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tv   Mayday 1971 Anti- Vietnam War Protests  CSPAN  July 9, 2021 12:45pm-1:48pm EDT

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more. to mark its 60th anniversary, the white house historical association publiced james hoban, designer and builder of the white house. they also look back at the life and career of james hoban who was born in ireland and came to united states. you can watch that starting at 8:00 p.m. on cspan 3american history tv. tens of thousands of anti-vietnam protesters converged on washington, d.c. in may of 1971. more than 7,000 people were arrested in a single day.
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coming up on american history tv, we look back 50 years at those protests with investigative journalist lawrence roberts. he's the author of mayday 1971. a white house at war and the untold history of america's biggest mass arrest. on april 24th, 1971, the national peace action coalition.
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they held a massive demonstration in washington, d.c. some 175,000 people from all walks of life with differing ied yomgs and purposes marched from the white house to the capitol. washington has grown accustomed to this method of voicing dissent. marshals and responsible leadership. the war, racial discrimination and other political issues were made known officers of the metropolitan police were directed to maintain a low visibility profile. their role wads as always to protect the constitutional rights of citizens. intervening to meet unusual situations. there were few laws broken, few arrests. most returned to their homes,
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jobs, schools but some who came to break the peace stayed on. to shut down the federal government. >> dun tri should respond from coast to coast with demonstrations at universities and communities across this country. >> months before, violence prone members of the new left decided the style, discipline and tactics of peaceful assembly were no longer acceptable. >> good morning and welcome back to the washington journal. you're looking at the vietnam memorial here in the nation's capitol. this morning in our last hour of the washington journal in a joint conversation with american history tv on cpan3, we're focusing on the mayday 1971
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anti-vietnam war protest. joining us is lawrence roberts. he's the author of a book on those events. thank you very much for being with us. we appreciate it. >> thank you for having me. i'm looking forward to it. >> let's begin with what is going on with the vietnam war in 1971. >> let me paint a picture of what happened exactly 50 years ago this morning. it was also sunday morning, may 2nd and president richard nixon and his aids ordered hundreds of d.c. 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 in preparation for what was going to be the most audacious protest in all the anti-war movement against the vietnam war. people had come from all over
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the country to camp in west potomac park in order to get ready for this traffic blockade of washington, d.c. which was a last ditch effort after six years of the movement to force the government to pull all of the u.s. >> why? why did they come? what is happening with the war that they decide they need to descend on washington? >> well, the war had been going on for six years in an intense way. and there had been -- the anti-war movement had started almost the same time as the war did by people who believed that the war was, you know, ethically wrong or was unwinnable or was, you know, draining the resources of the country that should've been put toward domestic problems, and there had been millions of people in the streets over those six years
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picketing, parading, marching, petitioning, working on political campaigns, and still the war was going on. the war had been started primarily by president lyndon johnson back in 1965, the true u.s. 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 is his promise to wind down the war, to end the war. but rather than ending the war, he was expanding it geographically. troops had gone over to the border in 1970 into cambodia. and in 1971 in february troops had been sent, mostly south vietnamese troops with support into laos. and that had triggered another run of the movement which was in
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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 support for the anti-war movement. and the finale of this protest was to be this most audacious one, which was the blockade of the streets and bridges of washington. and that's why these folks were 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
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police to clear out the park in the hopes that most of the people who had come to d.c. 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 have saved the lives of others. we had an award ceremony in the east room in the white house just a few weeks ago. and at that ceremony, i remember
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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 8 years old, and kevin who was 4. as i was about to move to the next recipient, kevin suddenly stood at attention and saluted. i found it rather difficult to
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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 of 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 in war. >> lawrence roberts, president nixon's words there, what impact do they have in the following days 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 had mentioned earlier, he
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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 first term. and he actually mused at the time that he might not even get the nomination of his party to run again for re-election. so, he was very determined to make sure that the coming string of anti-war demonstrations, which they of course knew about, didn't move public opinion. so the speech was viewed as 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 in the white house which i did for my book, you can hear their delight, the delight of the president and his
