Friday, May 04, 2018
In Honor Of International Workers’ Day- May Day 2017 -Ancient dreams, dreamed-The Risen People?-Frank Jackman’s War-Take Three
In Honor Of International Workers’ Day- May Day 2017 -Ancient dreams, dreamed-The Risen People?-Frank Jackman’s War-Take Three
From The American Left History Blog Archives –May Day 1971
Endless, dusty, truck heavy, asphalt steaming hitchhike roads travelled, Route 6, 66, maybe 666 and perdition for all I know, every back road, every Connecticut highway avoiding back road from Massachusetts south to the capital for one last winner-take-all, no prisoners taken show-down to end all show-downs. And maybe, just maybe, finally some peace and a new world a-borning, a world we had been talking about for at least a decade (clueless, as all youth nations are clueless, that that road was well-travelled, very well- travelled, before us). No Jack Kerouac dharma bum easy road (although there were dharma bums, or at least faux dharma bums, aplenty on those 1971 roads south, and west too) let- her-rip cosmic brakeman Neal Cassady at the wheel flying through some Iowa/Kansas wheat field night fantasy this trip.
No this trip was not about securing some cultural enclave in post-war America (post-World War II so as not to confuse the reader) in break-out factory town Lowell or cold water tenement Greenwich Village/Soho New Jack City or Shangri-La West out in the Bay area, east or west, but about mucking up the works, the whole freaking governmental/societal/economic/cultural/personal/godhead world (that last one, the godhead one, not thrown in just for show, no way) and maybe, just maybe sneaking away with the prize. But a total absolute, absolutist, big karma sky fight out, no question. And we, I, am ready. On that dusty road ready.
More. See all roads head south as we, my girlfriend of the day, maybe more, maybe more than a day, Joyell, but along this time more for ease of travelling for those blessed truck driver eye rides, than lust or dream wish and my sainted wise-guy amigo (and shades of Gregory Corso, sainted, okay), Matty, who had more than a passing love or dream wish in her and if you had seen her you would not have wondered why. Not have wondered why if your “type” was Botticelli painted and thoughts of butterfly swirls just then or were all-type sleepy-eyed benny-addled teamster half-visioned out of some forlorn rear view mirror.
Yah, head south, in ones, twos, and threes (no more, too menacing even for hefty ex-crack back truckers to stop for) travelling down to D.C. for what many of us figure will be the last, finally, push back against the war, the Vietnam War, for those who have forgotten, or stopped watching television and the news, but THEY, and you knew (know) who they were (are), had their antennae out too, they KNEW we were coming, even high-ball fixed (or whiskey neat she had the face for them) looking out from lonely balconies Martha Mitchell knew that much. They were, especially in mad max robot-cop Connecticut, out to pick off the stray or seven who got into their mitts as a contribution to law and order, law and order one Richard Milhous Nixon-style (and in front of him, leading some off-key, off-human key chorus some banshee guy from Maryland, another watch out hitchhike trail spot, although not as bad as Ct, nothing except Arizona is). And thus those dusty, steamy, truck heavy (remind me to tell you about hitchhiking stuff, and the good guy truckers you wanted, desperately wanted, to ride with in those days, if I ever get a chance sometime).
The idea behind this hitchhiked road, or maybe, better, the why. Simple, too simple when you, I, thought about it later in lonely celled night but those were hard trying times, desperate times really, and just free, free from another set of steel-barred rooms this jailbird was ready to bring down heaven, hell, hell if it came down to it to stop that furious war (Vietnam, for the later reader) and start creating something recognizable for humans to live in. So youth nation, then somewhat long in the tooth, and long on bad karma-driven bloody defeats too, decided to risk all with the throw of the dice and bring a massive presence to D.C. on May Day 1971.
And not just any massed presence like the then familiar seasonal peace crawl that nobody paid attention too anymore except the organizers, although the May Day action was wrapped around that year’s spring peace crawl, (wrapped up, cozily wrapped up, in their utopian reformist dream that more and more passive masses, more and more suburban housewives from New Jersey, okay, okay not just Jersey, more and more high school freshman, more and more barbers, more and more truck driver stop waitresses, for that matter, would bring the b-o-u-r-g-e-o-i-s-i-e (just in case there are sensitive souls in the room) to their knees. No, we were going to stop the government, flat. Big scheme, big scheme no question and if anybody, any “real” youth nation refugee, excepting, of course, always infernal always, those cozy peace crawl organizers, tried to interject that perhaps there were wiser courses nobody mentioned them out loud in my presence and I was at every meeting, high or low. Moreover I had my ears closed, flapped shut closed, to any lesser argument. I, rightly or wrongly, silly me thought “cop.”
