On the gray and rainy morning of December 1, 1960, one hundred and fifty people gathered at San Francisco’s Union Square in excited anticipation: a diverse crowd of students, minor celebrities, the religiously-motivated, and others, along with a couple filmmakers and half a dozen people in news and media. The air was chilly, the wind blustery, and perhaps some in attendance were considering going home when, “As if by Providence, the grey ceiling opened and a stream of sunlight washed the Square as the marchers entered.” After a warm reception and a couple send-off speeches from community leaders, the walkers lifted their signs and strode out. No one, least of all the walkers themselves, knew if they would be admitted into Eastern Europe when they finally arrived, or if they would even find hospitality everywhere in their own country -- volunteers were out establishing contacts to support the Walk in California even as the walkers left Union Square. Thus, as flashbulbs burst from cameras and supporters chatted and laughed as they strode beside, and the San Francisco to Moscow Walk for Peace began its 6000 mile journey.
The whole project took a considerable amount of work to organize behind the scenes. So much had to be coordinated: meals, meetings and interviews with the media, rendezvous with local supporters, and especially overnight housing. Bradford Lyttle, one of the principal organizers of the Walk, started the Walk with the others, but eventually found himself zipping on ahead in cars and planes to coordinate. Lyttle especially organized a good amount of media coverage: a 10 minute radio interview here, a two hour radio interview there. Filmmakers even set up an interview between Brad Lyttle and Rand Corporation representative Herman Kahn, who had recently published the book On Thermonuclear War.
It took the Walkers the entire first month to cross California and enter Arizona three days behind schedule -- a whole month of learning from painful mistakes and experience. They tested all types of boots and sneakers for walking -- Brad Lyttle estimated that the Walk wore out 200 pairs of shoes. They learned how to treat their blisters, and incorporated foot care into their routine. They learned the physical limits of their bodies, and that almost all of them would have to take the occasional break, at least until their bodies became used to walking an average of 23 miles every day. They learned that sending a car out a few miles ahead of the walkers to talk to the locals sometimes made the difference between free hot meals and empty stomachs. They learned the difference between coordinating in a small town versus a sprawling city: in Los Angeles, organizers had arranged for eight families scattered across the city to host the eight Team members, only to realize the difficulty of coordinating the transportation to each destination in a city like L.A. (especially before mobile phones). Perhaps most importantly, the Walkers learned how to work with each other. This “group of artists, intellectuals, mystics, anarchists and whatnot,” as Lyttle described them, learned to work through differences in opinions and make collective decisions -- despite the “desire for autonomous individuality [which] collides with our need for organization, resulting in relatively complete chaos most of the time.”
Brad Lyttle was likely exaggerating about the chaos -- or perhaps he was accurate and it was exactly that creative individuality that also accounted for some of the Walk’s success. The Walk certainly attracted unique people. Bea Burnett was one early convert to the Walk. A corporate spokesperson who had been inspired by marchers at a meeting in San Francisco, Burnett threw herself into the project. At first, she volunteered for the advance work of securing food and housing for the walkers -- in the first week of the Walk, she even convinced local businessmen at a shopping center to give the walkers free lunches and haircuts. Barton Stone, a Buddhist who attended a meeting during the send-off for the Walk in San Francisco, was another early joiner. Others, like John Beecher, an eminent poet and English professor at Arizona State University, and his wife Barbara Beecher, an artist, had been developing their own pacifist feelings for some time, and took the Walk as their opportunity to finally commit to those feelings and do something. At a vigil at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, ten men and women dressed in white and blue and calling themselves “Children of Light” joined the walkers. On Christmas 1960, Joan Baez showed up and played a short concert for the walkers -- she had visited Polaris Action in New London with Pete Seeger just a few months earlier.
Most of January was spent in Arizona, where local receptions were less welcoming. In California, the Walk could usually get a platform, if not a sympathetic audience, at the universities; the worst the walkers would get was mild condescension at what the audience perceived as pacifist naivete. In Arizona, such privileges could not be guaranteed; en route to a speaking engagement organized by sympathetic faculty members of Arizona State University at Tempe, a crowd of over 50 hostile students threatened the walkers with violence if they attempted to proceed toward campus. Even after the marchers convinced the students to let them pass, the audience that ultimately attended the talk heckled and booed the walkers while holding signs like “EXTERMINATE THE ENEMY.” Members of the Team noted the influence of Barry Goldwater, The Arizona Republic, and the John Birch Society, creating a toxic atmosphere of isolationist conservatism and violent paranoia.
Even the churches, reliable for a meal or place to spend the night in much of California, largely denied the Walk any help in Arizona. Time and again, advance workers would request assistance from individual church leaders as well as larger religious associations. Quakers and Unitarians were often most likely to answer the call, but it was no less disappointing when other denominations refused them. Some individual ministers who had initially welcomed the walkers even had to reverse their offers out of pressure from their hostile congregations. On the nights they couldn’t find shelter, the walkers camped.
Arizona was where the walkers first experienced media blackouts regarding the Walk. In Tucson, a reporter told Team member Scott Herrick that the owner of the main Tucson daily had ordered that the Walk be ignored. Some of this institutional hostility could be explained by individual prejudices of locally powerful men, but the walkers began to suspect that a more coordinated effort might be organizing against them. Reports began to filter in about the FBI spreading rumors and false characterizations about the walkers to local military leaders and law enforcement, sending directives condemning the Walk and suggesting a “hands-off” policy to the media, and warning local chambers of commerce and ministers’ associations not to lend aid.
Sometimes, these FBI directives were quite successful. Despite some moments of generosity and humanity along the way, the unfriendly pattern established in Arizona held throughout much of the American Southwest. But some communities perhaps never received the FBI message. When the Walk arrived in Alva, Oklahoma late on the evening of February 21, 1961, the walkers were not expecting what happened that night. From Brad Lyttle’s words about that night:
“We had camped at a railroad overpass about a mile north of Alva. Immediately, people began coming to talk to us. There were several ministers who were interested but did not feel we were ‘safe’ enough to take in. Many students came. By the time we finished supper, cars were parked lining both sides of the highway and caused the police a bit of a traffic problem. What a scene. More cars continued to arrive. Our fleet of odd-looking vehicles parked around the green and orange tent, by camp-fire; guitars and singing, foodboxes, lanterns and paraphernalia strewn around. A crowd of fraternity boys parked up on the hill, gathered in a band, with torches. One boy had a bugle, another carried an improvised sign saying WORKERS ARISE. STAMP OUT THIRST. DRINK BEER. They walked yelling and jeering down to the camp, and became part of the crowd. At one time there were about 100 people, mostly students, from Northwestern State Teachers College gathered around our fire, but we must have talked to many more than that, for the crowd kept changing as some left and others came. These students were as a whole much different from others we had spoken to. They were more curious, open-minded, tried harder to understand what we were saying, less antagonistic. I got the impression too they were less informed about world affairs, not as ‘sophisticated’ as, for instance, the students in California. Many of them understood and agreed with us up to the point of taking personal action. They regarded Allan Hoffman and Betty Blanck [two Team walkers] as particularly curious specimens because of their frank atheism. Often they got sidetracked into theological discussions.
“There were Five or six groups gathered around nuclei of two or three walkers. People drifted from one group to another. These students asked very intelligent questions which were obviously aimed at understanding, rather than discrediting what we said.
“By 12:30 AM most of the crowd had left and many of us fell asleep exhausted. Dr. Beecher said that the last ones didn’t leave until 2:30 AM. He said it was one of the greatest experiences of his life.”
Lyttle, Bradford. You Come with Naked Hands: The Story of the San Francisco to Moscow Walk for Peace. Greenleaf Books, Raymond, New Hampshire: 1966.
Peace of History
Around this time in September sixty years ago, three peace activists met at the Hygienic Restaurant (now Hygienic Gallery) in New London, Connecticut to plan the next steps in the campaign for nuclear disarmament. What they decided on was ambitious, unprecedented, and potentially dangerous: they were going to spread their message of peace across the United States, Western Europe, and the Soviet Union -- on foot. Over coffee and eggs in that historic restaurant on Bank Street, the idea for the San Francisco to Moscow Walk for Peace was born.
Since June 1, 1960, the Committee for Nonviolent Action (CNVA) had been in New London and Groton, CT for Polaris Action, a summer-long campaign to disrupt the production of nuclear-armed submarines at General Dynamics: Electric Boat and to educate the public about the dangers of the nuclear arms race. Most participants traveled in from other places and, according to the Hilary Harris documentary Polaris Action (1960), included “men and women, old persons and the very young, ministers and atheists, Negro and White, ex-servicemen and conscientious objectors.” Some picketed and marched with signs promoting peace. Others leafletted the workers of Electric Boat. Scott Herrick, a peace activist with a considerable personal fortune, sailed his sloop Satyagraha up and down the Thames River with the words “End the Arms Race; Polaris Action” on its sails. A few boarded the floating dry docks by rowing or even swimming over to talk to workers on the job and to hold “vigils of conscience.” Despite the signs around these facilities threatening a fine of up to $10,000 or 30 years in prison for trespassing, as well as the resignation of one research director as a result of the protesters’ arguments, no trespassers ever got arrested.
And now summer was over, and Polaris Action hadn’t ended in the spectacular, highly publicized arrests that they had expected. So the three men at the Hygienic Restaurant -- Bradford Lyttle, Scott Herrick, and Julius Jacobs -- discussed what to do next. The anti-nuclear project here in New London-Groton was shaping up to be a long-term campaign; Bob and Marj Swann (who would later be founders of VPT) had recently committed to continuing with it. Lyttle, Herrick, and Jacobs were restless for the adventure and high drama of the next big action, and felt that the future of Polaris Action was in good hands without them. But where to go next? Brad Lyttle proposed taking up the challenge presented to them by so many Electric Boat workers: “Buddy, you’re in the wrong place. Go and talk to the Russians.”
