Lori Thatcher

Writing and Thinking about writing

Washington DC November 1969

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“Walk Walk Walk Walk” I was yelling at the horde of people as loud as I could while still trying to keep my voice calm. There were still so many babies and young children in the crowd. When the first canisters of tear gas burst into clouds of choking white mist, everyone had turned and began running, pushing and shoving to get away.

David and I had climbed on a small wall that surrounded a tiny oasis of landscaping in the huge paved area and were doing the only thing that we could to help crowd control, yelling “Walk, walk, walk, be careful of the kids, there are children here, walk walk walk”.

“What am I doing here?” I asked myself, not for the first or last time that day. It was supposed to be a peaceful protest. Earlier in the day, on the ellipse in front of the White House we had linked arms and sung “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”  That’s why I had enlisted. What happened?

We went to Washington DC because a friend of a friend had an old bus and was willing to fill it up with hippies and drive us down to march for peace. “Oh let’s. It’ll be a grand adventure,” I pleaded to David.

I did have some forewarning of the violence that followed. On the ride down, while huddling under blankets in that cold bus, we spoke politics, of course. We were sitting next to a college student that I hadn’t met before and he said “I’m gonna kill me a pig.”

I felt sick. His eyes were a black hole and I found myself unable to challenge him, unable to speak a word. I was critical of the police but that kind of hate scared me. My naïve outlook was that we would protest for peace in a peaceful manner, right?

When we arrived in Washington, we went to a March Orientation Center. When the organizers asked for volunteers to train to be marshals, David and I jumped at the chance. We were sent to stand between the marchers and the police in front of the White House. Although the barrier of buses crammed nose to tail one after another and the fire hoses laid on the White House lawn made me nervous, everything had been very orderly and peaceful. We shivered and shared blankets and laughed when one policeman suggested “If you guys get too hot we can turn on the hydrants.” Late in the day when we heard the request for marshals at the Justice Department, we hurried over.

We were greeted by a policeman who saw our blue armbands and said “We can’t selectively tear gas, can you talk to the parents and tell them to get their kids out of here?”

 David tried. “There’s going to be teargas, get your kid out of here” he said, but a couple with a little girl in a stroller looked at him like he was the enemy. We spoke with parent after parent, but no one would listen to us.

I didn’t see the group that tore the American flag down but I did see the fire. “Oh no, David, They’re burning the flag,” I said.  The first bottles were thrown. A brick shattered the window of a police car and then tear gas canisters were dropping and everyone was running and we were yelling walk and the tear gas was drifting over us. Despite the initial hysteria, I didn’t see anyone fall or get trampled and when the tear gas got too thick we walked away coughing and crying, with me asking myself again “What am I doing here?”

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