by Lindsay Russell
ARLINGTON, Va. – Burning draft cards. Scaling walls. Bloody arrests. The scene at the Pentagon on Oct. 21, 1967 was grim. The first national anti-war protest turned quickly into a riot. But exactly 51 years later, a different scene unfolded outside the Department of Defense headquarters. The same cause was championed with a message of peace.
The 1967 March on the Pentagon brought 70,000 people from around the country to the National Mall. Protesters rallied at the Lincoln Memorial all day in opposition to the war in Vietnam.
Later that evening, the 30,000 remaining protesters crossed the Memorial Bridge into Arlington and headed for the Pentagon. Protesters were met by military police, and the rioting began. Close to 30 protesters pushed their way through the line of U.S. Marshals into the Pentagon, where heavily armed troops forcibly removed them.
The riots continued into the night. By the time the sun came up, 682 protesters had been arrested, and 47 people — both protesters and U.S. Marshals—were injured.
Fast forward 51 years. The crowd is smaller, the protest tamer, but the anti-war sentiment is still alive and well.
The Women’s March on the Pentagon was a dream of organizer Cindy Sheehan’s after she saw how little attention the Women’s March on Washington paid to world peace as a universal goal.
“This is NOT a pink-pussy-hatted event to only oppose Trump and Get Out the Vote for the treacherous and warmongering Democrats: This is a principled nonpartisan march on the bipartisan U.S. war machine,” she wrote on her website.
Sheehan became involved in anti-war activism after her son was killed Iraq in 2004. U.S. Army Specialist Casey Sheehan was promised by his recruiter that he would never see combat. But just a few weeks into his deployment to Iraq, Sheehan’s unit was attacked by rocket-propelled grenades outside of Baghdad.
After her son’s death, Cindy Sheehan found solace in the anti-war movement. But when President Obama was elected in 2008, Sheehan realized that the anti-war movement was actually more of an anti-Bush movement. Obama did not face the same scrutiny over decisions made as commander in chief, but Sheehan believed him to be equally responsible.
The group of about 350 protesters – a number estimated by a U.S. Pentagon police officer – gathered outside the Pentagon City metro station to begin the march just before noon on Oct. 21. That number fell short of the 600 people who RSVP’d “going” to the event’s Facebook page.
Sheehan posted the protesters’ demands to her website ahead of the event: “The complete end to the wars abroad; closure of foreign bases; dramatically slash the Pentagon budget to fund healthy social programs here at home: the only good empire is a gone empire.”
The opposition to politics was felt in most of the protesters. Many have no faith in the current political system.
Al Johnson, 72, attended the protest as part of Veterans for Peace, a group of military veterans who support an end to foreign wars. Johnson was drafted into the Army during the 1960s but refused orders to Vietnam. He was placed in a military stockade.
When asked about his hopes for the midterm elections, Johnson said he hasn’t voted in years. Some members of Veterans for Peace are currently trying to flip an Ohio congressional district from red to blue, but Johnson wasn’t impressed.
“The midterms aren’t worth my time … Action in the streets is more important than midterm election day,” he said.
Former Naval Petty Officer Third Class Chuck Andriotakis agreed with Johnson.
Andriotakis, also with Veterans for Peace, enlisted in the Navy during the Vietnam War and served as a hospital corpsman. He also does not vote because he believes all political parties are the same. Andriotakis, like Johnson, would rather take to the streets.
The Green Party also had representation at the protest. Paula Bradshaw, a retired emergency room nurse, attended the protest because the Democrats and Republicans are both “despicable war mongers.” Bradshaw has never voted for a Democrat or Republican for president.
Back in Illinois, Bradshaw ran for an congressional seat three times on the Green Party platform: peace, social justice, environmental wisdom and grassroots democracy.
“Those just aren’t issues the voters care about,” she said of her three defeats.
Miriam Jovanovic, 23, and Joe Gale, 25, attended the protest together on behalf of their New York-based political organization, Students and Youth for a New America.
“I feel deeply moved about joining forces with other people to take our message to the streets,” Jovanovic said.
When asked about their hopes for the midterm elections, Jovanovic and Gale said that a systematic change from capitalism to socialism was the only solution for America’s political problems.
They handed out fliers that read, “Only Socialism Can Save America!” The handout idolized the socialist policies of Mao Zedong, among others. It encouraged the United States to adopt a similar form of socialism.
Chairman Mao’s Great Leap Forward killed 45 million Chinese peasants. They were overworked and starved to death.
As the crowd reached their final destination– a rally point in a parking lot a quarter of a mile from the Pentagon – their cheers continued. “Show me what democracy looks like!” leaders chanted. “This is what democracy looks like!”