tv Mayday 1971 Anti- Vietnam War Protests CSPAN July 8, 2021 8:01pm-9:04pm EDT
are an intellectual feast every saturday american history tv documents america's story and on sundays book tv brings you the latest in nonfiction books and authors funding for c-span 2 comes from these television companies and more including charter communications. broadband is a force for empowerment. that's why charter has invested billions building infrastructure upgrading technology empowering opportunity in communities big and small charter is connecting us. charter communications along with these television companies support c-span 2 as a public service tens of thousands of anti-vietnam war protesters converged on washington dc in may of 1971 or than 7,000 people were arrested in a single day. coming up on american history tv. we look back 50 years at those protests with investigative
journalist lawrence roberts. he's the author of may day 1971 a white house at war a revolt in the streets and the untold history of america's biggest mass arrest. all right. this was the spring of offensive the mobilization of masses of people at a given time and place attracts worldwide news coverage and attention. for the protest organizer insider and promoter. it is a vital and necessary tactic. on april 24th, 1971 the national peace action coalition supported by welfare rights groups labor unions and others held a massive demonstration in washington, dc. some 175,000 people from all
walks of life with differing ideologies and purposes marched from the white house to the capitol. washington has grown accustomed to this method of voicing descent. larger than most this was an organized demonstration with parade permits marshalls and responsible leadership. who's on the war racial discrimination and other political issues were made known throughout the rally officers of the metropolitan police were directed to maintain a low visibility profile. their role was as always to protect the constitutional rights of citizens intervening only to meet unusual or emergency situations. there were few laws broken few arrests. most who came in the name of peace returned to their homes jobs or schools? but some who came to break the peace stayed on in west potomac park for them.
the april 24th rally was only a predude to mayday an opportunity to advance their own well-defined aim to shut down the federal government the country should respond from coast to coast with demonstrations and universities and communities and across this country the months before things militant and violence prone members of the new left decided that the style discipline and tactics of peaceful assembly. we're no longer acceptable. good morning, and welcome back to the washington journal. you're looking at the vietnam memorial here in the nation's capital this morning in our last hour of the washington journal and a joint conversation with american history tv on c-span 3. we're focusing on the may day 1971. anti-vietnam war protests joining us. this morning is lawrence roberts. he's the author of a book on those events.
mr. roberts, thank you very much for being with us. we appreciate it. thank you for having me greta. i'm looking forward to it. let's begin with what is going on with the vietnam war. let me let me paint a picture of what happened exactly 50 years ago this morning. it was also a sunday morning may 2nd and richard president richard nixon and his aids had ordered hundreds of dc. police riot squad to clear out a park down by the potomac river in which tens of thousands of mostly young people have been camping and preparation for what was going to be the most audacious protest in all of the anti-war movement against the vietnam war. the people had come from all over the country to camp in west potomac park in order to get ready for this traffic blockade of washington dc which was sort
of a last-ditch effort after six years of the movement to force the government to pull all of the us troops out of out of vietnam. why why did they come i mean what is happening with the war that they decide they need to descend on washington. well, the war had been going on for for six years in an intense way and there had been the antiwar movement that started almost the same time as the war did by people who believe that the war was, you know, ethically wrong or was unwinnable or was you know draining the resources of the country. that should have been put toward domestic problems and there had been millions of people in the streets over the over those six years picketing parading marching petitioning working on political campaigns and still the war was was going on.
the war had been started primarily by president lyndon johnson back in 1965. the true us involvement and then johnson was in some ways kind of run out of the white house by the growing anti-war sentiment in the country and then richard nixon was elected in 1968 and one of the reasons he was elected was his promise to wind down the war to end the war but rather than ending the war he was expanding a geographically it had choose a gun over the border in 1970 into cambodia and in 1971 in february troops have been sent mostly south vietnamese troops and with us support into laos and that had triggered another run of the movement which was in the spring of 1971. so we had dozens of anti war groups sort of all came together
in this kind of chaotic choreography starting in mid-april of 71 and going through may in a series of demonstrations that were designed to you know, bolster public report public support for the anti-war movement and the finale of this protest was to be this most audacious one, which was the the blockade of the streets and bridges of washington and that's why these folks are camped in west potomac park getting ready for this protest? they had had a permit to do it, but the nixon administration was increasingly worried about the effect of all these protests. so therefore they secretly revoked the permit on saturday and then on sunday morning 50 years ago. they sent in the the police to clear out the park and the hopes that most of the people who had come to dc for this blockade would just disperse and go home
and there would be no protest on monday morning, but that is not what happened. i want to show our viewers and have them and you react to president nixon on april 7th 1971 in his address about ending the war in vietnam. let's listen. i think the hardest thing that a president has to do. is to present posthumously the nation's highest honor. the medal of honor to mothers or fathers or widows of men who have lost their lives but in the process of saved the lives of others? we had an award ceremony in the east room of the white house just a few weeks ago. and at that ceremony i remember one of the recipients. mrs. carl taylor from
pennsylvania her husband was a marine sergeant sergeant carl taylor. he charged an enemy machine gun single-handed and knocked it out. he lost his life. but in the process the lives of several wounded marines. in the range of that machine gun were saved. after i presented her the medal. i shook hands with their two children. carl jr. he was eight years old. and kevin was for as i was about to move to the next recipient. kevin suddenly stood at attention. and saluted i found a rather difficult. to get my thoughts together for the next presentation.
