Found in the walls of my home during renovation was a newspaper. Although extremely brittle, I was able to make out almost in it’s entirety this report of a protest in Washington DC on May 9th, 1970. It was put together quickly after the United States moved into Cambodia.
It was a curious day, a day of contrasting events
By Dean Levi
Monday, May 11, 1970
Washington: When the thousands of peace demonstrators converged on the nation’s capital, they were met with silence. On any saturday, cosmopolitan downtown Washington is all hustle and Bustle. Streets are jammed with shoppers and heavy traffic. The smart shops and department stores are heavy with pedestrian traffic and there usually are long lines for lunch at the more elegant restaruants. For all practical purposes, downtown washington was empty on Saturday.
Heavy shields of iron fencing, grates, and board protected stor and business plate glass windows. The central city rang almost hollow. The only pedestrians for the most part were the peace demonstrators milling about sleeping in the deep grass in parks playing guitars, drinking wine, smoking. It was a curious day marked by bizarre happenings, snappy humor, dead seriousness, a white-black confrontation and minor violence which was punctuated with white puffs of stinging tear gas.
long before—hour when the protesters
near the white house to vent their emotions against the turn of events in southeast asia a formidable barricade of metropolitan buses parked bumper to bumper – was lined around the white house -ick sealing it from the would-be demonstraters. From the ellipse -a grassy park with a baseball field- the statley white house could be seen however. By 10am, a long convoy containing several hundred military policemen had arrived from the south to a point near Washington. They were discreetly placed out of sight, But they were ready just in case. At that hour, streams of people poured into the ellipse just south across the street from the executive mansion.
A group of studens from University of Virginia set up tempoaray headquarters in the cooling shade of a spreading elm. The weather was unsufferably hot, but every now and then, a breeze would sweep over the perspiring crowd. Washington metropolitan police were much in evidence. They wore the familiar riot helmets and carried long night sticks.
It was impossible to estimate the crowd. It ranged from unofficially from 60,000 to 200,000. It looked like three million. Said one youth “There must have been 5,000 people from New York alone”. We left in three long trains. As they poured in, they encamped in three little groups. They held their banners high. The grassy knoll at the Washington monument took care of the overflow. Lines to the restrooms, the water fountains, and to drink vendors were ponderously long, and sometimes for and five abreast. Before the speech-making, they entertained themselves with mini-speeches by youth leaders to which the dissenters would respond: “Right on!” or “peace now!” This song also got a good workout; “All we are saying, give peace a chance”
One long-haired man sang “Joy to the World” The police and youth marshals seemingly were overly cordial. One Marshal held up the crowdscrossing a thorofare to allow a police cruiser by , and there was a free flow of casual banter and kidding between the two forces.
In that mammouth crowd, an aging artist -wearing a flowery sombrero- saw a subject. She brought out her palette and paint and sketched a young man leaning agains the back of his girlfriend. He wore a black derby and had a black beard. Members of the New Mobe had made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Shouted a New Mobe group member to the passing crowd “ We need all your head (money). You can always hitch-hike home. Street vendors sold ice cream for 35 cents and soft drinks for 25 cents. Shortly before 1pm, the rally was supposed to have a noon kickoff – there was a flurry of excitement at the huge platform erected in the park.
Dr. Benjamin Spock – erect, appearing distinguished in his pin-striped suit and perspiring heavily – Abbie Hoffman and Mayor Walter Washington mounted the platform and the rally was away and running. It lasted until 4:30 speech after droning speech by Mrs Martin Luther King jr., Jand Fonda…te list was a long one
Midway, 12 men and women reportedly a guerrilla theater group drenched themselves in animal blood. They wound their way through the crowds screaming “Stop the killing!” “Stop the War!” “Nixon the Butcher!” They carried animal organs dripping with blood. Each carried what appeare to be the sculls of lambs. The stench was overpowering. It was a macarabe sight. They carried plastic pails of blood which the poured over one another. The group crossed Constution Avenue to the Washington monument shouting hysterically.
Several thousand youths held their own rally – a nude-in and swim – in at the shallow reflecting pool. Several men and women, cavorting in the raw, shouted slogans and staged water battles. Most of the participants in the pool however were clothed. Late in the afternoon, the thousands began moving from the Ellipse. Before they left, the piled their trash into neat piles which looke like miniature wigwams. Said Joe Norton, A University of virginia student from chesapeake: “it was worth it, I guess. I don’t think we changed Nixon’s mind about the war, but the administration has changed it’s mind about us.”
With suddenness, the students – heretofore in a relaxed, happy mood – became angry and the situation rather tense. They massed on 15th street at the Ellipse. “Free Bobby Seale!” they shouted “To the White House!” Without a parade permit, thousands, from 12 to 15 abreast, marched north on 15th to a point one block from the mansion.
“Pigs are waiting”
“Please” Pleaded a marshal “The Pigs (police) are waiting up there. This is illegal. Please stop. They’re just waiting for this to happen, we’re not going to get anywhere” He was ignored. He was also cured. Policemen materialized in great numbers. “Are you going to tear gas them?” “Not to my knowledge” a police captain said. “we’re just going to let them go round the block until they drop. But if they go over those busses – which sealed off the White House – “That’s were we’ll get them”
Tear gas used
Later, several attempts were made to topple a bus and tear gas was used. Fifteenth street was packed with dissidents. But rally officials were finally successful in their arguments to break up the mob. Most of them went away except for a hard core group whites and black militants. They were in a heated argument. The whites deplored violence and the blacks supported it with fevor. Finally, they agreed it was a stand-off, and they just melted into the crowd.
March on Justice
Shortly before 6pm, perhaps 2000 persons marched to the Department of Justice. They broke 14 windows at the office of the Solicitor General. Police arrived in heavy numbers and they pushed back the demonstrators across Constitution Avenue. There, the police stopped and formed a barricade to protect the government property. The youths, however failed to disperse across the street and several canisters of tear gas were fired. That did the trick. Late yesterday, most had left the Washington scene. The capital city once again had withstood another demonstration – a fact of life endured by those who live and work there.