The Protest against HUAC
Even before Chessman's death, we were getting ready to meet the Un-Americans.
What do people know today about witch-hunts, the public dramas of the time we blamed on Joe McCarthy? For six years, all over America, committees and vigilant citizens were hard at work, ferreting out suspected Commies and pinko sympathizers, exposing them by letter, insinuation, and television. If you moved in any way that seemed dissenting or strange, you were liable to be branded as a "fellow traveler," and to have your life destroyed wherever it was exposed to the mercies of society. This was as true if you dressed funny in grammar school as if you spoke up for Negroes at the office. So I entered adolescence in the ice age of conformity, a member of the Silent Generation, groomed by the glaciers to become a "man in a grey flannel suit."
The Cold War froze us to the marrow, as the Depression did our parents: as they still seek safety in material possessions, so we still struggle against our conditioning to find it in anonymous silence. Now historians see those years of repression as imperialist Amerika's inner response to the specter of postwar Soviet communism. But I think the general hysteria was as much our national reaction to the realization that, in the nuclear game, we were playing with the tools of absolute death. In a time when evil spirits have been set loose, no theater is more appropriate than a witch-bunt. (Its sacrificial climax was hbe execution of the Rosenbergs for atomic treason.)
The most feared agencies of repression during those years were the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee and the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC). Long after McCarthy was toppled from power in 1954 by a sudden flash of public revulsion and shame, they continued to summon suspected subversives to Washington for interrogation, and to send delegations on periodic tours to conduct local witch-hunts (and drum up support for their yearly Congressional appropriations). Their power to condemn was informal but great, and helped maintain the climate of frightened silence. For most of that time, in fact, the only power of protest their victims had was silence, usually under cover of the Fifth Amendment.
Silence was stamped so deeply upon our spirits that even the young who were growing into social activism took it for a primary strength at first, in the North as in the South. Looking back, I’m struck by how proud we were at being mute and restrained. Yet despite our contradictions, our mood had changed decisively. By the end of the decade HUAC's members were apprehensive. Increasingly in hearings victims had abandoned silence to attack the Committee with aggressive rhetoric. Demonstrations were beginning to organize against its visits in some Eastern cities.
In May 1960, a HUAC subcommittee came to San Francisco, for the first time in several years, to hold investigative hearings. By then, heady with the resurgence of political dissent, many of us were partly eager for their visit and the chance to confront one surviving head of the hydra Terror of the Fifties. A week later, I told a loved friend in New York what happened.
20 July 1960
My Dear Kathy Greensleaves:
Enclosed is a letter I wrote you months ago, and never mailed. I can send it now because I can write this letter now. I hope that when you finish it you'll understand what being able to write it means to me. I am writing now to try to clarify what has happened, for myself, as well as for you. I will try to write carefully enough that you can show this to people around you.
About two weeks ago we heard that the House Un-American Activities Investigating Committee was coming to town again. Last year the same announcement was made. Such a furor arose that they postponed the scheduled hearings again and yet again, until they dropped them entirely, explaining that the Bay Area was such a nest of Communist activity that further study and subpoenas were necessary. Their unfulfilled visit was not without consequences: over 100 teachers in the area were subpoenaed, and HUAC took great care to send copies of their files to their local school boards. Most of the teachers were fired.
This time the Un-Americans announced their arrival in a less glorious fashion. A week before the hearings, small stories appeared in the back pages of local papers. Nonetheless, reaction began immediately, on campuses and off. All around S.F. Bay, meetings were held, generally small but determined to prepare a proper welcome. In Berkeley we organized a group called Students for Civil Liberties, and set up a petition table at the usual place, Bancroft and Telegraph. By the time HUAC arrived, over 1,600 signatures had been collected. People wrote letters to the Daily Cal; sent postcards to Congressman Cohelan; spoke at noon rallies (we were in the election-campaigning time); and just talked and spread the word. During the week before HUAC's arrival, the Daily Cal also ran excerpts from the official Committee records (which I had the pleasure of assembling after reading 300 pages of transcript to refresh my memory).