my fellow americans i want to end this war in a way that is worthy of the sacrifice. carl taylor and i think he would want me to end it? in a way that would increase the chances that kevin and carl. and all those children like them here and around the world. could grow up in a world where none of them would have to die and war. lawrence roberts president nixon's words there. what impact do they have in the following days and that lead up to may 2nd 1971? well nixon was in a kind of a precarious position at this point in april of 1971 as i mentioned earlier. he had sent forces into laos and that had triggered a lot of anti-war sentiment. he was getting ready to run for
re-election in 1972 and the polls at this point had him at the lowest approval rating partly because of the laos invasion of his of his first term and he actually used at the time that he might not even get the nomination of his party to run again for reelection. so he was very determined to make sure that the coming string of anti-war demonstration which they of course knew about didn't move public opinion. so the speech was views very important. he spent days working on it and it was an effective speech afterwards if you spent some time listening to the tapes and the nixon tapes and the white house, which i did for my book. you can hear their delight that delight of the president on his chief of staff at our hallman as the polls showed a little bump in nixon's approval and a bump
in the approval of his handling of the war. he was trying to seize the high ground in a sense before these protests were going to begin and one of the things they were worried about in particular. was that for the first time the protests were going to include a substantial number of vietnam veterans against the war who were coming back from the fighting to say that they disagreed with us policy and thought that the war should just be ended unconditionally nixon was saying in the speech that you showed the tape of that he wanted to wind down the war, but he did not want to give an end date. he did not want to give a firm date for withdrawal of troops. despite the pressure. from those who believe that the war was wrong, so the speech was intended to kind of bolster a support before these protests and it initially succeeded. tell us more about who attended these protests these may day
1971 anti-vietnam protests. well the mayday protests as i said was was the finale of a string of demonstrations that began in mid-april the first people in town were the vietnam veterans against the war there are more than a thousand of them who marched to arlington cemetery. they camped on the national mall right near the capitol and the end of their protest was to return their medals and ribbons by hurling them over a fence onto the capital steps extremely emotional event. they were followed by a huge coalition of groups everybody from you know, church groups and unions all the way to the most radical groups all came together for this enormous march. it was the largest march the dc had seen up until that point probably 400,000 people. march down, pennsylvania avenue to the capitol and that was on april 24th 1971 and then
following that there were a series of smaller demonstrations leading up to the mayday protests, which was meant to be a three-day blockade of the city to kind of force more attention on to their cause and that that the folks who came to town for that came from all over the country and from some other countries, too. there were 50 at least 50 state all 50 states were represented people came in from on, you know, a lot of volkswagen buses and volkswagen beetles, which was sort of the counterculture vehicle of the time. we're all parked along the river and it included people who felt that the marching and the parading and the petitioning wasn't enough and that what was needed was a more forceful act and they believed that this was the time for for mass civil disobedience as a way to you know, sort of put their bodies on the line out of a belief that the war was really wrong and needed to end. why was it called may day?
