The International Writers Magazine:Life Story
On Saturday, October 5, 1969, I got
up early and took the subway from my home in Brooklyn to the Manhattan
headquarters of the Vietnam Moratorium Committee at 150 Fifth
The Committees office was four blocks from the factory and
showroom loft where my father, grandfather and cousin ran Art
Pants Company, our family business. I was 18 and had started Brooklyn
College a few weeks before. Thirty-five years ago I was sure of
maybe three things. I wanted to try to be a writer.
I loved the New York Mets. And I hated the stupid war in Vietnam.
Richard Nixon had
been President since January and had done nothing to bring a conclusion
to the conflict that had driven Lyndon Johnson from office. Things actually
seemed to be getting worse. The Paris peace talks were going nowhere.
Every day soldiers were still being sent to Vietnam. Thousands of them
had already been killed or injured. Tens of thousands of Vietnamese
had died in the war.
The Moratorium was going to be a national day of protest on Wednesday,
October 15 a kind of general strike by the peace movement, with
all sorts of different local activities, from rallies and prayer vigils
to marches and reading aloud the names of the war dead. Its leaders
were people like D.C.s Sam Brown, active in the Clean for Gene student
movement backing peace candidate Eugene McCarthy in 1968, and New Yorks
Adam Walinsky, whod been a speechwriter for Senator Robert Kennedy.
These were activists who, like me, still believed in the political process.
Id worked for peace candidates since I was 16 and that fall was
working in the campaign of New York Mayor John Lindsay, running for
re-election on the Liberal Party line. Planning for M-Day had
started on college campuses, but its leaders wanted to involve all kinds
of people in churches and union halls and businesses and small
When I walked into the Moratorium office that Saturday morning, my only
intention was to buy some buttons, so I went straight to a table where
some high school girls were selling peace-related merchandise.
I was pretty shy but I could deal with high school girls. For three
dollars, I bought thirty dark blue buttons that said moratorium
in white lower-case sans-serif type. I also got a big blue-and-white
poster with a dove on it that said Vietnam Moratorium: October Till
The End Of The War.
was considering whether to buy some candles or black armbands
sold with free safety pins or some Work For Peace
ribbons when suddenly this girl in her mid-twenties grabbed my arm,
saying, I need a strong young man to carry up some boxes from
was anything but strong. Still, I was delighted to put my stuff
down on the table and be led around by this girl, who was at least a
head taller than me.
Her name was Peggy, she told me as I struggled to keep up with her as
we ran down the stairs. She said shed just walked in one
day like I did, and theyd put her to work right away. Suddenly
Peggy found herself organizing things and people.
A delivery truck had dropped off about twenty cartons in front of the
building. It occurred to me that if my grandfather were still
at work just down Fifth Avenue he came in on Saturday mornings
to sell pants wholesale to people in the know I could go over
there and get one of Grandpa Nats hand trucks and save us a lot
But Peggy had already hoisted up one carton and I didnt want her
to think I was a pussy, so I grabbed a carton and went back into the
building with her. Some other guys and girls joined us, and it
didnt take as long as Id thought to carry everything upstairs.
Then Peggy told me to open the cartons and put the literature in them
in packets. Some needed to be mailed out, and others had to be
sorted and sent to the various campuses or other locations for M-Day
events. That first day at the Moratorium HQ, Peggy had me answering
phones and stapling anti-war signs to sticks and getting people sandwiches
and drinks from Squires Coffee Shop across the street.
After Id been there about five hours, she introduced me to Adam
Walinsky, calling me one of our hardest workers. Great,
Adam said. We can always use people like you.
He was about the only guy in the office who wore a white dress shirt
and a tie.
At the end of the day Peggy and Adam let me sit at the merchandise table
alongside a grizzled Vietnam vet who wore a leather jacket that said
'When I die Im going to heaven cause Ive spent my
time in hell'. He shocked me by saying he was only 23.
Just before we were about to close around 5 p.m., the vet was telling
me a long story about how he got off smack when two society ladies sauntered
in, the kind of Park Avenue beautiful people Id only
read about it in magazines. One of these woman said she was looking
for a black rosette for her Yorkie to wear on M-Day. 'Sorry, we
dont have any rosettes, I said. I made a mental note
to look up the word in the dictionary when I got back home. They bought
some buttons and posters, and one lady was about to take a cloth black
armband for her husband I imagined him to be on the board of
some big corporation when the other lady said not to because
they were selling silk black armbands at Abercrombie and Fitch.
The vet snorted. As we left the office, he told me he didnt
even need a cloth black armband; one made of crepe paper was good enough
for him and should be good enough for anyone.