And during this week other things were happening in the community. Two subpoenaed grammar school teachers were summarily fired by the Berkeley School Board. A vast outcry in their behalf arose. I did not make the meeting in their defense, but the papers reported the crowd at an unprecedented 1,000. The Board was forced to delay the firing of one and to rehire the other. But I was present at an open meeting of the East Bay Ad Hoc Committee, an organization formed last year to combat HUAC. It maintained a tenuous, dormant existence, until the Monday meeting. The subpoenaes from the East Bay, some thirteen persons, were there to speak. There were also 500 people from Berkeley, almost none of them students -- the meeting had no publicity on campus. I have not heard such sincere applause since I heard Walter conduct Das Lied von der Erde in Chicago three years ago. I remember saying to Richard, that the term "grass-roots" has long been out of favor in American sociological jargon, but that perhaps it is time to consider it once again.
For some reason, HUAC's arrival was postponed two days; the announcement was again buried on the back pages. One can only guess why. Since HUAC neither issued more subpoenas nor left town, it was probably an attempt to throw us off balance, as one steps back before an oncoming punch. This was a mistake on their part; it was not a punch, but a wave; and they stepped back just far enough to receive the full crest on Saturday.
It's hard to say what the Committee's nominal purpose was. Last time they were investigating "Communist infiltration into schools," and only teachers were called. Some of these were subpoenaed this time too, but only if they had not lost their jobs the first time. But this time students, longshoremen, commentators, and others were called. Among the subpoenaes was Doug, an eighteen-year-old Berkeley student. When we thought of what his summons meant, the first inkling of what was really happening began to dawn on us. You might know that Willis, chairman of the visiting subcommittee, comes from the Third Congressional District in Louisiana. He has a constituency of over 300,000. Many are Negro. It is said that 10,000 names were dropped from the registration roles shortly before the last election, and that Willis was elected by 8,000 votes. Similarly, Arens, HUAC's Counsel, also serves as adviser for a wealthy textile manufacturer in the East. Arens earns his keep by helping the textiler award large grants to people who seem to have an avenue for proving Negroes genetically inferior. And so it goes.
Obviously Doug was not called up because of his strong, hardcore political past. With the Committee's voluminous files, surely they could find someone in the area with more of a past and more to tell them. But Doug had been very active in CORE and the picketing of Kress/Woolworth stores in Berkeley to support the sit-in strikes down South. He also participated in Peace Walks, and worked against capital punishment. Bur I think his CORE activities were the deciding factor, for many of those subpoenaed had been similarly active.
Anyway, the purpose of subpoenaing him was clear. A slow tide of student activity in matters political and social has been rising in the past year, in conjunction with immense doings in the rest of the world. Doug was spotlighted as a clear warning to the rest of us: "Do as he has been doing, and you may be sure that we will take note of you." And there is a less obvious conclusion to be drawn from the list of subpoenas: those who run things are hurting as a result of the semi-organized picketing against discrimination that has sprung up around the country.
The hearings opened at 9: 30 A.M., Thursday, May 12, without fanfare, in San Francisco. I got to City Hall at 9. A crowd of 150, half students, stood in line to attend the hearings. Outside there was a slow picket of maybe fifty. During the morning it grew to a hundred, while the crowd inside the rotunda swelled to 400. We went up and down the line passing out leaflets and copies of the current Daily Cal, which had a front-page story on the Committee.
We found to our dismay that Willis had issued a number of white cards permitting entrance to the hearings. They were given to members of the DAR, and also to the American Legion and to the Southern Baptists, who had just passed a resolution commending the Committee for its vigilance. Resentment began to grow among the people who had hoped to attend the hearings. Legally they are open to the public. But the Supervisors' Room, which seats almost 300, was largely filled by holders of white cards.
Photographers and reporters were sprinkled sparsely through the assemblage, and a few police were on hand to handle a routine situation. Despite the packing of the house, perhaps 100 non-card carriers managed to gain entrance. The rest were relatively silent during the morning, standing patiently. I left early to help set up loudspeakers in Union Square for a rally featuring local Assemblymen and an Episcopalian minister. When noon came, most of the crowd followed, leaving a hundred or so at the door waiting to dispossess the carded ladies.