So onward anti-war soldiers from late night too little sleep Sunday night before Monday May Day dawn in some vagrant student apartment around DuPont Circle (I think) but it may have been further up off 14th Street, Christ after eight million marches for seven million causes who can remember that much. No question though on the student ghetto apartment locale; bed helter-skelter on the floor, telephone wire spool for a table, orange crates for book shelves, unmistakably, and the clincher, seventeen posters, mainly Che, Mao, Ho, Malcolm etc., the first name only necessary for identification pantheon just then, a smattering of Lenin and Trotsky but they were old guys from old revolutions and so, well, discounted to early rise (or early stay up cigarette chain-smoking and coffee slurping to keep the juices flowing). Out into the streets, out into the small collectives coming out of other vagrant apartments streets (filled with other posters of Huey Newton , George Jackson, Frantz Fanon, etc. from the two names needed pantheon) joining up to make a cohorted mass (nice way to put it, right?). And then dawn darkness surrounded, coffee spilled out, cigarette bogarted, AND out of nowhere, or everywhere, bang, bang, bang of governmental steel, of baton, of chemical dust, of whatever latest technology they had come up with they came at us (pre-tested in Vietnam, naturally, as I found out later). Jesus, bedlam, mad house, insane asylum, beat, beat like gongs, defeated.
Through bloodless bloodied streets (this, after all, was not Chicago, hog butcher to the world), may day tear down the government days, tears, tear-gas exploding, people running this way and that coming out of a half-induced daze, a crazed half-induced daze that mere good- will, mere righteousness would right the wrongs of this wicked old world. One arrested, two, three, many, endless thousands as if there was an endless capacity to arrest, and be arrested, arrest the world, and put it all in one great big Robert F. Kennedy stadium home to autumn gladiators on Sunday and sacrificial lambs this spring maypole may day basket druid day.
And, as I was being led away by one of D.C.’s finest, I turned around and saw that some early Sunday morning voice, some “cop” voice who advised caution and went on and on about getting some workers out to join us before we perished in an isolated blast of arrests and bad hubris also being led away all trussed up, metal hand-cuffs seemingly entwined around her whole slight body. She said she would stick with us even though she disagreed with the strategy that day and I had scoffed, less than twenty-four hours before, that she made it sound like she had to protect her erring children from themselves. And she, maybe, the only hero of the day. Righteous anonymous sister, forgive me. (Not so anonymous actually since I saw her many times later in Boston, almost would have traded in lust for her but I was still painted Botticelli-bewitched and so I, we, let the moment passed, and worked on about six million marches for about five millions causes with her but that was later. I saw no more of her in D.C. that week.)
Stop. Brain start. Out of the bloodless fury, out of the miscalculated night a strange bird, no peace dove, these were not such times even with all our unforced errors, and no flame-flecked phoenix raising but a bird, maybe the owl of Minerva came a better sense that this new world a-bornin’ would take some doing, some serious doing. More serious that some wispy-bearded, pony-tailed beat, beat down, beat around, beat up young stalwart road tramp acting in god’s place could even dream of. But that was later. Just then, just that screwed-up martyr moment, I was longing for the hot, dusty, truck driver stop meat loaf special, dishwater coffee on the side, road back home even ready to chance Connecticut highway dragnets to get there.
Frank Jackman, after scrounging around for some food to sate his hunger and after finding some, the “movement” food de jure, brown rice and beans, at a make-shift kitchen set up to feed the hungry like him he ambled back to the comfort of that still blazing campfire. As he sat down on one of the anonymous scattered friendly blankets (this time not an Army blanket) he noticed across the fire from him a young man, younger than he, wearing an obvious real GI-issued Army jacket (not Army-Navy store gear then popular about the street protestors). That brother had the look, the short hair, the haphazard mustache, the posture of someone who either was still in the service or who had like him also just gotten out. That fresh vision before him of what he himself looked like got Frank to thinking again about the last year of his “military service,” most of that time spent in the jug, in the Fort Devens stockade.
