Disillusionment of an All-American student

Production #TVP00402
SR #2500
Camera Roll #500
David Harris
Menlo Park, CA
August 11, 1982
Elizabeth Dean- Producer
Tape 1 Side 1
Digital slate 101 will be up first, one bloop is a head slate, 2 as a tail slate.
You have been described as an all American product of an all American high school. Can you describe for us what you were like when you emerged from high school. Had you won any special awards?
Well, I was Fresno High School boy of the year in 1963. I was a high school football letterman. Debate eh, I went to state finals in debate. Was awarded the gold block F at Fresno High School for service to the student body. Yeah, I was All-American boy, I guess by, by objective standards.
And what was your perception of America as a product of that High School and a product of high school civics class?
Well, I believed in high school civics, I think virtually all of us who got involved in the movement believed in high school civics. I mean we sat at the front of the class, we learned all the lessons, and you know, there was, it was, our assumption that America was by definition right and that was by definition democratic and just and that all the things that we had been taught America was, all existed in full form and that that Democracy had come to fruition and we grew up watching Victory at Sea on television it was our assumption that America was the bastion of all things good. And it was precisely that assumption that made us the kind of disillusioned people we were at the end.
Tell us a little bit about your participation in the civil rights movement and what impact the civil rights movement had on your perceptions of America?
Well, there's nothing to make high school civics disappear quickly then to go down to Mississippi and find people being lynched for using the wrong drinking fountain, and suddenly it became very apparent that what we had believed in America might indeed be something worth believing in but it was not something that existed. At suddenly here was this contradiction to everything that I had assumed America was supposed to be perhaps, in an obviously naïve fashion but that had been my emotional assumption, and to walk in and actually see that in real life, left you obviously disillusioned with the South, but more than that disillusioned with the rest of the country for having allowed this to go on for so long.
For having used all this good language about freedom and democracy and justice and behind that language find this cesspool of racist bestiality, was a shocking experience. Suddenly it became quite apparent that if we wanted democracy if we wanted all those things we had grown up cheering for on “Victory at Sea” we were going to have to do those things ourselves because they were not existing in fact.
What was the impact of...
Stop, just stop for a minute, the [inaudible]...