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chief of staff h.r. holdaman as the polls showed a bump in nixon's approval and a bump in their approval of his handling of the war. he was trying to seize a high ground, in a sense, before these protests were going to begin. and they were worried about 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 u.s. 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. the speech was intended to kind of bolster his support before these protests. and it initially succeeded. >> tell us more about who
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attended these protests, these mayday 1971 anti-vietnam protests. >> well, the mayday protests, as i said, 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 capitol 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 that d.c. had seen up until that point, probably 400,000 people
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marched down pennsylvania avenue to the capitol. 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 onto their cause. and that, the folks who came to town for that came from all over the country and from some other countries, too. there were at least 50 -- all 50 states were represented. people came in from -- a lot of volkswagen buses and volkswagen beetles, which was sort of the counter culture vehicle at the time, were 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 mass civil disobedience as a way to sort of
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put their bodies on the line out of a belief that the war was really wrong and needed to end. >> why was it called mayday? >> well, it was originally scheduled for actual mayday, 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? >> uh, the main leaders of the mayday protest were a guy named rennie davis who was a longtime icon of the new left. he had helped to form the largest group of the 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.
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and rennie came to believe that what 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 longtime pacifist who had worked on the anti-nuclear bomb movement. he had been a resistor of the draft during world war ii, and he was sort of an apostle of nonviolence, 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 push the powers that be in the direction that you wanted them to go. >> we're talking about the mayday protests, the single largest mass arrest in american history.
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more than ten times as many protesters were arrested during the mayday than arrested during the berkeley free speech sit-ins in 1964. we want you to join the conversation. if you live in the eastern central part of the country 202-748-8000. mountain pacific 202-748-8001. if you were in washington for those mayday protests dial in at 202-748-8002. or if you were police working to arrest folks then we want to hear your story, your perspective as well. 202-748-8002. lawrence roberts, you did attend. why were you there? >> i was a 19-year-old college student at the time. i had participated in some of the anti-war marches as many of my peers did during that time. and, you know, like many of the folks who came down to d.c. for mayday, i also believe that it was time for a more forceful
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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 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, a traffic section, a bridge, you know, a traffic circle in order to block traffic and, you know, be ready for when police came. so during the morning, it was just getting to be dawn. you saw, you know, clumps of folks walking all over the city into their assigned areas.
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and then almost immediately you started hearing sirens and then tear gas and then, you know, later on in the morning the mass arrests began. >> i want to show our viewers a description of the planning and predawn events on monday, may 3rd, as you were just talking about. this is from a washington, d.c. 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. mayday leaders felt if these were blocked during early morning rush hours, government business would be stopped. >> we're going to see to it that the thousands of government workers who have a right to go
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to work peacefully are not interfered with by those militants, those few militants who in the name for demonstrating for peace abroad presume that they have the right to break the peace at home. >> pre-dawn washington was quiet. the task of keeping the bridges clear of demonstrators was a sign to federal troops allowing more policemen to be assigned to strategic demonstration targets. at 4:30 a.m., inbound commuter traffic on washington bridges was heavy but flowing normally as federal employees sought to avoid rush hour disruption.
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then at 6:00 a.m., police, protesters, and commuters converged. a thousand demonstrators blocked dupont circle. a thousand swarmed onto washington circle. over a thousand more hit georgetown. some sat in busy intersections taunting police. some threw trash or slashed tires. others pushed cars into the street, alarming innocent bystanders. >> lawrence roberts, you 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?
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>> well, i think what you were watching before is essentially 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 suppress the demonstration. and in the end the federal courts threw out virtually every single arrest that was made over not just that day but the subsequent other two days after that, 12,000 people in 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 had been sitting in the streets but anyone who looked like they might've been a protester, they had long hair, they were wearing hippie-style clothing.
