Document Friday: Occupy Wall Street? How About Levitate the Pentagon.
As Occupy Wall Street appears to be expanding nationwide and hitting resistance as well as gaining momentum, it’s fitting to remember the 44th anniversary of the October 1967 March on the Pentagon, during which Americans protested the Johnson administration’s escalation of the Vietnam War.
The March on the Pentagon was large; an estimated 100,000 people attended an initial rally near the Lincoln Memorial, and 30,000 marched across the Arlington Memorial Bridge to the Pentagon. Time Magazine’s account of the March describes the diverse mix of protesters as “hard-eyed revolutionaries, skylarking hippies; ersatz motorcycle gangs and all-too-real college professors; house wives, ministers, and authors, Black Nationalists in African garb–but no real African nationalists; nonviolent pacifists and notpacific advocates of violence–some of them anti-anti-warriors and American Nazis spoiling for a fight.” Similar but smaller protests –and counter protests supporting the Vietnam War– were held throughout the US.
I stumbled across two March on the Pentagon documents that are pretty jarring. The first is an October 20, 1967 memo from the Director of the National Security Agency which asked the Agency to spy on the “activities of ‘peace’ groups and ‘black power’ organizations” and report back. It asked, “Is [there] evidence of any foreign action to develop or control these anti-Vietnam and other domestic demonstrations?” In the second, the Agency confirmed, “We are concentrating additional and continuing effort to obtain SIGINT [Signal intelligence–information through phone taps].”
When they reached the Pentagon’s parking lot, the marchers met a contingent of approximately 2,500 federal troops and marshals who had formed a human barricade around the Pentagon to prevent the marchers from entering it; military helicopters circled overhead. Hundreds of the protesters charged the troops, attempting to break through them. They were repulsed. At one point, a contingent of protesters was tear gassed. In the stinging haze, they sang “America the Beautiful.” Other protesters attempted to talk with the troops, some even put flowers down the barrels of the soldiers’ rifles.
“Asked for a permit to levitate the Pentagon 300 feet off the ground, explaining that by chanting ancient Aramaic exorcism rites while standing in a circle around the building, they could get it to rise into the air, turn orange and vibrate until all evil emissions had fled. The war would end forthwith.”
A General Services Administrator generously gave permission to Hoffman to “raise the building a maximum of ten feet.” The exorcism was certainly attempted. And apparently failed.
Eventually, the protesters began to disperse. Some spent the night at the Pentagon, but most left on the evening of the 21st. At the weekend’s end, 681 protesters had been arrested for varrying offenses.
Months earlier, Hoffman had visited the New York Stock Exchange. He and his pranksters sweet-talked their way onto the railing above where the traders were wheeling and dealing. Then, they started tossing one-dollar bills onto the trading floor. Some of the traders booed. Others scrambled to pick as much free cash as they could. Hoffman later explained that his prank merely pointed out what the Wall Street traders “were already doing.”