Civil rights work in Mississippi

102 is up next
Well, I went to Mississippi really without any politics I had not engaged in significant political analysis of what was going on in the country. I knew, in fact, very little about what was going on in Mississippi other than the very simple fact that Black people were not being allowed to vote and were being suppressed with violence when they tried to do so. That was the extent to which I had politics when I walked into the state and I think that seeing a situation like that up close can't help but suddenly scatter all those visions of high school civics. There was no freedom and democracy in Mississippi.
Worse than that there was no attempt by the rest of the country to even make freedom and democracy happen there. That uh a great deal of the disillusionment was not just simply with the situation that existed in the Southern United States the disillusionment was with the people who had allowed that to go on for all of these years and had not even bothered to recognize it had existed that had accepted such treatment as par for the course and somehow not inconsistent with what this country was supposed to be.
After I had been in Mississippi for four days, I was standing on a street in the black section of Lambert, Mississippi and the three other civil rights workers that I have been working with had left me there while they went to the post office to mail a letter and I was standing by myself by the car that we had come to Lambert in and all of a sudden a pick up truck pulls up and two red necks get out of it and one of them has a shot gun the other one has a .38, the guy with the shot gun walks up to me and sticks it in my face and says, “nigger lover we're giving you five minutes to get out of town before we blow your head off.”
And here I'meighteen years old Stanford student from Fresno, California, right, I sort of looked at this guy and I can't figure out who is this guy anyway, you know? So I say, “well by what authority do you order me out of town,” right? I was trying to play the legal game and this guy sort of looks at me and spits and says, “nigger lover I said five minutes” and you know I'm standing there trying to figure out what do I do. Do I become a martyr? Do I, am I supposed to refuse to back down from these people or if I back down I couldn't figure out what to do and then the other three people I was with came back from the post office took one look at the shot gun jumped in the car, we all got in and we left, you know and uh...
That's, That was the first time at the age of eighteen I ever had anybody stick a shot gun in my face and the reality of it was ah overwhelmingly apparent to me. There was no doubt about it and the hard part then became how to reconcile that, you know I was not terribly politicized and I didn't have any large interpretations that I had brought down there with me. And I was stuck in a personal emotional position of trying to figure out well, if this was what the country was- if both the existence of this and the toleration of that were indeed what this country I had raised in the bosom was about, where does that put me? What do I do? How do I respond to this? And it was the kind of experience for me, and I think, for everybody in my generation that was an absolute marker, I mean you were different on one side then you were on the other and there was no way around it. It was an intensely unsettling experience, not just politically but in a personal way and I think again that was a function of the illusionment we brought to it.
Had we not been believers in high school civics, had we not bought the whole thing hook line and sinker you know I wanted to be an infantry officer when I was in the fifth grade, I wanted to be an FBI agent when I was in the eighth grade. When I was in Mississippi, you know, I met my first FBI agent, one of the guys in our project had been beaten up and he was a white Californian so they sent out the FBI to investigate and the first time I met the FBI, the guy, this agent walked up to the door and I answered the door and his first statement to me was, “well what seems to be the problem here nigger lover?”
And I said hold on a second man this is the FBI, these were the guys that were supposed to save you you know this was the representative of the Federal Government, the Supreme Court, the President of the United States you know. And these guys were walking around calling us nigger lovers and it became quite apparent to me that what I had believed was true about the country wasn't true. And that what I had believed about myself in relationship to that was not a viable option. You know to support the status quo in this country was not to support the freedom and democracy that had inspired all of us at Victory At Sea.
Tell us about the impact of the SNCC decision to suggest that the white kids who had been working in Mississippi go back to their campuses.
Well, when SNCC which is the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee which was the principal organization in Mississippi and certainly the one that had that was the inspiration for all the white students who came down there. When SNCC reached the decision that it would be better for outsiders who had come to the state to go back to where they came from and organize against the same forces there, it was a decision that I initially accepted I had no role in making the decision I mean I was a foot soldier to the nth degree I did not participate in the decision making but when the word of the decision reached me I was already back in California, by this point it was a sensible decision, it struck me.
You know, both because it reflected what the experience, one of the experiences of civil rights workers had been namely that no matter whose side you are on the fact that you were white intimidated a good number of the black people that you had to work with. The whites inevitably ended up dominating the organization and that that was a real road block to the development of black identity.
Plus having discovered in Mississippi that that what we had here was not an aberration from the American dream but something that, that in fact, fit quite neatly up to that point into the overall political picture was ample illustration that the problem wasn't Mississippi. The problem was everywhere. The question was how to get a handle on it everywhere and I think that from the time SNCC, that attitude arose in SNCC, and became the subject of discussion, you know for the next two years was a process for a lot of us who had been in the South of trying to figure out well what was the new handle to grab onto. What dude you go to in your local community to organize. What was the nature of the oppression that inflicted itself upon white middle class college students.
Okay, cut.
Camera 501
Slate 103
Correction we are going to stay here under
Camera 500
103 is up
Hang on, let me settle in here. Okay.
SNCC's decision really threw us on the dilemma of trying to figure out what it was back in our own communities that was the handle we could grab onto this larger proposition with and ultimately that became both the war and the draft. It was the intrusion by those same forces into our lives and I think that SNCC decision gave us the motivation to look for that in terms that we hadn't before, that it was no longer sufficient simply to exercise the political feelings we had by going to Mississippi or identifying with the Mississippi Civil Rights movement. We had to just come up with our own movement.
And that was not an instantaneous process by any means. There was a lot of soul searching and recovery and other propositions between then, but if that SNCC decision arose in the Spring of ‘65, which is approximately when it did, then the decision to go to the draft as an issue happened in, about a year later.
We're out.