I said I was glad all kinds of people were taking part in the Moratorium.
the subway heading toward Brooklyn, I felt more exhilarated than tired
even though Id been working all day. An elderly black lady
sitting next to me on the 3 train pointed to my rolled-up poster and
asked, Is that a Beatles poster?
I said, and unrolled it for her to look at.
She just smiled and nodded her head. Mom let me put the poster
in our living room window with scotch tape, and on Sunday, doing my
French homework on our porch, I kept staring up at it, thinking how
cool it looked.
But the next morning, the sanitation men wouldnt unload our garbage
cans until Mom ran out and yelled at them, saying what they were doing
was illegal, that they had to empty our garbage cans no matter what
they thought of our poster. The sanitation men grumbled, but finally
they put our garbage into their truck. I told Mom we should take
the poster out of the window, that Id rather have it in my room
The next ten days, I alternated between working in the Manhattan headquarters
and doing Moratorium-related stuff at Brooklyn College. Somehow
I managed to go to all my classes and do my homework and freshman comp
essays and take my quizzes, too. And I watched the Mets on their
incredible march to the pennant.
Everyone seemed to be talking about the Moratorium all the time, and
I became optimistic that the war would end soon. I knew October
15 would not just be another day and that Nixon would have to listen
to the thousands of people telling him we wanted to get our troops out
U.S. senators eight from each party had endorsed the Moratorium,
along with over 50 House members, and other elected officials.
Several Roman Catholic cardinals, Protestant groups, and the American
Jewish Congress announced their support, asking people to take part
in peace-related activities.
At City University of New York, our Board of Higher Education approved
a resolution saying faculty and students at all the schools could take
part in M-Day, and campuses across the country announced that classes
were being suspended on October 15. Mayor Lindsay said city flags
would fly at half-mast that day. Adam opened the Manhattan moratorium
headquarters early on Sunday morning, October 12. There was still
a lot of work to do. Someone brought in a TV and on CBSs Face
the Nation, Sam Brown talked optimistically about how the outpouring
of nationwide antiwar sentiment on Wednesday would change everything.
Later, as I worked on getting last-minute mailings out, I heard Adam
and Peggy saying how important the New York rallies outside the city
were. Adam was going to go to rallies around the state that day,
in places like Buffalo and in Syracuse, where New Yorks Republican
Senator Goodell, who had introduced a bill calling for all troops to
be out of Vietnam by the end of 1970, would be the lead speaker.
Moratorium Committee had rented a little plane for Adam. Peggys
brother, who was a pilot, was going to fly him from place to place and
then back to New York City.
Wow, Im glad I dont have to go with Adam and your
brother, I told Peggy in a rare moment when she wasnt too
busy. Im not crazy about flying even in regular jets.
Actually, the one time I flew, I was really freaked out. Peggy
assured me that Id get used to airplanes when I got older and
The next day was the Columbus Day holiday, so I came in to the city
to work. Things were getting frantic, but by then we actually
had more volunteers than could comfortably fit in the office.
By early afternoon, when we were working on pulling together packets
of literature for the various demonstrations, there werent enough
seats for everyone. Adam said I could sit at his desk when he
went out to lunch with Peggy and her brother, and thats where
I sat when I was interviewed for TV, twice once for the news
on WOR, New Yorks channel 9, and once by a crew from the BBC.
When Adam and Peggy came back from lunch her brother had to go
to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, she said I relinquished Adams
chair, and as I excitedly told him about being interviewed, he patted
my head and said, And I thought you said you were shy.
When I came back from fetching coffee and cokes from Squires,
a Columbia grad student with granny glasses and a goatee showed me a
copy of that afternoons New York Post.
In his column, Pete Hamill had written about us! I hadnt
realized hed been in the headquarters on Saturday. Something
oddly magnificent is happened in that queer-shaped yellow-walled office,
Hamill wrote, and then said of the Moratorium, Its going
to be the biggest, loudest 'NO' anyones heard
The way to
get out of Vietnam is to just get out. The grad student
from Columbia talked about the momentum being unstoppable. There
were going to be all kinds of actions everywhere, from Wall Street to
Madison Avenue to Harlem. Kids from elementary school to college
were going to be demonstrating on Wednesday.
I told the Columbia guy that he was lucky because Mayor Lindsay was
speaking at his school. We werent going to have anyone that
famous at Brooklyn College. He said it was still important for
everyone to go back to their own schools or neighborhoods. I said
goodbye to everyone, including Adam and Peggy, before I left Manhattan
on Monday night.