well, it was around it was originally scheduled for actual may day, which was may 1st, but then they decided that it made the most sense to have the blockade at rush hour the first rush hour, which is monday, may 3rd. and who were the leaders? who organized this? the main leaders of the mayday protests were a guy named rennie davis who was a long time icon of the new left. he had helped to form the largest group of the left campus left in the 60s, which was called students for a democratic society. he was one of the founders of that he later became one of the chicago seven as your viewers may remember that trial that was based on demonstrations that happened outside the democratic national convention in 1968, and rennie came to believe that that was needed was a much more
intense kind of a protest to call more public attention to the cause and one of his prime, you know, co-founders of the mayday idea was david dellinger who was a 55 year old long time pacifist who had worked on the anti-nuclear bomb movement. he had been a resistor of the draft in during world war two and he was sort of an apostle of non-violence this idea of you know force without violence that you could have mass civil disobedience without any kind of a violent edge to it and that that was a way to you know, push the powers that be in the direction that you wanted them to go. we're talking about the mayday protests the single largest mast mass arrest in american history more than 10 times as many protesters were arrested during the may day then arrested during the berkeley student free speech
sit-ins in 1964. we want you to join the conversation if you live in the eastern central part of the country 202-74800 mountain pacific 202 748001 if you were in washington for those may day protests dial in it 202, 748-8002 or if you were police. working to arrest folks then we want to hear your story your perspective as well. 202-748-802 lawrence roberts. you did attend. why were you there? i was in 19 year old college student at the time and i had participated in some of the anti-wear marches as many of my peers did during that time and you know, like many of the folks who came down to deceive for for may day. i also believe that it was time for a more forceful kind of a demonstration. so yes, i was part of it. what was it like?
it was an extremely chaotic day. so on monday may 3rd at rush hour starting i guess probably about 5:30 in the morning. the the folks who had come down for mayday came out into the streets and everyone was assigned every small group of protesters. they divided into small groups called affinity groups and each one was given a place to go an interest traffic intersection a bridge, you know a traffic circle in order to block traffic and you know be ready for when police came and so during the morning it was just getting to be dawn you saw, you know clumps of folks walking and all over the city into their assigned areas and then almost immediately you started hearing
sirens and and then and then tear gas and then, you know later on in the morning the master us began. i want to show where our viewers a description of the planning and pre-dawn events on monday, may 3rd as you were just talking about. this is from a washington dc metropolitan police department film on the mayday protest and it's titled the whole world is watching. monday's tactics called for massive civil disobedience at 21 selected targets targets were broken into two areas traffic circles and the bridges. may day leaders felt if these were blocked during early morning rush hours government business would be stopped. we're going to see to earth at the thousands of government workers who have a right to go to work peacefully are not interfered with by those militants those few militants who in the name of demonstrating
for peace abroad presume that they have the right to break the peace at home free dawn washington was quiet. and i'll start working on my man. i'll be back very shortly our task of keeping the bridges clear of demonstrators. signed to federal troops allowing more policemen to be assigned to strategic demonstration targets. found commuter traffic on washington bridges was heavy but flowing normally as federal employees sought to avoid rush hour disruption.
then at 6am am police protesters and commuters converged. a thousand demonstrators blocked dupont circle a thousand swarmed onto washington circle over a thousand more hit georget some sat in busy intersections taunting police some through trash or slash tires others pushed cars into the street alarming innocent bystanders. lawrence roberts who wrote a book about that day. what did you learn about what that was like for the protesters that interaction with the police that day. well, i think what you're watching before was essentially the you know, the police version
of what happened that day. they produced that film not long after the protests which you know, let's face it essentially. it's a propaganda film what it doesn't say, is that the tactics that the police used and the government used and the nixon administration used turned out to be entirely unconstitutional to you know, suppress the demonstration and in the end the federal courts throughout virtually every single arrest that was made over not just that day but the subsequent other two days after that 12,000 people on all were taken into custody were kept in detention without charges and the police had launched particularly on the first day a dragnet where they moved through the city arresting not only people who were had been sitting in the streets, but anyone who looked like they might have been a protester they had long hair they were wearing hippie style clothing and so thousands of the people who were swept up the first day hadn't
been doing, you know breaking any rules at any laws at all and that kind of you know complete sort of throwing out by the courts rejection of all the tactics that were used. a violation of the civil liberties of first amendment fourth amendment rights isn't addressed at all in the in the police in the police version of events. but in in my book i try to show a 360-degree view of that day. i tried to show the white house point of view what was going on the police inside the police department inside the justice department as well as inside the demonstrations, and it was fascinating to me that it was a history that i felt needed to be revived because it really was almost a forgotten moment when you had all these forces of the
60s and early 70s in america the ones that you know characterize this tumultuous decade all clashing in washington and the same at the same time and as i note in the book, of the nixon's reaction to may day and the decision to kind of bend or break constitutional rules was really, you know, really so the seeds of ultimately the demise of the administration the watergate scandal in some ways began on may day. let's go to john who's in new york john you were in washington that day. yes, i had organized a group from indianapolis and we all went to the intersection that we had been assigned and were very quickly arrested or well arrested were detained. we're taking taken to the colosseum, but we were never
