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Tuesday May 23, 2017
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Homecoming, 1965

 

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Organized, large-scale protest of U.S. military intervention in Southeast Asia had begun in the spring of 1965, following the start of a massive American bombing campaign against North Vietnam. That summer, radical activist Jerry Rubin and others in Berkeley, California, called for October 15 and 16 to be the International Days of Protest against the war. In Ann Arbor, a coalition of student groups, university faculty, and local activists planned a series of dramatic events designed to draw attention to the war. Ultimately they would generate more drama than they desired.

In 1965, the Vietnam war could not yet be called unpopular. The few who publicly protested it were generally considered to be traitors, cowards, or both. Across the country, many demonstrations that weekend were met by sizeable contingents of counter-protesters, who heckled, insulted, and even assaulted the antiwar groups.

In Ann Arbor, the weekend's central event was the country's first act of mass civil disobedience directed at the Vietnam War. On Friday evening a mixed group of thirty-eight young people, including six women and a few junior university faculty, staged a sit-in at the draft board office at the corner of Liberty and Main. The demonstrators sat on the floor, talking and singing songs, until the office closed, after which they were arrested for trespassing. They made no attempt to resist arrest, and most remained immobile and had to be carried out by police. Among those arrested were an editor of the Michigan Daily and Bill Ayers, who later helped found the revolutionary Weather Underground.

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