Avatar #11
Oct. 27-Nov. 9, 1967, p.5


I sit here with a pile of yesterday's speeches on my left, a jumble of questions in my head, and an ache in my heart which has little to do with any of this, except cosmically perhaps. Yesterday, October 16, I handed my draft card to Jack Mendelsohn at the Arlington Street Church and joined over three hundred other men in the same illegal act. What we all did was sanctified by the church, but I don't think that that made any of us feel any less personally responsible. Maybe it was kind of comforting to know that not everyone in the U.S. hated you for doing what you felt was right — and they do hate us, you know, they hate us with everything they've got and they call us all the shitty names they can think of like traitor and coward and anti-American and it's the biggest bunch of fucking lies, the same kind of stuff you hear from any sick and dying festering thing which hates every real and honest and courageous living thing around it. I can tell you one thing, no one was more surprised than I was when I did it. When I first came into contact with the whole middle class college scene of anti-war and Help the NEEgrows in Mississippi, I thought it was the silliest biggest cop-out ever created. I know why now and I know why I've changed. Before I saw only the appearances of the scene, in much the same way as the guy who drives through Harvard Square on Saturday night might think that a few sixteen-year-old kids who've combed their hair down over their ears are the essence of the so-called Hippy Movement. No wonder they're turned off — I'm turned off too. But what I've seen now is the fire in the center of that movement, the sun of the solar system of the anti-war, future freedom in America movement, and I recognized in it my brothers and I belonged there and nowhere else. It is a change that only those very close to me could know about, but it is an astonishing change. My hair has not turned grey and my teeth have not fallen out, my clothes are the same clothes I have always worn, but the fire inside comes out like a blast from a furnace, my eyes are akindle and my heart, my heart which has always been drawn by the truest feelings only is lying in the middle of Main Street, America, now screaming, now pleading, now weeping, now still and patiently awaiting for the return of the deepest and truest American values, the ones on which this country was founded, the heart and soul of America. I am standing, my heart joined inseparably with the heart of true American reality, saying only one thing, that man has the right to freedom which is both joy and service, and that he must forever carry his highest ideals out into the world to have them stifled by stagnating societies and the entropic forces of the universe, only to make them stronger in him, only to make it absolutely necessary for him to build them all around him, to create his own world, which by the depth of its source is everyone's world. America must return to the source of its light.

Those of us who yesterday said no to the laws of this country at the same time said yes, everlastingly yes, to the spirit of America. We are the true Americans, reborn at a time when it is almost a crime to be truly American. Those creeps who drove by the church in a Cadillac waving an American flag and calling coward, why, they don't even know what it is to be an American. I say it is a crime for them to misuse such spirit, only the raggle-taggles of it is theirs, because while we burned those cards with our hands, we carried that spirit in our hearts, but while they carried that symbol in their hands, they trampled that spirit long, long ago, when they did not continually work to keep it alive. Oh, maybe they had it once, reciting the pledge of allegiance in a second-grade schoolroom or jammed in a fox hole in Italy with shells bursting over their heads, but they have died to it and it is dead in them and they are like a branch cut from a tree whose dry leaves still rustle in the wind they have no source of life. We might thank them for having done well once, but we cannot respect them, for they no longer do.

My brothers, how can I tell you. I walked to the Common yesterday without knowing all I would do by the end of the day. But I sat and I listened while men spoke, and there were times when I could not tell whether the voice that rose up over the crowd was Howard Zinn's voice or Ray Mungo's voice or my voice or everyone's voices united as one. I walked across the Common and to the Arlington Street Church and I could not tell if we were two thousand marching in Boston on October 16 or all of humanity on its slow, painful and joyful progression to the freedom which is its birthplace and its goal. I sat in the Arlington Street Church and I could not tell if we were the names and the bodies we are known by now or if we were Paine and Franklin and Jefferson or Emerson, Lincoln, and Thoreau. We were all of them, all of them on our way to becoming more of them, for the knowledge that was theirs is yet for us to learn, but we are learning, the pure vision that was theirs we yet must see, but we are seeing, and the strength to manifest that vision that was theirs, must be ours also and yet we do not have it, but we will.