SNCC sends the rights workers home

We are moving on to Camera Roll 501
Slate 104
So what did you see when [inaudible]...
Well, all of this was taking place at Stanford in a context of people who were quite satisfied with what they had, who had made very little attempts to even control their own life, who...
(end of tape)
105 is up (Signal)
Okay [inaudible]...
Well, in the intervening time, you know a lot of myths have developed about the '60s, that somehow it was a massive phenomenon in its entirety, when in fact at Stanford in 1965 the great, great majority of students were not people who had larger social concerns, they were not people who were trying to wrestle with their own moral tradition, vis-à-vis the political events that were surrounding them. They were perfectly content to try and get their degrees and go on to getting quite well paid jobs. And part of the process that lead us to more deeply examine moral dilemmas was precisely the contrast of that environment.
We didn't want to be like that, we didn't want go down the standard ladder, we didn't want to ignore that larger world, we didn't want to just accept our place in the grey flannel progression. We really wanted something more meaningful for ourselves. And one of the things that makes the '60s what it was was that intersection of politics with personal meaning. We were people who were looking for identities as well as looking for political positions, and the question was how to come to terms with our whole entity as human beings as both isolated individuals and as a collective mass that ended up, at least implicitly, making decisions that had a great deal of effect on who we would end up being. I think the attractiveness of the draft as an issue and as a place to make our stand was all tied up into that environment.
It was, you know, we needed to present something that was sufficient to shock these people out of the notion that business as usual was possible, and certainly that process began with Vietnam, shortly after the Mississippi civil rights movements had begun to disintegrate, Vietnam had begun to rise as an issue on the campus, teach-ins had begun to happen, by the Fall of '65 the first anti war marches had begun. And, to me, I looked to Vietnam and after the experience of Mississippi I was not prone to believe official explanations, I wanted to find other information. Even at that point there was other information available that made it quite clear that this was not the war that I'd been raised to fight.
That all those scenes from Victory at Sea were not being repeated. This was not John Wayne in The Sands of Iwo Jima, this was a dirty, rotten little war to keep a bunch of people that we would never tolerate in our own city council for half a minute in power and that we were supposed to spend American lives and American treasure to maintain that was at its best a poor decision, at its worst as great an example of immorality as we have in American history.
Did you see any moral contradictions in the Stanford campus environment, students with 2-S deferments?
Sure, you had I mean, at Stanford, first you had the larger contradiction that here were these people at this academic institution which was supposedly devoted to developing the mind and to solving human problems by our capacity to think and to understand, who as quite matter-of-factly supported the effort to solve human problems by blowing people into shreds. There was a contradiction in that that was to me was overwhelming, there was the more particular contradiction in that you had at Stanford and any number of other campuses you had all these people who said they were against the war, thought it was a bad thing, thought it was a wrong decision or that it was immoral or whatever, but continued to carry a student deferment and to cooperate the system that made the war.
They were there already being cogs, you didn't have to be a soldier to be a cog in that effort. All you had to do on a place like Stanford campus was to shut up and keep your deferment in your pocket, and that degree of acceptance, that degree of cooperation was all the government needed to be able to draft the people that it was going to send to Vietnam which were, by and large, poor people who couldn't afford to go to college. That's what the student deferment was all about: how to separate the middle class, upwardly mobile young people from the people they saw fit to use as cannon fodder.

Early days of draft resistance

Tell us a little bit about the early days of the resistance, what was the resistance, what was the goal of the resistance, and what was the message of the resistance. Were you trying to get to the middle class?
The resistance was founded in an attempt to organize explicit public non cooperation with conscription through the action of returning draft cards to the government. Very simple, open, public declarations that we would not cooperate. If the government intended to enforce the Selective Service Act then it was going to have to send us to jail.
And it was an attempt to call the question on the rest of the anti war movement to say put up or shut up, no more of this screaming against the war and then coming home and making sure you have your student deferment in your pocket. If you were going to be against the war, then put your body where your mouth was. And we saw it as a specific attempt to force an air of rea—what we considered reality onto the anti war movement.
Come on now, this is not just an issue. This is something far beyond an issue, and there's no way that we're ever going to stop the war unless we're willing to play for higher stakes. And we set out to up the stakes. We also set out politically to try and create a situation where we could leverage the middle class away from the government's position, and we felt that the way to do that was for middle class kids to take an act which would force the middle class to recognize there was a war going on and that they had a stake in it, they had a responsibility about it through the form of our parents, through the form of our parents' peers, through the form of the people who were standing around watching what the students were doing.
However that got communicated we saw it as a specific attempt to try and bring the war home to the middle class. And I think we did...I think we did because of the leverage we had on the situation, which was a function of our willingness to play for stakes. Our function, it was a function of our willingness to take, potentially, five years of our lives and spend it in prison in order to bring the country to an awareness about the war. And I know from my parents, I know from the parents from any number of people who were involved in it, I know for any number of other classically middle class professional types who, at that point, were observers of the phenomenon, it made a great impression.
It was, we were, I think, people that more than the rest of the youthful anti war movement, that the middle class could identify with. Not because we as people were that much different from anybody else that was in those demonstrations, but because we as people had put ourselves in a position which could be identified with. We were up there in court risking our lives to stop a proposition that was immoral. And I think the simplicity, the cleanness of it, the responsibility of it all made it available in ways that simply standing on a street corner and shouting Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh was not going to do.
Tell us about your own decision to turn in your draft card, why didn't you just become a CO, why didn't you burn your draft card?
Well, I did not apply for conscientious objector status because I'm not a conscientious objector. I know I have no religious background in pacifism, it was not clear to me that there weren't wars that I wouldn't fight. Certainly, if Victory at Sea was right about World War II, I would have fought in that. And I looked upon myself as more of a conscientious objector than the law allowed. I was not only conscientiously opposed to me carrying a rifle in that, I was conscientiously opposed to the entire system that forced everybody to carry rifles.
And I wanted to make my statement about that system, not about my own personal role. My personal role was, to me, irrelevant: it wasn't a question whether David Harris could stay out of the battlefield or not, the question was whether we could stop the battlefield. And to do that you had to go for the system itself. And I didn't burn my draft card because I wanted the evidence to be there; this was an open act of civil disobedience. I didn't want, I was trying just to make a public show, I was trying to force the government to prosecute me.
And that was the logic of what we were doing. And I felt the best way to do that was to provide them with the evidence, and make sure they had it. And I did that. And I didn't go to Canada either. Cause you know I, I think that was everybody's personal decision, and the ones who went to Canada, you know, made the decision and they got to live with it. But my attitude was, Hey, this is my country. I mean, if anybody ought to leave the country, Lyndon Johnson should, not me. You know, my people have been here as long as his people have been here, I'm every bit as much a believer in democracy and freedom and justice and the Bill of Rights as Lyndon Johnson was. And I'd be damned if I was going to let him run me out.

