Lessons From Stop the Draft Week 50 Years Ago

In 1967, protesters filled the streets of Oakland to stop the draft. Seven faced serious charges – and their message still resonates today

October marks the 50th anniversary of Stop the Draft Week, the largest militant anti-Vietnam War demonstration up to that time. Ten thousand people jammed into the streets of downtown Oakland to shutdown the federal draft induction center.

Demonstration organizers, who became known as the Oakland 7, faced an 11-week conspiracy trial. In a major victory for the antiwar movement, a jury acquitted them of all charges.

Erlich was one of the Oakland 7.

In October of 1967, the U.S. war effort in Vietnam was failing. In just a few months, Vietnamese rebels launched the Tet Offensive, a political defeat that proved to be a turning point in the US war.

Throughout 1967 President Lyndon Johnson sent more troops to South Vietnam, and that required bigger draft calls. The sons of the very rich and well connected always avoided the draft. Donald Trump received a medical deferment due to “bone spurs” in his heels. They didn’t prevent him from a lifetime of skiing, however.

The Oakland 7: Standing (L to R): Mike Smith, Reese Erlich, Jeff Segal, Bob Mandel, Terry Cannon. Kneeling: Frank Bardacke. Missing: Steve Cannon. Photo by Jeffrey Blankfort

George W. Bush joined the National Guard through his father’s connections and then went missing from his unit for months at a time. Dick Cheney enjoyed a series of student draft deferments. When he was reclassified as draft eligible, he suddenly became a father and thus avoided service. These chicken hawks later became staunch supporters for unbridled wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Meanwhile African-American, Latino, and working-class men of all nationalities were drafted and shipped to Vietnam in ever larger numbers. Middle income students and married men, who had been exempt, gradually found they were reclassified. Anger at the war was growing. Black Power and civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King, came out against the war and the draft.

Stokely Carmichael, then leader of the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee, popularized the slogans, “Hell No, We Won’t Go” and “No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger.”

In 1967 an old buddy of mine, Steve Hamilton, and former Stanford student body president Dave Harris organized an anti-draft group called The Resistance. Draft age men pledged to refuse the draft, and many burned their draft cards. The Resistance mostly appealed to students and middle-income whites. But it had a powerful impact. The flames of burning draft cards lit a fire under the Johnson White House.

During the summer of 1967, some 30 Bay Area anti-draft organizers came together at a former Greek Orthodox church in the San Francisco Mission District to plan a massive demonstration. We called it Stop the Draft Week (STDW) and pledged to shut down the Oakland Induction Center from October 16-20.

We visited every antiwar group, union hall…

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