Honor Amerika Smoke-In
By Jeff Shero
Accounts of movement events in the underground press have had a depressing similarity this past year. It's us vs. Them, the good guys versus the pigs, complete with details of every confrontation, pig atrocity, and people's victory. If it's a politico's account, inevitably connections are drawn to the international anti-imperialist struggle. If it's a hip or yip account, the basic tale is embellished with descriptions of the wondrous quality of the dope, plus mentions of the delights of the dancing, fucking, and blowing the minds of the bourgeoisie. Similiarly, if it's a rock festival story (which can almost be written now by never leaving your stereo) a writer attacks the capitalist rip-off promoters and the avaricious concession stands, details the gate crashing, expounds on the good vibrations, the evils of hip capitalism, and the beauty of the people's music.
Which isn't to say that this reporting style lacks accuracy, but that lately writers have been suffering from a certain lack of imagination, and a fatal . timidness. The movement and youth culture has so many sacred cows, and so many interest groups it's unwilling to offend, that the sharp criticism and excitement of the early underground press is long dead. Women's liberation writing is the only writing coming through the guts of experience which offers some new insight and the pain of truth.
Otherwise it's description by formula, and the familiarity of the reports produces boredom. The cast of characters changes from event to event, but for most readers, besides a momentary turn on, there is little to distinguish one bust from another, one demonstration or riot from another, whether it takes place in New York, Seattle, Atlanta or Washington.
All these things that usually, happen, happened at the Honor Amerika Smoke-In. There was a little trashing, busts, some bravery, a little stupidity, and far out scenes like pushing the search lights into the reflecting pool, and interrupting the mindless comedy of the evening extravaganza with chants like "Fuck Bob Hope" and "Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh, Acid Heads are Going to Win. " Which made the pro-war comedian blanch and hurry through hts sexist, racist, militarist jokes. Elsewhere Pete Seeger, old black blues singer Bukka White, and others played at the Hog Farm stage. Electric Kool Aid was mixed and passed around through the crowd. And of course there was a bountiful number of joints rolled in American flag paper, but that's the usual story as I said before. It's been fully detailed elsewhere already. I'll try to write a few thoughts about Mid-Amerika, Fascism, tactical decentralization and media policy which spring from the event.
An Experiment in Fascism
WASHINGTON, D.C., JULY 4-
Nobody really likes Amerika very much. Not even the Mid-Amerikans who showed up for Honor Amerika Day. They might wear flags on the Four:h of July, and hope to find inspiration in Billy Graham, but if you stop to talk they'll tell you they're not satisfied with their lives. Real happiness is something they last felt as teenagers, before they achieved their installment plan, work day drudgery, hygenic plastic, status symbol lives, complete with screaming kids and marriages which resemble nonaggression treaties. Molded before the Amerikan assembly line began to shutter and turn in upon itself , they don't know where to find exits from their arid lives.
They've been told freedom's around the corner, but somehow they lost it between living by the rules and the deoderant commericals on T.V. They don't know where to look, and they're secretly jealous of those who do.
Compounding their personal affliction, Mid-Amerika patriots know from Walter Cronkite, the dope smoking long hairs in the neighborhoods, and their poisoned food that something's gone wrong. (If you can 't even believe in the Breakfast of Champions, what can you believe in? (Their world is a whirlpool of confusion, filled with vague worries of riots, bank bombings, nerve gas, power shortages, LSD, and Mansonesque murders. If they're too conditioned to find freedom in their personal lives, they're far too powerless and divided to change the world around them. They're uneasy and looking for something to give their lives meaning.
Which of course means they have a potential for fascism. If the state can mobilize these people's discontent, we'll have a Hitlerian Germany fascism with a popular base. If it can't, Amerika will become a bureaucratic and technologically efficient police state in which revolutionaries will struggle against the thought police, and lobotomized Mid-Amerika will watch the showdowns on their television sets. Underneath the surface "Let us come together" Honor Amerika decorum, was a dress rehersal for fascism. Coming after the hard hat riots in New York and the emergence of Agnew, it was sort of a pulse taking of potentials. . .