actually charged with anything we were held for 24 hours or longer and until we were finally all released. john what what made you come to washington? the war vietnam was not hidden as effectively as later wars. were we knew what was going on? it happened every day. this was after kent state and jackson state. this is after the which meant the invasion expansion of the war into cambodia and then the nixon's vietnamization as we used to say simply change the color of the corpses there weren't so many americans dying, but there were still tens of thousands of vietnamese dying and and vietnamization had failed with the effort to invade laos, but still people were dying and the war was going on and on and people were very frustrated at that point that
traditional means of protest would not be sufficient after you got arrested john. what was your thinking? well, i say it was very odd. we were bundled off on buses and to the colosseum and never never actually charged we didn't unless you voluntarily went through another line. my feeling obviously we had not stopped the government which was the rhetoric of the time but we had use nonviolence to show that people were very serious about this i had started out in civil rights movement. worked in mississippi in the summer project so it's very familiar with the whole theory of and practice of nonviolent action and and i think that it it was a great manifestation of that people seriousness. there was some craziness that
took place i gather later and the day after the initial round of arrests, but on the whole it was a very well disciplined way of of showing your conviction that life should not be going on as normal while the war was going on john. do you think you and others the other protesters were successful that day? yes, and no we were successful in. giving a different kind of emphasis. i think larry is right that the veterans starting out and then the mass protests that happened on saturday all had expressed a strong. sentiment in the country and helped to intensify that sentiment i think we we've got some counter reaction. of course, the disruption is always. create some negativity, but but it was such an overwhelming
manifestation of people seriousness that it did let on to people going on and working locally and pushing for congress to stop funding the war and ultimately that's what contributed most to the end of the war. all right, lawrence roberts. right. i i think that's right. i think that most people did come out of this extreme conviction that that it was time to do something more to end the war. i think that the response of the of the nixon administration was informed a lot by what had happened in the previous weeks of these 1971 protests, right? i mentioned that the the speech that nixon gave on april 7th had, you know had given him a bump in approval and a bump in approval was handling of the war but as soon as these protests started particularly the vietnam veterans the white house was getting alarmed because they
noticed that public opinion was going in the other direction and they were worried that a really successful shutdown of the city by you know, by protesters would put even more pressure on them and would make them look weak. so nixon is men started holding these secret war councils to figure out how to undermine the mayday protest and as i mentioned earlier in the program one of the things they did was revoke this camping permit and and bust up the campground where everybody was i had spent the weekend nixon also over the initial objections of the pentagon called in 10,000, you know active duty military to washington. the pentagon wanted him to you know properly invoke the insurrection act and all these things. we've seen some echo this in the during the trump administration, but the president ordered that the troops be brought without any kind of public proclamation because he didn't want to show what he was really doing behind
the scenes and then you know, they infiltrated the many of the groups that were planning the protests there were wiretaps there were under cover agents. i tell the story of one undercover agent in the book who was embedded with the vietnam veterans a lot of things that you know, and break-ins and a lot of things that later on were employed against nixon's, you know, political enemies political opponents in the 1972 election, and that's of course what got his operatives caught at the watergate and led to ultimately he was resignation. we're talking about the mayday 1971 anti-vietnam war protests and this morning our camera is at the vietnam memorial here on the national mall in washington dc and lawrence roberts are cameras looking out along the wall of the vietnam memorial and with a view of the washington
monument in the background you talked about the camping out. where did that take place in relation to the national mall? and and where where were these law enforcement? where was the extra law enforcement put in washington, dc? well, the campground was not far from where the vietnam war memorial is that there was it was essentially in this area of west potomac park between the jefferson and the lincoln memorials on some playing fields and some other parkland over there right along the river's edge, but you know you could see the washington monument in the distance. so it was very much a feeling of being near the near the heart of washington when the when the police deployed and the military deployed on the morning of may 3rd rush hour. they were sent all over the city. now this you may have noticed in the in the film that the that the police produced to show what
a great job they were doing they had a picture of the this manual this tactical manual that was in no way secret. it was handed out to the protesters by the organizers of may day. it was reprinted in college news. tours, so the police had a sense of where a very good sense of where people would go and they deployed their forces accordingly the 10,000 military who came to town were primarily used to guard bridges and to guard the the massive prisoners who the police took to first to a practice field outside robert f kennedy memorial stadium, which had a chain link fence around it and they packed thousands of people in there and they were guarded by the military later on as as john said in the college john said people were trucked over to the washington coliseum, which was inside arena. let's go to mike who's also a
protestor that day mike and wheeling, west virginia. thank you for calling in. yes. well, i'd like to say first of all i was there and i went into service may. excuse me, march 10 to 65 and i get out march 1069. i was four years in the services been a year over and southeast asia. yeah, and what i like to say is all those soldiers that was there right military draft was in at the time and i enlisted i didn't get dry. i got my notice but i enlisted and but this soldiers had a right to do what they did. but what i like to say is a reason i went there was because of nixon i couldn't vote until i was 21 and fortunately i was three days before the election was up in 68. i was able to vote another connection because he promised us and sort us to soldiers. he was going to end the war and he didn't he killed in our thirty thousand that so that's why i went there. however, i didn't train a metal.
