This past summer was defined by 50th anniversary commemorations. First out of the gate was the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing, a historic event certainly worthy of review. And did it ever get reviewed — TV specials, newspaper inserts, even a commemorative coin issued by the U.S. mint.
Then came August and the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. The Woodstock celebrations were personal for me as someone who had actually gone to Woodstock. More commemorative events and publications. Even a stamp. But no coin as far as I know.
Coming up soon is another significant 50th anniversary event, another one with deep personal meaning for me — the anniversary of the massive Vietnam War Moratorium March on Washington, which took place on November 15, 1969, exactly three months after Woodstock. I was there, too.
There will be no commemorative coins or stamps. (There are home movies, though! But you have to read to the end.)
The estimated crowd of half a million protesters was, at the time, the biggest anti-war protest in the history of the country. And it seized the country’s attention.
Sentiment — and mass protest — against the war had been rising for some time. The first Spring Mobilization in April 1967 saw thousands march in New York and San Francisco. Later that year, 100,000 jammed DC for the March on the Pentagon. All of 1968 was focused on the presidential election and that election was focused on the war in Vietnam. And in 1969, just a month before the anti-war march on Washington, the first Moratorium was held in dozens of cities around the country, with Boston hosting the largest at 100,000.
So when half a million people showed up on November 15, it was a stunning display of deep opposition to the war. It dwarfed all previous protests. Hell, it even dwarfed Woodstock. I believe it marked a turning point in the debate surrounding the war. It was a tipping point where, if the country wasn’t already majority anti-war, it was now clearly heading there.
Even the president was paying attention. Documents released by the Nixon Library in 2010 reveal meetings between Nixon and his senior staff over the coming march and how they should handle it politically. Nixon eventually settled on the claim that he was watching football at the time the march wound its way past the White House, which it did for hour upon hour.
It’s alright, really, that there will be no commemorative coins for the November Moratorium. But for activists, I’ve always believed it is important to remember our activist history. This particular history lesson shows us that not only can grassroots movements be built from the ground up, they can keep building, keep going, and help to change the course of events. A direct challenge to power has power.
Woodstock didn’t launch a revolution, and the moratorium didn’t end a war. But they bent the narrative, and sent the country off in a new direction.
We have seen an amazing amount of protest against Trump already, new levels of sustained activity. Sure, there are ebbs and flows, but we aren’t done with Trump yet. Impeachment seems all but inevitable now, but not removal by the Senate. The streets of Washington await.
>>> Special bonus! Home movies from the Vietnam War Moratorium March on washington, DC, November 15, 1969
This 8mm film was shot by my good friend Bob De Lucia. Bob came down from New Jersey for the march, staying with me at American University. You can see me — at the tender age of seventeen — making faces at the camera in the opening seconds. And no, there is no audio. It was 1969. And, yes, the quality sucks. But it’s historic, okay? So let’s all give a big tip o’ the hat to Bob for preserving this!