The rally was a success, which surprised us. We filled Union Square, maybe 2,000 people, and the speakers were very well received. We marched back to the Civic Center along Market Street; I was one of the monitors. I stayed in the Square until the whole line had filed past, then walked and ran as fast as I could to reach City Hall, hoping to get into the hearings in the afternoon. The line was so long that I couldn't catch its head. By the time I reached the Hall, winded, there were 300 in the rotunda, talking in eager whispers and awaiting the 1:30 opening of the doors. I joined them right before the main entrance, as several girls had held my position, and waited also.
Then things began to happen. We found that the white-card carriers had resumed their seats, in even greater force than in the morning, through a side door, and that a small number of us, perhaps seventy, were to be admitted. By early afternoon the crowd was in a mild uproar. Irritated by the injustice of the cards, tired from walking and picketing, and packed body-to-body in the great rotunda, everyone striving to be as close as possible to the door, we began to chant: "Let Us In Let Us In Let us in Letusin Letusinletusin ... " Chanting alternated with singing, mostly songs such as the National Anthem which everyone knew. An attempt was made to get everyone to sit down, but unrest was so great, and the packing so close, that this was impossible.
Meanwhile, the hearings inside had not been proceeding in the most orderly fashion possible. In the morning most of the time had been devoted to the ritual invocation of the deities (God, Mother, Ike) and to the testimony of several trained seals. There was grumbling from the non-card spectators during this, but peace had held.
That afternoon was different. "Unfriendly" witnesses were called to the stand and greeted with the usual harassment, badgering and pointless questions, unveiled insinuations. In past hearings the normal response was silence. This time they kept trying to read statements questioning their presence there, the legality of the committee and of Willis's election. They kept demanding that the hearings be made open to all, as had been legally promised. And so unrest on the inside grew in proportion to that on the outside. Soon the back half of the room began cheering the witnesses -- Doug was testifying at this time, and of course his response was very partisan -- and jeering in disbelief whenever Willis or Arens made a particularly outrageous statement. The peace was not aided by the forcible ejection of several people, in particular Archie Brown, a Communist labor man, who was hauled out yelling "I want white cards too, Mr. Willis. I want to see my friends here!" Outside, he gave an account of what was happening within the chamber. The feeling of "sellout" grew.
Nor was the peace inside aided by the passing-out of anti-Semitic pamphlets by members of the DAR, several of whose girded damsels applied patriotic kicks to students and others being escorted forcibly from the room. And so it was that the uproar grew inside, and soon, as the chant "Let us in" filtered through the thick doors, the answering chant filtered out: "Let them in." At one point the back of the room rose spontaneously, stood on their chairs, and sang the National Anthem, while the entire front of the room and the Committee itself sat stonily, looking neither to right nor left. Outside the chant progressed. More press arrived, eagerly photographing and interviewing. Suddenly the riot squad arrived also, in white crash helmets, baggy breeches, with guns and billies, and polished boots. Without warning they began to drag a rope before the door, pushing their way through the people gathered there. One woman had a heart attack, a pregnant dame was knocked down and kicked, and general confusion prevailed for a minute.
When the air cleared there were over thirty cops before the door and behind the rope. Singing and chanting began anew. The noise was kept in relative order by those of us who were monitoring but kept recurring spontaneously. A number of people were roughed up by the riot squad. I was almost smashed in the face for attempting to pacify an officer who was shaking a young girl, and accidentally brushing his black leather jacket. The riot squad was particularly noisy and nasty, and immediately earned the label "storm troopers, SS men." The sheriff came and spoke to us in a very politic tone, promising that small groups would be admitted to the hearing room. His promises never materialized, but by the time this became clear it was late enough that no new uproar began.
Meanwhile, inside the room, things quieted down. A full complement of cops appeared along the walls, and the ejection of still more protesting spectators kept the disturbance at a minimum. In defense, the students inside began humming America the Beautiful very softly, ceasing whenever an officer came near. I was told that the impression was very beautiful.
We went home determined to return to the hearings, although no organized demonstration had been planned for Friday. Despite the occasional disorder, which never exceeded noise, our protest had gone quite well. Our reception in some newspapers was hysterical, babbling about a riot being barely averted by the quick action of the police force. This was not the case: the police did much more toward inciting riot than quelling same. Their actions added a new factor to the crowd's emotions, that of resentment toward the cops as well. Not the cops themselves, but the riot squad; but this was a distinction that easily blurred.
