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Ron Jacobs wrote an interesting piece published 
in Counterpunch connecting the crucial upcoming 
antiwar march on the Pentagon on March 17, 2007 
with the first march of the sort against the 
Vietnam war on Oct. 21, 1967, which was a turning 
point for the movement. See, http://counterpunch.org/jacobs02162007.html

These are some of my own reflections on the same 
events, which I originally wrote as the 
introduction to my booklet "A Head Full of Ideas that are Driving me Insane."


Storming the Pentagon

by Mitchel Cohen <[log in to unmask]>
Brooklyn Greens/Green Party, and
co-founder, Red Balloon Collective


FORTY YEARS IT'S BEEN. In October 1967, I was an 
18-year-old junior at SUNY Stony Brook, 
organizing students to participate in the first 
militant demonstration on the East Coast against 
the Vietnam war. At the Pentagon.

Phil Ochs -- my hero -- was scheduled to perform 
at Stony Brook that night. Many students were 
saying they weren't going on the march because 
they wanted to go to Phil's concert instead. SDS 
wrote letter after letter trying to get him to 
change the date. No answer. Finally -- oh, how it 
cut my heart out -- we organized a boycott of his records.

Then, of course, his manager (his brother, 
Michael) was quick to respond. "Go ahead, attack 
the heavies in the movement if it makes you feel 
better," he wrote in an open letter to me printed 
in Statesman, the official student paper. But 
just as quickly they moved up the date to October 
20, the evening before the march. Phil gave an 
interview over WUSB radio, Kenny Bromberg's show. 
"Who's this creep Mitchel Cohen who's telling 
everyone to boycott my records?" Phil raged. My 
first claim to fame. Somewhere at the station 
there's a dusty tape of that show.

October 21. The huge anti-war demonstration swept 
past the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. and 
over the bridges into Virginia, wave after wave 
of young anti-war warriors crashing against the 
walls of the Pentagon. One-hundred-thousand 
people -- some carrying signs depicting their 
town's opposition to the war against Vietnam, 
their unions, churches, campuses -- ­inched up to 
the line of soldiers standing shoulder to 
shoulder pointing their rifles at our chests, 
their unsheathed bayonets glinting like a 
thousand points of fright in the afternoon sun.

I'd saved the shirt I wore that day, that 
orange-striped pullover with the hole where I'd 
pressed up as far as I could against one 
soldier's bayonet. He didn't budge; I backed off.

I remember it as vividly as the infamous sunrises 
over the Bread and Puppet festival in Vermont, or 
the incredible sunsets in New York City the week 
following 9-11. The man carrying the hand-made 
sign: "Lyndon Johnson pull out, like your father 
should have." The chants, "Hey hey LBJ, how many 
kids did you kill today?" The young woman who, in 
a moment of inspired artistry, began dancing up 
and down the lines of soldiers, as thousands of 
voices sang "join us," inserting flowers into the 
rifles. Soon, a dozen people joined her. "Flower Power," East Coast style!

Suddenly, around one side of the building -- we 
cutely called it "the biggest edifice complex in 
the world" -- hundreds began climbing ropes 
a-fixed to a parapet overlooking a set of huge 
doors, just beyond the soldiers' reach. The 
sit-in blocked the entrance. It lasted three 
days. Yea, and in high school gym I couldn't 
climb the ropes to save my life. Oh well. Try 
anyway. I had managed to drag myself up a few 
yards when a hand grabbed one of my legs. I 
panicked, tried to kick it away without losing my grip, but it wouldn't let go.

"Uh-oh, this is it, I'm going to get arrested," I 
thought, my first arrest. Kicked more and more 
frantically. Finally, in panic, I looked down; my 
father was yanking me back and my mother was 
screaming: "Where do you think you're going?"

"What are you doing here? How did you find me in 
this huge crowd? I've gotta join my friends ... 
sit-in ... all my friends are up there."

"No way." Indeed, my friends from Stony Brook SDS 
were already up on the ledge. Even a professor 
from Stony Brook, Mike Zweig, was sitting-in. 
"You have to let me go. I helped organize the 
buses!" I shouted, as if that compelling point 
would clinch the argument, the frustrated and 
embarrassed tears already beginning to spill down my cheeks.

"You're exhausted, get down right now."

My parents were right about one thing: I was 
exhausted, racing around on an adrenalin high 
having not slept in three days. SDS and the 
Organization for Progressive Thought had been 
selling bus tickets around the clock door-to-door 
in the dormitories, cafeterias and TV lounges at 
Stony Brook. We helped bring seven bus-loads of 
protesters to the Pentagon -- around 300 people. 
My younger brother Robert and I were among the 
handful responsible for selling tickets, making 
bus arrangements and trying to make sure the 
drivers would not leave us stranded somewhere en 
route because they hated our politics, which is 
what had happened to buses from a number of other 
campuses. There would be time enough for sleep 
later. I simply had to be up there! And now my 
parents (how did they ever find me in that huge crowd?) were yanking me back.

