Sunday, December 21, 2014

What is more important to us: a broken window or a man/woman's life? My experience in 1969 at a protest against the International Industrialist Conference.

WHAT DO WE VALUE MOST? A BROKEN WINDOW, OR A MAN’S LIFE?   How African American children have to grow up too fast. How a 12 year old can be mistaken for a 20 year old.  How destruction of property is still more publicized than the killing of people, especially African Americans.

     It was 1969 and we were in the depths of the Vietnam War, tired of reading in our newspapers and watching on TV (if we had one —I didn’t at the time) how many Vietnamese we had killed each day, to say nothing of the U.S. soldiers being killed and destroyed psychologically.  I already knew then that a war not fought for honorable reasons is a war that will maim a person for life, for even the veterans of the Spanish Civil war, a just war, returned with shell shocked memories of the death they had caused or witnessed. Perhaps this blog post should be called:
WHY DO WE RIOT?  A riot is the language of the disenfranchised and marginalized and those who feel just plain hopeless? “A riot is the language of the unheard.”  Martin Luther King, Jr.
1969 was a year when the International Industrialists Conference was being held in San Francisco at the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill.  The meeting was composed of the 700 richest corporations or their representatives mostly from the advanced industrialist  countries. They were to decide the fate of the entire world, and not anyone could stop whatever they decided should become law and/or policy.  I actually found an article devoted to this moment of protest that I am about to relay - click on the title above.   
       “The men who heard Wells Fargo's Ernie Arbuckle say that "the separation of private business and public affairs... is no longer tenable," who wined and dined in the Grand Ballroom of the Fairmont while the Tac Squad cleared away the rabble demonstrating outside, were by and large satisfied that if they were not in complete control of events they could and should be. When Rockefeller told them that the choice was "ours to make," the international capitalist clan -- all 700 of them -- believed him.”
       I was one of the rabble. We had started at Washington Square Park in North Beach. I had gathered there with many others to protest the idea that the capitalist class could make decisions that would determine the fate of everyone in the world without anyone else’s input.  A very courageous friend of mine in Progressive Labor Party who looked quite beautifully bourgeois was able to penetrate the meeting for a minute and get over a small message to the gathering.  Otherwise we were left to yell our anger outside. 
     Remember that the war was still going on, that there were still great gaps between haves and have nots all over the world, and especially in our own country (or so we thought).  That the fight for civil rights seemed unresolved because the basic economic lives of our brothers and sisters had not changed.  The War on Poverty had begun but was never successful. The War in Vietnam still raged and meant so many poor people in the United States and Vietnam were being killed at the behest of these capitalists.
     According to the above link:  “Blamed for inflation, the Vietnam war stalked the conference -- the cost of empire -- but it was not much talked about. Of greater interest to participants was the creation of an international managerial class, the problems of economic nationalism, the disaffection of the young, and the propagation of the socially conscious rhetoric of the new imperialism.”
    [Note: related possibly is the conference of the G8 but not directly.]
Here is a link to a book about the International Industrialists Conference by SDS  -   A copy of this exists at the Univ. of California Davis — Shields Library.  

An article by Bill Anderson from the SF Bay Guardian    and  gives more of a personal view and several conversations with some of the industrialists who clearly hated us.  “They get rich, poor folks die” we chanted.  “There is an enormous difference between the developed countries and the underdeveloped ones.” says Bill Anderson from an interview with a capitalist from Kodak.  [an aside: The piece in the Bay Guardian is more impressionist than factual.  Bill was a poet - see this blog about him:  ]
     At this time I was working with a group of musicians who were all professional — only I was able to be a part because I knew the words to revolutionary and labor songs.  1969 was full of movement in the Bay Area - we went to Richmond Calif to support the striking Safeway Workers, who immediately invited us to a party once they got their strike check (only the poor are truly generous, I learned that night).  We were supporting strikes and playing concerts all over the bay area for different reasons. We didn’t last but we had fun.  Our name was BAY AREA PROGRESSIVE MUSICIANS ASSOCIATION - BAPMA and we included one of Country Joe and the Fish’s great musicians.
     I was depressed to learn that the Weatherman took credit for the failure of this demonstration — apparently the Weathermen were there to riot. And in the end it was people such as myself who got arrested, even though we were completely innocent.  I was arrested along with the wife of the head of the Venceremos faction of SDS [a professor at Stanford who was fired despite his TENURE - so even professors can be fired] — a third grouping within SDS.  She and I were just walking and ahead of us mostly young men were breaking big fancy stores’ windows.  We got blamed.   A comment on Ayers’ post by a Dougie Fresh:  scroll down to where Dougie fresh says:
"I love it how some right wing types attack Bernardine with blatantly sexist and racist slurs
Hey,I saw Bernardine speak at the Memorial Day Rally in Berkeley for People’s Park in May,1969.She had it going on.
Bill,we who knew you when have much love for you.I had my own issues with Weather but y’all “dared to struggle,dared to win”when many of us were scared to jeopardize our middle class comforts by taking the chances you did.
In Sept,1969.we did a “Days of Rage”at the International Industrialists Conference in San Francisco in which I took a bust and a beatdown.I always saw were we a precursor to the rumble in Chi-town the following month.
Keep on representing.The work of the Sixties is not yet over.”

Then there is the Tamiment Library & Archives — at NYU which includes National Guardian photos:    One could probably find a photo or two of the demo.  I believe I still have newspaper clippings. Box 4, Folder 24 - labeled “International Industrialists Conference”.  Good to know this is available.
     James Laue papers contain a pamphlet —    
     Weatherman archives - ugh -    Look at all that happened in 1969 - the IIC was just a blip in all the “days of rage” for which the “weatherpeople" take credit. I  would not be proud of this record of “rage”.  In June, SDS split — at the Chicago convention.  This was the year of the Chicago Conspiracy Trial for gosh sakes.  So no one noticed our demo in San Francisco. It was also my second arrest in less than a year and I faced 3 months in jail if it were noticed. Fortunately the computer presence in law enforcement had not yet made its mark.  In fact, the man taking my fingerprints was kind and told me I should consider becoming a parole agent. After all, I had a Bachelors’ Degree.
     I am writing this piece to make sense of the fact that not very much happened to us that day, unlike the response to “riots” in 1965 in Los Angeles, Newark, etc. or 1992 in Los Angeles.  We were charged with malicious mischief and time served as I recall.  Personally I did not condone destruction of property as a way to express my anger.  But I did sense that our outrage over what was occurring, and still is, in our country and the world could never be adequately expressed by any means.  I wonder further that we don’t just destroy ourselves and each other as we continue to blame “the other”.  

The Other America — “A riot is the language of the unheard”  ML King Jr.


  1. Thanks so much for sharing this memory. It' important to document our past. If only we could feel we've learned from it and now do better!

    1. Thanks Jane - it does remind me of the saying that if we don't know our history we are doomed sometimes to repeat it, or something similar. We don't really do that much learning from history.