I was not at the hearings on Friday -- Black Friday, Friday the 13th -- and, all things considered, I am sorry. I'd been awake for three days running, and went Thursday night to hold vigil at San Quentin, on the eve of yet another execution. I got home shortly before noon, wrote a story for the Daily Cal on the vigil, and passed out. Charles came and woke me at 10, told me to call my parents because they were worried about me, and to get the hell over to Stephens Union to an emergency meeting.
In the week since, I have pieced together what happened at the hearings Friday. The morning was like the previous afternoon: singing and chanting, newspapermen, and discontent. The picket outside was over 200 strong and continued the whole day long. Many more police were present. The barricade was in place before the demonstrators arrived, and the "friendly spectators" were already in their seats. A loudspeaker was set up outside, in the Civic Park, to broadcast the hearings, and a large crowd gathered around it. Only about ten demonstrators were admitted to the hearing room. News of this quickly got around and increased the tension among the 200 or so who still waited in the rotunda.
The clamor for fair admittance grew to such a pitch that the sheriff came around at 11 and asked the demonstrators (who were largely students) to return at 1:45. He told them that people, including card-holders, would be admitted on a first-come, first-served basis then. He was heeded, and things became less noisy. Little happened inside the hearing room, save that the witnesses were raking the Committee over the coals as best they were able; the crowd at the loudspeakers heard this, and cheered often.
Willis had given the sheriff and other police a tongue-lashing, describing them as "panty-waists" for the newspapers and saying that with a well-organized force the previous day's disturbances would not have happened. During the late morning in the hearing room men came in with large pictures just out of the developer's room, trying to pick out those who had been particularly troublesome the day before from among the few students there. Active demonstration within the building ceased entirely at noon, as people awaited fruition of the sheriff's promise. Let me quote you from two eyewitness accounts -- we have been collecting them as an aid to the defense of the arrested students, and in preparation for a history of the three days:
"By the time the doors opened, our line contained two hundred persons. As we stood, quietly and respectfully, the earlier denizens of the chamber began filing back into the hearing room. A cordon of policemen stepped in front of our line and pushed several students away from the doors to make way for the card-holders. They were admitted through the side doors, doors inviolate to our group. A girl shouted, 'They're letting in the white cards.' Another voice from the line replied, 'Shut up, let's give them a chance.' Finally the card-holders were inside the chamber. 'We've got room for fifteen people,' a voice said. A shout, a cry, arose from the line: 'No, no, no!' Another voice attempted to quiet us. 'Shush, give him a chance to speak,' people said.’There's room for five people’’No, no, no,’ was chanted again. Then the group beneath the rotunda chanted and sang. Suddenly we were flanked by additional officers; they formed a cordon between ourselves and the chamber entrance.
"We stood on the landing, stunned; they, behind the barricades. Someone started a song; at once we were all singing the old song, 'We shall not, we shaIl not be moved . . .' A shout: 'Sit Down!!' As it re-echoed, we sat, in a pattern which reminded me of a flower.
"The water struck out at us without warning. The police, in seeking to disperse us, had turned on a high-pressure fire hose. It had the opposite effect. The demonstration surged forward, not to seize the hose or the attackers, but to defy them. The singing rose over the sound of the spray and we pressed together. The police were prepared for this and charged us, their clubs swinging. I turned and saw a youth lying face-down on the upper step. He was moving slightly and several students tried to reach him. They were knocked back by clubs. The police were holding him down. He somehow managed to stand -- blood had already covered a third of his face. About sixty persons huddled together in the face of two heavy streams of water and about twenty policemen. We sang the National Anthem. The water stopped. It looked like we had won.
"A new phase began. More policemen filed into the rotunda from every door. They pushed and pulled people down the steps. Again the cry to sit down. The stairs were filled with demonstrators. The hoses were turned on again. The police were using the hall as a sluiceway for human beings. A girl was lying unconscious on the hall floor, a policeman dragging her limp form onward. A man rushed out to the officer and hassled for a moment. He stopped, and the man opened the girl's eyelids. 'She's alive,' he said. At my side a man laughed."
