To the Editors:
Readers of the New York Review of Books may be interested in the following letter which I received from Frank Femia of the “Boston Two” group mentioned in my article on “The Ultra-Resistance” in the September 25th issue.
P.O. Box 888
Ashland, Kentucky 41101
September 19, 1969
After reading your article concerning the “Ultra-Resistance” I was caught at a crossroads, wanting very much to explain Suzi’s and my actions and at the same time wanting to remain aloof from the press….
What seems to me to have happened is that draft file destruction has become sanctified by the movement. Most of the people I spoke to after the raid on Local Board #30 seemed to think that, yes, it’s a beautiful thing to do, but we’ll watch in awe and mystery while you perform the liturgical rites of purification. Most people seem to think that this act is something to be done by the hierarchy. What Suzi and I tried to do was to say, Look—we are just ordinary people—just like you and the person next to you. We have taken an action that we feel should be taken by more people. Suzi, the attractive daughter of a university professor, has been in the movement for years. She has kept the east coast movement on the edge of its seat as she courageously witnessed for peace and freedom in her fasts and acts of civil disobedience. But above all, Suzi is not a movement heroine—she is a human being, the same as all of us.
I am afraid that I came to be active in the movement only after some encouragement from my local board. They had been so kind as to classify me I-O and then, much to my surprise, a few months later, after I had begun work at Friends Hospital in Philadelphia they revoked my I-O and classified me I-A. Working with the Quakers did something to my way of thought. I realized that I could not possibly in good conscience appeal the decision of the draft board but must cease all cooperation with the board. This eventually led to my refusal of induction. But one thought that kept being persistent, especially after the actions of the Baltimore 4 and Catonsville 9, was, if I’m going to go to prison, why not go for something good. I mean, many of us who call ourselves pacifists live in our ivory towers spouting words like “witness” and “morality” as if we were judges and gods of the world. Many pacifists have taken the attitude that they have risen above such minor squabbles as political effectiveness, etc. I do not mean to hide away the thought of morality or witness. But I do wish to stress it even more by bringing another aspect to the picture—effectiveness. Why not combine morality, philosophy, and politics?
The more I thought of it, the more it seemed the right and proper thing to do. So we decided one night that the next morning we would restore to the young men of Local Board #30 the freedom which Selective Service had taken away from them. One of the things we essentially said was, Young men, if you feel that you must enter this war—the choice is yours. If you feel that the war is wrong, then do something about it. We tried as best we could to give them back the moral choice of killing or not killing. Both of us feel, and I’m sure many agree with us, that killing someone is an intensely personal act and cannot be relegated by military or paramilitary organizations. Some people have said that our act was a violent one. It is precisely because we are pacifist that we destroyed those files. We consider what we have done to be in the nonviolent tradition of civil disobedience and creative vandalism. The same spirit of creative vandalism that prompted the Boston Tea Party….
We, especially here in America, tend too much to put people in categories. People are priests, lawyers, doctors, hippies, straights, leftists, C.O.’s, etc. What we must do is to realize that all men are human beings, and that we must relate to people as human beings. So prison life helps me see more than ever the real oppression that is upon the people. Whenever we want to, movement people can cut their hair, shave and go back to the “straight” world. Not so with the people here. Their world is real no matter where they are. There is no “straight world” for them to retreat into. They have been born into poverty and most likely, poverty will be their lot in life. So in a sense, the others here are much more political prisoners than we are. The reasons are apparent.
So please forgive me for not having the Thomist preciseness of Reverend Doctor Father Mullaney, or the scholasticism of Brother Basil, what we want to say has not yet been put in texts. It is not cold and does not follow any set pattern. It is merely (merely?) the story told over and over again. The story that love is where it’s at. I’m afraid that this letter has sounded much too serious. I did not intend that. Love and joy and peace and all good things is what the revolution is about. S.D.S. rhetoric is irrelevant. I’m not interested in closing down universities. I’m much more interested in closing down Selective Service. I distrust student militants. Romantic revolutionary rhetoric is what most spout but when the time comes for putting up or shutting up, most S.D.S. kids (yes, kids) shut up. Too many groups are caught up in just being groups. The time is here for simple things like brotherhood, love, peace, joy, babies, men and women, clouds, rain, grass (both kinds), happiness, understanding, compassion, and truth. I’m not interested in dialectical materialism, I am interested in people and living. Love is the only reality.
Frank (Femia 17835-AK)
P.S. After reading this over it has occurred to me that I have given some of the motives for our actions, but have omitted any description of the actions themselves. On the following pages is a description of what happened on the night of June 3, 1968 and the morning of June 4, 1968. And the subsequent happenings!