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and so thousands of the people who were swept up the first day hadn't been doing, you know, breaking any rules, 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, the first amendment and fourth amendment rights isn't addressed at all in the police version of events. but 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
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forgotten moment when you had all these forces of the '60s and early '70s in america, the ones that characterize this tumultuous decade all clashing in washington at the same time. as i note in the book, a lot of nixon's reaction to mayday and the decision to kind of bend or break constitutional rules was really, you know, really sowed the seeds of ultimately the demise of the administration, the watergate scandal, and in some ways began on mayday. >> 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. we all went to the intersection that we had been assigned and were very quickly arrested -- or, well, arrested, we were
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detained, we were taken to the coliseum, but we weren't actually ever charged with anything. we were held for 24 hours or longer until we were finally all released. >> john, 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 was after the, which meant the invasion extension of the war into cambodia, and then nixon's vietnamization, as we like to say, changed the colors of the corpses. there weren't many americans dying, but still tens of thousands of vietnamese dying.
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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, we were bundled off in buses into the coliseum and never actually charged 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 used nonviolence to show that people were very serious about this. i had started out in the civil rights movement, worked in mississippi in the summer project, so i was very familiar with the whole theory and practice of nonviolent action.
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and i think that it was a great manifestation of that, people's seriousness. there was 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 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've got some counter reaction, of course, the disruption always creates some
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negativity. but it was such an overwhelming manifestation of people's seriousness that led 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 think that's right. i think that most people did come out of this extreme conviction that it was time to do something more to end the war. i think that the response of the nixon administration was informed a lot by what had happened in the previous weeks of these 1971 protests. so, i mentioned that the speech that nixon gave on april 7th had given him a bump in approval of his handling of the war. but as soon as these protests started, particularly the
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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 and his men started holding these secret war councils to figure out how to undermine the mayday protest. and, as i mentioned early in the program, one of the things they did was revoke this camping permit and bust up the campground where everybody 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 of this during the trump administration. but the president ordered that
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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 many of the groups that were planning the protests. there were wire taps. there were undercover agents. i told the story of one undercover agent in the book who was embedded with the vietnam veterans. a lot of things that -- and break-ins, and a lot of things that later on were employed against nixon's political enemies, political opponents in the 1972 election. that's of course what got his operatives caught at the watergate and led to ultimately his resignation. >> we're talking about the mayday 1971 anti-vietnam war protest. and this morning our camera is at the vietnam memorial here on the national mall in washington d.c. lawrence roberts, our cameras
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are looking out along the wall of the vietnam memorial 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 where were these law enforcement -- where was the extra law enforcement put in washington, d.c.? >> well, the campground was not far from where the vietnam war memorial is. it was essentially in this area of west potomac park between the jefferson and the lincoln memorials on some playing fields and some other park land over there, right along the river's edge. but you could see the washington monument in the distance. so, it was very much a feeling of being near the heart of washington. when the police deployed and the military deployed on the morning of may 3rd, rush hour, they were sent all over the city.
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now, you may have noticed in the film that the police produced to show what a great job they were doing, they had a picture of this tactical manual that was in no way secret, it was handed out to the protesters by the organizers of mayday. it was reprinted in college newspapers. 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 massive prisoners who the police took to, first to a practice field outside robert f. kennedy and 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 john said, people
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were trucked over to the washington coliseum, which was an inside arena. >> let's go to mike, who was also a protester that day. mike in wheeling, west virginia, thank you for calling in. >> yes. what i'd like to say, first of all, i was there, and i went in the service may -- excuse me, march 10th, '65 and i got out march 10, '69, i was four years in the service, i spent a year over in southeast asia. and what i like to say is all the soldiers, that was their right, military draft was in at the time. i enlisted, i got my notice, but i enlisted. then soldiers had a right to do what they did. but what i'd like to say is the 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 and i voted for nixon because he promised us and swore to us to the soldiers he was going to end the war, and he didn't.
