In 1968, Jim Kelly and I moved to Lansing, Michigan with our toddler son. While Kelly studied for his Masters of Social Work at Michigan State, one-year-old Joe and I marched with the national anti-war organization “Another Mother for Peace” to protest cereal companies that advertised during violent cartoons on Saturday morning TV.
We returned to Belmar, New Jersey, at the end of the school year and moved into an old Victorian beach house where Kelly painted the exterior in lieu of rent. At the end of the summer, we moved in with Kelly’s parents while he sought employment. Built-in babysitters allowed us to frequent our favorite saloon, McCann’s Tavern. In autumn, 1969, I got word that the Vietnam Moratorium Committee was planning what would be the largest antiwar protest in United States history.
I set about convincing our drinking group at McCann’s to drive the four hours to the March on Washington. Ramparts Magazine had taught me everything I needed to know about the War. This publication gave birth to my congenital anti-war condition with stories such as an expose about a Michigan State University group that worked in Vietnam as a front for the CIA.
In McCann’s we debated off and on about driving to the nation’s capital in the dead of night. Even though everyone just wanted to drink and have a few laughs, I kept it up. “Forty-five thousand American troops have died in the past two years. If we don’t end the war your military deferments will be rescinded and you’ll all get drafted into the Army.”
That did it.
Two carloads of us drove off at McCann’s last call. Since I had lived in Washington as a teenager for a few months with my father, I drove the lead car, pretending I knew the directions.
When we arrived, yellow school buses were parking bumper to bumper around the White House so President Nixon wouldn’t see the protesters. We headed to a Jersey Shore friend’s place near DuPont Circle to sober up and eat. Reeking of coffee and cigarettes, our speed-freak friend had been up all night working in a restaurant but he hitched on to our party and created an all-out breakfast banquet. They all fell asleep. I dropped a diet pill and took off for the Lincoln Memorial.
Peter, Paul and Mary and Arlo Guthrie belted out tunes between speeches from anti-war Senators Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern. Peace hero Dr. Benjamin Spock, whose book on baby care taught me how to be an engaged mother, told us half million idealists that we were all noble. Pete Seeger led the crowd in the singing of John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance.” I have loved sing-alongs ever since.
Back at the crash pad I hustled my friends outside to join the protesters marching toward DuPont Circle. We all got tear-gassed, screamed for mercy, helped each other to our cars and tore out of town.
The war ended six years later.
No one got drafted.