The three men knew of only one other attempt by Western peace activists to demonstrate in a Communist country. From July to November, 1951, Ralph DiGia, Bill Sutherland, Art Emery, and Dave Dellinger (later to be one of the Chicago Seven) attempted the Paris to Moscow Bicycle Trip for Disarmament. The trip was sponsored by the Peacemakers, who also provided training workshops in nonviolent action during Polaris Action. The three made it as far as the Soviet Army headquarters at Vienna before being turned away, but not before leafleting many soldiers and civilians.
There was good reason to think the Communist countries would welcome the Western pacifists this time. The three men, working with CNVA, would organize the walk with more support, more participants, and more publicity. The Communist world had already established the World Peace Council, which primarily argued that the Communist governments were peaceful and that the Western capitalist countries were the aggressors. Lyttle had already been arrested in the US for protesting the Atlas nuclear missile. Herrick and Jacobs had risked life and freedom for protesting the Polaris submarines, backbone of the new US nuclear naval policy. By the time the walkers got to Eastern Europe, the whole world would be watching. It would make bad propaganda for the Soviets if they mistreated these high-profile pacifists.
No peace walk of this scale had ever been attempted before. The last record was the 125-mile stretch from New York to New London: the one held a few months previously that had brought Jacobs and so many other Polaris Action participants to New London in the first place. Previous walk speeds averaged 15 miles/day up to 21 miles/day. The route they eventually settled on would require an average of 23 miles/day, covering roughly 6000 miles in 10 months if they wanted to reach Russia before winter. They would start on December 1 in San Francisco, head south for the winter to leaflet military industries around Los Angeles, then east to the Titan missile bases in Arizona and New Mexico, as well as the Strategic Air Command bases in New Mexico and Texas. As early spring arrived, the group would head north to Chicago, then east to Cleveland and southeast to Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. After one more swing up northeast to Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, and New York City, they would fly to the UK and proceed on through Europe.
Word spread quickly. Participants were organized into eight “Team” members who would walk the entire route, and various “supporters” who would join temporarily. All participants had to agree to a “Discipline” to maintain safety and order. Specific slogans for signs were decided upon in advance, as well as iconography: notably, the walkers decided to prominently feature the circular nuclear disarmament symbol which had only been invented two years earlier in the UK. (Story of the nuclear disarmament / peace symbol here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/voluntownpeacetrust/permalink/10157689009237978)
As with any such organizing effort, all of this needed money and support. The men were confident that thousands of dollars could be raised at meetings and events after the participants had succeeded and returned home, but they needed funding to start. The proposal that the three men presented to CNVA required a budget of about $54,000 for transportation, food, equipment, communication, salaries and office overhead expenses for support staffers. Among the needed equipment were boots, winter clothes, rain protection, a gas stove, lanterns, pots & pans, groundcloths, first aid / snake bite kits, a flare gun to signal in case of an emergency, and sign frames, much of which would be loaded up in Herrick’s 1955 De Soto station wagon -- the walkers would go on foot, but most of their provisions and gear would be driven for them. All of this would come to be supplemented by “Gifts in kind and hospitality… donated in incalculable amounts” along the walk itself. The peace movement had perennial financial issues, but after Herrick proved his commitment by personally pledging $6000, the CNVA Executive Committee agreed to sponsor the walk in early November.
For the next few weeks, Lyttle, Herrick, Jacobs and supporters worked furiously to organize enough to make the December 1 start date. Funds were raised via appeals to the CNVA mailing list, at rallies, and in private conversations. The average contribution was $8; the highest was Herrick’s $6000. At some point, Hilary Harris Films, Inc. decided to accompany the walkers with cameras and their own equipment in a Volkswagen minibus -- they had already shot footage that would become Polaris Action, and the footage they would get on the San Francisco to Moscow Walk for Peace would make up the 1962 documentary The Walk. Word continued to spread, and the organizers continued to reach out to other peace organizations and sympathizers along the planned route for assistance in the walk. As a result, volunteers continued to sign up to help secure donations as well as churches and private residences for the walkers to stay the night. The American Friends Service Committee and Acts for Peace in Berkeley, in particular, helped to organize support for the walkers. Bob Pickus, director of Acts for Peace in Berkeley, organized a send-off including a press conference for the participants, which by his own estimation was the best press conference about pacifism in Berkeley ever up to that point. On December 1, the eight Team participants set off from San Francisco, determined to walk to Moscow.
Renowned pacifist A.J. Muste wrote two pieces to promote the project. Here is the first, “The Walk’s Meaning,” in its entirety:
Readers will, we think, readily see the symbolism involved in this project. That people are stirred by seeing pacifists who walk for peace has often been proved in this country and abroad. This is a walk across two continents. The message of unilateral disarmament will, by means of this walk across the US and Europe, reach great multitudes, suggesting that peace recognizes no national boundaries; the call for unilateral disarmament goes out to all people. If by next spring, as is very likely, a serious effort to supply NATO with Polaris missiles is under way, West European pacifists will certainly welcome support from US pacifists who have practiced direct action and civil disobedience here, and our walk will be coordinated with their efforts. In particular, we who have, through many projects over a number of years, called for unilateral action by the US, now show that we are prepared to exert every effort to bring that message also to the government and people of the Soviet Union.
“Anti-war activists march to Moscow for peace, 1960-1961.” Global Nonviolent Action Database. https://nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu/content/anti-war-activists-march-moscow-peace-1960-1961
Lyttle, Bradford. You Come with Naked Hands: The Story of the San Francisco to Moscow Walk for Peace. Greenleaf Books, Raymond, New Hampshire: 1966.
“Pacifists Picket Atomic Submarines in a Rowboat.” The New York Times. August 26, 1960. https://www.nytimes.com/1960/08/26/archives/pacifists-picket-atomic-submarines-in-a-rowboat.html (pdf version available upon request)
Polaris Action. Hilary Harris Films, Inc. 1960. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WjEXGm5hx4
“Timeline of a Life of Activism.” Ralph DiGia Fund for Peace & Justice. http://www.ralphdigiafund.org/life-work-of-ralph-digia/timeline/
After decades of Native and allied activists raising the consciousness and educating the public about the myths and truths about early European colonization of the Americas, starting in June of this year, Christopher Columbus statues started to topple all across the United States. Less than three decades ago, such a trend would have been unimaginable. In fact, during the 1992 “celebrations” of the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ first transatlantic voyage, activists in eastern Connecticut focused their efforts not on the removal Columbus statues, but on another target: Captain John Mason, “Conqueror of the Pequots.” The colonial leader’s 9-foot tall, 2-ton heroic bronze statue stood for more than a century in Mystic, CT over the place where he led the massacre of 400-700 Pequot people of all ages and genders, mostly noncombatants. In the end, the Pequot leadership was assassinated; the Pequot name was forbidden; and the roughly 200 survivors were hunted down and either taken in by their former Native rivals, the Mohegans and the Narragansetts, or else enslaved by the English and sold to far away places. In simplified terms, the Pequot survivors who were taken by the Mohegans to the west became the Mashantucket Pequots, and the ones taken by the Narragansetts to the east became the Eastern and Eastern Paucatuck Pequots.
(To learn the story of the massacre itself, please visit the websites for the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center as well as the Battlefields of the Pequot War project.)
The efforts to remove or relocate the John Mason statue that began in 1992 was not the first such attempt. Year earlier, starting in the 1970s and continuing into the mid 1980s, Raymond Geer of the Paucatuck Eastern Pequots led an attempt to remove the Mason statue, but did not gain much traction at the time. The Mashantucket (Western) Pequot Tribal Nation was only granted federal recognition in 1983, very narrowly having almost lost the entirety of their reservation land to the State of Connecticut a few years earlier. The Eastern Pequots and Paucatuck Eastern Pequots, two separate groups, unified and became recognized by the Department of Interior in 2002 -- only to have that recognition revoked in 2005 due to fears of a new possible casino on reservation land.
In the 1970s-80s, indigenous groups such as the American Indian Movement (AIM) and the United American Indians of New England began publicly challenging the racist assumptions inherent to Columbus Day and Thanksgiving, but the full effects of those consciousness-raising campaigns would not be felt for years. In this period, the Pequot population that lived on reservation land was growing but still quite tiny. Geer had few allies to turn to when he made his attempts against the Mason statue, and this first attempt failed.
But by the 1990s, changes in the broader culture were apparent. The recently federally-recognized Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation completed phase 1 of the planned Foxwoods Resort Casino in 1992. Columbus Day “celebrations” were held across the country for the 500th anniversary just as more Americans than ever before started to realize the problems with honoring a figure like Columbus. And in that same year, Wolf Jackson of the Eastern Pequots asked the Southeastern Connecticut Coalition for Peace and Justice (SCCPJ), which had initially formed to oppose the First Gulf War, to help renew the campaign to remove the Mason statue. This time, the effort was built on alliances. The SCCPJ itself was composed of diverse groups including the Catholic Diocese of Norwich, Veterans for Peace, and the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. Wolf Jackson and the CCPJ circulated a petition that summer about removing the statue, which collected over 900 names agreeing that the statue is “an inappropriate commemoration of a massacre of over 700 men, women, and children and represents a distortion of history which is extremely offensive to many citizens, particularly Native Americans.”