My father, who had served in the Marine Corps in 
the South Pacific in World War 2 and who always 
spoke out against the Vietnam war, offered an 
interesting proposal: "We're not going to let you 
up there. But they're going to need food and 
blankets (those were in the days before the 
anti-nuclear movement introduced a structure in 
which each affinity group selects one support 
person, who is not to get arrested, to be 
responsible for the group's logistical needs). 
Let's start making a collection." We spent the 
next few hours doing precisely that, collecting 
dozens of blankets and warm clothing for those 
sitting in; afterwards, they put me on the bus to 
Stony Brook and made sure I stayed on it, waving 
good-bye as it pulled away. I crashed out in 
someone's (whose?) arms. Vaguely I remember someone kissing me.

Forty years ago! Che Guevara had been murdered by 
the CIA in Bolivia just two weeks before. We had 
called in an obituary to the NY Times, billing it 
to the student government without telling them. 
They were at a loss to account for it when the 
university administration reviewed the bills.

A few weeks later, New York City would be rocked 
by a police riot, and a few weeks after that I 
would be one of three Stony Brookers rejecting my 
draftcard and facing five years in jail. (My 
parents learned about that from WINS radio news.) 
In November, thousands of students descended on a 
dinner for the war makers. Some radicals had 
gotten jobs in the New York Hilton's kitchen and, 
when the country's elite lifted the lids of their 
dishes to dine they found pigs' heads staring 
back at them from their plates, and waiters and 
waitresses chanting: "U.S. out of Vietnam!"

Outside, all hell was breaking loose. This was 
the first "street action" anti-war demo on the 
East Coast. Hundreds of people would begin 
crossing 6th Avenue at the green light, very very 
slowly. We'd only be halfway across when the 
light would turn red. Everyone would link arms, 
face the traffic, close our eyes and feel the 
adrenalin take over. Screeeeech! When I dared 
open my eyes, I found a car had skidded to a stop just inches from my stomach.

Then the police moved in, and everyone 
snakedanced the wrong way down one-way streets, 
tying up traffic and making it hard for the police cars to chase us.

Looking back, it sounds heroic; actually, we were 
scared shitless. Leaving the dinner, Secretary of 
State Dean Rusk's car was hit by the first 
molotov cocktail I'd ever seen. The cops started 
cracking heads. Willa Kay Weiner grabbed my hand 
-- Kay, where are you now?! -- tearful, gasping 
for breath: "Mitchel, let's get out of here!" We 
raced through Manhattan in search of the bus back 
to Stony Brook and were amazed to find that most 
everyone arrived at just about the same time, unscathed.

The next month, the anti-war movement erupted 
everywhere: Anti-draft riots, draftcard burnings, 
military recruiters chased off campus after 
campus, "defense" contractors exposed, thousands 
blocking troop trains and munitions factories! 
Even Bill Clinton, in the one good thing he ever 
did -- which he should have sung out proudly 
during his campaign instead of apologizing for it 
-- took part in the anti-war actions. And then 
... 1968: Paris ... Columbia University ... 
Czechoslovakia ... Chicago ... Martin Luther 
King's assassination ... Robert Kennedy's ... 
Eugene McCarthy's anti-war presidential campaign 
... LBJ's abdication ... the world spinning madly 
out of their control, revolutionary movements being born.

The pace of time accelerated. Whole lifetimes 
crammed into the space of a few months. We lived 
"emergency lives" filled with meaning, fear, 
excitement. Who would know it then, forty years 
ago -- a swatch of time longer than from the end 
of World War 2 to the height of the anti-war 
movement of the eighties, hard to believe! -- 
that the demonstration at the Pentagon on October 
21, 1967 would be the start of the 
anti-imperialist, as opposed to simply the 
"anti-war," movement, marking the baptism of a 
new generation -- with great leaps of insight, 
risk, and imagination -- that would shake the entire world?

* * *

Stony Brook always had sizable contingents at 
anti-war demonstrations. We had the largest SDS 
chapter on the East Coast, after Columbia, a fact 
curiously omitted from books on the new left. 
Most of today's authors seem to find import only 
in what went on at elite Ivy League schools -- 
just as they did in the old days -- and not a 
whit for state universities or community colleges.

The Independent Caucus of SDS was everywhere at 
SUNY Stony Brook in 1968. Red Balloon emerged 
from the caucus the following year, the most 
politically volatile in Stony Brook's history. I 
was 20 years old and still a sophomore, after 
four years in and out of college, coordinating 
the United Farm Workers grape boycott on Long 
Island. I'd met Roberta Quance, a recent transfer 
from Oberlin, in professor Jonah Raskin's English 
class, and we became constant companions and 
lovers. Roberta brought an acid-tongued feminist 
sensibility into our emerging collective, along 
with a healthy dose of anarchism. And Jack 
Bookman, the third member of the founding group, 
was planning to commemorate the opening of the 
then state-of-the-art computer center with an 
action against the University's ties to the Department of Defense.