Frank, after having his conscientious objector application rejected by the military, had decided to pursue one avenue of appeal, to the federal courts. He was able through civilian counsel to get his case before a federal judge in Boston who had furthermore issued a restraining order on the military to not remove him from the jurisdiction of the court. That, however, Frank felt was a long and cumbersome course and not necessarily a successful route if the judge decided that the recent civilian decisions on CO status did not apply to the military. Frank was the first to admit that he had not been a vociferous and outspoken public opponent of the seemingly never-ending war but he had, as he would quip “gotten religion.” As part of his work with the Quakers and others down in Cambridge he had come to see that if the war was to be ended sooner rather than later then strategies based on massive, if ill-formed, public demonstrations or the pressuring of federal politicians was not going to get it done.
Frank knew, knew in his bones, from talks with guys who had been to ‘Nam, guy who knew how bad it was, guys who knew the score, and who also knew that lots of guys were disgruntled that to close down the war you had to get to the foot soldier, to the grunt. And so he determined that he would try to do that, or at least his small part. The Quakers he knew and other Cambridge radical also had the same idea that anti-war actions should be directed toward the military bases in order to try to reach the soldiers. A group of them had decided that one day, one weekday around the end of the base workday that they would make an anti-war protest in front of Fort Devens to drive home the issue. Frank was intrigued by the idea, saw a role for himself in the action, and suggested that he would join them, in uniform, on the appointed day.
After some discussion with his civilian supporters (who he was told later were secretly thrilled to have a uniformed soldier in their anti-war midst) and a period of thought about what his actions would entail (and whether he could do stockade time which would surely come out of his actions) he decided to cast his lot with the ant-warriors. On a Wednesday afternoon in late October 1970 a small group of protestors (maybe fifty people) gathered for about an hour in the triangle in front of the entrance to the main gate of the fort. Among those in attendance was Frank Jackman in full private’s military uniform carrying a sign calling for the American government to “Bring The Troops Home.” That night upon returning to his barracks he was arrested and brought to the Provost Marshal’s Office for transport to the stockade for pre-trial confinement. And that was the start of Private Francis Alan Jackman’s war against the military.
A lot of Frank’s thinking at the time was that he would further his efforts at getting that discharge from the Army by personally actively opposing the war from the inside. That is what was appealing to him about taking part in the civilian action in front of the fort. Call it a martyr’s complex or just show-boating he was determined to perform acts of personal resistance to show others the way out of the war. And the military was more than happy to comply giving him a mandatory six months sentence for his action under the rubric of disobeying lawful orders at his Special Court-Martial.
Frank had assumed that such a sentence would be the end of it. Either the federal judge would rule in his favor or the Army seeing an obvious malcontent would discharge him in some administrative way. So Frank was surprised when neither happened. He did his six months (minus good time) and then was released back to a replacement detachment without any word from Boston. He was in a bind, a political bind by his lights. He could not knuckle under to the military and return to serve good military time doing some job (meaning serving non-stockade time) yet he was hesitant to do another stretch in the stockade. The issue weighed on him until he came up with another idea- a surefire stockade-inducing action.
Each Monday morning there is in probably every military post a general formation to see who is where they are supposed to be (not AWOL) which he later found out was called the morning report. That general formation took place at a large central field where all the base’s units gathered to take account of their personnel. Frank decided that he would make a big person anti-war statement on that occasion by wearing civilian clothes and carrying a large sign calling for “Immediate U.S. Withdrawal from Vietnam” One Monday morning in the summer of 1970 Private Jackman walked out onto the parade field carrying that sign. He was immediately tackled by a couple of lifer-sergeants and transported once again to the Provost Marshal’s Office and from there to pre-trial stockade confinement. Once again he was giving a Special Court-Martial for, what else, disobeying lawful orders, and sentenced to serve another six month sentence. It was during the latter part of that sentence that word came from Boston (through his lawyer) that the federal judge had granted his writ of habeas corpus. He was released from confinement a few days later on February 18, 1971
Frank once again became drowsy as the fire started to flicker and he nodded off still thinking about that year’s worth of time in the stockade and the chances of him having to do more time with the impeding street action set for early May Day morning in order to break down the war effort…