At first, none of the councils of the three Pequot tribal nations would officially endorse the move, despite the common opinion of Pequots that the statue was offensive. Complicating matters was the bitter rivalry between the Pequot tribes, especially between the darker-skinned Eastern Pequots and the lighter-skinned Paucatuck Eastern Pequots, that made forming a united front very difficult. But after two years of building alliances and healing old wounds, cultivating community support and exploring many possible options for compromise, the demand to remove the statue spread to more people and became impossible to ignore. The petition was presented to the Town of Groton, where there were allies on the Town Council. Despite the growing demand to remove the statue, a descendant of John Mason spoke in favor of keeping the statue on the massacre site.
By then, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, suddenly a big player in Connecticut politics, had ended their initial silence and proposed not just the removal of the statue, but its relocation to the in-development Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center. The Mashantucket Pequots even offered to pay for the statue’s removal, relocation, and storage while the museum was being built. The Town of Groton ultimately voted to follow the Mashantucket Pequot proposal, but the lawful owner of the statue, the State of Connecticut, instead moved it to Windsor, Connecticut, one of the towns John Mason founded. In May 1995, supporters of the campaign gathered at the statue’s location to witness its removal. The ceremony was one of Native unity and community power. Present were Pequots from all three tribal nations; Mohegans and Narragansetts descended from the old Pequot enemies; and members of SCCPJ and the neighborhood community. Rick Gaumer, SCCPJ member and a former resident of the Voluntown Peace Trust in the late 1970s, was in attendance of the ceremony. After working for the removal of the statue, he discovered that he was a descendant of Nicolas Olmstead, a soldier who followed John Mason’s command to burn the village. Rick spoke at the ceremony, describing how the burning of villages in Vietnam had made him a pacifist, bringing him to this place. A year later, the town of Windsor celebrated the “return” of their hometown founder. It was a solution that Wolf Jackson said he “could live with.”
Now, the old question of what to do with the problematic statue is haunting Windsor. The statue has been a target of vandalism since it was moved to Windsor, and the most recent act of vandalism occurred within the last few months. On September 7 of this week, the Windsor Town Council voted 5-4 to take it down from its prominent position at the Palisado Green and move it to the Windsor Historical Society -- a decision difficult to imagine without the momentum of the many recent successes taking down Columbus statues right behind it.
When Raymond Geer made his attempt to remove the John Mason statue in the 1970s and 80s, perhaps his society was not quite ready to hear him out. But within a decade or so, things in eastern Connecticut began to change. The 500th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas heightened the attention and scrutiny paid to colonial history, and raised consciousness of the European invasion that led to the genocides of indigenous peoples. The successes of the Mashantucket Pequots and other Native groups along with the 500th Columbus anniversary created a unique cultural moment in eastern Connecticut in the early 1990s -- a moment that Wolf Jackson and the SCCPJ used effectively to complete their campaign. The 400th anniversaries of the founding of Jamestown (1619) and the landing of the Mayflower (1620) have similarly focused some people’s attention on the violent realities of White supremacy and capitalism, bringing coalitions of people together who are now removing statues and dispelling historical myths. Like Wolf Jackson and the SCCPJ, our present challenge is to use our own cultural moment -- and together create a more just society.
“1637 - The Pequot War.” The Society of Colonial Wars in the State of Connecticut. https://www.colonialwarsct.org/1637.htm
Gaumer, Rick. “Reminder of the violence that founded a nation.” The Day. July 20, 2020. https://www.theday.com/article/20200720/OP03/200729992
Goode, Steven. “State will move John Mason statue and take it to historical society; monument honored colonial leader of attack on Pequots.” Hartford Courant. September 9, 2020. https://www.nbcconnecticut.com/news/local/city-officials-discuss-removal-of-controversial-statue-in-windsor/2301219/
“The History of the Pequot War.” Battlefields of the Pequot War. http://pequotwar.org/about/
Libby, Sam. “For one Pequot, statue’s removal is vision come true.” Hartford Courant. May 11, 1995. https://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-xpm-1995-05-11-9505110513-story.html
Libby, Sam. “THE VIEW FROM: MYSTIC; An 1889 Statue Leads to Second Thoughts About a Battle in 1637.” The New York Times. November 29, 1992. https://www.nytimes.com/1992/11/29/nyregion/the-view-from-mystic-an-1889-statue-leads-to-second-thoughts-about.html
Libby, Sam. “Where a Statue Stands Is State’s Decision.” The New York Times. July 24, 1994. https://www.nytimes.com/1994/07/24/nyregion/where-a-statue-stands-is-states-decision.html
Louie, Vivian and Sam Libby. “Groton Statue Stands at Center of Debate.” Hartford Courant. October 4, 1992. https://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-xpm-1992-10-04-0000111690-story.html
“The Pequot War.” The Mashantucket (Western) Pequot Tribal Nation. https://www.mptn-nsn.gov/pequotwar.aspx
Purdy, Erika M. “Windsor council votes to remove controversial statue from Palisado Green.” Journal Inquirer. September 9, 2020. https://www.journalinquirer.com/towns/windsor/windsor-council-votes-to-remove-controversial-statue-from-palisado-green/article_6c12a68c-f2b0-11ea-a772-6fc4cbb99145.html
Shanahan, Marie K. “John Mason Statue has a Homecoming.” Hartford Courant. June 1996. https://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-xpm-1992-10-04-0000111690-story.html
“Town Officials Discuss Removal of Controversial Statue in Windsor.” NBC Connecticut. July 12, 2020. https://www.nbcconnecticut.com/news/local/city-officials-discuss-removal-of-controversial-statue-in-windsor/2301219/
Underhill, John. “Newes from America; Or, A New and Experimentall Discoverie of New England; Containing, A Trve Relation of Their War-like Proceedings These Two Yeares Last Past, with a Figure of the Indian Fort, or Palizado” (1638). Electronic Texts in American Studies. 37. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/etas/37
A Peace of History
While the rest of the world celebrated the labor of working people on May 1, Americans will observe Labor Day on Monday of next week. But what is it that we will be celebrating, exactly?
On May 4, 1886, the Haymarket Affair occurred: a complex incident to which we will return another time. For now, the important thing to know is that violence broke out at a street protest, labor leaders were blamed, and following an openly biased trial, the state executed five of the eight labor leaders in what is now generally considered to be a miscarriage of justice. The entire affair was international news. In 1889, the Second Internationale (a coalition of socialist, anarchist, and labor groups from twenty nations) dubbed May 1 “International Workers’ Day,” co-opting the ancient European spring festival May Day for its proximity to the Haymarket Affair anniversary. Meanwhile, the Haymarket Affair became an important touchstone for many young participants in the socialist, anarchist, and labor movements in the United States as well. As the narrative in the general public gradually became more nuanced and sympathetic -- recognizing the executions as unjust “judicial murder” -- the U.S. government saw the commemoration of the incident as an existential threat. And so by 1894, President Grover Cleveland had thrown his support behind the alternative date in September, purely for anti-socialist/anarchist propagandistic reasons, specifically in an attempt to bury the memory of the workers’ tragedy and stifle the movement.
Today’s main story begins in 1986, a century after the Haymarket Affair, and concerns the longest sustained nonviolent action in Connecticut’s history. In the 1940s, workers of the Colt Firearms company in Hartford, CT were finally able to organize a union. Four decades later, at the height of the Reagan era, the Colt company was harassing union members and rolling back gains in blatant efforts to shut down the union. During the four-year-long strike that followed, a number of peace activists joined the struggle in favor of the union workers, despite the inherently violent nature of the products the workers were meant to build. At first glance, this may seem completely self-contradictory, but the pacifists followed a different narrative, a more leftist analysis: under capitalism, the workers do not choose what they build, and are thus better understood as victims of worker-exploitation than as warmongers.
President Grover Cleveland helped to bury the story of Haymarket, of the miscarriage of justice that followed, and of the left labor movement that was killed in Chicago. Much of U.S. foreign and domestic policy over the next century would be determined by the same xenophobic, anti-left, and anti-labor prejudices that led to the Haymarket executions. While we recognize the history of injustice perpetrated by the U.S. government against working people, we also recognize their perseverance despite it all. Today, many working class people are on the front lines of this pandemic, struggling for better pay and working conditions while trying to stay healthy. This Labor Day, let us remember and celebrate the heroic struggles of working people of the past, and let us thank and defend working people now.
The Colt 45: Peace Work with a Union Label
May 13, 1986
The Colt Firearms factory has been producing guns since the 1800s, from pistols to Gatling guns and now, M-16 automatic weapons. The Colt name is known worldwide. Workers at Colt have tried to establish a union since the turn of the 20th century, and finally succeed in the 1940s.
Now, in 1986, they are in a life or death struggle with a company that will do anything to break their union, United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 376. Colt intends to rollback the gains made over the years by the white, black, and Puerto Rican workforce. “We are not claiming that we are losing money, nor were we basing our proposals on the Company's financial condition,” admits the company’s top negotiator.
Colt workers have already been protesting on the inside for more than a year against poor treatment and blatant attempts to bust their union. Led by shop chairman Lester Harding, activists have been disciplined, suspended and fired for nonexistent infractions. In response, they print the names of the fired workers on their shirts, and parade in the plant during break time to communicate their anger.
Once the strike begins on January 24 1986, the 1,000 strikers attempt to stop scabs from entering the factory and taking their jobs. Frequent scuffles on the picket line are met with overwhelming force by the city police. There are many arrests during the strike’s first months. At one point UAW leader Phil Wheeler is slapped with inciting a riot, a serious felony charge.
The boss at Colt knows that public opinion is important in this fight. He thinks he can sway that opinion with full-page newspaper ads. He harps on the picket line conflicts, laying the blame solely on the strikers. He explains how reasonable his negotiating demands are, and how unreasonable the UAW is.