That was the initial core. Soon, we grew to 
fifteen in the collective. At first we helped put 
out underground papers -- "Introspect," the 
radical alternative to Statesman (the odious 
official student paper), and then one issue of 
"Van­guard," which we worked on alongside others 
in SDS; but we finally decided to start our own 
paper. After two days of going over possible 
names: "Vanguard" this, "Prole­tarian" that, 
"Worker" the other thing, Roberta was ready to 
give it up. Already, 18, 19 and 20 year olds were 
jaded by the "old left's" sterility. We didn't 
want any part of the boring, lecturing style of 
The Militant (Socialist Workers Party), Challenge 
(Pro­gressive Labor Party) or other papers sold regularly on the campus.

I had just finished a poem, which I read to the 
15 people living in the supposedly six-person 
suite in Kelly Quad. One line went: "The cat 
leapt out of the tree last night, through the air 
like a red balloon." Frustrated, Jack said, "Hey, 
let's just call it 'Red Balloon' for now. We can 
change it next week if we want." Twenty-Five 
years later Red Balloon was were still kicking.

Our first official action as a collective: The 
Department of Defense Jamboree, which exposed 
secret war research on campus. Liberal politician 
Allard Lowenstein was speaking on campus the 
afternoon of the Jamboree. As he often did in 
speeches across the country, Lowenstein targeted 
the new left. He denounced our attempts to drive 
military recruiters and war-related research from 
the campus. Four hundred people in the 
newly-opened Student Union building hooted, 
cheered, and generally let their opinions be 
known. Amid the tumult, Lowenstein got popped by 
a water balloon. Though it was just a 
physically-harmless water balloon -- we generally 
strive to upset the ideological applecarts 
without physically hurting anyone, in order to 
expose their hypocrisy -- Lowenstein treated it 
as though he'd been shot, and red-baited us, 
exposing his true colors. That act marked our 
birth on campus and permanently sealed our 
reputation. It also highlighted our low tolerance for liberal demagogues.

Over the years, hundreds of people have at one 
time or another considered themselves part of our 
loose-knit Red Balloon collectives. Most of them 
are still active in fighting for a better world, 
although not always with the same radical flare or direct action politics.

A number of our closest friends and most creative 
spirits have died, forever young. Chris 
Delvecchio (a week shy of 24 years old when he 
was killed in August, 1993), Patty Staib (28), 
Pat Dalto (33), Kate Berrigan (24), Bob Rosado 
(in his 30s), Shari Nezami (22). Fred Friedman, 
Steve Becker, Iris Burlock -- Stony Brook Red 
Ballooners. The rest of us are still marching to 
the barricades, as well as tearing down the 
barricades within. We helped build ACT UP 
actions, the CUNY Coalition Against the Cuts, and 
organized support for the Haitian people's right 
to self-deter­mination. We've created alternative 
health clinics and continue to fight for women's 
reproductive rights. We try to break at least one 
law a day, do guerrilla-art attacks and take part 
in urban rebellions. We work with political 
prisoners, struggle against racism and white 
supremacy and, through efforts like the Earth Day 
Wall Street Actions, the Save the Audubon 
Coalition and the Greens, fight against nuclear 
power, genetic-engineering and the destruction of 
the environment, exposing the corporate and 
government connections to just about every horrible occurrence under the sun.

Some have called us a "Conspiracy" rather than a 
Collective. In a sense we were, which is why we 
named one facet of what we did "The Red Balloon 
Poetry Conspiracy." Hey, every time a 
corporation's board of directors meets it's a 
conspiracy to sell us things we don't need and 
extract as much cheap labor and natural resources 
as they can get away with! You can find us in 
marxism classes and in anarchist, green, 
feminist, gay, lesbian and bi-sexual workshops. 
Along the way, like so many others, we've had to 
wrestle with various philosophies of 
organization, ways of conceptualizing our own purpose.

Unlike much of the Left, we did not try to 
recruit people into our collectives; that would 
have required us to construct a "program" to sell 
to people. We believe that the "recruiting 
mentality" has impaired the left. Instead, we 
tried and continue to strengthen existing 
movements, help people to form their own direct 
action collectives and underground papers, and 
then link them together. In the course of 
developing that approach, all sorts of emotional, 
philosophical and relationship-type challenges 
have come up, some repeatedly. The Left, however, 
has generally refused to treat them seriously as 
part of its political mission, to its detriment.

With all the regrouping of the Left going on 
today, I offer these reflections to help 
articulate some of the hidden questions the Left 
could not see, and which the new wave of the Movement still has to face.