A Letter to Jerry Rubin (and Our Brothers and Sisters in the Movement)
I read your letter and I said to myself, You’re a good guy, Jerry, you’re in a tight spot, but don’t let yourself go all grim and bitter. Stay loose, stay zany, defy the bastards. I like to remember you in those last long hours on the steps of the Pentagon, still warm and mobile, keeping it going long after Mailer had gone home to his goddam dinner party. Don’t forget it.
The trouble is, now, in this letter, you talk too fast and too easy. Good, but not good enough. Not clear enough. Not honest enough. Not enough real sense of others, of solidarity. Too much like a speech, too busy making points.
For example, you say, “The movement is more concerned with ideological debate, organizational games, and in-fighting than with creating a family. But our movement is only as strong as the friendships within it. Our only real strength is in our identification with one another.” Right. But a little earlier you were busy shitting on four of us who are your friends, and on thousands of others you don’t know and apparently never bothered to find out about. (The movement is bigger and broader than you think it is.) I’m talking about the people who came out strong in support of us (Spock, Ferber, Coffin, and me) and in support of the draft resisters right from the start.
You say, “When America arrested the Baby Doctor…I was ecstatic: the next day I actually expected thousands of intellectuals and religious folk to stand on soapboxes and repeat Spock’s words. Fuck. No one hardly said a word.”
That’s crap. And what bothers me is that I think you know it’s crap—otherwise you wouldn’t be coming on with that Huck Finn shuck: “No one hardly said a word.”
The fact is: Thousands did exactly what you said they didn’t do. Thousands of intellectuals and religious folk and others moved in support of us and the draft resisters—and they weren’t just talking.
Maybe I’d better spell it out for you, since the movement papers did almost as lousy a job as the regular press in reporting it. There isn’t room for all of it; what follows are some of the high points.
1) Within 48 hours of our indictment, 90 professional people in St. Louis sent a telegram to the Attorney General to tell him they had done and were doing exactly what we had done, that they would go on doing it, and expected to be indicted for it.
2) On January 14, 1968, at Town Hall in New York, almost 600 people came out of the audience and on to the platform to join Mike Ferber and me and three draft resisters in our “crime.” They signed their names and addresses on the backs of envelopes printed with the message that they were hereby, face to face, aiding, abetting, and counselling these three guys to resist the draft. They put money (“aid”) into those envelopes—thousands of dollars—and handed them to the resisters, in full view of the attendant FBI. They then signed a scroll bearing the same message. Among those hundreds of people were housewives, professors, clergy, New York City schoolteachers, Allen Ginsberg, Noam Chomsky, Grace Paley, Doug Doud, et al. One of the most moving acts of defiance most of us had ever seen. On February 4 in Town Hall it happened again—about 300 this time, with draft resisters from all over the country.1
Again and again it happened: in Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago.
3) On the day we were arraigned in Boston, the Resistance organized a “Service of Rededication” in the Arlington Street Church, one of the scenes of our crime. Again: 29 guys came up and handed their draft cards to five “intellectuals and religious folk” joined in a “conspiracy”: Dave Dellinger, Phil Berrigan, Dick Mumma (chaplain at Harvard), Rabbi Pollack (chaplain at M.I.T.), and Victor Jokel of the Arlington St. Church.
4) A few days later in New York, another “conspiracy” to aid and abet. This time Paul Goodman, Dwight Macdonald, Dave McReynolds, Muriel Rukeyser, Theodore Solataroff and Father David Kirk got together in front of TV cameras and reporters, tore up the cards of two new resisters, and sent them with a letter to the Attorney General, saying, “Indict us.”
5) From January to June, statements of support for Spock and the rest of us were circulated. On these, 26,000 people signed to say that we were right, and that if we went to jail they would take our places.2
But how is it, in the first place, that you don’t even mention The Resistance, only the “hippie-yippie-SDS-movement”? The Resistance was the spearhead, the cutting edge of the anti-war movement, the bravest guys in America. They’ve gone and are still going to jail for it, by the thousands. And they were a “family,” and in the prisons they remain so; they’re not “individuals…left alone,” nor are they forgotten.
What did they do? Frank Bardacke, one of the Oakland Seven, said it: “Although most of the Left admired the passion and eloquence of the Resistance leaders they disapproved of burning and turning in draft cards as an anti-draft tactic. They claimed that the Resistance was moving back to a position of apolitical moral witness and they demanded to know what was the political purpose of spending five years in jail.