Thanks to the newly formed Labor /Community Alliance, the propaganda falls flat. On May 13 1986, forty-five community activists, elected officials, clergy members, teachers and others converge at the Colt factory on Huyshope Avenue, Hartford. They sit down, blocking the parking lot entrance and the scabs attempting to enter the factory. The group is dubbed the “Colt 45,” an ironic take on the company’s most famous product.
The civil disobedience is no picnic. The Hartford Police captain in charge of the cops on the line has been accused of acting against the strikers from the beginning. The workers are proven correct when he quits the police force during the strike and takes a job as the new head of security for Colt.
The nonviolent Colt 45 action is only one of many community support events and marches organized during the record four-year struggle. Critical to the strikers’ morale is the solidarity they get from other unions and the city and state lawmakers, who support a successful nationwide boycott of Colt products. In fact, the strike itself is the longest sustained nonviolent action in Connecticut history.
Included in the Colt 45 are a number of peace activists. Is this some mistake? No, they say. They issue a public statement signed by many of the most locally prominent anti-war figures, who explain that union jobs are good for families and neighborhoods. They understand that workers have no power to choose what they make in this society.
The activists want to build relationships with unions and rank-and-file workers to find common ground and ultimately achieve “economic conversion,” the process by which industry changes to peacetime production. There are only two sides in this fight, and they choose the workers.
In 1990, UAW 376 wins big. The company finally gives in after labor court decisions have found that Colt has been a massive law breaker. Workers win $10 million in back pay and benefits. All strikers can return to their jobs. A coalition of the state government, private investors-- and the UAW-- have bought the company.
Thirty years later, union veterans, community activists, and college students hold a “commemoration of courage” to celebrate the Colt strikers’ victory. At first, some openly question the event’s purpose: do they really want to remember those hard times? But still, many strikers and their spouses attend. When asked about good memories from their historic strike, they answer “the Colt 45.”
(Good Trouble: A Shoeleather History of Nonviolent Direct Action is a riveting chronicle of stories that prove time and again the actions of thoughtful, committed people can change their lives and their country. It is a brisk, inspiring primer for veteran political activists and newcomers alike.
Civil Rights struggles. “Fight for $15” strikes. Tenant occupations. LGBT campaigns. Each of the 40-plus examples in good Trouble focuses on the power of organizing and mobilizing, relevant in any context, and serves as an “emergency tool kit” for nonviolent action.
Excerpt republished with permission from the author.)
Kohn, Sally. “Why Labor Day was a political move” CNN. http://edition.cnn.com/2014/09/01/opinion/kohn-labor-day/
midtowng. “Knights of Labor” Progressive Historians. https://web.archive.org/web/20070930082656/http://progressivehistorians.com/showDiary.do?diaryId=2041
Thornton, Steve. GOOD TROUBLE: A Shoeleather History of Nonviolent Direct Action. Hardball Press, 2019. https://goodtroublebook.com/
[A Peace of History]
Fifty-two years ago, members of a far-right militia attacked the Voluntown Peace Trust. Two days ago, a ring-wing militia confronted demonstrators in Kenosha, WI, and two people were shot dead. In both cases, the police might have been able to prevent the violence altogether -- if they had not already positioned themselves opposite to the victims in the first place.
A couple hours after midnight on August 24, 1968, five members of the right-wing vigilante group the Minuteman Project attacked the main house of what was then known as the Peace Farm in Voluntown. The Farm had been the headquarters to the New England Committee for Nonviolent Action (CNVA) for the last six years -- residents had been protesting nuclear weapons production as well as US involvement in VIetnam, drawing the anger of some from surrounding communities. The so-called Minutemen (which included KKK members and George Wallace supporters), armed with rifles with bayonets, pistols, knives, rope, tape, and cans of gasoline, had come to Voluntown to put an end to the peace movement in southeastern Connecticut.
There had been warning signs. Earlier that evening, a CNVA member expressed concern about a car he saw drive off into the woods close to the Farm. The Farm’s dog Mach had been uncharacteristically anxious, barking on and off all evening. And at a meeting on CNVA members’ experiences in Guatemala a couple days earlier, three unfamiliar men sat in for a while, and then afterward belligerently argued with the residents, following them back to the main house.
At 2:30 a.m., after completing their shift of the night watch, Mary Suzuki Lyttle and Roberta (Bobbi) Trask were on the first floor of the main house when the Minutemen entered, immediately searching the first floor and restraining the two women at gunpoint. Soon after, Connecticut State Troopers (tipped off by the FBI) arrived. The police deployed several parachute flares outside to light the scene, at least one of which started a small fire. A firefight broke out as the police attempted to enter the house -- an accidental shot from a Trooper's gun even hit one of the bound women, Bobbi Trask, directly in her thigh. At the time, twenty-seven people (including four children) lived at the Farm. One in another building, hearing the shots and seeing the flares, attempted to call for help but found the phone lines were cut. Some residents fled into the woods to get away from the firing, and then to hide from the armed men patrolling the area -- who turned out to be police in plainclothes. In the chaos, several Farm residents were confronted and frisked by police in plainclothes, who in turn also did not know Minuteman from Farm resident. The rest of the residents, hearing the gunshots, sheltered in place.
Reports conflict, but it seems that the FBI knew about plans of an attack on the Peace Farm since at least May, but refused to inform the residents of the Farm -- ostensibly because the FBI feared residents would not cooperate, and instead perhaps go to the press or contact the Minutemen directly. There are also conflicting stories about how the Minutemen got passed the State Troopers at all -- over 50 officers are estimated to have participated that night, starting to form a perimeter in the early evening.
The Troopers captured the Minutemen soon after the shooting began, and then rushed Trask to the hospital. Although seven people (including Trask) were injured, thankfully, no one died at the Peace Farm in the attack. The core of the New England CNVA had a resolute response and a renewed sense of urgency to their cause. Work began on repairing and building new facilities. But with the many close calls of the incident, some of which were caused by the police themselves, at least two members were so traumatized that they left the movement altogether.
Two days ago, a different story emerged from Kenosha, Wisconsin -- but with some disturbing similarities to the Minutemen attack. Following the unjustified police shooting of Jacob Blake over the weekend, a militia group formed in Kenosha ostensibly to defend businesses and police from protesters. A call out on Facebook brought several armed “patriots” to Kenosha, including 17-year old Kyle Rittenhouse. Multiple recordings show these militia members, including Rittenhouse, exchanging friendly words with each other: “We appreciate you guys; we really do” says one officer in a video, speaking to the plainclothes vigilantes.
Like with the residents of the Peace Farm, the police were already in an oppositional relationship with the protesters for justice -- many of the Peace Farm’s residents’ had been arrested previously by State Troopers for committing nonviolent actions. In the case of Kenosha, residents were protesting the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man who had been trying to “de-escalate a domestic incident” before police wrestled, punched, tasered, and finally shot him 7 times in the back (Blake is currently recovering, but is now permanently paralyzed from the waist down). So when self-identified militia members showed up claiming to be on the side of the police, it was easy for the Kenosha PD to embrace the gang of heavily armed men without hesitation or suspicion.
Rittenhouse shot three people, killing two of them on Tuesday night. He, himself, seemed to idolize the police and aspired to be one. He appeared to be an avid Trump supporter. He was also 17 years old.
In the discussion of who should be held responsible, much ink has been spilled scrutinizing the shooter -- much less has been devoted to the officers or the police department itself that if not endorsed, then at least allowed openly aggressive armed men let loose on unarmed protesters seeking justice. Several parts of the Connecticut State Troopers’ story of the Minutemen attack never quite added up for the Peace Farm residents: If the FBI knew about plans for the attack in May, why didn’t they do anything to stop it sooner? If the State Troopers had been setting up a perimeter guard in the early evening, how did the Minutemen slip past them? What was the deal with the hidden weapons cache? Some suspected that, although the police did not want any of these pacifists murdered on their watch, some Troopers may have been sympathetic to the Minutemen's "patriotic" cause. Two nights ago in Kenosha, that police sympathy for vigilante violence against social justice demonstrators was in plain view.
Attached is the official New England CNVA report on the Minutemen attack published just one month after the attack, written by Mary Suzuki Lyttle, one of the women present in the attack. You can view or download the pages as a PDF here. The link will also be available on our website.
For background information and more details about the Minutemen attack, you can also visit CT Explored for their article on the incident here.
If you are able, please consider donating to the Voluntown Peace Trust. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought our rental requests, our main source of income, to a halt. Not since the Minutemen attack have we been in greater need for our community's support to continue our work. You can make a secure one-time donation online by going to the Givelify link here.