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he killed another 30,000 men. so, that's why i went there. however -- i didn't get arrested. i just mined my own business. i was with other people that served. but the main reason i went there is because nixon lied to us, and he didn't tell us the truth. the war wasn't a good war to start with, and that's how 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 unless your parents had money to send you to college, which my folks didn't, so i enlisted and i served my country and i'm proud. but i did protest because the war wasn't right. >> your thoughts after listening to mike? >> there was so much disaffection within the military. i mean, hundreds of thousands of young men volunteered or were drafted to go to vietnam. and i think it's safe to say that most of them felt when they
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went that they were doing something honorable. they were there to, you know, contain communism, as they were told by the government. and once they got there, they fought bravely to keep themselves and their buddies alive. that was just simply the way it went. after being there, many soldiers and folks who were there came to believe that what they had been told about the war was not right, that there was no love for the south vietnamese regime by its own people, and that it wasn't strictly a question of, you know, of a communist takeover of vietnam, but to some e tent -- extent an internal
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conflict between guerillas and the north vietnamese army versus the south vietnamese. and what the purpose and the mission of the american military was not clear, 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 protester here in washington that day. paul in massachusetts, how old were you? >> i was only 21, exactly 21. >> tell us your experience that day. >> well, i had met the vietnam vets against the war at the jamaica plain hospital in boston. that got me on the common. about a month before i was with john kerry, howard zin, bonnie, and myself and my brother, and we did a protest for the vets on the boston common. and with those people we got to
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go to washington, and we stayed three days at the howard johnson hotel, we played at american university the night before with ralph nadar and myself and my brother, and then jay guiles played and then -- played outside at the amphitheater. and the next night we were on the big stage. and we played that night, i got pictures of phil oaks, he was my hero at the time and the next day when they shut the power and the storm troopers started coming, we got to play again because i went to the promoter and said they're leaving one microphone on and we were an acoustic group so we played with the one microphone. so we played for about an hour while the fighting was going on and 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 escaped. we got to umass, we flew to umass and we played at a protest in umass and they didn't know
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about the fighting. it wasn't on the 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 weren't only musicians, we were reporters. thank you for your book, lawrence. this is the first time i got to read about what happened 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 hurt and got suffered there that i got involved with protests again. i protested for the whole time until that war ended and then i kept playing, i was a college performer and we played with ritchie havens many times. thanks for having me on and writing the book. >> paul, 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 are no soldier and then with my brother
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we wrote another song about the meli massacre. that's the song that the vets heard on the boston common 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 engaged. >> paul, can you -- >> we had to sing them. it wasn't -- we weren't 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 j. geils came along, with aerosmith, those bands didn't get involved with protests in boston. we were one of the few groups in boston that said we've got to stop this. >> paul, can you sing for us or at least tell us some of the lyrics of those songs? >> you are no solder, you are a man like me, so why can't you
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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 culture at the time wasn't just the question of radical politics, there was also a counter culture, there was also sort of a cultural revolution going on in the late '60s, throughout the '60s and early '70s. so when rennie davis decided to push for this idea of massively disobedience in d.c., as a way to kind of try to attract more people, he set up 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.
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so there were groups, linda ronstadt was there, charlie mingus was there and the opening group for the may day 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 laid out in their sleeping bags and it was at 6:00 a.m. on sunday morning while the bands were still playing, one of the bands was still on, a band called claw jones, which was a very good local d.c. rock band, when the police just suddenly swept into the park with their helmets and nightsticks and said everybody has to leave here by soon. they gave him until noon to clear it out. but no doubt the sort of cultural part of things and the
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music was one of the reasons why people gathered in that -- so many people gathered in that park. the government had believed that -- the government informants who were embedded with the anti-war groups at the behest of nixon and the justice department believed that about 4,000 or 5,000 people would show up for may day but instead there 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 in texas. how old were you? >> caller: i was 18 at the time. >> and why did you come to washington? >> caller: 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
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i had to go. >> what was it like when you got here? >> caller: 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 will be arrested and it was nothing like that. the police just swept in and grabbed us up quite before we knew what was going on. >> and when you were grabbed by the police, tell us about that. what did they do? where did they put you? >> caller: well, they initially put us in the prison yard at d.c. prison and it was a rather surreal evening, as the sun went down they had distributed blankets and rolling tobacco.