The next day, as I arrived on campus at BC, my oldest friend Linda
wed known each other since second grade and her boyfriend
Howie, a disc jockey on the campus radio station, ran over to congratulate
me for my appearance on the channel 9 news the night before. Id
forgotten to watch it myself.
the quadrangle, we started an hours-long reading of the names of the
soldiers who had died.
Young Americans for Freedom, right-wing students who supported Nixon
and the war, started shouting that we were all commies, but there were
a lot more of us than there were of them and eventually they got tired
At 4 p.m., the reading over, I went to my health ed class, which back
in those days was just for boys. Mr. Aronin, the teacher, had
us talk about the war, which is what we all wanted to do. Not
one person, not even the vets, spoke for the Presidents policy.
The next morning I woke up early and put on WBAI, Pacifica radio, which
promised 19 consecutive hours of coverage. For mid-October, it
was a chilly, blustery day. I got to Brooklyn College at 9 a.m. and
someone gave me leaflets to hand out at the Junction, the intersection
of Nostrand and Flatbush Avenues, right by the subway stop.
five minutes of my standing there, someone spit at me and two people
told me I should go back to Russia.
wiped off the spit and didnt say anything.
old white lady must have taken pity on me or something and came over
to tell me how her nephew had had his legs shot off in this horrible,
she started crying, and then I started crying, which I hadnt done
when the people were harassing me.
Eventually Linda and Howie came by with our friend Jeane, who I went
to Midwood High with, and on the campus quadrangle the four of us positioned
ourselves up front.
rally at Brooklyn College didnt have the biggest names
our speakers included Howard Samuels, an upstate industrialist running
for governor; Manhattan Assemblyman Jerry Kretchmer; Mrs. Cora Weiss
of Womens Strike for Peace, whod just come back from North
Vietnam; and the Village Voice writer Joe Flaherty but we all
cheered them loudly as they each called for immediate withdrawal of
Then the peace marshals lined us up behind the pallbearers
of a symbolic black coffin made of plywood, containing the lists of
the thousands of soldiers who had died in the war, and we started marching
up Flatbush Avenue, two by two. In the middle of the long line
of demonstrators, Howie and Linda held hands in front of me and Jeane
as we chanted Peace now and sang We Shall Overcome.
Some passing drivers stuck their hands out the window of their cars
and joined us in making the V sign for peace. Others,
driving with their headlights on in support of the war, cursed us.
At one corner, two policemen made W signs for war.
Suddenly the marshals stopped us from marching because a fight had broken
out up front. The pallbearers were being attacked by half a dozen
creeps who carried a 10-foot sign that said BOMB HANOI!
Howie, who worshipped Bob Dylan, said, Something is happening,
but those guys dont know what it is. Jeane wanted to go
help the pallbearers, but Linda reminded her we were here precisely
because violence wasnt our thing. Linda said the cops would
take care of it. Linda turned out to be right: the cops did break
it up, but instead of arresting the war hawks, they took away one of
our guys. We started jeering. I wish theyd arrest
me, Jeane said. It would be a badge of honor.
Linda said that an arrest would look bad on your record, no matter what
it was for. She wanted to be a magazine writer and editor, but
preferred writing features about fashion and food to stuff about politics.
I tried not to get depressed by all the people who were against us.
Why didnt they get it? We stopped at Church Avenue, by Erasmus
Hall High School, then walked across Flatbush Avenue to the old Dutch
Reformed Church, and started marching back toward the Junction and Brooklyn
cheered up when I passed The Book Worm, a little store where I used
to buy my paperbacks, and saw Irv, the owner, in the doorway holding
up a sign saying War Is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living
Things. He recognized me and we exchanged peace signs.
we got back to school, Linda, Howie, Jeane and I went for hot chocolate
at the Sugar Bowl. None of them were as into politics like I was,
although Jeane sort of had this aggressive flower-child mentality.
like everyone my age that I knew, they were against the war. Howie
was graduating in two years and Linda was afraid that even so far in
the future, he could get drafted.
Thats impossible, I told her. The war
will be over long before 1971.
My friends decided to call it an M-Day, but I got on the subway and
took it to Times Square. I wanted to make the afternoon rally
at Bryant Park.
crowd there was enormous and I could barely hear the speakers, even
with the amplification. I wished I had taken my transistor radio
so I could listen to what they were saying over WBAI.
I stood on my tiptoes to catch a glimpse of Senator McCarthy or Mayor
Lindsay, but I couldnt really see them too well. The one
remark that I did hear that most struck me came from the Yale chaplain,
Rev. William Sloan Coffin: Silence is treason when good men die
in a bad war. For some reason I felt depressed as I took
the train downtown. I decided to stop off at my familys
pants factory to see if I could get a lift home with my father.
