Thursday, June 09, 2005

A Voice From My Personal Past

Within the last few days I have been rooting through some old and musty piles of papers. Among them I found the January 13, 1969, issue of "Suppression", an underground periodical published in and around the State University of Albany campus. It contains an article by a young man I remember rather fondly, though it amuses me now to see how seriously he took himself and how important he thought his thoughts and actions were. He, of course, was the younger me - known in that innocent time as "Dick Evans". I've decided to republish that article from 1969 - written one week before I turned in my draft cards to the U.S. attorney and became a draft resister - right here in my blog. I may follow up in a few days with some commentary and information about context and about what happened next.

Why I'm Breaking Off From Selective Servitude
by Dick Evans
Henry Thoreau wrote in 1849 that “under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison…the only house in a slave state where the free man can abide with honor.” It happens that I cannot quite agree with this statement. But because the American government today is imprisoning many unjustly, because we still have what is in many ways a “slave state”, and because something in Thoreau’s attitude rings true for me, I have chosen to begin with his words in my explanation of why I am willing to go to prison.
The man who has been drafted is a slave of the state. He is serving it involuntarily, directing his life for two or more years according to the dictates and directives of “superior” officers. He is not free to choose his own job, to quit and go home, to live where he wants, do what he wants, or in any way shape his personal life-style in accordance with a privately worked out system of values. He can even find himself murdering “enemies” he really has nothing against.
No matter that a selected few, myself included, are exempted from military service by the law itself because they are pacifists. No matter that countless others are deferred while they serve the “national interest” in other ways. No matter that the rich, the educated and the powerful find ways out. The brutal fact is that America is enslaving her sons in order to fight a dirty and dishonorable war.
We have an opportunity, I think, not only to wash our hands of this system and this war, not only to work covertly for peace and freedom, but also to speak openly and declare the truth as we see it. Washing one’s hands is easy, any old deferment will do. Real, as opposed to symbolic, anti-draft work is more dangerous, but it is best carried out in secret (underground) and is relatively secure. But speaking the truth in the open, being honest and hopefully unafraid, telling it like it is with our lives as well as our words, is the kind of thing that leads to prison.
Albany could post an honor roll of resisters: Brooks Smith, Steve Trimm, Stanley Bennett, John Beauvais, and Dan Morrison. All of them are good men: honest, brave and gentle people who will probably be sent to Allenwood, Danbury, Lewisburg or Petersburg. Their lives and acts are shattering the myth that America can have her war and freedom, too. They are saying that the draft is a prison, that the draft is slavery, that the draft is illegitimate, and that they – the sons of America’s middle and working classes – are therefore using their lives as a counter-friction against the draft machine.
So going to prison has its postive side. The shocking audacity of doing so deliberately is enough to open many heads and raise many doubts. Through its association with resisters the movement acquires an aura of seriousness not easily laughed off by the man in the street. When Steve Trimm is arrested and I turn in my draft cards and leave my civilian service job, the very illegality of these actions should lend a paradoxical kind of legitimacy to my whole anti-war position. In the months after that I will speak and write and agitate, trying for as wide an audience as possible.
Draft counseling is still important. Demonstrations are still important. The creation of an underground railway for deserters and draft-dodgers is still important. But there is a real need for bravery and open resistance that says “I will not be a slave, and I will not be ashamed to be free.” This need, in my overweaning pride, I am hesitatingly joining with others to fill.

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Blogger Lorcan said...

They were serrious days, Richard... and in many ways I miss them.

Priorities were shaped by the immages of war we saw ... horrible immages now hidden from us so that Quakers today, who were as old as we once were can see this war as a distant thing... in the back of their mind... for us it was right up in our face.

Then, remember the looks of friends who came back from war? Those who were alone in the midst of the largest crowd? Then, before alcohol and the streets gave them such grime of abandonment people could look at them and only see "bum"... when they still looked like our friends we remembered before viet nam... oh, how can these children know what we saw when you wrote that letter, Richard? Can we even remember?

Going door to door with the people's peace treaty... the hope, the sense of we will make peace right now... the loud loving voice that demanded stop, just before things became angery and ... the weathermen, Who today can know those times?

Now... the me generation ... looks at war... and what do they see? What do they care? What do they do... They worry about who to dance with next.

Oh Richard, love that young man you where with pride no matter how that story ended and what commentary there may be.


3:23 AM, June 10, 2005  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

I carry around a big piece of the same nostalgia that Lorcan expresses so eloquently here.

At the same time, I think it's important not to exaggerate the virtues of our own generation or the perceived shortcomings of those born more recently. There are lots of noble and generous spirits among the "young people" of today (which I now define as the 20-to-40 set). We see some of them at our Meeting. Those who speak out against war and oppression today (and they are pretty numerous) do so even without the highly motivating threat of the draft over their heads (at least not yet), so they might make a claim to being more selfless in their political commitments than some in our generation. It's also true that economic conditions today are far worse than in the late sixties. Then we were indignant that poverty still existed at all and we were sure that it was on the way out. Now, the ranks of the poor are swelling, the middle class is shrinking, and the wealthy are getting wealthier and wealthier. Not an easy time in which to be an idealist.

9:23 AM, June 10, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Rich, this is clearly not the right place to ask this, but I couldn't find a way to send you an email.

Our Meeting would like to use your article, "Do Messages in Meeting Really Come from God?" as material for a M&O sponsored adult religious education session. Would that be okay with you if I just print copies from your website? Has it been published anywhere else?


11:31 PM, June 10, 2005  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

I'm delighted at the thought of Do Messages In Meeting Really Come From God? being used in an adult religioius education session. I'd be interested to hear any feedback about it: not just whether people liked it or didn't like it, but what they thought about it, what they agreed with, what they didn't, what they thought needed more explanation (or less!), etc.

So far, the article has only appeared on my web site and on photocopied WORD documents that I distributed at 15th Street Meeting. I have thought about submitting it to major Quaker publications such as Friends Journal or Quaker Life or Conservative Friend, but it seems a tad long for that and also probably in need of some editing that I haven't found time to do. I do ask that if you use it you give me credit. It would also be nice if you could show the URL of the web page and also that of my blog, but I don't suppose I should insist on that.

I'd also like Robin and any other human readers of my blog to be able to e-mail me, but without giving away my e-mail address to automated spambots that crawl around the web. So here's a hint. (Those who have eyes to see, let them see):
My name is Rich Accetta-Evans. My ISP is earthlink. Its domain is earthlink dot net. My e-mail address is my name (without any spaces or dashes) at my ISP's domain.

12:20 AM, June 11, 2005  
Blogger Lorcan said...

I don't mean to be harsh on this younger generation, Rich. Sometimes, however, I feel like those who returned from WWI did facing the Jazz age. Sure, there are different challenges and we also feel them, poverty and uncertainty hits close to home here as well! I spent a life of social action only to find that none of that is transferable to modern job seeking when many social action organizations are run by people younger than us, who judge a resume on, not how much one has done for social change, but how much funding one has raised.

The immediacy of the threat of killing or being killed made us both serious and naive and often a sad generation, much like that lost generation of WWI. I don't know if there is a good or bad to it, but now that we are at war again and there are one hundred and fifty plus thousand mostly innocent deaths, and how many destroyed lives... I think we need to be listened to, just a little when we are nostalgic, so that the past is not repeated.

Just think, we have killed over three times more than the total of US losses in Viet Nam, and this is done in our name. Personally I am ashamed that I cannot do as much as I have done in the past...

6:16 AM, June 11, 2005  
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