so every new residence or anything like that. i was in the back i didn't get arrested. i just mind my own business. which other people that served but the main reason i went there is because nixon life to us and he didn't tell us the truth and war wasn't a good war to start with and that's where the hell i feel about it and most of the guys that i served with that when we got out of high school. you didn't have a choice then unless you your parents had money to send you to college which month of stephen so i enlisted it serve my country and i'm proud of it and but i did protest as the world wasn't right. all right, mr. roberts your thoughts after listening to mike. there was a lot there was so much disaffection within the military. i mean, you know hundreds of thousands of young men volunteered or were drafted to go to vietnam and i think you know, it's safe to say that most of them felt when they went that they were doing something honorable. they were there to you know
contain communism as they were told by the by the government and once they got there they fought, you know bravely to keep themselves and their and their buddies alive and you know that that that was just simply the way it went after after being there many of the many soldiers and folks who were there came to believe that what they'd been told about. the war was not right that the that there was no love for the south vietnamese regime by its own people and that that it wasn't strictly a question of you know of a communist take over of vietnam, but you know to some extent and internal conflict between you know, gorillas who are pro communists and the north vietnamese army adverses, you know the south vietnamese and what the purpose
and the mission of the american military was not was not clear and and that the war itself didn't feel like it was winnable without you know a massive amount of destruction of north vietnam, which most people were not willing to engage in paul was also a protestor here in washington that day paula, massachusetts. how old were you? i was only twenty twenty one. exactly 21 tell us your experience that day. well, i i had i had met the vietnam vets against the war at the jamaica plain hospital in boston and that got me on the common. about a month before i was with john kerry howard zinn, bonnie raitt and myself and my brother and we did a protest for the vets on the boston common and with those people we got to go to washington and we stayed three days at the holland at the howard johnson hotel.
we played at american university the night before with with ralph nader. and myself and my brother and then jay giles played and then poco haram played outside at the amphitheater and then the next night. we were on on the big stage and we played that night. i got pictures of phil oakes. he was my hero at the time and the next day. when they shut the power in the storm troopers started coming we got the play again because i went to the promoter and said they're leaving one microphone on and we were acoustic group. and so we played with the one microphone. so we played for about an hour while the fighting was going on in the protesting. we were finally forced off the stage everything. we threw our instruments to the people in the crowd and we jumped into the crowd and we we escaped we got to umass we flew to umass and we played in a protest in umass and they didn't know about the fighting. it wasn't on a news that the storm troopers came. it wasn't on the news that everybody got beat up and got
arrested. so when we got to umass we were only musicians we were reporters and thank you for your book. lawrence is the first time. i've got to read about what happened and and i'm telling people about what happened and i'm still a musician and i'm still talking about the war and it was only because my friends got hurt and got killed and suffered there that i got involved with protesting it and i and i and i protested for the whole time until that war ended and then i kept playing i was a college performer and we played with richie havens many times and thanks for having me on and thanks for writing the book paul before you before you go. do you remember what was the rationale to have a rock concert during these protests? do you remember what you were told? well, i wrote two songs one song was called. you're no soldier and then with my brother we wrote another song about the mili massacre and that's the song that the vets heard on the boston common that that got us there.
