I became part of the anti-war movement. The Vietnam Day Committee in Berkeley put on Vietnam Day. There were four members of the W.E.B. DuBois club and Jerry Rubin who made up the initial committee that put it on. Jerry got all the publicity but we did most of the work. It was a non-stop teach-in for 36 hours. And Ringo and I were co-captains of VDC Rover [the monitor team that — unlike other teams — was not assigned a particular location but went wherever it was needed.] Our job as a monitor team was to patrol the area and deal with troublemakers. We were up for 36 hours.
I got to see Willie Brown [a longtime Democratic politician, later speaker of the California State Assembly and then mayor of San Francisco] do a fundraising pitch that was truly magical and learned a very useful skill. And it was like if the Free Speech Movement had been our college class taught by experts, all labs, everything I need to know about Movement organization was on display. How to do it right. How to do it wrong. How to build a coalition. How to break one. How to win. How to lose. It was all there.
Well, now we graduated and here was our profession, the Vietnam War. I was hired to be office manager of the W.E.B. DuBois clubs in San Francisco in which capacity I had the pleasure of having my office blown up with 50 sticks of dynamite. I was not there. It was 4:00 in the morning when it went off. Our organizational secretary Terence Hallinan, subsequently Board of Supervisors member and District Attorney of San Francisco, was at a party and thought he’d go by the office cause it was Saturday night and pick up the Saturday mail. And then he thought, “Ah fuck it. I’m too drunk.” Went home. And he probably would’ve been right about over the bomb. Leveled the building.
The San Francisco police tried to blame it on us. They eventually found out it was a right-winger from Pittsburgh, California who also blew up the Vietnam Day Committee headquarters later. And sent a very similar threatening story which a reporter noted and tracked him down and then turned him over to the police.
About that time, I got a draft notice. I wondered whether or not I should register for the draft, but my mother convinced me I had to. She didn’t want me to be drafted but, you know, she thought I’d get in big trouble if I didn’t. So like a fool I registered for the draft in Merced.
If I had registered in Berkeley I would have been called to the Oakland Induction Center where they knew from political troublemakers and would’ve tossed me out on my ear. But, I got summoned to Fresno. I was in Fresno in ’66 with a room full of guys, all of whom wanted to go airborne and kill commies. It ended up with them calling us all to step forward, raise our right hand and swear and I refused to step forward. So, a kindly major said, “All right. You guys, outside. You. Stay there. Ok, you get another chance. You can step forward now.”
I said, “No sir! Won’t do it, sir.” He says, “OK. Fine.” Went home and began a six year dance with Selective Service. The reason I got away with it was while I was there I was thinking, the Army does not draft members of the Communist Party. The Party is an underground organization. It was a $10,000.00 fine and one year in jail for every day that you did not register as an agent of a foreign power, i.e. the Soviet Union. Needless to say, we didn’t register and we were, therefore, wrapping up these terrific eventual penalties.
We didn’t care. However, both because it was illegal and you could lose your job particularly if you worked for the government, and because the Party didn’t want just anybody who was a member of the Party making statements on its behalf, I was not authorized to speak about my membership. So, I called The People’s World [a Communist Party newspaper published in San Francisco] but the guy who answered didn’t know me and here’s this kid in Fresno asking if he should reveal the fact that he’s in the Communist Party.
Over the phone.
Yeah. But, I’m not going there. I filed for conscientious objector status. I could make an argument for it. The key thing was they accepted my application. They received the piece of paper. Once they had done so my induction was off. So my failure to step forward was not a violation of the law because I shouldn’t have been asked to step forward. I had filed for C.O. That process had to be administratively finished before it could be determined whether or not I could be drafted.
And eventually I lost that one after two appeals. The deal was when I first went in in ’66 everybody wanted to go to Vietnam. There was a guy crying because they discovered a heart condition so he could not enlist. When, final round with them, probably about ’68, ’69, first thing I heard when I walked in the Center was a private yelling, “This Army sucks!” and a voice from behind the door says, “What was that, Private?” “This Army sucks. Sir!” Lieutenant sticks his head out and says, “Yeah. That’s about right.” The Army was falling apart and they knew it. And they thought the war stunk.
So I was done with that. In retrospect I was there by myself. I had no instruction from the Party, from the peace movement. Nobody ready to help me out. Lo-o-ong ass way from home and you know, no support. And I just said, “Hey, I ain’t doin’ it.”
One day a guy knocked on my door with a clipboard and said, “Sign here.” I read it and it said “This certifies that you are not qualified to be a member of the U.S. Armed Forces” and I thought for just a moment, damn! The Army is falling apart in chunks. I’m an experienced organizer and agitator. I can give them so much trouble — and then I thought, “Nooo. Remember! Military justice is to justice as military music is to music. It’s not the same thing. Don’t play in their game.” And so I said, “OK. I’ll sign.” And I was done with them.
Now, what happened after this era in your life?
It was very interesting because many of us had been, you know, commitment 150%. We’re here. What do we do? Roll out at four in the morning to be on a picket line. Stay up for 3 days, assembling pamphlets. Go out there and fight, you know, stand on the line against hordes of cops. Did you see [the movie] “Berkeley in the Sixties” with the Hell’s Angels, that march?
Yeah, yeah, and I was there on that march [though nowhere near the front edge of the giant crowd where the Hell’s Angels attacked the demonstrators.]
Yeah, well, you can see Ringo Hallinan taking on Sonny Barger [a well-known Hell’s Angel] at the right hand of our line. At the left end of our line was me cause Ringo and I were co-captains of that front line. I’m not in the film but I was there.
You’ve told me you spent time in New York as a guard and driver ….