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so i'm looking around at all these long hairs in blankets, smoking what looked like joints, and it portrayed one thing and then i brought my eyes up, there were guard towers and people with shotguns and barbed wire. it was quite a shocker that way. >> how were you released? what were you told? >> 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? >> caller: this was when we were being held at the -- at the
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stadium. >> right. >> caller: 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 on a 3 x 5 card, that was the golden ticket out. >> why? what would happen? >> caller: you would walk down the hallway, show the guard your -- that they had given you this index card and you were outdoors. >> then, neil, did you return to court at a later date? >> caller: no. funny the way it worked out. 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
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judgment that would give us payment for the illegal arrest, i was not able to receive any of that payment. i was not jeffrey miller. but it was a memoriam to him. >> okay. lawrence roberts, fill in the lines here from what you've heard from neil. >> yeah. yeah. neil, very interesting. 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, were full of, you know, a dozen. nobody could, you know, even sit down and, you know, were kept in there for hours. many were taken to the jail yard that neil described, others were taken to this football -- the
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overflow was taken to this football practice field and ultimately many ended up inside this arena. and many people, you know, a lot -- thousands of people, maybe most of them, were swept up while they were not violating any rules at all. so there were no real charges lodged against them. there couldn't be. and many of those folks when they were asked their name 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 arrest record that could 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 there were a lot of people who gave their name as richard nixon or john mitchell or in the case of -- in neil's case someone who they knew was not around anymore. years and years later the aclu and others had filed all these civil suits on behalf of the protesters for violation of
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their rights and the courts ordered millions of dollars paid in compensation, you know, to these demonstrators. then the aclu set out to try to find people who deserved these checks. some of the folks who were arrested during the three days got checks for as much as $3,200, others just received -- they got their $10 collateral back, but they couldn't find hundreds of these folks because they had either given false names or had moved many times and couldn't be located. >> james in bakersfield, california, you're next. >> caller: yes, good morning. i was ten years old and at the time and now i'm a 30-year veteran and i always thought then and i still think today that the vietnam war was a noble effort against communism to contain and defeat t but it was not carried out very well.
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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 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 this morning that had that -- carrying around the red flag. so that was my -- that was my main question is i thought -- i thought that was the -- why mayday was chosen in that time frame. the one other item i will say real quick if you can answer that first one but the other item is you have a generation that generally was protesting against authority but now on the other end of it, you know, 30, 40 -- actually, 50 years later you have this generation who are now 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 could
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comment on that also. thank you. >> thank you. interesting questions. international mayday was international workers day. 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 protests and that mayday other than may, 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 innovation of laos that nixon had put into place. so i don't -- i don't think there's a sort of communist underpinning to all of this. to your question of what happens to people 50 years later after their rebellious youth, i think every individual story is different, you know, the baby
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boomer generation, you know, like any other, you know, sprint erred into a lot of different things and a lot of different people carry within them what they would call the values of the '60s, some people didn't, you know, change, then move 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. >> caller: let's see, i guess i was 19 years old. i was not arrested. a couple hours after the main part of the protest 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 id with him, he was arrested. i also -- i read lawrence's book
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and, first of all, kudos. it gives not only an excellent understanding of mayday, but an in-depth understanding of the anti-war movement in general. a few questions for him. obviously you had in-depth interviews with a lot of people from call it the other side, from the government side, like the chief of police in washington. i wonder were they anxious to talk to you, reluctant to talk to you? how did they see it now? did they see it the way most of us see it as at the least an overreaction or do they still have it justified in their mind and were there any people on the -- what i'm calling the government side who you would have liked to have talked to who just weren't willing to talk to you? >> thank you, gary, for the kind words. yes, i think your experience of that day of people sweeping through the george washington university and other government