and what did they say to you? they finally heard they finally heard a song that was about the way they felt this wasn't a song that was on the radio and this wasn't a song. that was a record. these were songs that we played and we enjoyed pocket he has a signal he had to sing them it wasn't it what we were trying to make a hit record. we never recorded the songs. we never tried to promote them. it was just the way we felt and i think they heard that and it wasn't a lot of bands like jacob j geils came along but aerosmith those kind of bands they didn't get involved with protests at boston. so we would have wanted a few groups in boston that said we got to stop this paul. what can you can you sing for us or at least tell us some of the lyrics of those songs? yeah, you're no soldier. you're a man like me. so why can't you look and why can't you see and just walk away and remember this day for the rest of your life and i have
lawrence roberts fascinating, you know one thing that sometimes gets lost in thinking about these protests. you brought it up greta this notion that it wasn't just the the culture at the time wasn't just the question of radical politics. there was also a counterculture there was also a sort of a cultural revolution going on in the late 60s throughout the 60s and early 70s. so when rainy davis decided to push for this idea of mass civil disobedience in dc as a way to kind of try to attract more people he set up a an all-day rock concert that would start on saturday may 1st and go through sunday may 2nd in order to set up for the may 3rd protest. so there were groups linda ronstadt. was there charlie mingus was there and the opening group for
the mayday concert? at the west potomac park was the beach boys who were on sort of a revival tour and they showed up and played and then bands played, you know all through the night all afternoon on saturday and then all through the night with thousands of tens of thousands of people, you know out laid out in their blankets sleeping bags and lean twos and it was at 6:00 am on sunday morning while the bands were still playing one of the bands was still on a band called claude jones, which was a very good local dc rock band when the police just suddenly swept into the park with their helmets and their nightsticks and said everybody has to leave here by noon. they gave him until noon to clear it out, but no doubt the sort of cultural part of things and the music was one of the reasons why people gathered in that so many people gathered in that in that park the government had believed that the government
informants who were embedded with and i work groups at the behest of nixon and the justice department believe that about four or 5,000 people would show up for mayday, but instead they were nearly 50,000 and that was part of what triggered this what i think is an overreaction. and neil was one of those 50,000 neil and round rock, texas feel. how old were you? i was 18 at the time. and why did you come to washington? basically because i learned that the government had lied to the american people lied about the basis for the war. and i was terribly angered by that educated myself and decided that i had to go. what was it like when you got here? of i stayed with friends at
georgetown and got assigned to dupont circle as a new yorker. and having been at other protests i had the model that people would be. warned and if you don't leave you'll be arrested. and it was not nothing like that. uh, the police just swept in and grabbed us up quite before we knew was going on. and when you were grabbed by the police. tell us about that. what did they do? where did they put you? and it was a rather surreal evening as the sun went down. they distributed blankets and rolling tobacco. so i'm looking around at all these long hairs in blankets.
uh smoking what looked like joints and it it betrayed one thing and then as you is yeah, i brought my eyes up. uh, there a guard towers. and people with shotguns and barbed wire and it was it was quite a shocker that way. how did you how were you released? what were you told? um, we were told that we could post a $10 appearance fee and get a court case number. that would let us out. did you return to court? this was when we were being held. at the at the stadium, right? and the issue there was there were many people in the crowd
who couldn't be processed because they had warrants out. so in an act of solidarity nobody wanted to be processed, but we learned that if you got a court case number. allah free by five card. that was the golden ticket out. line what would happen? you'd walk down the hallway showed the the guard your that they had given you this. index card and you were outdoors then did renal did you return to court at a later date? jeffrey miller had been dead for a year to the day. so i signed out as jeffrey miller. and when the aclu subsequently received a judgment that would
give us payment payment for the illegal arrest. i was not able to receive any of that payment. i was not jeffrey miller, but it was a memorial to him. okay? lawrence roberts fill in the lines here from what you've heard from neil. yeah. yeah neil, very interesting. this neil's experience not so different from many thousands of others, you know, i should say that you know when the police swept through the streets on that monday and arrested thousands of people they filled every jail cell in the city some of the cells, you know cells that were supposed to hold two people, you know, we're full of, you know, a dozen nobody could you know even sit down and you know, we're kept in there for hours many were taken to the jail yard that neil described others were taken to this football. the overflow was taken to this football practice field and ultimately many ended up inside this this arena and many people,
you know, a lot of thousands of people maybe most of them were were swept up while they were not violating any rules at all. so there were no real charges lodge against them there couldn't be and many those folks when they were asked their names subsequently by the police who were trying to process. the folks in there and create some kind of a record that could be used in court some kind of a rest record that can be used in court on the advice of themselves on the advice of some lawyers who got in there. they were giving false names. so, you know, there were a lot of people who gave their name as you know, richard nixon or john mitchell or in the case of a neil's case someone who they knew was not around anymore and years and years later the aclu and others had filed all these civil suits on behalf of the protesters for violation of their rights and the courts ordered millions of dollars paid in compensation, you know to to