-- Joel Brewer's and Alan Shelly's accounts
Everyone save the police testifies to the following facts: there was no violence from the students at any time, and almost all of them were seated with their hands in their pockets or behind their backs when the "riot" started; promise was given of fair seating, and the demonstration was conducted peacefully on that promise; no warning was given to clear the rotunda before the hoses were brought forth and turned on; the demonstrators at no time "charged the door" or the hoses; the police in general, and the riot squad in particular, were guilty of what can only be described by a badly overworked word: "brutality." The particular tales are too many to give in full: unconscious students were dragged down sixty-some steps by their heels, their heads bumping on the marble and the girls' skirts over their heads; a riot squad man detoured a few feet to step on the outstretched hand of an unconscious demonstrator, spraining or breaking a finger; men were held down and clubbed or kicked in the groin. The scene has been described as the Odessa Steps and few who were present can speak of it calmly. Sixty-four students and others, including five minors, were arrested and jailed. They included picketers, spectators, and passersby.
The newspaper reports were biased to the point of incoherence. UPI sent out a dispatch initially accurate and favorable to the demonstrators; but within half an hour reversed their ground totally. The final consensus by the papers was that the riot started when a student grabbed a cop's billy and slugged him with it. [This was later disproved in court.] No mention was made of the card-pass system, of the promises voided, or of the actions of the police in detail. Two eyewitness stories said explicitly: "I saw no evidence of police brutality . . . " Yet the papers betray themselves: they say 400+ cops were at the scene when the riot was on (most already there), and offer as a peak estimate of the demonstrators within the rotunda, 250.
The rest of the day passed in relative peace. No one was allowed inside the building, and the picket line -- which did not waver during the "riot" -- maintained and increased its order and strength. When the hearings ended, people went home to spread the word.
And so it was that 1 was roused to attend an emergency meeting to plan for the last day of the hearings. It began with fifteen people; by the time I got there, it had been moved twice, finally ending up in the basement of a co-op, and had grown to 800. Eyewitness accounts of the day were given, Doug spoke, a defense fund was set up in the form of a wastebasket passed around the room. It took in $450 from the students present (few of whom had been in San Francisco that day, or, indeed, the day before). There was an air of great excitement marshaled into order by the sense that something of extreme importance was afoot.
The meeting itself was unbelievable: on this campus, where you can't raise fifty people for a poetry reading, when only 1,000 students will sign an anti-ROTC petition in two weeks of circulation, where attempts to organize peace programs, discussion groups, and similar things have met repeated failure, 800 people came to an informal, unpublicized meeting. It was not the violence alone that brought them, or that made them stay past midnight; they knew what was afoot.
Afterwards twenty-five of us met in a nearby apartment to finish planning the demonstration, taking upon ourselves the task of organizing and controlling the picket lines. That our protest was to take solely the form of picketing is testimony to the feelings of the crowd. Overriding our sense of shock and outrage was this sense of responsibility for the coming day. We realized the necessity for maintaining a strong and orderly picket, and the grave possibility of the worst bloodbath in the city's history. The tactics of the police had made it clear that we could expect no aid in disciplining the line.
We tried to plan for all contingencies: police violence, integration with ILWU pickets, interference by American Legion goons, reinforcements from SF State, agitation for violent protest from within our own ranks … We chose a steering committee of six, laid plans for liaison with press and police, and drew up picket regulations and sent a group off to mimeograph 1,000 copies. Three hours later we adjourned, after providing for a meeting before the demonstration began and setting up rides for the carless monitors.
I was present all the next day, as a monitor on the line. People were barred from the entire building. A line was formed ending at the steps, containing potential spectators. They were admitted in small groups throughout the day. Though the white cards were still packing the chamber, a fairly large proportion of non-card carriers got in. The line conducted itself at all times in an orderly fashion, waiting patiently for admittance. Several hundred police were there, including thirty cavalry and forty motorcycle police (riot squad), who kept circling the building. Most of the garden-variety policemen stood silently during the entire day, neither making comments nor attempting to interfere with the proceedings.