Draft demonstrations and their impact

Describe to us what happened on October 16, 1967?
Ah, October 16th. Great day. Well, October 16th had been the date, that we had set when we first started the resistance for the first national draft card return, during which all around the country and, as it turned out, in eighteen different cities there would be demonstrations at which young people would collect draft cards and give them to the federal government.
And in San Francisco, which was one of the two largest demonstrations on that date in the country, we all, 2000 of us gathered on the steps of the Federal Building in San Francisco , and it was a mob scene. I mean the, the loudspeakers didn't work, so all there was was a bullhorn and there was this milling crowd of people, and this air of expectation in the air you know, we were about to engage in this act and for those of us who'd been organizing it it was, of course, the culmination of a long period of work and we were all jazzed and everybody was jazzed and we said a few words on the bullhorn and then we started to collect draft cards. And the scene, if you can visualize it, was that there was this basket you know, one of those kind of cheap, import straw baskets with a sign on it saying "Resist" that we...
Run out.
Okay, sorry, I just...
(interruption) BEGIN: Tape 1, Side 2
Following is a 12.5 Khz azimuth reference tone that'll be followed by a liberal reference tone 10 db modulometer or zero vu.
This is the WGBH VIETNAM; Production #TYPOO4O2, Elizabeth Dean, Producer. This is interview with David Harris, Menlo Park, California. This is the head of sound roll #2501 corresponding to the head of camera roll #502.
Crystal Sync digital slate 106 is up, 10th of August, 1982.
Second sticks
What was the scene?
Well if you...
Well, if you can visualize the scene: It all took place on the steps to the San Francisco Federal Building, and it was a real mob scene. I mean, there were 2000 people who showed up there. Although up to an hour before it happened we had no idea how many people would show up. I mean we knew who our hard core were, but we didn't know what else was going to come there. And by one o'clock, which was the time it was all set to begin, the entire federal building steps were covered with people milling around and, you know, we had no real concrete idea exactly what we were going to do. It was left to one of those situations where we knew all these people were going to come and we knew we were going to collect the draft cards. We had no real program, we hadn't really charted out a list of speakers or anything even remotely resembling that.
So the loudspeaker system immediately went out, so we couldn't use the loudspeaker system. All we had was bullhorns. So we used the bullhorns to say a few words to the crowd, then we got this basket which was one of these cheap, import store straw baskets with a sign on it saying "Resist" and announced on the bullhorn that okay the time had come, and out goes the basket. And there is this scene as the basket moves around the crowd all these hands coming up holding draft cards, dropping them into the basket, and the basket circulates through the crowd and comes back up to the front where all the organizers are and, you know, we sort of look at it and get ready to go inside and then all of a sudden from the back of the crowd these shouts start coming, "More, back here, back here! We want it! Send the basket!”
So the basket goes back out, and more draft cards start coming into it, and the situation was building on itself. You know, people were hyping themselves up and having watched draft cards go in there had to get rid of their own draft cards. So it went back out, came back, and went back out again. And while it was going back out for the third time, Cecil Poole, who was the federal attorney for San Francisco and the first black federal attorney ever in San Francisco, came out on the front steps to watch what was going on. And we of course picked up that Poole was out there, and sent word over to him that we'd love him to speak to our rally, offered him our bullhorn and he, of course, refused. And so a number of the organizers when the draft card basket came back again were huddling trying to figure out well what'll we do with Poole out here you know.
