Interview with a veteran comrade
The Chicano Moratorium 30 Years Ago...
And the Struggle Today
Revolutionary Worker #1068, August 27, 2000
On August 29, 1970 over 25,000 Chicanos from across the country marched down Whittier Boulevard in the Boyle Heights District of Los Angeles to demand an end to the Vietnam war and an end to national oppression. The march was organized under the slogan, 'Raza sí, guerra no'. The demonstration was viciously attacked by the LAPD, and three people gave their lives in the struggle that day as people heroically defended themselves against the police attack. On the 30th anniversary of the Moratorium, a group of revolutionary youth interviewed a veteran comrade who was in the middle of the Chicano Moratorium 30 years ago.
Question: Looking at the Moratorium through the eyes of a generation which has been politicized by things like the anti-immigrant Proposition 187 and the anti-affirmative action Proposition 209 and things like that-those are the issues that like this generation is confronting now- what was going on, what politicized your generation?
Answer from veteran comrade: You have to step back for a minute and you have to look at what was happening in the world at that time. The Vietnamese people were showing the people of the world, all over the world, that a small country can defeat a big country-that if you have right on your side and if you are determined to be free, that you can actually inflict your will on the oppressor.
That was not lost on the people of the world. And it certainly was not lost on the Chicano people. And the Chicano Moratorium came toward the end of the anti-war movement, and the reason for that is that it was very controversial to oppose the war. Chicanos had been taught that it was a good thing for us to shed our blood for the United States. There were many Chicanos in the military. It took a while before people began to realize that dying for the imperialists was not in their interest-and to begin to organize to make that fact known to the world, that we were not going to die in their goddamn war.
But it was very controversial. And it took place, like I say, at a time when the Vietnamese were waging struggle against the U.S., and defeating them, sending the troops home in body bags. I remember seeing photographs of body bags waiting to be loaded on the planes. There were so many you couldn't even count them. Something had to change and the Chicano Moratorium was an expression of resistance and defiance to what was going on, and in part it was aided by the heroic struggle of the Vietnamese people and other struggles that were going on in the world.
Around this time, you had the National Guard shooting people down at Kent State and the pigs murdered people at Jackson State, a Black college which nobody hardly talks about. The U.S. had spilled the blood of college students both Black and white. And the other thing was, I think there was a yearning for Chicanos to come together in a political act. I think this is one of the very first times that Chicanos from all over the United States got together. I remember the day of the march seeing banners from Kansas City, from Minnesota, from Chicago, from all over the place. From all over the Southwest, too. And I think part of what the people wanted to do was come together to express outrage at the war in Vietnam, opposition to sending their children to die in it. And I think besides all that, there was some other things that were going on. You know if the war would have ended that minute, the problems that the Chicano people faced would not have ended, and the question of the war was only one issue.
And so the things that politicized people were things like police killings, genocide, the war, the racism, you know, the drop-out rates in the schools, the destruction of language and culture, were all things that really bothered the Chicano people. And when they came together, that sort of pulled them together as a group. I think the main point was a question of the war. But I don't think that's the only reason why Chicanos came together that day.
This was not something that had ever happened before. This was the first time in history that you had this kind of a gathering. And I'm not just talking about the numbers. The numbers were like 25,000 to 30,000. That's very significant. The makeup of the crowd was a lot of students, and a lot of proletarians and people from all over who had never had contact with each other before. This was not some kind of annual event, it had never happened before. And again, to get to your question about what politicized people-it was all of that, it was the war and just the way you had to live every day in this country. And it was the inspiration of other people standing up and fighting for their rights, all together, that politicized people.
What we did in the course of that, the Revolutionary Union-the Party did not exist at that point-the RU organized a Chicano contingent within the Moratorium. We raised slogans and chants and stuff like that which we thought were important to reflect the actual conditions of the Chicano people and to begin to point the way forward out of all this mess. I was just reading from the RU's Chicano pamphlet and I'll quote:
"In August of 1970 over 25,000 Chicanos from across the country gathered in Los Angeles to demand an end to the Vietnam war and an end to national oppression. The march was organized under the slogan, 'Raza si, guerra no.' Some of the demonstrators brought out even more advanced consciousness, that some wars such as those for national liberation are just, while the wars for imperialist aggression are unjust, and through such slogans as 'Victory to the N.L.F., raza si, guerra aqui."
Everybody that was in the march didn't agree with this. Some of the people who organized it were horrified that we would talk about victory to the Vietnamese people, but we thought that was an important point because theirs was a just struggle as well. And anything that we can do against U.S. imperialism can only strengthen the fight of other people being oppressed by U.S. imperialism. So we chanted those chants, and those chants were taken up by the people. It made a lot of sense.