Barton, Gina, Cary Spivak and Bruce Vielmetti. “Kyle Rittenhouse, charged in Kenosha protest homicides, considered himself militia” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/2020/08/26/kyle-rittenhouse-charged-kenosha-protest-shootings-militia/5634532002/
Centore, Michael. “A Legacy of Nonviolence in Voluntown” Connecticut Explored https://www.ctexplored.org/sampler-the-day-peace-was-shattered-in-voluntown/
“Jacob Blake: What we know about Wisconsin police shooting” BBC https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-53909766
Lyttle, Mary Suzuki. “Minutemen Attack on New England CNVA: A Report” https://drive.google.com/file/d/1z6L8tlxYvGsCH-s7GfSV7T6HB24AiWrK/view?usp=sharing
Mihalopoulos, Dan. “Kenosha Shooting Suspect Fervently Supported 'Blue Lives,' Joined Local Militia” NPR https://www.npr.org/sections/live-updates-protests-for-racial-justice/2020/08/27/906566596/alleged-kenosha-shooter-fervently-supported-blue-lives-joined-local-militia
Peace of History
On August 17, 1993, using a giant 13,000-pound guillotine, the US Air Force began dismantling the first of 365 B-52 strategic bombers in compliance with the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I). These massive planes, each capable of carrying a payload of over 62,000 pounds, had been the backbone of the US nuclear arsenal for decades. While the treaty was largely flawed and incomplete, requiring more treaties like START II and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty later to address gaps in the first treaty, START I was the first official agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union to voluntarily reduce the number of nuclear weapons and weapons delivery systems in their respective arsenals. Despite President Reagan’s aggressive rhetoric early on, the drafting and negotiations for the treaty began in the 1980s and was signed by President George H.W. Bush in 1991 -- months after the treaty was signed, Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev would announce the end to the Cold War. While much has already been said about Reagan, Gorbachev, and how the relationship between the two men eased global tensions significantly, less attention has been given to the people on the ground who tirelessly worked for decades to move public opinion enough to make disarmament a reality.
At first glance, the 1970s, could rightly claim the title the “Disarmament Decade” given to it by the United Nations: after the signing of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968, there was the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I) in 1972 and several other negotiations promoting “detente” between the US and USSR. In actuality, nuclear weapons development actually increased in the decade, with several countries including France, China, Israel, India, and South Africa refusing to sign various test and proliferation controls. Ten nations became closer to claiming nuclear power status. In addition, the United States built 4500 new strategic nuclear warheads and bombs, more than doubling its nuclear arsenal, while the Soviet Union added over 1000 additional nuclear arms to its arsenal, bringing the total to 3650. But the 1970s was also when the connection between nuclear weapons spending, the evils of racism and colonialism, and lack of funding for the poor started to become clearer.
In 1976, the War Resisters League (WRL) organized a massive Continental Walk for Disarmament and Social Justice. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) organized the southern segment of the Walk: through Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi -- bringing the issues of war and injustice together. SCLC leaders drafted a “Bill of Particulars” regarding unemployment, revenue sharing, food stamp inequity, and capital punishment -- and put them up against nuclear spending as more worthwhile endeavors. When President Carter announced in 1977 the development of a new type of nuclear weapon, the neutron bomb, many Black citizens quickly realized that the vast funding for such a weapon could be better spent on the poor and social programs: “Instead of creating some bomb that will only wipe out people, the government should create jobs for people who want to work and provide us with an opportunity to do so. I believe that the neutron bomb is a waste of taxpayers’ money and not the best way to help the people.” These connections brought more Black people into the peace movement for the next several years. President Carter ultimately relented, ending the project the next year due to the galvanized movement against nuclear weapons, pressure from European leaders, and the objections of the US’ own ambassador to the United Nations, Andrew Young. The ambassador was particularly concerned with the unthinkable: nuclear weapons being used not by one of the world superpowers, but by a viciously racist state like apartheid South Africa against people unable to respond in kind -- thus making the deterrence principle of “mutually assured destruction” moot and opening the door to nuclear mass slaughter.
While some remained concerned with nuclear arms proliferating to other countries, with the inauguration of President Reagan, more citizens became concerned with the connection between nuclear military spending and other issues within the United States. Within the first year of his presidency, Reagan had cut several government programs that most benefited the poor, including the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program, food stamps, child nutrition programs, maternal and child health programs, and family planning -- diverting much of the money to kickstart another nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union. At the same time, newer groups like Blacks Against Nukes (BAN) were linking up with older groups, forming an enormous coalition around a new campaign: “Nuclear Freeze.” The proposal was to put a halt to all new research and production of nuclear weapons -- a simple, uncomplicated demand. On June 12, 1982, one million people demonstrated for nuclear disarmament in New York City -- the largest political demonstration in American history. The demonstration coincided with the UN’s Second Special Session on Disarmament. Despite internal issues of prejudice within some groups in the peace movement, half of the leadership at the rally was Black, and many called upon the connection between the racist defunding of social programs and the increased spending on weapons of mass murder. Two days later, WRL organized the action “Blockade the Bombmakers,” a nonviolent sit-in at the US, USSR, British, French, and Chinese missions to the UN (the five permanent member states of the UN Security Council) -- resulting in the arrest of 1665 people.
One year later, 250 thousand people gathered for the Twentieth Anniversary March marking Dr. King’s 1963 March on Washington explicitly in order to “stem the tide of rising unemployment, nuclear annihilation, and racial violence.” Speakers called for disarmament to “become public policy, not just an elusive goal” and to “radically reduce and ultimately eliminate their nuclear arsenals as well as conventional weapons; to jointly act to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons to other nations; and to reduce the record levels of military expenditures.” If the issues of racism, nuclear war, and poverty seemed disparate to most people years before when Dr. King warned of the “triple evils,” by 1983, those theoretical connections were proven by Reagan’s disastrous policies. But likewise, if the peace movement had begun to wane before Carter’s neutron bomb development and Reagan’s arms-race, its return to face these new government policies was stronger than ever.
By Reagan’s second term, the world situation looked quite different from just a few years prior. The South African apartheid government collapsed, and the nuclear program with it. Reagan had formed a strong relationship with the Premier Gorbachev, who was himself committed to disarmament and liberal reforms in the USSR. Nancy Reagan, who was increasingly managing her husband’s affairs due to his declining mental ability, came to feel strongly that disarmament was “not only in the interest of world peace, but the correct move politically.” Secretary of State George Shultz agreed: “Given the political climate in the U.S., we could not keep pace in modernization, production, and deployment of these deadly weapons.” Reagan himself admitted that “from a propaganda point of view, we were on the defensive.” In 1985, Reagan and Gorbachev together announced that “Nuclear war cannot be won and should never be fought” -- a complete turnaround from Reagan’s rhetoric just a few years prior. In 1988, Reagan and Gorbachev ratified the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which banned all land-based ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges reaching 3420 miles (this is the nuclear treaty from which President Trump withdrew in February 2019).
The final treaty before the end of the Cold War went even further -- a general reduction of the total number of nuclear arms, as well as a reduction of long-range delivery methods for those weapons. START I effectively reduced the nuclear arsenals of both the US and USSR by a quarter. Despite decades of the two world superpowers seemingly racing toward an inexorable and apocalyptic collision with each other -- incredibly, antinuclear activists succeeded in helping to shift the winds of public opinion and reverse course. Twenty-seven years and three days ago, using a giant 13,000-pound guillotine, the US Air Force began dismantling the first of 365 B-52 strategic bombers.
Why stop there?
Boyer, Paul S. Promises to Keep: The United States Since World War II. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005.
Intondi, Vincent J. African Americans Against the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Colonialism, and the Black Freedom Movement. Stanford University Press, 2015
Rotstein, Arthur H. “U.S. Air Force Turns B-52 Bombers Into Scrap Metal : Arizona: To carry out an international arms treaty, America is dismantling the planes that were once the backbone of its nuclear arsenal.” Los Angeles Times: September 11, 1994. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1994-09-11-me-37109-story.html
Schell, Jonathan. “Twenty-five years after the largest antinuclear demonstration ever, the movement has dwindled. But the threat of mass destruction grows greater.” The Nation: June 14, 2007. https://web.archive.org/web/20190512085225if_/https://www.thenation.com/article/spirit-june-12/
“TREATY BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND THE UNION OF SOVIET SOCIALIST REPUBLICS ON STRATEGIC OFFENSIVE REDUCTIONS (START I)” https://www.nti.org/learn/treaties-and-regimes/treaties-between-united-states-america-and-union-soviet-socialist-republics-strategic-offensive-reductions-start-i-start-ii/
Peace of History
Yesterday, August 12, was the 67th anniversary of the first Soviet thermonuclear detonation. The feat, occurring less than a year after the first U.S. thermonuclear detonation, was largely accomplished due to the work of nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov -- 8 years after that, Sakharov would lead the design of the largest thermonuclear detonation ever tested in human history. The man later became world-renowned as a prominent dissident of Soviet nuclear policy, and even displayed inklings of pacifist beliefs earlier in his career -- but before his full turn to activism for disarmament and human rights, he fully believed in the necessity to rapidly arm the USSR with nuclear weapons in order to “preserve the parity necessary for mutual deterrence.” The impetus for Sakharov’s turn away from his government’s nuclear policy was due largely to his deepening distrust of Premier Khrushchev and disenchantment with the Soviet system -- but it also came from a gradual reevaluation of the policy’s wisdom in the first place. It took most of the 1960s for Sakharov to develop into a full dissident. Meanwhile, movements for national liberation were sweeping the colonized world, the U.S. civil rights movement was gaining serious momentum, and the peace movement was building an international antinuclear weapons coalition. In the early 1960s, it seems that perhaps something was in the air, and Sakharov may have caught it.