these demonstrators and then the aclu set out to try to find people who deserve these checks some of the folks who are arrested during the three days got checks for as much as 3,200 others just received, you know, they got their 10 dollar collateral back, but they couldn't find hundreds of these folks because they had either given false names or you know in some cases had moved many. times and couldn't be located. james and bakersfield, california, you're next. yes, good morning. i was 10 years old and at the time and now i'm a 30-year veteran. um, and i always thought then and i still think today that vietnam war was a a noble effort against communism to contain and defeat it, but it was not carried out very well. but the time frame of may i always thought from the history books that i understood it to be corresponding with the communist
revolution and the mayday celebrations that they that are carried out around the world for that. and i noticed kind of the red red cover of your book and i saw the one protester in that one police video to this morning that had that right carrying around the red flag. so that was my that was my main question is i thought i thought that was the why why mayday was chosen in that time frame and the other the one other adam. i'll say real quick if you can answer that first one, but the other item is that you have a generation agent that generally was protesting against authority, but now on the other end of it, you know, 30 40 50 actually 50 years later you have this generation who had who are announced generally at the end of their professional lives and they're kind of in power and they seem to be more pro authority and pro-centralized government. i wonder if mr. roberts the comment on that also. thank you. thank you. interesting questions. yeah made international may day
was international workers day. i'm not i don't know. i don't know if it was invented by the communists, but it was meant as international workers day. there's no real direct connection between the mayday protest and that made a other than may is you know was looked upon as the most the best time the spring is the best time to do some kind of carry out of protest like this for weather reasons and things like that and also because it was coming after the this very controversial invasion of of laos that nixon had put into place so i don't i don't think there's a sort of communist underpinning all of this. to your question of what happens to people 50 years later after their rebellious youth. i think every individual story is is different. you know the baby boomer generation, you know, like any other, you know splinted into a lot of different things and a lot of people carry within them
the what they would call the values of the 60s. some people didn't you know changed and moved to a more conservative stance, but it's hard i think to generalize about the people who were protesting back then. garrett in providence, rhode island was one of those protesters garrett. how old were you tell us your story? let's say i guess i was 19 years old. i was i was not arrested a couple hours after the program after the main part of the protests. i was walking around the gw campus area where the police apparently had instructions to arrest anybody who didn't have an id. i was a former student as was the person who i was with. although i had my id with me, so i was not arrested. he did not have his idea with and he was arrested. i also i read lawrence's book and first of all kudos, i mean it is not only an excellent understanding of may day, but an in-depth understanding of the anti-war movement in general.
in a few questions for him obviously you had in-depth interviews with a lot of people from called the other side from the government side like the chief police in washington. i wonder where they anxious to talk to you reluctant to talk to you. how do they see it now? i mean did they see it the way most of us see it as at the least an overreaction, or do they still have to justified in their mind? and were there any people on the what i'm going to government side who you would have liked to have talked to who who just weren't. willing to talk to you. thank you gary for the kind words. i yes. i think you're experience of that day of people sweeping through the george washington university and other university campuses arresting anyone without an id. that was certainly something that was that was common. um in terms of people talking
talking about that time. i mean, i think unfortunately many of the people who were central to the decision making back in the day, for example, the deputy attorney general richard cline dean's he's not around anymore jerry wilson, the police chief of washington was around i was very generous with his time in in discussing with me, you know, all the events of those days and what was behind his decision to ultimately you know follow nixon's orders to do mass arrests. you know, he he maintained that he had, you know done the job. he was hired to do that day and despite the government lawsuits that were successful against the police and against the government. he didn't he didn't express regret for for doing what he thought he had to do to keep the city open that day.
i think he was a man of integrity who was sort of caught between a paranoid white house a very worried white house and his desire to you know, keep the streets from becoming violent. on leading up to that day while folks are camping out in washington dc. what was the camping experience like and thousands of people in close proximity together. were you one of what was it like no, i was not in that campground that that day, you know and that weekend in may but it was an extremely. from all councils. it was like a like a festival. i mean first of all you had music that went on for you know hours and hours very had the characteristics of some characteristics of the rock festivals of the 60s. people were playing games. they had frisbees they had their dogs people brought flutes and
guitars and we're playing in there tents and lean twos. it was not an angry. protests in that sense at all. it was more of a sort of a festival and people at the time the technology for music was, you know, portable cassette players. they were been around for a few years. so people would bring their tapes and trade them and play their various music of the 60s and the you know in their tents and that's sort of the atmosphere what was going on when sunday morning they looked up and of the dawn and saw, you know hundreds of helmeted police coming toward them to to push out of the park. and our our guest lawrence roberts noting 50,000 came to dc 12,000 arrested the largest mass arrest in american history ruth in oxnard, california. good morning to you. good morning.