After a discussion on the destruction of property, Suzi and I decided that on the following morning, June 4, 1968, we would enter Local Board #30, in the Customs House, in Boston Mass. and pour black paint over their files. This is what happened. We left the house where we were staying and bought two quarts of black paint at the first hardware store we came across. We took the subway. I remember being terribly nervous, and as scared as a five year old on the first day of school. (It seems to me now that I learned so very much on that day.) We sat in Post Office Square and opened the paint cans, but leaving the partially opened cans in the brown paper bags we were carrying. (In prison, brown paper bags have a somewhat poor rating among prisoners.) We entered the Customs House and were approached by a man who asked what we wanted. We told him that we were looking for Local Board #30 and he pointed to the elevators and said it was on the eleventh floor. After stepping off the elevators we walked into the office itself, recognized the I-A files, opened the drawers and started pouring in the paint. There were two clerks in the office at the time and one stood up and asked us what we were doing. With my mind racing in a million different directions at the same time, I found it impossible to answer. Suzi continued to pour the paint.
We then discovered that a more thorough job would be done if we smeared it with our hands. (It, being the paint.) At this point both clerks left the office. We continued our artistic expression and when we were finished the two clerks along with several men entered the office. With our work completed, we felt (or more appropriately I should say I felt, as I’ve never asked Suzi how she felt during that time) holy and at the same time I felt a strange sensation of joy. The superintendent of the building informed us that we were in a federal building and that we had made quite a mess. He then ordered us to leave. We were dumbfounded. We had expected an immediate arrest. He then ordered us again to leave. (I thought I had misunderstood the first order!) We started toward the door of the office when he ordered us to stop (“Ah! The arrest!”). “Leave the paint cans here.” We placed the paint cans on the file cabinets. “Now leave.” We again started towards the door. “Wait a minute” (Is this the bust?). We stopped. The superintendent then assigned one of the men with him the job of seeing that we got out of the building. That man escorted us onto the elevator, and out the door. (Walking ahead of us for a brief moment to open the door for us.)
Two weeks later I was arrested for refusing induction. I was incarcerated in the District of Columbia Detention Center. I fasted from food and water for five days and was subsequently released on bail. The months of June and July were spent in court appearances for refusing induction. On August 12, 1968 I was convicted of refusing to report for induction. Sentencing was set for September 9, 1968. I asked for and was given permission to visit my father in Philadelphia. (My local board being in W. Va., my trial was held in Huntington, W. Va. The reason I was kept in the D.C. Detention Center was that I was arrested at the Supreme Court during a female draft card burning.) While in Philadelphia, I learned that the Farm (the headquarters of the New England Committee for Non-Violent Action, at Voluntown, Conn.) had been attacked by the Minutemen. Having lived at the farm for most of my active movement days, I responded by leaving Philadelphia and journeying to the farm. While I was there Suzi also arrived, as she also has close ties with the farm, at one time being secretary for the organization. While we were there we learned that we were to appear before Judge Garrity in Boston for arraignment on the charges of
1) destruction and depredation of government property not in excess of $100.
2) destruction of public records.
3) interfering with Selective Service and conspiracy to do so.
We wrote to the US Attorney and explained to him that we were both pacifists and could not in good conscience attend the arraignment, because that would be cooperating with a coercive and therefore inherently violent institution. We refused to show. Meanwhile September 9, 1968 is upon us. I returned to West Virginia to be sentenced for refusing to report for induction. I had pled guilty, with the philosophy that, yes, I had refused induction, and that was one of the truly beautiful things I had ever done in my life. Judge Sidney L. Christie, of the Southern District of West Virginia, Huntington, West Virginia remanded me to the custody of the Attorney General for the next four years. (My one thought at the Time: “I guess that means I’ve been sentenced to four years!”) I couldn’t help myself, but started laughing in the court room. I was quickly whisked away to the Cabell County Jail.
A week later I find myself on my way to Boston. Suzi refused to plead and a plea of not guilty was entered for her. I pled guilty to the first two charges and not guilty to the third because of the phrase, “by force and otherwise.” That seemed to hint of violence. The third charge was dropped against both of us. After a month of court appearances and trial, we were sentenced on October 14, 1968. Suzi was sentenced under the Youth Corrections Act (0-6 years; eligible for parole at any time, but the sentence was later reduced to one year), and I was sentenced to one year to be served on and after the completion of my present sentence of four years…. Suzi was sent to the Women’s Federal Reformatory and I was eventually taken to the Federal Reformatory at Petersburg, Va. (Suzi’s present place of dwelling is W.F.R., Alderson, West Virginia.) I was transferred to the Federal Youth Center, here in Ashland, Kentucky after causing a stir, along with three other C.O.’s because of discrimination against Selective Service violators at Petersburg.
Suzi will be out November 23, 1969 (a little longer than a year, but then again she escaped and was given a six month consecutive sentence after she was re-arrested), and I go up for parole in April of 1970.
Life is good to both of us. We live. We love. We wish life and love for you.