“Never has the Left so thoroughly missed the point. The Resistance made Stop the Draft Week possible. Young men burning their draft cards on Sproul Hall steps changed the political mood of the campus. This example and that of the hundreds who turned in their draft cards gave the rest of us courage. Just as Stop the Draft Week was supposed to strengthen those who might say “no” to the draft, the Resistance strengthened the students who participated in Stop the Draft Week. They taught us that anti-draft work is serious, and that a man cannot work against the draft without taking risks. They risked five years in jail and therefore we were able to risk being beaten up or arrested.
“The men of the Resistance also taught us something about freedom… Once they had turned in their draft cards they could act as free men ready to accept the private consequences of their acts. These free men spoke to us in a way that the SDS rhetoric of the official leaders never had. Those draft cards that burned in front of the police lines on Tuesday and Friday made everything else possible.
Stop the Draft Week changed the movement….”3
One trouble with the movement, Jerry, is that we often don’t listen and so don’t learn. And if we learn, we too quickly forget. The real threat to freedom lies in the American twin-disease of fear and obedience; the Resistance broke through that fear and obedience in a way no one else has done. The effect will be permanent. They “taught us something about freedom.”
And how is it that you don’t mention RESIST, which is made up of over 5000 of those same writers, professors, artists, professionals, and clergymen who you claim “hardly said a word.” They not only said it, they published and signed a document, the “Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority” that the government used as Exhibit A in convicting four of us, and that remains one of the most comprehensive and truly radical manifestoes to come out of the movement.
How come you never heard of it, Jerry? Or of the Resist Steering Committee, that goes right on “conspiring” to resist illegitimate authority, that aids and abets draft resistance groups, SDS, SNCC and other black organizations, and works with the Baltimore 9, the Milwaukee 14 and other resisters? Who are we? Noam Chomsky, Bill Davidon, Don Kalish, Paul Lauter, Louis Kampf, Grace Paley, Dick Ohmann, Frank Joyce, Bob Zevin, me, and ten or so others, most of them included in the Boston Five Indictment as “co-conspirators.” How come you don’t want to recognize the existence of these people? Because they don’t fit into your neat little story? Because you’ve been too busy waiting for the apocalypse?
One more thing. You say, again with that loose lip: “Some of the Boston Five tried to beat the rap, re-interpreting their actions into meaninglessness.” Crap. How would you know? Some rumor you picked up? What you don’t mention is that the rap was conspiracy—and no one has figured out how to beat that one. But we damn well tried (just as the Oakland 7 are trying) because conspiracy is the government’s big trick bag, Jerry, and we’d better try to bust it. As for the rest, we said No to the government’s charge that we were “inciting” guys to refuse the draft; you don’t “incite” a man to go to jail. And we said Yes to “aiding, abetting and counselling,” taking our stand squarely on the “Call to Resist.” (You might try reading it, so you’ll know what we said.) And the judge, when he sentenced us, called us “traitors.”
After the sentencing, the four of us walked over to the Boston Common where the Resistance and Resist had organized a draft card turn-in. All four of us spoke there in support of that action—which is what we’d just gotten two years for doing. We’d done it before the trial, and we’ve done it since. Is that clear enough, Jerry?
Now what? There’s a wail of despair in your letter that underrates the spirit in the movement. Sartre said it: “Life begins on the other side of despair.” And that’s what’s happening as I write this, at Wisconsin, at Brandeis, at Chicago, at the University of Mass., in Montreal, at Duke, here at Berkeley. “The strongest single thrust of the movement continues at San Francisco State. (You were here in the fall: didn’t you see it?) SDS is growing and moving, preparing (with the collaboration of RESIST, for a Week to Confront Militarism on Campus.
At the end of your letter you propose “massive mobilizations…near courts, jails and military stockades.” But that’s the same old game, Jerry: we’ve been killing ourselves with repetition. Listen, for example, to Roger Alvarado, coordinator of the Third World Liberation Front at San Francisco State:
“The value of the tactics has to do with the confrontation you’re trying to enforce. If you’re trying to enforce a confrontation with a building, you go into the building and you close it down. If you’re trying to enforce a confrontation with a system, you’ve got to concern yourself with the operation of that system.
“When we were about to start the strike we analyzed what had gone on at different universities and we concluded that if we wanted to win the 15 demands we would have to be involved in a long struggle—continually harrassing and disrupting the school until they were forced to shut it down.
“In this country they go for a quick victory, which means that nothing pleases them more than when students take over a building where they can be isolated, arrested and the impetus of the movement destroyed. Our feeling was that we didn’t want a mass confrontation with the cops; we didn’t want to have people arrested in large numbers.
