A Marcher Reflects: Lock In And Love

From the Drew Acorn, October 27, 1967

By Jean Stewart

The march was over, the air was cold, the North Parking Lot was a night scene, glaring spotlights stark in black sky. Thousands of people were swarming about, looking for their chartered buses to carry them home. At the far end of the lot on a platform some organizers of the march were attempting over a loudspeaker to direct people to their respective parked buses and to keep them informed about the welfare of “the people at the Pentagon,” i.e., those individuals who had decided beforehand to commit Civil Disobedience on the Pentagon stairs by maintaining an all-night vigil. As reports of the cold, lack of food and medical supplies, and descriptions of gassed and billy-clubbed people began to reach the platform, the loudspeaker became more urgent, imploring the departing crowds, “We need help, we need medics and supplies for the people at the Pentagon. We need food and warm clothes and blankets for the people at the Pentagon.”

We were standing by a bus that was about to depart with a full load when a girl opened the window over our heads and offered us an apple. “Here, can you see that this gets to the Pentagon people?” So we climbed out the bus and asked for any more contributions for the people at the Pentagon. Two shopping bags full were the response—fried chicken, plums, celery, cookies, tomatoes. We were told later that most of them had not eaten since breakfast and had a four or five hour bus ride ahead.

And so it all began—running from bus to bus. “Any food or warm clothes to give the people at the Pentagon?” When it was dark and quite cold, we found ourselves beside the Fairleigh Dickinson bus as it sat idling its motor in the lot, waiting for latecomers. One more bus, we decided, and we climbed in and made our petition. People were digging into paper bags and purses when a student from the back of the bus suddenly took off his jacket, saying, “Here, take this.” He was a veteran who’d been in Vietnam for two years and is now spearheading the peace movement on Fairleigh’s campus. His jacket was a thick woolen Navy jacket; on its shoulder were insignia showing rank.

The entire bus was silent. Finally, a group of incredulous girls started in. “But what will you wear home? But that’s your service jacket! But you’ll never get it back! But…”

My sister and I decided to be among the Pentagon people Saturday night.

A couple of guys showed us how to move through the ranks of stiff guards surrounding the Pentagon. “Just walk past them and smile. They won’t stop us; we built that bonfire for them.” Across the grass, thru trees up an embankment—and finally up the ramp that leads to the front entrance.

The ramp opened out onto a platform at the base of the Pentagon stairs; from the top of the stairs to the pillars of the front entrance stretched a great marble expanse. Filling every available space on the ramp, platform, and stairs were people, sitting, singing, moving about. Low sounds, faces lit by bonfires built for warmth, faces closer to the building lit by huge television spotlights. We looked up and there were the M.P.’s. Rows of M.P.’s. Hundreds of them standing in formation at rigid attention, and behind them the Pentagon, white, glistening, brilliantly lit. They were black cutouts against the light made with a single stencil of a helmet. Sitting at the feet of these thousands of helmeted silhouettes, the demonstrators. The line between them was like a cutting edge.

We moved into the midst and sat down. Around us the people locked arms with us, helped us into a tighter bond with the group. A voice over the bullhorn occasionally urged us all to lock both arms and legs to make it harder for us to be pulled apart and pushed back. Minutes passed. Someone in the group started humming “We Shall Overcome.” Then every figure sitting on the steps of the Pentagon was singing it, soft and low. “America the Beautiful.” “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Buffy’s “Universal Soldier.” Every song hardly more than a whisper. I felt the trembling of the man beside me. (Later a woman said, describing those moments after several outbreaks of violence had already occurred, “We were like one body, one great trembling body.”) At one point when fear began to increase voltage, there were a few angry shouts. Waves of tension started sweeping thru the crowd, the singing was replaced by low voices, people were starting to get up, the solidarity of the group was rocking. The man in front of me cried out, “Relax, don’t get uptight, lock in and love them, they’re our brothers, lock in and love.” He pressed every hand he could reach against him and the people around him pulled into a tight knot. Lock in and love.

During the course of the night, there were several more clubbings. Toward 2 a.m. the organizer picked up the bullhorn and called across ranks of black helmets to the Pentagon officials standing on the stairs. He had just called a vote to determine how many of us were willing to accept peaceful arrest. The count was practically unanimous. The leader communicated this choice to the Pentagon and asked for peaceful arrest for the group, in accordance with their constitutional rights. Silence. Our spokesman repeated his plea. For almost an hour he implored the officials, who stood in full brass-buttoned gray uniforms on the stairs, to accept our arrests. When group and leader realized that this silence was their answer, the leader selected a man among us who had held up his hand in the vote. He was small, bespectacled, a college professor. Every demonstrator sat down except this man. He slowly picked his way thru the crowds toward the lines of M.P.’s. When he reached the front lines he stood before one M.P. in the line and said, in as loud a voice as he could muster for the ears of every person at the Pentagon, “I ask the right to be peacefully arrested and am willing to be tried in any court in the land.” Then he was still, his face inches from that of the soldier. The silence was complete.

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