The loudspeakers were again set up in the park. Three or four thousand people came to listen to them and watch the picketing. Most stayed the entire day. As a whole they were amazingly partisan, and grew steadily more so as the day progressed. One reason for this was that the microphones were placed so that the whispers of the Committee members to each other were clearly audible, and most damning. The crowd's sympathies were very clear: they booed the trained seals, cheered whenever a subpoenae managed to say something, and reacted loudly to the testimony of Sheriff Cahill and Inspector Maguire, who gave sterling, whitewashed accounts of the police action the previous day. There were few students in the crowd, so the noise cannot be held to their account. Nor were there any agitators.
But the picket line was the most significant part of what happened. We began marching half an hour early, because there was no other way to keep so many people in order. The line's strength never fell below 400, and in the early afternoon there were 1,200, many with signs. A large percentage were students, of course, but there were labor men, mothers with children, businessmen, and a general sprinkling of the surrounding community. We had tried to weed out signs explicitly referring to the police violence the day before. Most of the pickets complied gladly when we explained that we hoped not to inflame the situation still further, and that we wished to focus attention on the main aim of the demonstration -- the protest of the Committee's activities.
During the day girls ran out and brought Cokes back to the monitors, who never left their posts during the nine hours. When people broke to grab a bite of lunch they often brought back drinks which were passed, hand to hand, down the line. At 3, when legs began to really drag, I started giving out the remnants of a roll of Life Savers. The response was so heartening that I took a couple of dollars and went for more. We passed them out one by one. By the time the hearings ended we distributed over 120 rolls. People lit up like light bulbs, and the humor of the act combined with the small lift it gave, helped maintain morale in those slump hours.
This line was our triumph. Its behavior was flawless. Through the whole day there was not a song, not a shout, not a cheer, not a boo. Many in the line had been there the day before; many others had heard first-hand hysterical accounts. Picketing is hard work; an hour on the line is at least the equivalent of an hour of hiking: the steady, constrained pace and the windblown signs combine to make it extremely tiring. Thus the picketers were irritable, resentful, and tired -- and, being mostly young, filled with the kind of energy and emotion that is so hard to repress, which usually finds outlet in shouts and singing -- or in the traditional panty raids.
Saturday the line was dead silent, save for scattered conversation, and its order never broke. We started strong, we held strong, and we finished strong, maintaining the line almost half an hour after the Committee left the building at the close of the hearings. The line was single file, doubled around the large block, and spaced almost militarily. And it held, it held! When six police jumped a bearded photographer on the steps and hustled him into the paddy- wagon amid boos from the crowd, the line continued. When Arens appeared on the balcony, the crowd greeted him with jeering Fascist salutes, and sang "Arens is a Fascist … Committee go home …” The line, a thousand strong, marched in silence. Police jerked a Negro out of the admission line and began pummeling him and dragging him off, and a cry of protest arose. The line held. The horsemen started toward the crowd, and the crowd gathered itself and came forward shouting to meet them. The line slowed down. During the closing speeches, the pickets and crowd were explicitly described as Communists. A vast boo arose, the sort of sound a hometown baseball crowd will make in the midst of a hot pennant race when an umpire makes a flagrantly outrageous decision. Our line remained slowly marching, in perfect spacing and perfect silence. I cannot describe the sound; it had a knife-edge behind it, the most ugly sound I ever hope to hear. I think it was at that moment that all of us had the frightening vision of just what the crowd's attitude really was, and of what it could do if anything began to happen. I know I had this feeling, I can call it up now, like the chill that remains in your bones after standing long hours in the cold. Yet the line held, without a sound, without a break in pace.
The police watched all this in silence, and I think they were impressed by what they saw -- the normal squad, at least; the SS men kept looking for trouble. The closing speeches went on for close to an hour, and it was then that the real feeling of triumph began to hit us. The line tightened its formation and increased its pace, and we began to smile. Some students had gotten inside, either awaiting their turn in the hearings or not having left afterwards. They were singing and chanting. We heard them, loud and cheered. Then Willis began cursing us in his closing speech; you can imagine what that did for our morale.
The Committee left without fanfare, with no announcement until ten minutes after their actual departure. And the manner of their leaving was interesting. Not in the fancy Cadillac of previous days, smiling Committeemen pausing at the door to flashbulbs and the cheers of the DAR. No. In a small white car, flanked fore and aft by cop cars, unannounced. through a side door, without pausing for photographs . . .
