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Document Friday: Occupy Wall Street? How About Levitate the Pentagon.

October 14, 2011

Past is prologue?

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].”

Good thing the US government doesn't spy on protesters any more. Oh wait....

#occupypentagon ?

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.

Perhaps the most bizarre moment of the protest came courtesy of Abbie Hoffman, leader of the Yippies.  According to Time, Hoffman:

“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.

Abby Hoffman and friends attempt to levitate the Pentagon. Alan Ginsburg helps lead the Aramaic chant. From the University of California.

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.”

  1. October 17, 2011 12:42 am

    Thanks very much for this enlightening post — exorcising the world of militarism, how awesome of an attempt is that 🙂 I truly hope for an Occupy pentagon movement to begin alongside OWS, and posts like yours provide important historical context.

  2. November 26, 2011 1:35 pm

    Today marijuana, LSD, heroin and other such drugs are illegal. I doubt we’ll see the “spiritual enlightenment” that was the religion of the ’60s today.

    It seems the old leaders of these “encampments” are waiting in the wings to teach the youth their crafts-which obviously didn’t work.

    The military will grow larger based on an economic downturn because the youth of today will be forced to join based on economic conditions. There is no draft. No reason for these young people to feel they are in the same situation because they aren’t.

    But, it’s easy to see some of the elderly politicians pushing for the legalization of these drugs once more. Ron Paul for example. Maybe those were good times for him. Not so good for the people that lived in the downtrodden neighborhoods of these drug lords though.Perhaps his voters want to return to the 60s, too. they clearly recognize the enormous costs of waging war.Perhaps war is less costly on American soil? Evangelical Christians are now preaching that maybe they were wrong because they see people in jail over minor offenses such as pot. Perhaps their television ratings are going down the tube?

    They still keep using religion to reel people in though people aren’t the same as they were way back then. They may have their beliefs, but I think they are more educated and aren’t falling for the same things. Even the media hasn’t caught on because they keep doing the same old stuff and don’t get it.

    In a world, or country, where dead people-Zombies- are glorified, I can only imagine the outcome of such wishful thinking.

  3. Owen Segerstrom permalink
    December 15, 2011 4:15 pm

    Wow my friend. I was just hoping to track you down and drop a line; little did I know that in the process I’d find, no exaggeration, some of the best internet content I’ve ever read. Top shelf work. -Owen


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