And then Dicky Harris, who was this black resister from Berkeley, seized the moment, as it were, took the basket of draft cards and walks over to Poole and says, "Brother Poole, you head nigger here?" and drops, dumps this entire basket full of draft cards on Poole and, you know, these were piled up at his feet and Poole looks at Dicky and, you know, Dicky is, you know, real scruffy, Dicky's got a t-shirt on and his hair's coming out eight different ways out of his head and he's wearing Levis, and Poole's in his suit and tie and Poole sort of clears his throat and walks back into the building and then we collect all the draft cards and send it out around one more time, get a few more draft cards, and then we take it up to the federal attorney's office. And between the time Poole came down to look at us and went back to his office the office had shut down. It was two o'clock in the afternoon and the federal attorney's office was closed to the public.
And we knocked and banged on the door and nobody came to answer it, so we left our basket full of draft cards sitting in front of the mail slot of the federal attorney's office and left.
There was another demonstration in Oakland not long after that. Were you at all concerned about the Oakland demonstration and if so were the reasons for your concern?
Well, Stop The Draft Week, which was the series of Oakland demonstrations that were that immediately followed the October 16th demonstration and filled the rest of that week, October 16th was on a Monday and the Stop the Draft Week ran from Monday to Friday. Those demonstrations had been an issue of discussion for you know four months leading up to October 16th. And originally they had been designed as a way for people who couldn't send back draft cards or who weren't going to or weren't eligible or whatever to express their support for our actions. And quickly they became their own phenomenon unconnected to the resistance. And uh...
The resistance's worries, at least my worries in that situation, which were quite strong was that this was a situation where the organizers of it were quite blatantly attempting to create a situation where the police would attack the crowd and would inflict serious injury. And they were doing that under the logic that somehow this would radicalize people and therefore would be a political step ahead. And to those of us in the resistance, at least particularly to me, that seemed a way to manipulate people that was absolutely unconscionable.
We always believed that you had to tell people about the consequences right away, make sure they were prepared to accept the worst possible consequences before you got anybody involved in an action, that was the logic with which we organized. We didn't try to pump people up to send their draft cards back; we tried to get them to make careful considered decisions so they would be serious about what they were doing.
In this case, you know, the organizers did not even warn the crowd that for the last three months in private discussions about the demonstration that it was well understood by all of us that if the demonstration went out there and just milled around in the street as the organizers wanted to do that the streets were going to be cleared and that the Oakland police were going to come down. That situation was further complicated by The Stop The Draft organizers' need to do a lot of heavy talk in the meetings.
You know, they'd sit around and say, "oh, I ain't gonna let no policeman grab me." You know, and they'd talk about the Black Panthers in Oakland and how nobody could allow this kinda shit and if they come down on me I'm gonna have my piece, and I'm gonna, you know, nobody's gonna take me alive, you know. And this jive kept running around these meetings, you know, and each person would pump it up two levels so by the time the meeting was two hours old people'd be talking about using atomic bombs on the police station. You know, I mean, you know, it was at that kind of level of absurdity that we were dealing with.
But all that was listened to by police spies who then, of course, took it all back to the police so you got three hundred police out there on the streets of Oakland believed that the 3,000 demonstrators that they're facing are all there primed to whale on them with whatever instruments are available.
And the end result was the police attacked the crowd, beat the Holy Jesus out of all kinds of people, including newsmen, including high school students. People were trapped in the induction center doorways and just whaled upon with clubs and tear gas was used, it was a mess. People just got completely clobbered. And I felt that that was all to be expected. This was, in fact, what anybody who organized that ought to have expected would happen. And I never shared the idea that the way we were supposed to radicalize people was to make them into victims.

