Scattered Clashes With Militants Fail to Ruin Capital
Los Angeles Times
November 16, 1969
The Los Angeles Times published this article about a huge peace march
on November 15, 1969, protesting American involvement in the Vietnam War
(1959-1975). The demonstration in Washington, D.C., was organized by a coalition
of antiwar groups called the New Mobilization Committee, and drew protesters
from many segments of American society. This account reflects some of the
conventions and biases of the era in which it was written.
Washington?A river of humanity at least a quarter of a million strong came
from every part of the country Saturday to pray near the Capitol, march down
Pennsylvania Ave. and sing and stand for peace at the foot of the Washington
It was the biggest antiwar demonstration in the nation's history and the
largest gathering of dissenters Washington has ever seen.
Despite yet another attempt in darkness by ultra militants to taint the day
in sporadic incidents around the downtown area, the dominant symbol was a woolen
hat for warmth, not the hard motorcycle helmet for protection.
In the most serious incident, police used tear gas in dispersing about 6,000
militants who provoked a confrontation at the Justice Department. They ignored
the antiviolence pleas of the New Mobilization's own marshals who impressed
authorities these last three days with their efforts to keep the demonstration
Outdoes Civil Rights March
Clearly, the outpouring was larger than the 1963 civil rights march in the
capital, when 200,000 protesters marched on this city.
President Nixon remained secluded in a cordoned off White House. He met with
top advisers to discuss Vietnam. The scene around the executive mansion for nine
blocks was eerie?empty streets?patrolled by policemen.
In the end, the massive demonstration surrounded and overshadowed all the
speakers. Perhaps everything pro and con already had been said about Vietnam.
Unlike 1963, there was no equivalent of a Dr. Martin Luther King rising up to
announce "I have a dream," electrifying the crowd.
Finally, it was music, not words, which roused the throngs jamming the
grounds of the Washington Monument. With the late afternoon sun shining weakly
on his half-bald head, Pete Seeger sang: "All we're saying is, give peace a
chance." The crowd took up his song, sending it rolling out over the
Potomac. The endless rows stood?the young girls with blonde straight hair, the
young students with beards, glasses and still unlined countenances. They rocked
back and forth, fingers forming a V, repeating the song. Then came a great cry:
The attempt by the ultramilitants to capture the day?and nationwide
attention?was well advertised. Jerry Rubin, one of seven defendants on trial in
Chicago on charges of conspiring to incite rioting at the 1968 Democratic
convention, glanced scornfully around at the peaceful crowd at the monument.
"They're so cute and polite and respectable," he sneered. Then he
waved to the section where many members of the New Mobilization
Committee?sponsors of the three days of protests?were seated. "I don't like
the idea of so many Democratic politicians on the platform. It's like peace is
Two Urge Second Protest
Another of the defendants, David Dellinger, the New York antiwar activist,
urged a march on the Justice Department to protest the trial. So did Abbie
Hoffman, who is also a defendant.
Militants repeatedly urged the throng to ignore the New Mobe's marshals.
About 6,000 militants took to the streets after the march, roughly 2% of those
who came to Washington to demonstrate for peace.
But for the second night in a row tear gas clouded some streets in a small
section of the city. Windows were broken. Bricks and stones were hurled at
At the corner of 14th and F Sts.?in the heart of downtown?a bearded man
wearing the armband of a marshal pleaded with a group of youths to disperse.
"If you believe in what we came here for," he shouted again and
again, "go that way," pointing in the opposite direction from where a
group of policemen were standing. One youth accepted the plea. The others headed
toward the police.
For a time, extra reinforcements including some national guardsmen?who
routinely augment Washington's police force during major events?were brought to
the White House.
Refuse to Move
The first trouble occurred at the Justice Department just before darkness.
The crowd, which had a permit to stage a peaceful march around the building,
congregated in front of it instead. Demonstrators shook their fists and chanted,
"Stop the trial!" Stop the trial!" referring to the Chicago
conspiracy trial. Police sought to move them on, but they refused, slamming the
knockers on the building's huge doors.
Members of the Washington police civil disturbance unit fired tear gas into
the crowd. Some tear gas grenades were hurled back at the officers. An American
Flag was ripped from the Justice Department's flagstaff and replaced with a Viet
Cong standard, which police quickly removed.
A Justice Department official said the decision to use gas was made by the
Leaning out a window to peer at the demonstrators five floors below, Dep.