Yeah yeah. I was chauffeur and bodyguard for Gus Hall [then chairman of the Communist Party U.S.A.] ’68 to ’69. And that was the time we had a million people in the streets in New York at an anti-war demonstration. The FBI file that I got included one page I’m exceedingly proud of and can’t find anymore but it lists the ten most dangerous individuals and organizations in the city of New York during the week after Martin Luther King was killed. And I was #7 with a bullet. I was the representative from the Young Workers Liberation League which was the successor to the DuBois Clubs. On the organizing committee that was putting together the marches. I was no more dangerous than you know, the man in the moon.
But the thing I remember about that week was we had marched past Wall Street before, for anti-war marches. The brokers would come out and jeer at us, at the way we dressed, the way our hair was, call us ‘commies’ and all the rest of this stuff.
And how big were these marches?
They’d be a couple hundred people to five thousand, all depending. Well, the King ones were big but this time the brokers were out but they were not laughing. You could see them practically wetting their pants. Because we were so angry and you could see like neon, over their heads, the thought “What if they all suddenly face right and come right into the building! They’ll kill us!” And we were angry enough. I mean, we were just shaking at what they had done.
And you’re saying, “What they had done.” What are you talking about?
Well, we knew that [Dr.] King was not killed by a lone bullet. The Pentagon was another funny story. Came away with that paratrooper’s helmet that I then passed on to a girl I knew.
You’re talking about the big demonstration in front of the Pentagon. Planning to make it rise.
No. Only fucking Abby Hoffman talked about levitating the Pentagon. Nobody else was about that. And that’s all the press remembers, the goddamned Yuppies. I got down there. But I got out that night. We looked at what was going on, the leadership had all left, there was no organization, it was clear this is gonna be ugly before morning, and we decided let’s go back to the car and drive back to New York. I think we’ve done enough. I was part of a group that broke through one line of MP’s. [sighs] That’s what I did in New York.
I went up to the Bay Area and worked in a warehouse. The Party had an industrial concentration program and a whole bunch of us had gone into the warehouse union with the notion that we could recruit workers the way we recruited students. And it didn’t work the same. But there were some interesting scenes. It was a strike at a place called United Foam and at one point they tried to bring a train in through the picket line. And there I was with two or three other guys standing in front of the locomotive, leaning on it, pushing on it as the locomotive was pushing at us, and a little voice in my head was going, “Are you completely out of your mind?!” But, meanwhile other people were cutting the brake lines and shoving a 55-gallon drum under the wheels and they got it off, by god.
We were up at the Oil Workers picket lines, a group of us from Warehouse, and there were evenings in Berkeley where I’d get together with a couple of friends and my friend Tom would say, “OK! What should we do tonight? The Berkeley Tenants Union is trying to fight an eviction down on Grant. There’s a little riot going on, up on Telegraph, and I think there’s an action also taking place … where shall we go tonight?”
I lived in Berkeley during People’s Park, a half a block from the police station. We had a big sign on the house said, “ILWU,” International Longshoreman and Warehousemen’s Union, “Local 6 says Troops out of Berkeley!” Because the night of the shootings I had gone to my friend Ringo’s house.
I’m sorry. What shootings are you talking about?
During People’s Park when the police took the park back and put up a fence and Dan Siegel, who at the time was Student Body President, got up to give up a speech and said, “Now, don’t let those pigs beat the shit out of you! When we’re gonna take back the park we’ll take back the park!!” And he was just getting rhetorical. The whole crowd said, “Right!” and headed off down Telegraph and Dan is going, “Ah, hold it! I didn’t mean….”
Well, people went down there, chased the cops out, tore down the fences, fought the police all day. They brought in the National Guard and the Alameda sheriffs who murdered one guy, blew the eyes out of another, shot 13 people. And I didn’t get to Berkeley until that evening cause I was workin’ that day and I knew there was something up because a police officer was standing there at Dwight and Telegraph wearing like a black steel helmet. And the Berkeley police normally didn’t wear steel helmets. And you could smell the tear gas. And I said, “What happened? What happened?” Soon as I got home, me and my roommate ran over to Ringo’s cause we knew, that’s where the guns are and that’s where someone will know what’s going on.
We got there, a dear friend from Butte, Montana was coming out the door with a 30-30 Winchester with seven rounds taped to the stock. Now, this guy grew up in Butte, Montana where if you like protein in the winter, you shoot it in the fall. And bullets are expensive so you don’t waste them. Brilliant shot. He was going out to get sheriffs.
And me and my comrade, Joe, both of us armed revolutionaries, we go, “Hoooold it, hold it right there, Brian!! Whoa! You got four daughters, you know, and a wonderful life. Don’t do this. You can get some cops but they’ll get you.” And I’ve always wondered, since then, what would’ve happened if Joe and I had gone into the house, got two more weapons and gone out with Brian. Probably would’ve been just a bloodbath. But, Berkeley was swimming with weapons and people talking about a revolution.
We all talked to the National Guard and, in fact, the National Guard unit was falling apart by the end of the occupation. We managed to talk Brian out of it. He was the head of the Teaching Assistants Union at CAL. And he had taken a shirt off a kid who’d been shot. He and Ringo had picked it up off the street and taken it to a co-op that was a first aid station. They’d taken the guy’s shirt off to see, Brian wanted to see, if they were using buckshot or duck-shot. Cause if it was buckshot they were out to kill us all. And he kept the shirt. So, he came down to my union meeting and I asked permission for Brother Brian, AFT 15-70, to address the meeting and he got to give a bloody shirt speech asking for the union to pass a resolution condemning the occupation of Berkeley. But what a crazy time. I mean, just absolutely nuts.