Writing now, so much later, it is hard to convey the feelings we had. During the whole closing speech I stood at my corner, policing the line, relaying word of the testimony and Willis's rantings, words of encouragement: "It's almost over . . . they're in the closing speeches ... keep ranks until the crowd has dispersed . . . Willis is cursing us now . . . five feet apart and slower, please (but it was impossible to slow them!) ... that's our boys in there, yes, ours are singing ... " I stood, sunburned of face, as were most of the marchers, smiling, proudly feeling my white armband with the black M for monitor on it, smiling and smiling till my face was fixed in that expression. And crying, without control, crying with love and pride for the people and how they had handled themselves and what they had done. Two weeks ago, when they killed Chessman, I had come close to crying from sheer rage and frustration. This time it was different, this time we had won. And all of us knew this. We did not dare to say it, did not dare break the rigid control that had kept the line going all day. But I was not the only one crying.
That night in Berkeley we had a small party, attended mostly by the "hard-core, experienced agitators" as we had been described. And it was a victory party: we sang "We shall not be moved" as I have never heard it sung, as a saga of the three days, event by event, and we sang it for a full half-hour of intensity and enthusiasm, stopping only when the guitarists could play no longer. We had the first papers then, the big headlines: "5000 AT CITY HALL," and the references, the forced references, to the discipline and deportment of the line we had held. And here too was another sign of triumph: the headlines had changed. Friday morning we were "a screaming mob," Friday afternoon "Communist rioters," Saturday morning "agitated demonstrators." And Saturday night and Sunday morning? "People." Just that.
I have told you the events. Now let me tell you their meaning. It is hard to know where to begin; I think I will plunge right in. These three days as a whole were almost certainly the most significant political event in this country in the past fifteen years, and possibly for the whole previous quarter-century. These days show that HUAC and its kindred spirits have reached and passed the point at which they begin to evoke more anger than fear by their actions. The testimony is clear: the vast majority of the crowd, and almost all of the picketers, were there not for the spectacle, bur because they knew what was happening. They were there for protest, and the deportment of the line, that wonderful line, makes this statement unshakable. There were friends whom I never would have expected to see, marching silently, without complaint, for the whole day. There were people from the community who had not even signed a petition for decades. But it is the students I am most concerned with. We set up a table on campus to help raise a defense fund for those who were arrested. Contributions have been coming in at a rate of over $200 a day. From the students who before would give money only for Greek Week or Spring Sing. The editorials have been saying about the riots, "too bad . . . they have clinched the survival of the Committee for another twenty years . . ." If testimony is needed that the case is much the opposite, it is to be found in the gallon mayonnaise jar that is emptied and taken to the bank every few hours.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the City, picketing of Woolworth's and Kress's was continuing in force as it has for several months. And a peace parade, the Little Summit March, was marching toward Union Square and a meeting of 3,000 people. Conservatively, at least 8,000 people were actively demonstrating throughout San Francisco that day. Do you remember my poem, "The Third Sunday in May"? I wrote it a year ago, after another peace walk. Only a hundred of us marched that day.
I keep wanting to dwell on the determination of the people in the picket line. They were mostly students, and for the first time in many years, students who knew what was happening and why. I've been in college four years now, active in political affairs, a close watcher of the atmosphere in the community in general and among my coevals in particular. These three days have furnished a solid base on which to set the hopes which I and so many others have carried so long in our virtual solitudes. Student apathy is, by now, legendary on the campuses. Yet here is the sign that we were not in a condition of death, but one of stasis. Oh, there have been portents, most notably what has been happening in the South. But the Southern incidents are not overtly political in the sense that the San Francisco incidents have been. This is not to take away the rightful honor of the Negro (and white) students there -- but the fact remains, the expression here was essentially different.
What has happened here is partly a product of the locale, a fairly liberal community by tradition, though not particularly so in the past decade. But it is primarily a product of the times. We knew on Thursday, and said as much, that the mere physical sound we raised in the rotunda was a sound that has not been heard in this country in connection with a political situation since the middle of the Depression. The days that followed confirmed and strengthened this knowledge. Two years ago, one quarter the number of people could not have been rallied to oppose the Un-Americans. Two weeks ago the "hard core" of students on local campuses who were willing to drop whatever work they had and strive toward organizing a "reception" could not have exceeded 100. But tomorrow, or five years from now, the number will be ten times that: everyone who was there Friday or marched Saturday, or has friends who did.