Atty. Gen. Richard G. Kleindienst said, "Those are the same tactics they
used in Chicago." Glancing out at the crowd which was burning a small
American Flag, Atty. Gen. John N. Mitchell said that predictions of trouble by
militants had proven accurate.
A wall of gas drove the demonstrators away from the Internal Revenue Service
building where they had regathered. They split into small groups, racing down
some streets breaking windows in 30 businesses. Throughout the early evening
hours there were a series of running confrontations with the police?who often
used tear gas to disperse the crowds.
By late Saturday, 83 persons had been arrested, mostly for disorderly conduct
in the vicinity of the Justice Department.
Mayor Walter Washington of the District of Columbia said only a "small
band" caused the trouble. He said at 10:30 the city was calm again.
But shortly before midnight about 120 police swept through Dupont Circle and
fired gas grenades into the park, a common hippie gathering ground.
They arrested a score of demonstrators on charges of disorderly conduct. A
spokesman for the mayor said a gathering of about 450 persons constituted an
The arrests were in sharp contrast to the prevalent mood of the day.
The 40-hour march against death ended at 8:30 a.m. after more than 40,000
persons had marched the four miles from Arlington National Cemetery past the
White House and placed the names of dead soldiers they wore into coffins at the
Second March Starts
At 10:15 a.m. a mass march down Pennsylvania Ave. to the Washington Monument
began. The walkers were overwhelmingly white, mostly students. They were
good-natured and easily controlled by the New Mobe's marshals.
One long-haired girl called the spirit "communal." A marshal joked,
"Keep those postcards coming."
Those not in their 20s were in the minority. Mrs. Norman Peyton of New York
expressed their viewpoint.
"I feel Nixon is trying to get out, but he is being pressured by Saigon
and the military. I got very tired sitting in a living room," she said.
"I was tired of reading the decent editorials. I had to do it
Mrs. Peyton turned to a friend, also in her 50s. "We just wanted people
to know there are some matrons. It's a first experience for us."
A nurse from Ohio, who would not give her name but was in her early 20s,
"When you look around and see these people, infants to grandparents,
it's not just a bunch of radicals. We came through a snowstorm to come here. All
along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, we saw the same kids. Everybody kept everybody
Old Army jackets, heavy coats, windbreakers were the usual garb. But
interspersed also were a few mink coats.
The wide river of humanity was an impressive sight as the protesters moved in
a steady stream?20 across?down Pennsylvania Ave. to the monument.
The only demonstration of nearly comparable size occurred during a massive
march in 1967 from New York's Central Park to the United Nations.
Washington's Police Chief Jerry V. Wilson flew over the city in a helicopter,
estimated the crowd at 250,000 and called his evaluation modest.
Fred Halstead, chief of the marshals assigned by the New Mobilization
Committee, estimated its size at 300,000.
The Mobe, a coalition of some 100 antiwar groups, sponsored the three days of
demonstrations here demanding immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from
There were the usual Viet Cong flags, but these were in the minority; the day
really belonged to the flagless young.
After meeting with his aides on Vietnam and other matters, President Nixon
watched part of the Ohio State-Purdue football game, officials said. Some of the
speeches at the Washington Monument were audible in the empty streets in front
of the White House, but there was no indication whether Mr. Nixon heard them.
Along the line of march, which stretched from the Capitol down Pennsylvania
Ave. to within a block of the White House and along 15th St. to the Washington
Monument, protesters repeatedly chanted:
"One-two-three-four?Tricky Dick, stop the war."
Picture of King
One demonstrator carried a huge picture of the late Dr. Martin Luther King,
with the inscription "Nonviolence Our Most Potent Weapon." Another
sign read, "Make Pizza Not War."
Sen. Eugene J. McCarthy (D-Minn.) addressed the marchers as they left the
Capitol. He told the protesters they carried "a clear message of moral and
intellectual concern to the White House."
Republican Sen. Charles E. Goodell of New York and Democratic Sen. George S.
McGovern of South Dakota spoke at the monument.
"There are those who say we must not dishonor the 45,000 Americans who
have died in Vietnam," Goodell said. "We say, let us not dishonor
5,000 more Americans by making them die in Vietnam next year."
Said McGovern: "We meet to affirm the claims of conscience and life over
the bondage of fear and hate. There is in our hearts a special sorrow for those
who die in battle, for those who are scarred and wounded, for those who are held
prisoners. But in a larger sense, we are all prisoners of war. And we long to be
November 16, 1969.