“One of the brothers calls it ‘the war of the flea.’ The system is the dog and we are the fleas. We take a little bite here and a little blood there, and keep on the move so that the dog can never get rid of us. Now the number of fleas is increasing, and if the magnitude becomes great enough we can make the dog get up and move.”4
He’s right, Jerry, and you’re wrong. This will not be what you call “The Year of the Courts.” It will be “The Year of the Flea.” And it will be, as Alvarado knows, “a long struggle”—the rest of our lives. (It took the anarchists of Catalonia a lifetime to build their community; but they built it.)
Things are tough, and they’re going to get tougher. Let’s really try to be a family, to build a community. Let’s get clear about who we are and about what’s happening. Let’s talk slow and careful and clear. Let’s not give way to panic and paranoia. And let’s stop dumping on one another.
Jerry Rubin replies:
Aw, fuck, Mitch. The government provocatively escalated its repression of the peace movement by arresting Spock. The peace movement did not escalate in response. It retreated, or stayed in the same spot.
I’m still zany. It’s important to be at your zaniest when caught in the jaws of the enemy. I’m zanier than ever. How else could I write in my letter to the movement:
“When America arrested the Baby Doctor…I was ecstatic: the next day I actually expected thousands of intellectuals and religious folk to stand on soapboxes and repeat Spock’s words …”
The government was able to isolate and punish five of you—as an example to others—without anything more than statements and telegrams in response. Within hours Spock’s arrest became an accepted part of American pluralism.
Your challenge to the government for a “moral confrontation” became just another court case and trial, buried in legalisms.
The United States treats blacks, Vietnamese, longhairs, and students as colonial subjects. The middle class receives the benefits of the empire and has permission to freely speak and write as long as its words are ineffective.
Spock tried to be effective. He called on middle-class adults to take the same risks as their children, the draft resisters and dodgers.
He dramatically challenged the government:
If you arrest young men who defy the draft, you must arrest us too.
This was power politics: It’s harder for the government to arrest unrespectable draft resisters if they have to arrest respectable priests and professors at the same time.
When the government escalated by arresting Spock, the time was hot for a dramatic escalation by the middle class anti-war movement. Where were the people who promised to join Spock putting their bodies on the Machine, between Executioner and Victim?
They “supported” Spock the same way they “supported” draft resisters: with their hearts, but not with their bodies.
It may sound funny, but Spock’s actions became effective only because the government found it necessary to indict him, rather than to ignore him. What was needed to climax the confrontation was at least hundreds of other middle-class people forcing the government to arrest them too.
I fantasized a scenario in which the signers of the “Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority” declared their names also to be Benjamin Spock, chained themselves to Spock at the trial, and disrupted the courthouse—forcing the trial to take place under heavy police guard.
I fantasized professors and ministers striking, bringing the war into the universities and churches.
I fantasized thousands of people not yet involved joining Spock’s “conspiracy” in retaliation to the government’s provocation.
Mitch, your letter disappointed me. You seemed above all else interested in clearing the conscience of the middle-class peace movement.
In my letter I wrote that the movement must become a family. A family is made up of brothers and sisters who totally identify with one another, who are one, who put themselves in the same situation.
Can a middle-class person be a brother of a poor black if he does not place himself in the same fighting relationship to cops, courts, and the power structure?
When poor blacks, longhairs, students and middle-class people join together in a family in which all share the same dangers, no repression will be able to defeat us and a beautiful human society will grow.
I am concerned that your letter did not mention the national war of genocide now being carried out by cops and courts against the Black Panther Party.
In every city Panthers have been framed on insane charges like conspiracy to commit murder, given unconstitutionally high bail, and beaten in jail. The leader of the party, Huey P. Newton, is serving fifteen years on an unproved charge of manslaughter and has been denied appeal bond. Eldridge Cleaver has been forced underground, his parole revoked before a single charge was proved in a court of law.
You said my letter was pessimistic. It wasn’t. The basis for the letter was a call for people in the movement to defend one another and to join together in a collective offensive against the courts and jails which selectively attack some of us.
I live on faith and eternal optimism.
I am a dreamer, and when you dream a lot, you expect a lot. Mitch, double your dreams.
See you on the barricades!
We are all Spartacus!
April 10, 1969
A month later, five clergy-resisters, led by Tom Hayes, took the envelopes and scrolls—now with 1500 names and addresses—to the Justice Department in Washington. ↩
In April more than 9,000 teachers put an ad in The New York Times to say that we were right and demanding that the government drop the charges. The Times called it the largest such ad in its history. At about the same time, Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “If Dr. Spock is guilty, then I am as guilty as he is.” ↩
Frank Bardacke, “Stop-The-Draft Week,” in STEPS No. 2, Berkeley, Cal. ↩
From an interview in the Guardian, February 1, 1969 ↩