The other point was 'guerra aqui.' That's the point. We didn't think that the only problem that Chicanos faced was the conflict in Vietnam - a long ways from here. But it was a conflict in the streets of the United States and the Chicano communities, wherever Chicanos found themselves. They were facing national oppression, and that had to be brought out. And we did our best to do that. And again, it was welcomed by the masses. It made people stop and think.
Why wouldn't we say we only want peace? I remember somebody said, "Why don't you want an end to the conflict?" And we told people because the thing that caused the conflict hasn't ended. We think the Vietnamese should defeat the United States. Some people said that's treason. You want the defeat of the United States?! And we said, you goddamn right we do.
Q: So this was controversial?
This was a new thing to put forward to people. Nobody else was talking about working for the defeat of U.S. imperialism. Some people saw it like - as long as it doesn't affect our people, if we don't die in the war, that's okay. And some of the people said, well, that's not the way to look at it. The way to look at it is the United States should get its ass kicked. It should be weakened as a result of this battle, not strengthened. And a lot of people, when they thought about it, said, well you know, that makes sense. Which I think was the most common response.
But the main thing I want to raise is that it was controversial, and people stopped and thought about it. They went like yeah. And some people didn't agree with it, and some people did, and a lot of people stopped to think about it and hadn't made up their minds yet. But again all this was happening in the context of a small country kicking the ass of the United States. And that was unprecedented. They got their ass kicked in Korea, but they always called that a "police action." They were getting their ass kicked again and they didn't like it and we celebrated and we thought it was a great thing.
Q: I was wondering whose idea was it to have this huge march. Was it different organizations? Or was it one organization? Who was the one who thought of this whole march in L.A.?
A: Here's what I know about it. I was involved in one of the Moratorium organizing committees. There were different ideas on the matter. There was agreement around joining the struggle against the war in Vietnam. We all agreed that it should be organized and we should have a series of demonstrations culminating with a big demonstration in Los Angeles. There were a lot of small moratoriums. There was one in Oakland and, I don't remember all the cities, also in quite a few cities, including cities in the Midwest. Which is why those people came.
We learned a lot from the big anti-war movement. Just before the Chicano Moratorium, there had been anti-war demonstrations of 500,000 people on the East Coast and 250,000 people in San Francisco. These were huge things. So people began to sum up the experience of that anti-war movement. And what they had done, how they started out small. You don't start out with 250,000 people in San Francisco. The first ones were relatively small, so people drew some lessons from that.
In those days, you could go live in people's homes-we relied on the people. If we had to send somebody somewhere, they went and stayed in somebody's house and ate what people could give 'em. So we didn't have to have a lot of money. And again, I think what really helped it happen was the fact, that hey, it was right. People were beginning to have serious questions about the war. It was costing-Chicanos were coming home in body bags. And the people started thinking about that.
And then the other thing was that there was all this upheaval anyway, and people were thinking in ways that were different. So it wasn't the idea of just one organization, it was the thinking of a lot of different organizations and people with a lot of different points of view.
And the last thing I want to say about that is this - at the march itself, whole families came, from the grandmother to little kids. It was just amazing. I think, from my understanding, it was along the lines of the protests against Prop 187- how people brought the whole family and they all marched in the street. The Moratorium was like that.
Q: It surprised people that so many people came down for the march-like how did that happen? I heard about people from Missouri and from Kansas, like you said. How did the word get out over there, that this whole big thing was going to happen? That they would all come down for this whole march in L.A.?
A: There were a couple of things like I said. There was all this experience from the anti-war movement. There was Chicano organizations from different campuses. But the main thing was this: it was the right thing to do. You know what I mean? In other words, people responded, not because somebody said something, but because they felt it deep. And they didn't want it to go on anymore. And there was kind of a yearning for people to come together. And I think that is the other part of it. Because this had never happened before, and the thing I raised earlier is that, where there was no organization, people went and organized there. There were a lot of small organizations all around the country. And what united everybody was opposition to the war, and for some people opposition to the way Chicanos have to live.
It was a big awakening for people when they began to find out about the conditions -for example at UCLA in 1967, they had never graduated a single Chicano from the Medical School. All around the country there were different things, police murders, exploitation, the last hired, first fired, the worst jobs, all that kind of shit. People had suffered an oppression that they suffered in common. And they had a desire to get together to try to do something about it. I think it was a big adventure for a lot of people. In many cases they didn't know anybody here, and they came. It became a big factor when the police attacked the march.
To be continued
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