Protest: The Banners of Dissent

  • Share
  • Read Later

(3 of 10)

Business as Usual. Thus, on a crisp fall weekend when most Americans were watching football, raking leaves or touring the countryside, the biggest "peace" demonstration in the history of the nation's capital unfolded. To the vast majority, the banners of Communism fluttering in Washington, the fist-flailing clashes and the violent verbiage were unsettling, almost unreal. Yet the disquiet that suffused the spectacle was certainly shared to a degree by most Americans. And—however ill-conceived—the Washington demonstration was a reminder to the world of America's cherished right of dissent. It was not the prospect of protest that alarmed Washington so much as the potential for violence and the volatility of the march leaders.

That uncertainty was reflected in Administration and congressional reaction. Speaker John McCormack ordered the House of Representatives locked up for fear of invasion; white-gloved patrols circled major Government buildings in the area. While Lyndon Johnson stayed in the White House, his gates were heavily guarded and he pointedly maintained a business-as-usual schedule—having earlier found time to sign a bill levying stiff penalties for illegal demonstrations in the capital. On a lesser level, but more frantically, the workhouse division of the capital's Department of Corrections prepared space and meals for 2,000 potential arrestees.

Abroad, meanwhile, proCommunists and a wider spectrum of emotional anti-Americans took to the streets in a dozen foreign capitals from London to Tokyo, Tel Aviv to West Berlin. At home, thousands of Americans backed "Operation Gratitude," a grass-roots effort to show support of U.S. troops in Viet Nam through all-night vigils and round-the-clock displays of lights.

Critics were quick to accuse the Government of overreacting, and some even charged that the Administration had attempted to stifle the protest in advance by publicizing the capital's no-nonsense preparations. It was clear, nonetheless, that Lyndon Johnson was adhering to the precept set forth in a 1965 Supreme Court decision rendered by U.N. Ambassador Arthur Goldberg, then an Associate Justice. "The rights of free speech and assembly," wrote Goldberg in a majority opinion, "while fundamental in our democratic society, still do: not mean that everyone with opinions; or beliefs may address a group at any public place and at any time. The constitutional guarantee of liberty implies, that existence of an organized society maintaining public order, without which; liberty itself would be lost in the excesses of anarchy."

Ugly Image. From Berkeley to; Brooklyn, other explosions of antiwar and antidraft protest had reverberated all week.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9
  10. 10