And I see something of more significance even than the coming death of the Committee and the reawakening of students. I see the rise of a new Left in this country, a Left of a nature that has not been seen within this century. It will be a Left unconnected with the past. The Communists as a group are dead, though the Committee will go on flushing phantom dragons for quite a while before it expires. The Socialist movement is split into many small groups, and the movement so headstrong among its younger elements several years ago for a United Front has come to very little. I think the new Left will rise, is rising, almost without influence from the splintered old Left. The remnants of the old Left are looked upon almost as curiosities, with no one wanting very much either to emulate them in their verbal violence or to hate them.
Instead a new Left is coming, a Left of "independent radical activity": non-partisan. indiscriminate in its condemnation of reactionaries and old-style radicals, not inclined to organization (which will make it difficult to trace its rise), and uncapturable by either the splintered old Left or by progressive elements in present major parties. The Democrats had their chance with Stevenson after '52. They muffed it badly, and I do not believe they will regain it. A strong position as a peace party might have captured this new movement had it been taken in preparation for the '56 election or even, possibly, for the coming one this Fall. But I think matters are beyond capture now.
It is hard to predict what the course of events will be for this New Left, if indeed my surmise as to its existence and development is correct. I think there will be little or no permanent organizational tendencies, few or no alignments with established forces, much confusion as to its real nature, futile attempts made both to capture it and to stamp it out, much seemingly grass roots activity on the pressing matters of the day -- disarmament, bombs, peace, witch-hunting, capital punishment, integration. I think all the elements are here and clear for those able to read them, and I regret that I am not myself more skilled in doing so.
But I know -- and I am not alone in my feeling -- that this decade will make a great deal of history. And I believe also that this new Left is an historical/social inevitability. Rather than delay its birth, the events since the War have been most necessary and have gone a long way toward shaping what will come. So much silence will have an out, and a peculiar and potent one indeed.
It is one thing to say that we are living in the middle of history; everyone is aware of this. It is quite another thing to know that this is so, to participate in actions that one knows are in the growing-bud of the historical tree. Pardon me if my surmises as to the significance and implications of what is happening seem to overreach themselves. I have given them much thought. You might show this letter to some of those embittered, defeated people you write me about. California air does not bring political action on such a basis, despite its other salutary effects. Have heart: the Revolution is coming faster than we knew, though it will be a very different sort of revolution indeed from any that have preceded it.
Love & Heart,
Sometimes, in the intensity of Coming Together, Time's weather clears, and you can see for years and years. Even the newspapers caught a version of the flash that time, and in an avalanche of editorials first began to recognize America's youth as a threat to ultimate law and order. In these 1960 demonstrations you can also see the early stages of our relationship with the police, and how we emphasized passive self-restraint in the face of violence. We had -- dare I say it? -- a certain sense of civilization then, enough even to be distressed by girls' skirts being rudely uplifted. But surely the signs of violence we were given on the marble steps of City Hall told us what to expect for our pains, and for later in the decade.
Whatever's proved true about us, we were right about HUAC. In those three days -- reinforced by the informational campaign we carried on for the next few years -- the mystique of HUAC's unchallenged omnipotence was shattered. It hasn't visited the Bay Area since, and it cut out traveling altogether for a few years. By the time it summoned Jerry Rubin to Washington for his Vietnam Day Committee activities, in 1966, America's climate was maximally Liberal, and HUAC was fair play for mockery -- Jerry appeared in a moth-eaten American Revolution uniform, drawing a wide and appreciative press.
But HUAC is not dead, it has only been renamed; and a new chapter has already opened in the annals of witch-hunting. The victims now are "agitators," the attacks less comprehensively organized but increasing. Since 1967, Federal and local judiciaries have been dreaming up conspiracy trials, and since Cambodia and Agnew, ad-hoc committees have been springing up to purge college faculties and welfare agencies of subversives. After the sentencing of the Chicago Eight in 1969, we held a protest in dozens of cities, called The Day After. It marked our resumption of organized opposition to witch-hunting -- which we will need to develop more strongly, given what we're headed into.