Journeying the Sixties: A Counterculture Tarot     index     <prev     next>


"The motion from protest to resistance is halting and reversible; yet still I think something has changed."

--Student activist and 60s historian Todd Gitlin in a letter to friends following "Bloody Tuesday" of Stop the Draft Week in Oakland, October, 1967.

Fire loves a fight. And the urge to fight may trap Wands in conflicts that move quickly and grow out of control. Yet change provides its own kind of stability in the Nine of Wands, portrayed in the traditional Rider-Waite card as a bandaged warrior leaning against one upright wand while appearing to protect eight others. The card is a show of strength, an evolving integration of intellectual goals with the physical expression of desire. But wounds are inevitable. Here, protestors wait to close down the Oakland Induction Center where young draftees arrive for their physicals and are taken into the Army. They hold wooden shields and wear helmets. It is an October Friday in 1967 and no one anticipates a peaceful outcome.

At some point in that year anti-war activists across the country agreed to turn protest into resistance. Fred Halstead says in Out Now!, his detailed history of the anti-war movement, "it was a time to move opposition to the war and the draft from moral protest to a show of power." The draft of young men into the armed forces was a particularly odious feature of the Vietnam conflict. Beginning with the war's expansion in 1965, President Johnson doubled the number of young men to be drafted each month from 17,000 to 35,000. Because college students still held draft deferments, the vast majority of hapless draftees were lower class males and much more likely to be black, Mexican-American or Puerto Rican. In 1965 there were 25,000 soldiers in Vietnam. By the end of 1967 there were more than 480,000 soldiers in Vietnam. And 15,000 of them had been killed.

In May of 1965 some 40 Berkeley students staged the first public burning of draft cards in front of the local draft board, at the time a handy half-block from the UC campus. A "liberal" Democratic Congress responded to the burning of draft cards by making the act a felony punishable by five years in prison. Draft card burnings continued, though, and by 1967 a group called The Resistance was organizing ever-larger protests against the draft. Leaders decided to mount a weeklong protest October 16-21 that would end with a march on the Pentagon. Ground zero for draft resistance was the Oakland Armed Forces Examining Station, aka, the Oakland Induction Center.

Following a peaceful sit-in on Monday Oct. 16, some 4,000 protestors arrived Tuesday at 4:30 a.m. to surround the Induction Center and keep recruits from entering. At first the police were caught off-guard by the arrival of activists from several different directions. Wand speed had, momentarily at least, seized the advantage. At one point officers were confined to the tall parking garage on the card's left, shouting from bullhorns for the crowd to disperse. But as demonstrators sang protest songs and shouted "Hell No, Nobody Goes!" more than two thousand police and sheriffs deputies prepared to charge into the streets.

What followed on Bloody Tuesday was a riot. Direct action collided with police brutality and the result was an hour of mayhem as members of the Resistance, who had expected to block Center entrances and be arrested, were instead beaten bloody. Organizers held a rally Thursday on the Berkeley campus and vowed to return to Oakland on Friday. "We're going to give the cops one hell of a run for their money," shouted Stop the Draft Week organizer Morgan Spector. And they did. More than 10,000 protestors showed up early Friday morning, prepared with shields and helmets to engage the police. As cops poured out again into the streets, activists ran a virtual Chinese fire drill around the city's central core, occupying intersections until police arrived, then vanishing down alleys to return to the Center where they blocked entrances until police returned. Battles ensued as police officers fought hand-to-hand to arrest protestors who, aided by comrades that attacked police from behind, would break free and run. Barricades were built from parked cars, rolled into intersections and tipped over. A bus was seized, emptied of cheering passengers, and rolled into the street to block access by police.

Protest had become insurrection. By afternoon, police regained control and protestors were driven back to Berkeley. Buses carrying draftees to the Center had been delayed only a few hours. But nearly two-dozen people had been injured and many more arrested. Meanwhile at the Pentagon some 35,000 marched to the walls, held back by young, nervous federal marshals. Flowers were slipped into the barrels of their guns while protestors sat down and waited. Abbie Hoffman tried to use the accumulated energy to levitate the Pentagon 90 feet above the ground and shake it "clean" of its corruption. By the ninth card, Wand inspiration has grown into itself. This battle is not its first, but it may be the one that shines finally with the Wand-like complementarities of wit, strength, and courage, though inspiration can still produce unsettling, even regrettable outcomes. Counterculture Wands supported a doctrine of equilibrium that viewed change as stability. If anything should stop changing, even for a moment, it might break into a million pieces.