Earlier in his career, Sakharov was self-contradictory and confused -- clearly in possession of a conscience, but also concerned more about the technical science and results of thermonuclear explosions than any ethical or political considerations. On the one hand, a few weeks after that first Soviet thermonuclear test in 1953, Sakharov gave a toast at a banquet with prominent military officials. From his Memoirs, he said, “May all our devices explode as successfully as today’s, but always over test sites and never over cities” -- a sentiment that provoked a lewd, blasphemous follow-up toast from a general meant to ‘squelch my pacifist sentiment, and to put me and anyone who might share these ideas in our place.’” On the other hand, 8 years later in 1961, Sakharov was instrumental in completing the largest thermonuclear test ever conducted: the 50-megaton weapon known to Americans as “Tsar Bomba.” No nuclear tests had been conducted between 1959 and the first half of 1961 by the US, UK, or USSR -- until Khrushchev suddenly ordered the resumption of testing. Sakharov himself thought that the tests were technically unnecessary, but rather politically motivated in response to a deteriorating international situation -- the US Bay of Pigs fiasco had occurred just months before, and Khrushchev was already secretly planning to build the Berlin Wall. Sakharov even gave these objections to Khrushchev, but was humiliated for it and went to work on the bomb anyway. Soon after the successful test, he even started to design a new delivery system for the bomb: a massive, nuclear-powered jet-propelled torpedo designed to obliterate ports. When he proposed the concept to Rear Admiral Fomin, however, Fomin “was shocked and disgusted by the idea of merciless mass slaughter… I was utterly abashed, and never discussed the subject with anyone else.” Clearly, Sakharov was a self-conflicted, complex person -- especially in his first couple decades as a nuclear physicist.
Coincidentally, three weeks before the Tsar Bomba test, an international American-European group of peace activists held a 2-hour silent peace vigil at the Red Square. In December of the year before, the Committee for Nonviolent Action (CNVA) had commenced the San Francisco to Moscow Walk for Peace -- a 310-day, six thousand mile walk that crossed the span of North America, the width of Europe, and finally arriving in Moscow. In every city they passed through, American or European, “free” or communist, the marchers distributed leaflets advocating unilateral disarmament, including 100,000 leaflets in Russia alone. They also gave countless public addresses engaging the public directly on the moral and existential issues of nuclear arms. The marchers even had a meeting with Nina Khrushchev, wife of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, to impress upon her the dangers of nuclear proliferation. The effect of the march, the vigils, the public addresses, the leaflets, and the meetings is difficult to judge -- Sakharov himself does not make mention of the foreign pacifists in Moscow in his memoirs despite him being in the city at the same time, working on the final tweaks to the design of Tsar Bomba. And yet, like with many political publicity stunts in the peace movement, the San Francisco to Moscow Walk was not meant to actually convince any leaders to completely and immediately disarm. Rather, the CNVA Walk challenged commonly-accepted wisdom about nuclear policy including “mutually assured destruction” (MAD), confronted censorship and misinformation on both sides of the “Iron Curtain,” and exposed the transformative possibilities of goodwill, radical peace, and respect for human rights.
It would be too much to say that the CNVA turned Andrei Sakharov to a pacifist conviction, but it would also be imprudent to dismiss the possibility that word from a stray CNVA leaflet or overheard gossip about the pacifist Americans in the Red Square would have rippled and reached the physicist. Regardless of the direct causes, by the following year, Sakharov was writing letters to Khrushchev and other officials urging to end atmospheric tests of thermonuclear devices. His warnings were mostly ignored until October 1962, when the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the United States and USSR to the brink of nuclear war. In 1963, the Kennedy and Khrushchev administrations signed the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, banning all but underground tests of nuclear weapons. As the decade continued, however, a new arms race in anti-ballistic missile technology began to accelerate. In July 1967, the Soviet government refused Sakharov’s request to initiate a public dialog about the dangers of the anti-ballistic missile arms race.
In May of the next year, Sakharov wrote the essay “Reflections on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom” in which he argued that the new arms race would ultimately lead to global nuclear war. The essay was distributed by underground dissidents in the USSR and eventually made its way to the West, where it was first published in the United States in The New York Times. For his essay, Sakharov was banned from all military-related research. He continued research into theoretical physics, but began to be better known for his political activism than his scientific achievements. In 1970, Sakharov was one of three founding members of the Committee on Human Rights in the USSR. Over the next few years, Sakharov developed contacts with Western correspondents and activists as well. The early 70s also brought professional, institutional, and governmental harassment into Sakharov’s life, further disenchanting him from his government. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975, but was prevented from traveling to accept it; his wife Yelena Bonner went to accept it in his place. In 1980, Sakharov was arrested for protesting the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and was thus sent to Gorky (Nizhny Novgorod) where he remained until Gorbachev initiated perestroika and glasnost reforms in 1986. Returning to Moscow, Sakharov became a prominent voice of government opposition, human rights, and democracy. In 1989, he was elected to the new parliament, the All-Union Congress of People’s Deputies. Although he suddenly passed away before the year was finished, Sakharov’s legacy continued to inspire within and outside of the Soviet Union -- indeed, the European Parliament still awards individuals and groups with the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
The person Andrei Sakharov was when he first began working on the Soviet nuclear weapons program was quite different from the person he became in the later 1960s and 1970s. At the same time as his political and moral awakening, an international peace and antinuclear movement was gaining momentum, directly challenging a global order maintained by the threat of nuclear annihilation anywhere -- and as Sakharov was inspired by his Western counterparts, so, too, were Westerners inspired by Sakharov. When the CNVA campaigned in New London and Groton, Connecticut in 1960 to protest the production of the world’s first nuclear-armed submarines, some of the workers at General Dynamics: Electric Boat told them to “tell it to the Russians” -- so they walked over 6000 miles and did just that. Perhaps some listened -- perhaps the message even reached the Soviet senior nuclear weapons designer, a certain Andrei Sakharov. Which begs the question: if the head of the Soviet nuclear weapons program could turn completely around on the issue at the height of the Cold War, why not our neighbors and friends involved in our own country’s military-industrial complex today?
Any further connective claims are outside the scope of this piece, but let us content ourselves with the message that Andrei Sakharov conveyed with his life: when persons of conviction speak up and take a stand, they will inevitably inspire others to do the same.
“Andrei D. Sakharov” https://www.atomicheritage.org/profile/andrei-d-sakharov
“Anti-war activists march to Moscow for peace, 1960-1961” https://nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu/content/anti-war-activists-march-moscow-peace-1960-1961
“Papers of the European Organiser of the American-European Peace March from San Francisco to Moscow” https://web.archive.org/web/20110929001617/http://archiveshub.ac.uk/features/peacemarch.html
Sakharov, Andrei. Memoirs. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990. https://archive.org/details/memoirs00sakh
Sakharov, Andrei. “Thoughts on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom” New York Times https://int.nyt.com/data/documenthelper/94-read-sakharov-s-original-essay/b639f1e6e0f204e3ad9a/optimized/full.pdf#page=1
“Soviet Hydrogen Bomb Program” https://www.atomicheritage.org/history/soviet-hydrogen-bomb-program
“THE THEORY OF ‘CONVERGENCE’ AND/OR ‘FUTUROLOGY’” https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP79-01194A000400140001-7.pdf
Content Warning: violence, racist language, mention of racist atrocities, mass death
A version of this story was also published at Waging Nonviolence.
For this week’s Peace of History:
We solemnly recognize today as the 75th anniversary of the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan -- the first time atomic weapons were used in war. Attempting to estimate the number of casualties is difficult, and it is possible that our estimates are over-conservative, but early attempts place the figure at 70,000 dead by the end of the year, while more recent reevaluations estimate at least 140,000 lives lost. Three days after the initial attack, the United States dropped a plutonium bomb on the port city Nagasaki, killing at least 40,000 and as many as 70,000 people or more. Within months, almost a quarter million would be dead from just the two attacks -- overwhelmingly civilians. Much has been written about the morality and military expediency of using the bomb -- but missing from many of these discussions is a critical examination of the extreme racist hatred that rapidly developed in the United States against people of Japanese descent, and how that led to the annihilation of two cities. But also missing is the recognition that African-Americans were some of the first in the country to voice concern about or even condemn the bomb, and that Black leftists were some of the first to draw the connections between colonialism, racism, capitalism, and war.
The general American hatred for the Japanese during WWII cannot be overstated. Thanks to the tireless activism of younger Japanese-Americans in the 1960s and 1970s, many Americans now know about the inhumane internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII -- less know that Nazi POWs held in American camps were often treated with musical, theatrical, and even movie showings on most nights, set up volleyball leagues with their guards, were invited to dances and other social events, and would even be able to visit shops and restaurants in town that Black American G.I.s could not. Some historians have pointed out that most Americans at the time could differentiate between Nazis and Germans, fascists and Italians -- but with Japan, all Japanese people were not only suspect, but by their very nature the enemy. Everything was done to dehumanize Japanese people, from seemingly all major forces of society:
Indeed, by the end of the war and even well past it, the general mood in the United States was one of vicious and unrestrained vengeance for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which claimed 2403 American lives, 50 of whom were civilians. Polls were conducted periodically after the end of the war regarding citizens’ attitudes towards this new weapon of mass destruction: the results are somewhat disturbing. Less than a week after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 85% of Americans approved of the attacks according to a Gallup poll. Indeed, historian Lawrence Wittner notes that through late 1945, in all the polls conducted on the issue, none saw more than 4.5% of respondents opposing the use of the atomic weapons. In fact, when one Roper poll proposed that we should have: (1) not used the bombs at all, (2) dropped the first in an unpopulated area and the second on a city if they don’t surrender, (3) used the bombs as we did, (4) used many more bombs before they could surrender, (5) don’t know -- 22.7% of respondents answered with option #4. Two months after defeating the enemy, almost a quarter of respondents prioritized killing as many Japanese people as possible.
Meanwhile, a new generation of African-Americans had won positions in the sciences, in certain parts of the military, and in other previously inaccessible fields. After the Japanese surrender, Black newspapers and magazines of the time frequently made note of Black chemists, physicists, and other scientists who had worked on the atomic bomb. Many Black moderates had believed that such contributions to the war effort -- from normal Black soldiers fighting valorously, to Black scientists harnessing the power of the atom -- would win greater freedoms and opportunities for Black people in America after the war.
