relationships.  I can honestly say that I never committed assault or coercion.  Before I become too smug and self-congratulatory, however, I have to dig deeper and examine some dark corners of my own soul.  
I have written in memoir pieces how despite me being otherwise in the thick of the radical counter culture of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s that I somehow missed the sexual revolution.  Not that I never had a relationship, although I was a “late bloomer” but that my peculiar combination of awkward nerdiness, deep shyness with women, and a paralyzing fear of rejection, I completely missed the Free Love and love-the-one-you’re-with attitude that I saw all around me at college and in the hip street scene of Chicago.  Was my supposed good behavior a result not of innate nobility, but my fear of “manning up” and asserting what I probably felt was entitled to me?  It seems logical and likely.
Also, I was never in a position of formal power over the women in my life.  I was never a teacher, never a boss.  I worked for some women but never commanded any.  Women were my cohorts at work and my collaborators in social justice work.  I had no gifts to bestow, fame to offer, or the power to harm their advancement.  Perhaps given any of those advantages, I would have succumbed to the temptation to leverage them.  Perhaps my virtue was never challenged.

Depsite playing the part of an ally at the Womens' March in Chicago this spring, I have more often than not failed when tested.
And then, of course, there are all of the so-called lesser things.  I may not have been a felon, but surely I have been a petty criminal with a rap sheet of sexual misdemeanors.  Like Jimmy Carter, I have lusted in my heart almost compulsively.  I have ogled and leered, told off color jokes, the whole panoply of male jerkiness 101.  I once broke up a sexual assault on a Chicago street, but that was simply fueled by adrenaline and the juvenile hero fantasies that played out in the movie in my mind.  More telling and shameful, I have remained silent about the misbehavior and abuse of friends and co-workers failing tests of cowardice repeatedly.
I want to be a better man, strike that, a better human being.  But so far I have failed to be what I pretend to be—a good guy.  I will try.  Maybe I will get better.  Likely I will fail again.
A year ago about this time despite these weaknesses—or perhaps empowered by them, I addressed uproar over Donald Grab ‘em by the pussy Trump in a poem.  Perhaps it has some relevance today…


My Two Cents
October 14, 2016

Ok, so I’m a stranger to locker rooms.
I was the furthest thing from a jock,
            a pasty flabby kid with glasses
            and a paperback perpetually
            stuffed in his back pocket.
In rancid and sweaty after-gym class
            dodging the snapped towels
            and hoots at my terror shriveled wanger,
            I recall no chatting about grabbing pussy
            or sticking lounges down startled throats.
But hell, it was a long time ago,
            perhaps the memory is hazy
            or perhaps I lacked the passport
            to the elite spaces of strutting stars
            where such things maybe were lingua franca.

But I was an accredited correspondent
            to the sexual revolution
            even if a failed participant
            and remember free love and hippy chicks.
I did doctorial research in scurvy dives
            with the 7 am eye-opener drunks
            and the reek of stale beer, vomit, and Pall Malls
            and snickered along with some dirty jokes
            and ogled the unattainable babes on the
            beer calendars and TV shows
            flickering in the high corner above the cooler.
I have spent my hours with men
            on oily shop floors where machines
            whirred, roared, and clanked
            and you counted your fingers
            to make sure they were attached
            and we ate lunch off the roach coach
            brushing crumbs from our aprons
            and spun foolish yarns and lies.
I have languished in the Joint
            where a commissary Hustler
            was worth a carton of squares
            and drifted to sleep on lumpy cots
            to the moans of cons pulling their puds,
            my hand in unison with the rest.
I have been in the company of men
            where civilizing women were
            nowhere around to shame or constrain us.

I have heard and said fucked up things—
            but I never heard that sneering, swaggering
            unashamed boast of being a—
            let’s not pull punches—a predator
            or the bland assumption that any other man
            would be impressed and approving.

            I have never laid a hand or tongue on a woman
                        who was not willing to accept
                        my fumbling advances—
                        hell, most of the time I was too shy
                        or too terrified to act when they practically
                        sent up flares of invitation.

            I may be a pig and a loser, Mr. Trump,
                        but I have never disgraced all swine
                        or turned winner into an epithet

—Patrick Murfin

This poem was included in my homemade chapbook Resistance Verse which I created last March in conjunction with the  Poets in Resistance reading at the Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation in McHenry, Illinois.  If you are interested, I can mail a copy for $4 including postage or send you a pdf version for free.  Just e-mail your contact information to pmurfin@sbcglobal.net, message me on Facebook, or mail to 522 W. Terra Cotta Avenue, Crystal Lake, IL 60016.