Friday Flashback #213

It’s been almost 51 years to the day. But no one who was there has forgotten the energy and power of that afternoon.

October 15, 1969 was a national event: a “Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam,” Demonstrations occurred all over the country.

The cover of Staples’ 1970 yearbook included photos from that fall’s Moratorium march, in the form of a peace sign.

Sparked by young people, Westport protested too.

Staples students streamed out of school. Led by Westport police, and joined by teachers and junior high students, more than 1,200 marched down North Avenue, turned right on Long Lots, then onto the Post Road all the way to the YMCA.

Massing in front of the old Bedford building — the only part of the Y at that time — a crowd that swelled to 2,000 heard speakers, including Iowa Senator Harold Hughes and Temple Israel’s Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein, denounce the war and demand peace.

They wore black armbands and sported doves of peace. They carried American flags, and chanted “Hell no, we won’t go!” Counter-protesters drove alongside, cursing them. A few threw eggs.

(Photo/Patricia McMahon)

A remarkable video of that Westport moratorium captures the day.

Staples senior Guy Northrop shot 17 minutes of the march, with a Bauer Super 8 camera. Eleven minutes survive, and have been posted on YouTube.

The video shows with remarkable freshness the power of that protest. It also serves as a unique time capsule. Much of Westport has changed since then. But much has not.

9 responses to “Friday Flashback #213

  1. Wow that’s some well-preserved 50 yr old film! Thanks to Dan and Guy for reminding us there is good to come out of social media as well as the bad. After yesterday’s orgy of pompous, angry and self righteous comments (re: “Police Arrest 2 For Threatening Flyers”) it comes as an especially welcome surprise.

  2. Dan – Great video. That should be required viewing at Staples. I will definitely share it with my kids. Truly shows how an effective demonstration / protest should be conducted. I know I would have to explain to our kids today why in this 1970’s protest people proudly displayed American flags, did not break windows, burn down businesses and assault police officers and others who did not share their point of view. It will be confusing to today’s younger generation who have been taught that violence and anarchy are not only acceptable but good and effective ways to express discontent and influence public opinion.

    Honestly, sharing this with our community is so timely. We need to embrace differences of opinion and use our thoughts and reason, often with public demonstration, to persuade our community to move in a different direction. Our history has shown us that violent demonstrations are counterproductive to the core objectives of the movement to change. The civility depicted in this film is an awesome display of our actual Constitutional right to assembly and free speech. What is going on in our cities across the country today is not.

    Thanks again Dan for sharing this.

    • Those Constitutional rights to assembly and free speech were born from violent rebellion. Unfortunately, it’s taken periodic expressions of violence to achieve the ideals of equality and ensure those rights apply to all Americans.

      Riots and violence provoked by fear and driven by anger were critical to the success of the 1960s civil rights movement, as it has been to every step of racial progress in U.S. history. It was violence that finally got President Kennedy, and later President Johnson, to support the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

      In the words of Martin Luther King Jr.:

      “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

      “Urban riots must now be recognized as durable social phenomena. They may be deplored, but they are there and should be understood. Urban riots are a special form of violence. They are not insurrections. The rioters are not seeking to seize territory or to attain control of institutions. They are mainly intended to shock the white community. They are a distorted form of social protest. The looting which is their principal feature serves many functions. It enables the most enraged and deprived Negro to take hold of consumer goods with the ease the white man does by using his purse. Often the Negro does not even want what he takes; he wants the experience of taking.”

      “Let us say boldly that if the violations of law by the white man in the slums over the years were calculated and compared with the law-breaking of a few days of riots, the hardened criminal would be the white man. These are often difficult things to say but I have come to see more and more that it is necessary to utter the truth in order to deal with the great problems that we face in our society.”

      “Certain conditions continue to exist in our society, which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met.”

  3. Rob, I disagree with your statement: “It will be confusing to today’s younger generation who have been taught that violence and anarchy are not only acceptable but good and effective ways to express discontent and influence public opinion.” There are tons of people all across the political spectrum who have criticized violent protests; and there have been numerous peaceful protests in recent months which clearly illustrate that lots of people understand the value and significance of expressing their voices within the bounds of what is legally acceptable.

    In that regard, it mirrors what happened decades ago. There were numerous peaceful protests that were very much like what you see in the video. But there were also some violent and deadly riots around the country—far worse than anything happening in the past year—that were part of the landscape as well.

  4. Agreed Fred. I was being sarcastic. Westport had really good and peaceful demonstrations after the Floyd killing and there were generally very peaceful and strong demonstrations in NYC and other metropolitan areas across the city. Unfortunately, a major violent element took over from there and is now dominating the movement. Equally as bad, it is being accepted as appropriate by a large portion of our country and leadership. I am concerned that it will cause a backlash that will be destructive to change and the root cause that the peaceful demonstrations sought to change. We saw that in the later part of the 1960’s and it resulted in a major setback for the civil rights movement for decades. I am a huge supporter of the rights of all people to freely express their views. It is what differentiates us from almost every other society in the world. I don’t believe that there is a right to destroy other peoples property or do harm to them personally. That is a very slippery slope and it will lead to a further degeneration of our society.

    Bottom line, I loved watching that video and loved seeing Westporters of multiple generations expressing their well-founded distaste for what our leadership was doing. Ultimately, it worked. I saw a lot of that in Westport earlier this summer and that was great as well. Peaceful demonstrations are powerful, they take time, but they get results.

    Thanks Fred. I appreciate your contributions to 06880 and the one above is no different…

  5. By the way, for those who are “newcomers” to Westport, Rob scored one of the most amazing goals in Staples soccer history, a long-range blast late in a state title final that broke a scoreless tie and, if it had happened in the Premier League, would have been up for Goal of the Year.

    So, while Fox Soccer has a prominent soccer play-by-play broadcaster named Rob Stone, from my perspective Westport is home to THE Rob Stone of US soccer.

  6. I Remember my best buddy Guy Northrop excitedly telling me about shooting the film. His Father, Loren worked at Westport Bank & Trust…that’s probably how he got to their roof to take the shot of the great downtown gathering!

  7. I loved seeing this and it brought back many memories of that day.
    I feel grateful to have experienced Westport back then.

  8. I saw the old A&P store. I liked looking at the background stores. I mentioned to Dan a while back I have some short home movies from the summer of 1941 that shows the Post Road.

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