Harris's arrest and imprisonment

Let's move ahead a little bit in time. You went to jail finally. At the time you went to jail, what was the political climate like? And were you in a sense relieved to be going to jail?
Well, I went to jail in July of 1969 and by the three or four months before I went to jail I had begun to think that jail would be a pretty good place to spend the next few years, relative to what was going on in the streets. There was a great deal of craziness that seemed to be coming down. And a lot of people calling cops pigs, a lot of people talking about fighting in the streets and guerrilla warfare and going underground and a degree of paranoia that was enormous.
That an attitude had infected large parts of the movement that essentially just said you're with us or you're against us. And one side or the other. Well, once you call one side or the other, people one side or the other and most of them would go against us. And our logic had always been never to call that question, never, always make it possible for people to come join you, always to leave an open door.
And in this situation I thought the attitude that was being brought to it was, was counter-productive to say the least. Not to mention you know as a human phenomenon something which I had no agreement with. You know, which I could not stomach. I don't believe in calling policemen pigs, you know, I don't believe in alienating the people that you need in order to carry out what you want to do. And that was that lead me to feel that, that it was probably a good time to go to jail.
Um, how did the draft system respond to the protest against the draft? Was there any phenomenon of selective prosecution?
Well, the Selective Service System was quite rapidly overwhelmed. At least, in particular localities. San Francisco as a federal district was the forefront of that, but by 1968 in San Francisco they had a backlog of cases that they could not possibly touch.
You know, the Selective Service System during the course of the Vietnam War would never release statistics about who was cooperating and who wasn't so that the only time we ever saw statistics was years later when the Ford Administration's Amnesty Board released statistics. And by their admission some 200,000 felony violations of the Selective Service Act were referred to the Justice Department for prosecution. Of those 200,000 they were able to prosecute 25,000. Of those 25,000, they convicted 8,750. Of the 8,750, 5,500 got suspended sentences or probation and the rest of us, 3,250, went to jail.
So were you able in effect to, to bring a halt in a sense to the system?
Well, anybody who refused induction in San Francisco from 1968 on stood an [incomprehensible] chance of never hearing from the government. I mean they, you know, they were totally backlogged. They had, you know the entire population of the federal prison system is 30,000 prisoners. Well, you know, there was 30,000 draft violations in San Francisco at least by 1968, and I think that they, that they multiplied exponentially from there on.
I mean, we still don't know how many people actually violated the Selective Service Act because the Selective Service System itself killed most of the violations. I mean, I, you know, of the twelve people that were my immediate peer group when I set about organizing the resistance, all of them sent their draft cards back and I was the only one to ever get reclassified. And even be forced with aggression. What happened was that draft boards around the country just ate the protest and tried to suppress it by ignoring it.
Now going to camera roll 503, scene, I mean slate 107's up.
Um, well, my, my arrest took place on July 15th, 1969, and I had been for the previous year out on an appeal bond and the appeal had been turned down and I chose not to take the case any further than that. And I got a call from the federal marshal’s office about a week before saying that I should come and turn myself in because my appeal bond was run out. And I responded by saying, Well, if you're going to take three years of my life least you can do is give me a ride.
I'm going to be right here at my house and when you wanna come and get me, you come get me, but I'm not coming to turn myself in to you guys. To me this was a symbolic moment and I wasn't about to just go hand myself to them, I wanted it made quite clear that these guys taking me. And they did. You know, they came, it was the morning that the first rocket for the moon left. I remember quite well, I got up in the morning and watched the rocket take off for the moon and then the marshal showed up and took me.
Handcuffed me, and put me in their car, and there was a crowd of my supporters around my house at that time. And while the marshals were putting me in their car, one of them, my supporters, put a Resist the Draft bumper stick of the US Marshall's car so I was hauled down to the San Francisco County Jail in a car with a Resist the Draft bumper sticker on it which seemed appropriate.
And uh, You know, jail was the place that I had expected, been expecting to go for three years so part of my attitude when I got there was okay, well, at last, here we are. Let's get it going. And the transition into jail was not a difficult transition. I was prepared for it. It was a situation that I just walked in and started being a convict. In the course of my convicthood, spent a month in the San Francisco County Jail, seven months in a federal prison camp in Safford, Arizona, twelve months in a federal correctional institution in La Tuna, Texas.
And, of those twelve months I spent several off and on in isolation being punished for my activities. I was an organizer in prison as well, I was in four different prison strikes. And uh, to me, prison was every bit as much a manhood ritual as it would have been running up Hamburger Hill as a member of the 101st Airborne. You know. I went there to, you know, it was a moment of proof for me as a human being that I could in fact back up what I talked about, and that I viewed the actual going to jail as essential. You know, I'd been going around the country for three years telling people they out to refuse to cooperate with the draft, and a number of people had done that, and a number of them were in jail, and if I weren't there with them I would have felt like the biggest hypocrite in the world.