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campuses, arresting anyone without an id, that was certainly something that was common. 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, deputy attorney general, richard klinedinst is not around anymore. the police chief of washington was around and was very generous with his time 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. he maintained that he had 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
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didn't express regret 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 keep the streets from becoming violent. >> leading up to that day while folks are camping out in washington, d.c. what was the camping experience like? thousands of people in close proximity together. were you one of them? what was it like? >> no, i was not in that campground that day, that weekend in may, but it was an extremely -- from all accounts it was like a festival. i mean, first of all, you had music that went on for, you know, hours and hours. it had the characteristics of -- some characteristics of the rock
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festivals of the '60s, people were playing games, they had frisbees, they had their dogs, people brought flutes and guitars and were playing in their tents and lean to's. it was not an angry protest 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've been around for a few years so people would bring their tapes and trade them and play their various music of the '60s in their tents and that's sort of the atmosphere what was going on when sunday morning suddenly they looked up and the mist of the dawn and saw hundreds of helmeted police coming toward them to push them out of the park. >> our guest lawrence roberts noting 50,000 came to d.c., 12,000 arrested, the largest
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mass arrest in american history. ruth in oxnard, california. good morning to you. >> caller: good morning. >> we're listening, ruth. >> caller: i did go to some protests in washington, d.c. and i remember the beach boys, but i was not at the protest. after all of the things that have happened including kent state shootings the year before and the subsequent national student strike, after all that mr. nixon said business as usual. and i felt so dejected, i guess, because it seemed like all this effort was put forth, but yet it
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wasn't getting through. >> i'm going to stop at that point. lawrence roberts? >> yeah, 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. 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 innovations
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of north vietnam. of using more, you know, weapons of war, of even potentially using tactical nuclear weapons which was on the table at one point. there is no question the domestic opposition got in the way of that. there is no question that the anti-war movement was, you know, at least partly if not largely responsible for lyndon johnson's decision not to seek another term in 1968. during the period that we're talking about, the spring of 1971, that was the time when richard nixon and his national security adviser, 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 u.s. had insisted that no date for a pull out of u.s. troops could be set unless north vietnamese troops also would pull out of vietnam at the same time and they
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dropped that demand in this period. you know, the juxtaposition makes one think that there's no question that the intensity of the anti-war movement had something to do that 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 polls at that point were showing that most americans thought the war was wrong and a plurality of americans believe that the cost of getting out meant that the communists in south vietnam would have a part in the government, in the coalition government, then that was something to do in order to end the war. all of those things point to the impact of the movement. >> what was the lasting impact, do you think, of mayday, that weekend and that monday? >> well, i think it had a fundamental effect on politics and government. first of all, all of the lawsuits that came out of mayday
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that established the rights of dissent both on the streets of d.c. and elsewhere i think chilled the possibility of more mass arrests, legal mass arrests anywhere in the country. the case that is came out of that are still cited in legal manuals all over the country and politically it had a huge effect on nixon in a strange way in the sense that it stoked his dark side and ended up producing the kinds of activities that were -- you know, turned against his political opponents in '72, break-ins, wiretapping that ended up leading to watergate. >> the book is mayday 1971 a white house at war the revolt in the streets and the untold history of the america's biggest mass arrest.
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thank you for the conversation this morning. >> thank you for having me. >> 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 an engineer here at c-span who shot some of what you've seen today and allowed us to use it. 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 buckeye broadband. ♪♪ >> buckeye broadband along with these television companies
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supports c-span 2 as a public service. >> to mark its 60th anniversary the white house historical association published james hoban, designer of the white house. a panel discussion addresses the 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 united states. you can watch that starting at 8:00 p.m. eastern on c-span 3's american history tv. next on lectures in history professor david far ber teaches a class on the anti-neat nam movement. how, in his view, it helped demonstrate the democratic process. 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


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