Why the War in Vietnam?

Click on the title above, and it will take you to a PDF of an old anti-Vietnam War leaflet.

Spent Sunday night at my mother’s and she had found it in her storage. Simple black and white thing – no graphics. My parents believe it may have been the first anti-Vietnam war leaflet in San Francisco. It was their creation.

They first pulled it out when I was in high school. Having read some of the SWP stuff I was bringing home – triggering bad memories of their own run-ins with the SWP and similar groups back in the 60s and early 70s, they took it out to show me how political literature ought to be written.

But first a little history. Note that the group members all put their names, addresses, and phone numbers on the back. Naivete. They learned quickly that it was a bad idea. Note that there are four Kirks on the list. Evelyn, my aunt, died a few years back.

At least one other person on the list, Gayle Figueroa, was a family friend who died just a couple of years after this leaflet was printed.  Joseph (now goes by Jose) is still alive and kicking.

My parents don’t remember much about the others on the list, except that they were all in their late 20s or older – some of them from radical families and others Civil Rights Movement veterans (with plenty of overlap between the two). Ace Delosada was a bit older, and was active in the CIO before it merged with the AFL – I know this from an old library archived newspaper article I found online.

There was plenty of political activity in Berkeley at the time, largely the Free Speech Movement on campus, as follow-up to the CORE activities against job discrimination in grocery stores and the anti-HUAC demonstration which radicalized so many of them at City Hall. There was not much outside of labor happening in San Francisco. The North Beach scene was never really political in anything other than a cultural way, and the Haight Ashbury was just starting to percolate. I did not know until I saw this leaflet again (and didn’t notice it 30 years ago) that my parents had moved us from Mill Valley to Castro Street. By the time I was two, we lived on Cole Street in the Haight (and left for Moss Beach and the Blue Lady well before the Summer of Love when I was three). So this leaflet was printed in 1965 or perhaps early 1966.

And it generated an enormous response.

These were older activists – some of them seasoned. Grounded. And they understood the Socratic approach to rhetoric. I think it is one of the best written leaflets I’ve seen. It doesn’t tell you how to think. It’s primarily a series of questions. Designed to simply make you think. It avoids words like “imperialism.” And it avoids slogans like “Say No to the War in Vietnam!” It invites the reader to find his/her own voice. It respects the reader.

And the activists who understand this concept are far and few. Part of the reason I was drawn into the Christian left movements, even before I seriously considered religion itself, was the approach of humility and respect sometimes lacking in the secular movements, particularly in the hard old and new left milieus.

Still, the leaflet resulted in threatening phone calls, and other harassment. But the group grew rather quickly.

The group that formed would evolve into the San Francisco contingent of what would become known as The Peace and Freedom Party. My parents didn’t stay involved. They thought that Eldritch Cleaver was a bad choice to run for President in 1968, but supported him anyway. By 1972, they were supporting McGovern even though they liked the P&F candidate – Dr. Benjamin Spock. When I want to cast a protest vote because the Democrat is too conservative or otherwise undesirable, I opt for the P&F Party candidate more often than the Green, and I wish they would merge. We don’t need our fringe groups splintered at the ballot.

Anyway, just thought I would share.

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