Sunday, May 06, 2018
In Honor Of International Workers’ Day- May Day 2016 -Ancient dreams, dreamed-The Risen People?-Frank Jackman’s War-Take Five
In Honor Of International Workers’ Day- May Day 2016 -Ancient dreams, dreamed-The Risen People?-Frank Jackman’s War-Take Five
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.
The spring of 1971 had been like the previous couple of years in the escalating anti-Vietnam War struggle. There was the inevitable massive peaceful protest planned for late April in Washington, D.C. as the mainline organizers of these now semi-annual events (others took place in the fall) put on the word in the media and on the street. The expectation of the organizers, the strategy, at least the public strategy, was driven by the idea that ever-increasing numbers on the National Mall would in short order whip the war-mongers. In short more housewives and mothers from Jersey taking the trek south would do the trick. There were at this time, as usual when the commonplace strategies to make political change do not work, others, mainly students and young unaffiliated radicals who had other ideas about stopping the madness of the Vietnam War. In little collectives, known as May Day collectives for the day of action, small clots of like-minded brethren were committed to major acts of civil disobedience. In their parlance-‘if the government does not shut down the war, we will shut down the government.” It was with these different concepts in mind that Frank Jackman, his girlfriend Joyell, and a couple of other of her friends from Cambridge hitchhiked to Washington, D.C. that spring.
Frank, having only a couple of months previously had been discharged from the U.S. Army as a conscientious objector after serving almost a year in the Fort Devens, Massachusetts stockade, was intrigued by the thought of massive direct action to stop the war. His own evolution on the subject of effective political action had started from his perception that more than mass marches were necessary to stop the slaughter. His own actions in the Army while individualistic were done with the thought of spurring fellow soldiers into active opposition to the war. In time he saw that more than acting as a model was necessary and was therefore intrigued by the idea of mass civil disobedience to shut down the war machine.
Frank and Joyell had had many argument over the question of direct civil action, “street violence” she called it mentioning the wild and wooly radical types from Cambridge and elsewhere who were touting the May Day actions. Frank thought every such option was up for grabs with the never-ending war and so his objections were strictly personal. He was not sure that he wanted to go through another jail term, potentially long, so soon after his previously stint. The pair argued (along with those two friends) all the way do to Washington about the subject of the right strategy. In any case Frank and Joyell “decided” before the trip that while Frank would stay for the May Day action as a witness at least Joyell would travel back to Boston once the large Saturday rally was over.
On the Saturday of the mass rally the National Mall was overflowing with people of every physical description, fashion statement, race, creed, and the rest. From the platform every self-interested politician and grouping got their moment in the sun. What Frank noticed and which only confirmed his suspicions about every greater masses of people gathering to force the war issue was the essentially festive nature of the event, This motley would not “storm heaven” and so as the day wore on, tired, almost exhausted he began to toy with the idea that, yes, come Monday morning he would be out in the streets. The ante had been upped.
That was why Frank Jackman, late of the U.S. Army, had been sitting on the National Mall around a blazing campfire, tired, a little hungry, and doing a little quiet thinking through his options on the Sunday night before May Day 1971...