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A Little Bit of SF Political History

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.

  1. Goldie
    February 19, 2013 at 9:58 pm

    Thanks for sharing Eric. I shared some of those years in the Bay Area. So very much was going on during that time. What I remember most was the uniting force of the music of that time. What would these days be like if the music was not control and slogans were only lightly used.

  2. jr
    February 19, 2013 at 10:34 pm

    Goldie and Eric: David Talbot has authored a very interesting book about San Francisco covering the period from the late 50s to 1982. “The Season of the Witch” is an insiders look at the city’s recent past.

  3. Goldie
    February 19, 2013 at 10:53 pm

    I’ll look that up, jr. thanks.

  4. Eric Kirk
    February 19, 2013 at 11:00 pm

    Thanks for the tip jr!

  5. Anonymous
    February 20, 2013 at 6:18 am

    Now we know the why, to how you are. Did your parents follow the tactics of Bill Ayers, and try to kill anyone?

  6. Anonymous
    February 20, 2013 at 8:22 am

    I was there also. Much of the protests were spoiled baby boom kids having fun. They couldn’t believe that the adult world wouldn’t cater to them like their parents did all their lives to that point. There is a reason that generation is called the “Me” generation.

  7. Goldie
    February 20, 2013 at 9:04 am

    Resistance to the war exceeded just the young. People of every age were in the streets. It was a highly charged time.

  8. Mitch
    February 20, 2013 at 9:26 am

    I’m not sure, 8:22, that the protesters were upset that they weren’t being catered to.

    I think it was more that many of the baby boom kids couldn’t believe adults would send them off to die in a swamp in support of a corrupt regime despised by the people of its tiny country, just because the “best and the brightest” seemed to think other people dying was a great way to prevent a theoretical domino from theoretically falling.

    If you haven’t already seen the movie, “Sir, No Sir” is a great watch: http://www.sirnosir.com/

  9. February 20, 2013 at 9:59 am

    berkeley {UC} was not all conformist–even in the thirties–the Student Coops counteracted the fraternal system and over th years have turned out tens of thousand
    ardent cooopers {I remember Ruth Zipin–she was one of the Campus Redhots
    and an officer aat Stebbins,the Womens w Coop

  10. Eric Kirk
    February 20, 2013 at 10:05 am

    Anonymous :

    Now we know the why, to how you are. Did your parents follow the tactics of Bill Ayers, and try to kill anyone?

    My parents certainly did not support the Weathermen or similar groups, but your history is erroneous. Bill Ayers never tried to kill anyone, and in fact the only individuals killed by the Weathermen were three of their own in a mishap. Their tactics and state of mind were whacked – no doubt about that. But they always notified the occupants of the buildings they bombed, and by dumb luck they managed to avoid killing anybody until the majority of them turned themselves in at the latter part of the 70s – the FBI having been unable to catch up with any one of them until that point.

    But no, my parents had nothing do with the Weathermen, or even SDS. They organized, educated, marched, supported electoral candidates, and pressured people in office to end the war – just like the vast majority of the anti-war movement which by the late sixties included the majority of Americans.

  11. Shepherd
    February 20, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    I’m still tripping since 1969 and I’ll never come down! WOOOOOOO WOOOOOOO

  12. Just Middle Finance
    February 20, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    40+ years later and what do we have? Endless war, global climate change, and a vanishing middle class. That 60’s Revolution was some revolution.

  13. Eric Kirk
    February 20, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    It does remind us of how slow change comes. The backlash lasted longer than the revolution itself.

  14. February 20, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    Questions on theundeclared war aqndnd subsequent endless wars still need answers

  15. Eric Kirk
    February 21, 2013 at 11:04 am

    What are your questions?

  16. Anonymous
    March 19, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    Eldridge would be glad we remember his name, however misspelled it may be. ;)

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