really listening with i did go to some protests in washington dc and i remember the beach boys, but i was not at that protest. after all of the things that happened including kent state shootings the year before and the subsequent national student strike after all that that mr. nixon said business as usual. and i felt so uh dejected i guess because it seems like all this effort was put forth. but yet. it wasn't getting through. i'm going to stop at that point lawrence roberts.
the one of the enduring questions of this time is you know, what to what extent did the anti-war movement the vietnam anti-war movement. stop the war shorten the war constrain the military in the war and you know historians debate this because you know, it's hard to say what would have happened if there were no anti-war movement. i mean, i think there's no question if you listen to the nixon tapes if you look at the documents if you study the johnson administration as well, there's no question that the anti-war movement the domestic opposition to the war constrained the military from doing more intense options, you know more serious invasions of north vietnam of using more, you know more weapons of war of of even potentially using tactical nuclear weapons, which was on the table at one point.
there's no question that domestic opposition got in the way of that. there's no question that then i wore movement was, you know, at least partly if not largely responsible for lyndon johnson's decision not to seek another term in 1968 and it during the period that we're talking about the spring of 1971. that was the time when? richard nixon on his national security advisor henry kissinger decided to soften the terms of their in their secret talks with hanoi about how to end the war up until that point the us had insisted that no date for a pullout of us troops could be set unless north vietnamese troops also would pull out of south vietnam at the same time and they dropped that demand in this period and you know, the juxtaposition makes one think that there's no question that the intensity of the anti we're
moving at something to do with that decision. so it's clearly all the marching all the work that the anti-war movement did all the sentiment in the country and it wasn't just the people in the streets. it was the poles at that point was showing that most americans thought the war was wrong and a plurality of americans believe that if the cost of getting out meant that the communists in south vietnam would have a part in the government and the coalition government then then that was something to do in order to end the war all those things point to the impact of movement. what was the lasting impact do you think of may day? that that's that weekend and that monday. well, i think i had a fundamental effect on on politics and government first of all all the lawsuits that came out of the of may day that established the rights of the scent both on the streets of dc
and elsewhere. i think chilled the possibility of more kinds of mass arrests illegal mass arrests anywhere in the country. there's still the cases that came out of that are still cited in in legal manuals all over the country and politically it had a huge effect on nixon in a sort of strange way in the sense that it stoked his his dark side and ended up producing the kinds of activities that were you know, you turned against his political opponents in '72, you know, break-ins wiretapping that ended up leading to watergate. book is may day 1971 a white house at war a revolt in the streets in the untold history of america's biggest mass arrest lawrence roberts. thank you very much for the conversation this morning. we appreciate it. thank you greta. thank you for having me. and throughout today's conversation about that day those mayday protests.
you've been seeing video of the protests and we want to thank kirk perkins and engineer at c-span who shot some of what you've seen today and allowed us to use it. so, thank you to him. weekends on c-span 2 are an intellectual feast every saturday american history tv documents america's story and on sundays book tv brings you the latest in nonfiction books and authors funding for c-span 2 comes from these television companies and more including comcast. you think this is just a community center? no, it's way more than that. comcast is partnering with a thousand community centers to create wi-fi enabled listings. so students from low-income families can get the tools. they need to be ready for anything. comcast along with these television companies support c-span 2 as a public service to market 60th anniversary the
white house historical association published james hoban designer and builder of the white house friday night on american history tv a panel discussion addresses the architectural political and cultural ideas behind the mansion recognized worldwide. they also look back at the life and career of james hoban who was born in ireland and emigrated to the us you can watch that at 8pm eastern on c-span 3's american history tv. next on lectures and history professor david farber teaches a class on the 1960s vietnam anti-war movement and how in his view had helped expand the nation's democratic process american history tv recorded this class in 2010 at temple university in philadelphia professor farber now teaches at the university of kansas. so we've been talking these last few weeks out loud. about a few core issues that having many ways. given