Memoirs -- fact and fiction, Rants and raves, San Miguel de Allende

‘Hit ’em! Hit ’em! Hit the sons of bitches! Hit ’em!’

I stare at this photograph that I took in — when was it? — 1970? 1971? I stare and I wonder, how many of my fellow Vietnam War protesters were part of the thuggery that took place this week at the Capitol?

Some, for sure. They would be in their very late-60s and mid-70s now. I was 21 when I snapped these photos.

A friend who just saw them asked, “Did you and your fellow hippies storm the Capitol?”

My reply, “Not inside (but you can see why the government installed a large reflecting pool right where these people are standing).

“Unlike today’s thugs, a stage was set up at the base of the Capitol for speeches and many were made — rhetorical devices requiring large strings of words in a logical and coherent assembly in order to convey ideas and express emotions.

“Because today’s thugs lack vocabulary they can only smash things, like desks and democracy.”

Back then, people believed they had the right to assemble in order to petition the government for change. The president at the time didn’t think so and his police and National Guard were happy to smash heads and make mass arrests when they felt it necessary.

Still, when people stuck to the script, things went pretty well. The Washington Monument grounds were open all-night for tribal gathering, sleeping, speech-making, pot smoking, and music. Waking up on the ground and looking straight up the obelisk while Peter Paul and Mary are singing just over the mound is a hell of an experience.

There were anarchist then, as now. One evening, the Mad Dogs descended on DuPont Circle and tried to convince a largely stoned gathering of college kids to march down to the White House and smash store fronts along the way. They got few takers. But we could hear glass smashing all right as they receded down Connecticut Avenue.

There were nighttime marches on the South Vietnam Embassy and down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Capitol that were met by walls of police and guardsmen as well as lots of teargas. Rocks and bricks were thrown, too.

Pennsylvania Avenue was especially freaky. Massive buildings occupy entire blocks and thick massings of law enforcement were visible up the side streets. It would be so easy to cut off the marchers in both front and back with no escape route. It felt like the cavalry riding into a canyon with no way out.

Oh, wait. That is exactly what did happen. Not the night I was there but in May 1971. As the war dragged on, the bodies piled up, and the government grew more obstinate, the protests grew more aggressive. That May, a half-million people poured into the city with the goal of shutting it down.

A holding pen was set up at the Washington football team’s practice field and nearly 13,000 people were arrested. Far more than showed up this week to do Trump’s dirty work. The ACLU got the courts to throw out all but about 100 of those arrests.

Although I was living in Washington at the time, I wasn’t there for the climax of the May Day 1971 protest. I was tired of the marching, the fighting, the protests. I got on my motorcycle and headed to my parents’ home in Rhode Island.

I often wonder why I did that. At the time, my father considered me nothing more than an anti-American street criminal. (To be fair, he saw my whole generation that way.) The stony reception I got was on par with facing off against a long blue line of cops in riot gear.

“What are you doing here?”

“Hi, Dad. I got tired of protesting against the war.”

“Hmph. You mother’s in the kitchen.”

The next night we’re watching the evening news and Walter Cronkite turns his attention to Washington. They roll the tape.

My father sits in his overstuffed chair shouting at the TV, “Hit ’em! Hit ’em! Hit the sons of bitches! Hit ’em!”

“Those are my friends,” I tell him.

We had words, unpleasant ones. Now all forgotten. Except the last, when I told him to look for me on the news the next night. I packed, got on the motorcycle and drove straight through the night to Washington, where the streets were empty save for the military in full combat gear on every corner.

I did not make the evening news — it was all over by then — and eventually my father and I got along well enough, until he started devoting his time to Rush Limbaugh, FOX News, and the rest. The old antagonisms rose up quickly after that.

It was strange to watch Trump send his followers down the street to stop Congress from fulfilling its ceremonial duty in a previously and legally decided presidential race. SIXTY court cases, FIFTY state governors and scores of election officials from both parties, the Electoral College, and the majority of the US voters had all agreed.

What was this form of insanity?

Marching on the Capitol was fine, even though their cause was and still is, and forever will be, pure shit. Then the barriers came down. The steps were mounted. The windows and doors smashed. Cops outnumbered and beaten up, And the ugly beast poured into the halls and chambers of democracy.

“Why isn’t anyone pushing back?” I wondered.

I was veering dangerously close to becoming my father. If the National Guard or metropolitan police had shown up, I swear I would have been sitting there shouting, “Hit ’em! Hit ’em! Hit the sons of bitches! Hit ’em!”

Only this time, I might not have been wrong.

Was our cause, ending an illegal and unjust war, better than theirs, halting a legal and just election?

Hell yes, it was.

Just the same, I would have supported their right to assemble and petition the government for change. Hell, they did that through the courts, through the recounts, through all sorts of post-election investigations.

When you are wrong, you are wrong. No amount of rhetoric can change that. No number of lies from your president and his Congressional toadies. No matter how loud the echo chamber from FOX, OAN, and NewsMax and the feral mutants with their underground blogs and streaming spews.

When you are wrong, you are wrong.

It is clear now, Trump’s goal is to smash the government and reign — and he is happy to employ his followers in his act of sedition. They are happy to help.

This isn’t guerrilla theater. This is guerrilla warfare — even though the moves are being called by cynical power brokers in suits and high suites.

What should be obvious now to the cops and National Guard is that these people are not your friends, either. Not if you stand in their way. They will just as willingly run one of those “blue line” flags through your heart as they will cut you down with assault rifles if you stand in their way.

They killed one cop the other day. They will kill more.

Time to stand up for democracy. Not some dark net blogger with daddy issues and a failed president overflowing with bile and hatred.

America — the real America — needs us.

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