It's 1963, and I am walking with my homegirl Wendy to our first high school history class. Wendy asks me, "What do you think of the war?" I say, "What war?" "There's a war in Vietnam!" she chides, as if I should know already. I consider a moment, and answer her. "I'm against all wars..."
Our history teacher, fresh out of Berkeley, gets the class rolling by writing in huge letters on the blackboard, V-I-E-T-N-A-M. "I want you all to know about Vietnam, because you may have to go there." That was 1963. Little did we all reckon with the implications of our wrestling with the problem of the incipient war in Vietnam.
Flash forward, and I've already been in at least forty protests, demonstrations, sit-ins, teach-ins, candlelight marches, moratoriums, and lobbying campaigns against the war, and it is 1970.... or maybe 1969.
The reason why it may have been 1969 will be clearer when I finish telling my story of being a faithful foot soldier in the movement against the wars the United States has either waged directly or fomented, all over the world.
There were huge demonstrations against the Vietnam war on the East Coast, where I attended college. I recall walking down Wall Street and Madison Avenue in New York city with literally hundreds of thousands of other people protesting the war. And I was in Washington D.C. for a number of gigantic demonstrations in the late 60's and 1970.
We took over New York, we took over Washington D.C., we stopped business, we held up traffic, we performed street theatre. In 1970 Leonard Bernstein even inspired the entire New York cast of the musical HAIR to come to D.C. and perform the entire show for us while we danced wildly to "Let the Sun Shine In".....packing the Washington mall, surrounding the Washington memorial, the Lincoln memorial, up against the fence around the White House, half a million strong according to all creditable reports.
Yes, there were still newspapers and television reporters who insisted on parrotting the "tens of thousands" description of the crowds upon crowds of people marching to let the Nixon administration know that we wanted the US out of Vietnam. And Nixon had gone on record saying that he would just close his velvet White House drapes and ignore those crowds.
But privately Nixon called the head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover. He told Hoover that he was thinking of planning a nuclear strike against Hanoi. Hoover's response was to tell Nixon, "Mr. President, open your drapes and look out on your back lawn. If you were to do that, I could not guarantee the safety of the United States.." Nixon never carried through with the nuclear option on Hanoi.
We were there that day, on Nixon's back lawn, and every single one of us made a huge difference. We couldn't have made that difference if we'd not come out in such numbers, and we couldn't have known what the effect of those huge numbers would be. We couldn't have known that our presence directly motivated Hoover's remarks to Nixon. That is what we did with our simple presence, our commitment.
By the way, Daniel Ellsberg, who related the story about J. Edgar Hoover and Nixon, has told me that the incident happened during the big D.C. demonstration in 1969... not the one in 1970. Regardless of the year, we made a big difference. And we didn't know it then.
These days, many of us are tired and dispirited, we think we are not doing anything when we get out in the streets and march, against the war in Iraq, and the threatened war in Iran, and the continuing war in Afghanistan. We make street theatre and stop traffic and lobby Congress and disrupt hearings. But we cannot know or measure the anxiety we inspire in those of the present administration who call us "focus groups" and try to discount us. We cannot know whose conscience, whose sanity, we'll inspire by our mere, simple presence out there .... marching this weekend, on October 27, 2007.
We must never forget the account of our triumph in contributing to the prevention of a nuclear strike on Hanoi, and we must always keep in mind that our marching is crucial to maintaining the voice of the people as a force to reckon with .... in a nation whose democracy is in real danger.
So I ask you, fellow activists, fellow citizens, to get out and pound the pavement 'til the sound of our marching quakes the war makers.
Lynn Feinerman is a long-time media activist whose company has made movies including Ecorap: Voices from the 'Hood, about eology and inner city youth. She is now the producer of the WOMEN RISING radio series.