On April 24, 1971, I went to Washington DC.
I went with about three hundred thousand of my closest friends.
Well, I didn’t know them all, maybe three or four of them. I brought one of my friends from the Bronx, and I knew a couple of people from St. John’s. The Peace Committee at St. John’s sponsored a bus down to DC for the March On Washington to protest the war in Viet Nam.
I had taken part in some other anti-war activities in the past, and my parents didn’t seem to mind. Now, you have to remember that not a full year had elapsed since four students at Kent State were gunned down protesting the war. So, no matter how peaceful your intentions might be, you couldn’t be too sure what might happen. But I just took it for granted that my parents would be ok about my going.
Despite our departure from St. John’s University, my friend and I were in high spirits regardless of the early hour of our departure. By the time we got to St. John’s, the bus was starting to fill up. We both boarded and I sat next to a priest who was going. He had said the memorial mass for the students at Kent State, so I knew him to be a nice guy.
So, my immediate aim of meeting a girl at the demonstration had already been hindered.
Nevertheless, the day was truly memorable.
We marched to the Capitol but did not overrun it. We didn’t even want to go inside. We were pretty happy to hear the speeches and sing along with Peter, Paul, and Mary singing Blowin In The Wind and shouting out the Fish Cheer with Country Joe McDonald as we spelled out our disdain for the war proclaiming our rejection of The Establishment.
We weren’t a militia, and the only revolution that was on our minds was one of the heart and mind.
On this day fifty years ago, it seemed entirely possible that peace and love were more powerful than bullets and napalm.
How stupid were we?
We didn’t change anything.
We ignored, as everyone in leadership positions did, the words of Dwight D. Eisenhower as he was leaving office. Ike warned us about the danger of the military-industrial complex. This was the Swamp we’ve heard so much about in recent years.
There’s just too much money to be made by politicians, arms dealers, and aerospace companies to give peace any chance at all.
I hope today’s protestors, looking to change the way we treat one another, are more successful than their 1971 counterparts.