by Dee Knight
You could feel the storm brewing. Something was “blowin” in the wind. But it was a whirlwind: threats of nuclear catastrophe over Cuba blaring on the TV news, then images of police dogs and rednecks terrorizing civil rights marchers down south, then Vietnamese children fleeing from napalm flames. Then draft notices to go to Vietnam to “fight commies.”
I only heard Dylan’s “the Times They Are A-Changin”, vaguely at first. I was a small town boy from eastern Oregon. In my high school “modern problems” class in 1964, I voted in a straw poll for the rightwinger Goldwater against the “peace candidate” Johnson. But the next year, at college in San Francisco, I saw reports in the school paper of students going south to join “freedom riders” in Mississippi to help with voter registration. When word spread that LBJ was sending half a million troops to Vietnam, I heard friends talk of conscientious objection, or refusing the draft. Some asked me what I planned to do. I couldn’t answer. I didn’t know.
I felt I had to learn fast. The quadrangle on the San Francisco State College campus buzzed every day with learning opportunities. Anti-war students organized “teach-ins” on the war. The Black Students Union had speakers in the quad nearly every day. One friend was applying for conscientious objector status. Another was already planning to head for Canada. The Spring 1967 Mobilization Against the War marched past my apartment complex facing the Golden Gate Park panhandle in San Francisco. As I sat on the fence watching, a classmate waved and beckoned me to join. I literally jumped off the fence and began marching. Not long after that I was collecting signatures on campus by the dozens for the newly formed Peace and Freedom Party.
By the fall I had submitted an application for conscientious objector (CO) status. My small town draft board said they wouldn’t consider it while I had a student deferment. What happened next was bizarre: I saw an ad in The Progressive magazine to join the anti-war McCarthy for President campaign in Wisconsin. I decided to abandon my student deferment, sell my books and fly there.
When I phoned home from Madison, Wisconsin, in January 1968 to tell my parents I had left San Francisco State College to try and end the war, my mother said she hoped I would not get in trouble with the government. I told her the government had already gotten in trouble with me. In August 1968, I wrote home to say I was in Canada. Four years later I wrote again, to say charges against me for resisting the draft had been dismissed on a technicality. I returned home briefly that year, to build support for a true amnesty for war resisters of all kinds. Then I went back to Canada, to continue working with Amex-Canada, the American exile/expat-riate war resister group and magazine that led the amnesty movement from 1972 – 77.
This is my personal memoir of those years. The first part is about my experiences of resisting the draft and going into exile in Canada. The second part is about my life and struggles from 1975 to the present, which were largely formed and motivated by my resistance. They focus on how I decided to dedicate my life to deep change, to revolutionary change. The appendices are “reports from the time” of the crucial movements and events that shaped me.
Part 3 is different: while it’s a continuation of my life quest for change and socialism, now it’s focused on the Green New Deal — which I see as a truly revolutionary program to save the planet. I believe the raving rightist protests that it’s a “watermelon — green on the outside but red on the inside” are essentially true. It’s not really a “socialist plot,” as they insist. It simply indicts capitalism as the source of the problem. But its beauty is that it provides a road map not merely to save the planet but to help the people of the USA, and the world, escape from capitalist never-never land.
This book is dedicated to Veterans for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and to the families of all these veterans, whose lives were significantly damaged, and often cut tragically short, by the U.S. war machine. And also to all active-duty U.S. GIs, that they will know they have wholehearted support as they learn the truth.
And to the new generation that has decided to take over.