Manipulation of protesters

Let's go back for a moment to, to Oakland and the, the demonstration that occurred there. Were you concerned about this demonstration?
Yeah. To me the Oakland Demonstration is the beginning point of a whole logic that I think ultimately undercut a lot of what the movement was. And that logic was: manipulate people into situations without their knowledge in order to turn them in directions that you want them to go. And I didn't believe that as a way of making social change. I believe people ought to make conscious decisions to make social change. And I felt the crowd in Oakland was manipulated into a situation where they, where they got beaten up.
And that the experience of beaten up, being beaten up then made everything swing off in a direction that I think at best was counter-productive. And, you know, it was, it was a, it was a riot, certainly. And the responsibility for the riot, I think, rests first on the police before it does anybody else. But as an organizer who had a specific morality to do with the process of organizing people, it was objectionable to me, and I think it characterized the whole set of organizing efforts that followed Oakland.

Demographics of the draft

Tell us a little bit about who actually fought in the war. I mean, was the war fought by middle class kids from Stanford, or was it fought by, who fought it? Was it, did it reflect an inequity in the draft system?
No, the war was obviously statistically and in every other way by a minority of the population. I mean, black people's casualty rates are twice what white people's were, Spanish people's were three times what white people's were. And, it was clear in the student deferment and in any number of ways that the government did not want to send the middle class to Vietnam because that itself would threaten it's own quite shaky political base and it was an attempt to break down that logic that the resistance was formed, to bring the middle class into the picture. Certainly, Stanford students such as myself were in no danger of being drafted unless we provoked it.
Very few Stanford students ever got drafted. They have the options to stay out. They could keep their student deferments, they could become graduate students, they could do any number of things that let them escape the war unless they chose to confront it. And, ah, our attitude was that that's precisely the kind of moral dilemma that we were talking about.
You know, when you have the option to escape the consequences it's all the more important not to, all the more important not to accept that position of privilege, and ah, we tried to get students to refuse that privilege and ah, it was a privilege situation. I mean, as I look back on the war and I try and characterize it one of the things that stands out is it was a situation where a very small number of people had to bear all the prices and nobody else had to do anything but watch it on television. It was a guaranteed to end up the way it was simply by virtue of that proposition if nothing else. You know, it was ah, everybody was victimized by it.

Harris's impact on the war

Did you have an impact on the war, on the conduct of the war, on the shortening of the war? Did you bring the war home in any sense, what did you achieve with it?
Well, I think that we certainly upped the level of opposition to the war several notches. I think that ah, the resistance, ah, in particular also succeeded more so than most groups in being able to draw a whole 'nother group and demography of people to the anti war movement. I think ah, with, ah, with the example of ah, ah, young men who are able to take these kinds of risks, a lot of people who otherwise wouldn't have come to a demonstration, came to people who ah, might have ignored the question, the war grappled with it.
So I think we indeed did bring it home in ways that ah, that ah, nobody else did. I think also on a very practical level we created a phenomenon which ultimately threatened the government's capacity to wage the war. I mean, by 1970 they were drafting three people to get one foot soldier. It ah, you know, by 1970 the spirit of rebellion that had motivated the anti draft people had made its way into the military. There were refusals of orders happening on an escalating scale inside the military, there were fraggings of officers, that had become regular propositions. There was ah, a a a communication of that spirit that throughout all the factors that ah, that dealt with the war.
So, ah, yeah, I think obviously we were not successful with ending the war the way we wanted to. We wanted it ended on a moral decision. We wanted the country to look up and stay this is wrong, we don't want anything to do with it, we're going to get out of it. That's not what happened. Ah, what happened was that the government said this is unwinnable and we gotta extricate ourselves from it. But convincing them that they could not pursue that policy was a function of domestic opposition, ah, as much as anything else.
Excuse me. Ah...
Coming up will be ambiance, some call it rube tone, other people call it atmos to ah, cover the previous interview.
That's the end of the recording for this roll, please store this tails out.
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