But even still, some of the earliest criticisms of the atomic bomb came from African-American communities. Of course Black America is not a monolith but contains a multiplicity of diverse opinions -- even so, concern about the bomb was noticeably higher in Black communities than in White ones. Indeed, the warnings and recommendations of the racially integrated National Committee on Atomic Information more closely followed Black concerns about atomic weapons than they did general White-dominant American concerns. Conservative journalist George Schuyler wrote about the horrors of “murder of men wholesale” and “being able to slaughter whole cities at a time” -- atrocities that only maintain white supremacy in the world. Clergy members began to speak up too. Reverend J.E. Elliot of St. Luke Chapel: “I have seen the course of discrimination throughout the war and the fact that Japan is of a darker race is no excuse for resorting to such an atrocity.” Reverend Louis F. Lomax of Taber Presbyterian Church: “[The atomic bomb is a] diabolical weapon [and] man has more scientific knowledge than religion to control it.” In 1946, the NAACP called for nuclear disarmament at its annual conference. Poet Langston Hughes, author Zora Neale Hurston, NAACP leader Walter White, and many others were early critics of atomic weapons -- some becoming political for the first time.
But it was really the Black leftists who saw the connections between racism, colonialism, and war early on. For many of them, it started with the 1935 Italian invasion of Ethiopia -- the last holdout of African resistance to European colonialism. The invasion made it clear to Black leftists that colonialism was at its core a perpetual war of racial domination. The event radicalized many African-Americans. Singer and actor Paul Robeson noted that since the invasion, “the parallel between [African Americans’] own interests and those of oppressed peoples abroad had been impressed upon him daily.” W.E.B. Du Bois wrote about his fear that “If power can be held through atomic bombs, colonial peoples may never be free.” In 1942, James Farmer along with A.J. Muste, George Houser, and others founded the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), which grew out of the pacifist movement including the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Harlem Ashram. Marjorie Swann, co-founder of the Committee for Nonviolent Action (CNVA) which started the Voluntown Peace Trust, was also a charter member. Bayard Rustin gave support as an “uncle” to CORE, a role he played for so many organizations. Six years later, CORE joined two hundred other activists in Chicago to form a new “revolutionary pacifism” which included campaigning against building nuclear weapons. From this conference emerged the Peacemakers -- one of the very first groups outside of the scientific community to organize opposition to nuclear-arms proliferation. Among the founders were Wally Nelson, one of CORE’s first nonviolence trainers, as well as his partner Juanita -- both would become dear friends of CNVA/Voluntown Peace Trust. The Peacemakers and CNVA became influential groups that would train countless activists and organizers in the peace, justice, and civil rights movements.
In 1946, Paul Robeson gave a scathing, brilliant speech about the connections between nuclear weapons and racism against the Japanese and Black liberation: “it is all part of one problem, this matter of discrimination and it may be the foremost question facing us today in the atomic age.” Robeson puts the crux of the problem not on the weapon itself, but on the ideologies and prejudices that compel the use of the weapons at all. As a rising Black performer with much to lose, Robeson continued, drawing these dangerous connections between racism, capitalism, colonialism, war, and ultimately, extinction: “Our government is getting uranium from the Belgian Congo for atomic bombs. American companies are prospecting for oil in Ethiopia and for minerals in Liberia...these manifestations of a new and heightened interest in Africa on the part of American Big Business represent a challenge to the rest of us...We on the anti-imperialist side are handicapped by lack of money, lack of powerful organization, lack of influence in state and international affairs. But, although the enemy has all the advantage and has a head start in the race, it is yet possible for us to catch up and win. It is possible to win if the majority of the American people can be brought to see and understand in the fullest sense the fact that the struggle in which we are engaged is not a matter of mere humanitarian sentiment, but of life and death. The only alternative to world freedom is world annihilation.”
Intondi, Vincent J. African Americans Against the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Colonialism, and the Black Freedom Movement. Stanford University Press, 2015
Miles, Hannah. “WWII Propaganda: The Influence of Racism” https://artifactsjournal.missouri.edu/2012/03/wwii-propaganda-the-influence-of-racism/
“Pearl Harbor Casualties” http://www.pearlharbor.us/casualties/
Wellerstein, Alex. “Counting the dead at Hiroshima and Nagasaki” https://thebulletin.org/2020/08/counting-the-dead-at-hiroshima-and-nagasaki/
For this week’s Peace of History:
Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the successful end of the 5-year Delano Grape Strike, which saw the formation of the United Farm Workers of America (UFW) and the rise of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta as legendary figures in the labor movement. And yet much has been forgotten, written out, or otherwise misunderstood about why the strike started in the first place, who was involved, how it succeeded, and what followed. Too often, key pieces of contextual history are excluded from the telling of a story. A more complete history of the founding of the UFW must include the story of Larry Itliong’s leadership, the initial unity of the Filipino-American manong generation and Mexican-American farm workers, and the dangers of placing too much power in the hands of a single person. To understand the Delano Grape Strike, we must trace back two separate lines, how they came together, and why they frayed apart.
Following the Spanish-American War (1898) and the Philippine-American War (1899-1902), the United States aggressively colonized the Philippines on multiple fronts. As a result of colonization, from 1917 to 1934, the tens of thousands of Filipino immigrants to the United States in the early 20th century did not face the heavy immigration restrictions that other Asians received, and many Filipino immigrants did not initially feel like such outsiders. Upon immigrating, however, Filipinos often suffered racist violence, prejudice, and segregation. It was not unknown for bosses to physically whip and beat Filipino workers, call grown men “boys,” and perform other acts of dehumanization. Moreover, in 1934, Congress changed immigration laws to change the status of all Filipino-American citizens to “alien,” and to restrict new Filipino immigration similarly to other Asians. Furthermore, anti-miscegenation laws prevented “Whites” (including most Hispanics) from marrying “Blacks,” “Asians,” and after 1930, “Filipinos.” With a gender disparity of 14 men to 1 woman in Filipino immigration in the early 20th century, this lost generation of mostly unmarried men became known as the manong (“older brother”) generation to later Filipino immigrants.
The manong formed alternative communities and economies based both on their Ilocano Filipino heritage and on the new itinerant lifestyles many had adopted in the United States. While some Filipinos came to participate in American universities, the vast majority were young men seeking migrant manual labor. These mostly male communities dotted along the west coast and relied as much on the migrant Filipino agricultural workers as the workers did on these communities. Through years of traveling, working, eating, and sleeping side-by-side together, the manong developed a strong group identity and mutual trust with each other. Thus, they also started organizing as workers in the face of racist exploitation early on. When Larry Itliong immigrated to the United States in 1929 at the age of 15, Itliong found manong already starting to organize, and he quickly got involved. Over the years, Itliong helped to organize cannery and agricultural workers unions from Alaska’s dangerous fisheries in the north to California’s massive plantations in the south. Larry Itliong became known among the other manong for his charisma, militance, and skill in organizing. The 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s saw frequent, sometimes violent resistance from Filipino laborers in the United States, which was often successful at winning higher wages and other short-term concessions, but never resulted in written contracts with codified improvements.
At first, the Delano Grape Strike in 1965 seemed to follow the pattern. The predominantly Filipino Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) led by Larry Itliong had won a strike months earlier in May against Coachella Valley grape growers ended with the typical results: no contract. Moving north to Delano in September, Filipino workers asked the AWOC to help organize a strike to win the same wages as in Coachella Valley. The strike began on September 8. Mexican-American workers, however, had also migrated into the area, and could easily provide the scab labor for the grape growers -- another pattern which had previously often led to Filipino workers physically confronting and fighting Mexican-American workers. But this was 1965: Dr. King’s message of interracial harmony, equal justice, and nonviolent methods were world-famous. Things were different now. And besides, by this time, most of the manongs were in their 50s and 60s, their bodies weathered by decades of manual labor -- Larry Itliong himself had years ago lost three fingers in a fishing accident. Itliong evaluated the situation carefully.
Around the same time, Mexican-American workers on the west coast were starting to organize. The bracero federal workers program had ended in 1964, opening up more opportunities for Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta to organize primarily Mexican-Americans working in agriculture. Chavez dreamed of leading a Chicano movement, with labor a key component. Huerta had already demonstrated her skill in community organizing with her work improving conditions in barrios, and looked to the farm workers as the next step. The two formed the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) in 1962, grew the membership rapidly, and in April 1965, helped to organize a short, successful strike for rose grafters. The NFWA’s reputation was growing steadily, but Chavez himself felt that they would not be ready for a large-scale strike for at least another three years. And yet, when Larry Itliong approached Chavez personally to join the strike, Chavez felt backed into a corner. The issue was put to a vote with the NFWA, and on September 16, Mexican Independence Day, an overwhelming majority of the more than twelve hundred of his union members voted in support of the Filipino workers. For years after, Mexican and manong workers alike picketed together, ate or went hungry together, and slept on the same dusty cold floors together.
With the NFWA’s superior numbers, Chavez quickly took over organization of the strike, sending representatives to the Longshoremen to convince them not to pack grapes. Soon, the United Automobile Workers pledged financial support to the strikers. Inspired by the boycott tactic popular in the Civil Rights Movement, Chavez met with SNCC to learn their methods and foster an alliance. They started a national boycott of California grapes, with Dolores Huerta coordinating a campaign that sent hundreds of strikers across the country to share their stories. Chavez eventually led a 300-mile march from Delano to Sacramento to draw attention to the farm workers’ plight. The message was simple and clear: tens of thousands of strikers are making enormous sacrifices to secure labor justice and dignity as workers -- but average Americans can help by making the small sacrifice of abstaining from grapes. Unlike many of the boycotts of the Southern Civil Rights Movement, which were usually focused on local or regional businesses, the farm workers’ boycott campaign brought distant struggles for justice into countless grocery stores and suburban homes. This strategy proved to be particularly effective, and laid the groundwork for the success of future national boycotts like the Lettuce Boycott of 1970-1971 and the Gallo Wine Boycott of 1973-1978.