When Dad and I started out in his Cadillac from Union Square, I noticed
that some kids about 15 or 16 were yelling at us. I opened the window
and heard them shout, Fascist! Puzzled, I realized only
while we were going over the Manhattan Bridge that the kids must have
mistaken us for hawks because Dad had put his headlights on. But
hed done that only because it had started to get dark.
watching the nationwide demonstrations on the 7 p.m. CBS Evening News
with Walter Cronkite, I wondered how Adam and Peggy had spent M-Day
and where the peace movement would go from here.
talked about it with my younger brothers like them, over ninety
percent of the kids in New York City schools had stayed home that day
and then I went to my room and studied for a Science quiz and
fell asleep for ten hours.
When I got up on Thursday, things were no different in Vietnam despite
what millions of us had done the day before. American involvement
in that guerilla war would not end until the last helicopter left Saigon
in defeat in 1975. On the other hand, Id have to wait only a couple
of weeks to see the New York Mets win the World Series in 1969.
More than 35 years later, Linda and I are still friends. Now a high-powered
literary agent after a successful career as a magazine editor and nonfiction
author, Linda is friendly with celebrities like Phyllis Diller and Richard
Simmons. Her penthouse is just off Fifth Avenue, across the street from
the old Art Pants Company loft and four blocks south of where, for a
few months in the fall of 1969, the New York Vietnam Moratorium Committee
had its headquarters. Most clothing manufacturers have left the
now-fashionable neighborhood, which got a new name: the Flatiron District.
When I visit Linda, we often go to lunch at an expensive restaurant
on the same block as 150 Fifth Avenue.
after graduating from Brooklyn, Howie moved upstate to Woodstock and
became a deejay for a station in Kingston. He and his wife named
their son Dylan. Dylan has kids of his own by now.
is also a grandmother. Widowed young, she moved to Long Island
and never remarried.
Adam Walinsky became the Democratic candidate for New York State Attorney
General the year after the Moratorium. After a day of classes
at BC, I walked over to the Junction to hear him make a campaign speech
from the back of a pickup truck. I went up afterwards to see if
he remembered me. Adam said of course he did, but I could see in his
eyes that he really didnt.
After losing to Attorney General Lefkowitz, the Republican-Liberal candidate,
Adam became a neo-conservative. In a few years he was best known
as the leading opponent of a proposed New York City gay rights ordinance.
He spoke and wrote on the evils of homosexuality. In 1977, some friends
I knew from the Gay Activist Alliance told me they were planning a zap
of Adams house in the wealthy suburb of Scarsdale. I couldnt
go. I wanted him to be the way he was in October 1969 and remembered
how he patted me on the head.
The Scarsdale zap was an important event in New York City
gay history, the night they raided Walinskys.
They said Adams wife was so upset she pressured him into not talking
about gay rights again. He eventually became New York Commissioner
of Investigation and lobbied for the Police Corps, a proposal that finally
passed Congress in the Clinton administration.
Unlike Adam, most of us from the Moratorium days are still pretty liberal.
Many of us have been actively opposing the Iraq war. I started
to going on antiwar marches and attending peace rallies and candlelight
vigils in early 2003 as a member of Peace South Florida. The night
before we invaded Iraq, friends from the group Pax Christi and I read
interfaith prayers at St. Maurice Catholic Church in Dania Beach.
Sam Brown, the national coordinator of the Moratorium, served as director
of the Peace Corps in the Carter administration and later as ambassador
to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Sam
and his wife Alison Teal criss-crossed the country in 2004, raising
funds for candidates against the Iraq war.
Peggy, too, is still involved in politics. At an age when most
of her friends were busy with grandchildren, she and her husband, an
administrator at CUNY, adopted a baby from China, a girl probably abandoned
by birth parents who wanted a son instead. Taking care of her
little girl and working at her job at the U.S. Mission for the United
Nations doesnt leave Peggy much free time, but she became active
in politics again. At the 2004 Republican convention, Peggy participated
in an abortion rights march over the Brooklyn Bridge, and for in the
fall she gave speeches in support of Democratic candidates.
for Peggys brother, the pilot who flew Adam around the state on
the day of the Moratorium well, only in recent years did I find
out that he had actually seen what went on in Vietnam for himself.
I saw Peggys brother only once at the Moratorium headquarters,
on Columbus Day, and I never actually got to talk to him. But 35 years
after the Vietnam Moratorium, hoping to end a different war, I voted
for him for President.
© Richard Grayson November 2005
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