About a year into the strike, the AWOC and the much larger NFWA merged to form the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee, later known as the United Farm Workers of America (UFW), with Chavez as General Director and Itliong as Assistant Director. It was well-known, however, that Chavez organized around himself as a “one man union” with a few close, ambitious, like-minded confidantes like Huerta to carry the rest of the responsibilities. Itliong and other Filipino labor leaders found themselves a “minority within a minority,” filling largely symbolic roles in a union that increasingly seemed to forget about the very workers who started the strike in the first place.
After five long years, in July 1970, the UFW won the strike over the Delano grape growers, and a contract for the agricultural workers specifying codified rules to improve conditions in the fields -- a first for the manong. But provisions negotiated by Chavez and Huerta also implemented hiring systems that drastically disrupted manong communities, many of whom still had no families or savings for support. The concerns of these aging Filipino men were increasingly ignored as they became a smaller and smaller minority in an organization they helped found. Chavez appointed Itliong the National Boycott Coordinator of the UFW in 1970, but Itliong increasingly felt uncomfortable with his own unelected position and how Chavez ran the union. In 1971, Itliong resigned from the UFW, citing the lack of concern for the manong workers and Chavez’ particular leadership style as his reasons. A key figure in the Asian American Movement, Larry Itliong continued to organize and advocate for his fellow manong workers until his death in 1977. Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez went on to become powerful figures in the labor and Chicano movements, and undoubtedly effected positive changes for countless workers. Utilitarianism posits that whatever effects the greatest good for the greatest number of people is the most ethical choice -- under such an analysis, the UFW’s victory in the Delano Grape Strike was an overwhelming success. But at the same time, many manong concerns were neglected, and some ended up worse off than before. As we build up our own groups and form coalitions, let us not repeat the mistake of the UFW. Let us remember the minority within the minority.
“The 1965-1970 Delano Grape Strike and Boycott” https://ufw.org/1965-1970-delano-grape-strike-boycott/
“‘A Minority Within a Minority’: Filipinos in the United Farmworkers Movement” https://prizedwriting.ucdavis.edu/sites/prizedwriting.ucdavis.edu/files/sitewide/Barbadillo_vol28.pdf
“COACHELLA VALLEY: Filipinos’ 1965 strike set stage for farm labor cause” https://www.pe.com/2005/09/03/coachella-valley-filipinos-1965-strike-set-stage-for-farm-labor-cause/
The Delano Manongs: Forgotten Heroes of the UFW https://www.pbs.org/video/kvie-viewfinder-delano-manongs/
Dunne, John Gregory. Delano: The Story of the California Grape Strike. 1971 https://books.google.com/books?id=GQ1JkSnNmLQC&pg=PA77#v=onepage&q&f=false
Jiobu, Robert M. Ethnicity and Assimilation: Blacks, Chinese, Filipinos, Koreans, Japanese, Mexicans, Vietnamese, and Whites. 1988
“The Forgotten Filipino-Americans Who Led the ’65 Delano Grape Strike” https://www.kqed.org/news/10666155/50-years-later-the-forgotten-origins-of-the-historic-delano-grape-strike
“Forgotten Hero of Labor Fight; His Son’s Lonely Quest” https://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/19/us/larry-itliong-forgotten-filipino-labor-leader.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
For this week’s Peace of History:
We mourn the deaths of the Rev. C.T. Vivian and Representative John Lewis, who both passed away last week on Friday, July 17, 2020. Their experiences in the Civil Rights Movement, in different but intersecting ways, feel especially pertinent for us to examine in our present historic moment. As the Black Lives Matter movement grows and enters a new phase, and many are wondering what comes next -- let us honor the memories of these lifelong titans in the struggle for justice by examining their early experiences with nonviolent action and their roles in the campaign that shaped a generation of protests: the Nashville Lunch Counter Sit-Ins.
C.T. Vivian’s first experience with nonviolent action happened earlier than many of his peers. In Peoria, IL, 1947, Vivian became involved in his first sit-in campaign to desegregate local lunch counters and restaurants when he met Ben Alexander, a member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and a local minister. They led a successful campaign using the methods developed by CORE: asserting a nonthreatening but absolutely unavoidable presence to confront consciences directly.
Over a decade later, upon being called to ministry, Vivian went to Nashville to study at the American Baptist Theological Seminary. There, in 1959, he met James Lawson, who was teaching Gandhi’s principles and strategies that he had learned in India. Lawson was a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), the southern director of CORE, and was himself enrolled at the Divinity School at Vanderbilt University -- so he started his nonviolent trainings with other ministers and Black students who attended several colleges in Nashville. Students drawn to the workshops included Diane Nash, Bernard Lafayette, James Bevel, and none other than John Lewis. Many were skeptical going in, but later became some of the most disciplined practitioners and outspoken proponents. Vivian, although having experienced a nonviolent action campaign in practice before, still did the workshops to learn the strategic principles and greater social philosophy of nonviolence, and became a skilled trainer himself.
Lawson started leading these training sessions sporadically out of the basement of his church in 1958, as he got to know C.T. Vivian and other Black ministers and students in Nashville. By the Fall of 1959, more students and young people were becoming interested, momentum had picked up, and Lawson held trainings every Tuesday night for at least the 5 months before the Nashville Sit-In campaign would commence. John Lewis, like so many others of his peers, was enraptured. Also in school for the ministry at American Baptist Theological Seminary, Lewis heard Lawson discussing nonviolence and felt that “it was something I’d been searching for my whole life.” Lewis, like Vivian, quickly became immersed in the nascent movement, becoming a founding member of the Nashville Student Movement in October 1959. Four months later, on February 13, 1960, in-part inspired by the start of the Greensboro Sit-Ins less than two weeks prior, the students initiated their first sit-ins in downtown Nashville.
No one could have known that the success of the Nashville Sit-In campaign would have such immense and lasting consequences. One effect was that the student-leaders emerging from the campaign quickly formed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and some members trained by James Lawson went to train more people in other cities across the South -- seeding the principles, strategies, and practices of nonviolent direct action across the region. Others, like John Lewis and C.T. Vivian, built upon the practice of nonviolent action. On May 4, 1961, Lewis joined 6 other African-Americans and six white allies from the North when CORE revived an old FOR project: the integrated Freedom Rides through the South. C.T. Vivian participated in some of the last Freedom Rides that summer, despite the continuing violence against Riders. Lewis and Vivian both suffered nearly deadly attacks on multiple occasions, but when the rest of CORE decided to shift priorities elsewhere, in part to avoid further violence, Lewis, Vivian, and Diane Nash had SNCC take over the project, successfully completing the last rides in August of that year.
As we look at the chain of events that would lead to John Lewis addressing over 200,000 people alongside Dr. King at the 1963 March on Washington, to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, to C.T. Vivian’s founding of Upward Bound in 1965, Black Action Strategies and Information Center (BASICS) in 1977, and Center for Democratic Renewal with Anne Braden in 1979, and beyond -- we have the privilege of knowing how the stories of C.T. Vivian and John Lewis end. Those foundational experiences, especially those early training workshops and action campaigns, almost read like convenient origin stories for legendary persons like Vivian and Lewis. But it is essential for us to remember that the early successes of the Civil Rights Movement did not come from nowhere, but instead emerged from months of educating, training, and coordinating. James Lawson tilled the soil and planted the seeds -- but he could not have known that his students like C.T. Vivian and John Lewis would carry the fruits of his labors so far. Now, it is our turn.
CALL TO ACTION: Voluntown Peace Trust is planning to run a ~2 hour Intro to Direct Action Workshop next week, between Monday and Thursday. This 2-hour Zoom workshop explores one of the most foundational campaigns in the Civil Rights Movement, which took place in 1960 and still has much to teach us today. Both John Lewis and C.T. Vivien, who died this past week, were involved. The 25-minute documentary “Nashville: We Were Warriors” from “A Force More Powerful” shows the power of nonviolent action training and how strategic planning can create a successful campaign, while introducing us to the students and ministers who were at the core of this campaign and who went on to be key strategists, organizers, and trainers in the Civil Rights Movement. Rev. James Lawson’s workshops in Nashville were the training grounds. This workshop’s agenda includes exercises to help us better understand the lessons they learned about strategic nonviolent actions.
“C.T. Vivian” http://www.ctovma.org/ctvivian.php
“C.T. Vivian, civil rights hero and intellectual, dead at 95” https://www.ajc.com/news/ct-vivian-civil-rights-hero-and-intellectual-dead-at-95/2GOB7SU7MZDHJADH63LIKYHK6M/
“C.T. Vivian, Martin Luther King’s Field General, Dies at 95” https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/17/us/ct-vivian-dead.html
“Jim Lawson Conducts Nonviolence Workshops in Nashville” https://snccdigital.org/events/jim-lawson-conducts-nonviolent-workshops-in-nashville/
“John Lewis” https://snccdigital.org/people/john-lewis/
“John Lewis recounts Freedom Rides, 50 years later” https://www.ajc.com/news/local/john-lewis-recounts-freedom-rides-years-later/mz9l7sgB4TYxhWqbAeS51O/
“John Lewis, Towering Figure of Civil Rights Era, Dies at 80” https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/17/us/john-lewis-dead.html
“Oral History Interview: Reverend C.T. Vivian” https://www.crmvet.org/nars/vivian2.htm