Resources were mobilized Government printing offices in Washington ground out patriotic propaganda. Rumors of chartered busses with New York hard hats ready to kick some hippie ass were spread in an effort to keep away the freak nation. Straight media was utilized to build excitement- "Come to Washington. Show them how you feel." Flag waving chairmen Bob Hope and Billy Graham repeated, "Amerika may have its problems, but remember it's our country." Which of course is another way of saying "My country right or wrong," and excuses genocide.
All the while Public Relations Departments of corporate Amerika cooperating in best German circa '38 style ground out publicity to prove that our Flag was where our hearts, was where our money is. The list of participating corporations which reads like a Who's Who of the Corporate reactionary establishment, included AT&T, Standard Oil of California, New Jersey and Indiana (The Rockefeller family moves to the right?) Gulf Oil (so do the Mellons), Chemical Bank of New York, General Mills (who bring you those fine cereals), RCA & Rayethon (who bring you stock dividends courtesy of Southeast Asia) , Alcoa, Eli Lilly & Co. those cheap drugs for painless, living), and Readers Digest, McCall Publishing, and Newsweek (who present that inside interpretation of the news). Icing on the cake was provided by liberal supporting whores such as George McGovern, Hubert Humphrey and Roy Wilkins. Working hand in hand with the media, predictions of attendance of a quarter of a million and more patriots were made before the event, and this number was confirmed afterward though seasoned observers on the spot guessed that half that actually showed up.
While the state made its effort to mobilize a silent majority, our sides long standing plans to hold a smoke-in continued without any organizing committee, publicity statements, or television appearances. A few underground papers printed stories, but the word was mostly passed by word of mouth along the freak grapevine. There were no official sponsors. It was a people's action, and the government had no leadership to infiltrate or arrest on conspiracy charges, and nobody to serve with an injunction.
It was an experimental model for future actions depending on the self-reliance of people at the local level to get themselves together. It assumed that we had enough experience to love and fight together in large groups without predetermined tactical plans or a self-appointed cadre leading the battles. But with no headquarters, nobody knew - how many people to expect, if we'd be outnumbered ten to one by honk Amerika, if we would be able to take care of people who were busted, if the legal, medical, sleeping and Communications problems could be solved by Yip and White Panther groups and friendship affinity groups working without centralized leadership.
The air was charged with expectancy. Things seemed to be getting together. Lawyers had decided to leaflet the crowds with bust information, rather than regard themselves as detatched professionals in a service capacity. Rennie Davis and people from the Quicksilver Times put some equal time demands on the promoters, and announced that if a more cooperative attitude wasn't manifested by the sponsors, there was a chance of violence between hard hats and street fighting freaks. (A ploy which might have helped reduce the crowd size.) Some medical committee people said they weren't going to turn out because the scene would be too heavy and they
The night of July 3 produced the answers. The panorama under the thrusting macho cock Washington monument was enough to make one's heart glad. All night freaks straggled in with sleeping bags, on the road stories, and dope. Indian war whooping yippie tribes from places like Richmond, Virginia and Fullerton, California roamed the grounds, harrassing the rehearsal on the main stage and leading skirmishes against the horse cops. New Nation flags went up the poles and firecracker bombardments followed pigs trying to take them down.
When one tired, there was sitting on the grass and mingling with the large crowd attracted to the Smithsonian American folk culture festival. These people, sympathetic but apart from the new nation, were generally intimidated by the police threats of violence. At one point the pigs closed down their southern blues festival "before trouble started", and the crowd obeyed meekly. But unlike the mid-Amerikans who felt uptight, they were happy for their children to play with freeks, and didn't get upset about the grass smoking. The smallest group, disconsolate that the hippies outnumbered them and put them on the psychic defense, were the patriots. Later investigation proved what on-the-scene-observation indicated: the hotels were half-filled, the rail and bus stations reported normal crowds. Nixon and the corporate massagers hadn't touched a wellspring right wing sentiment.
The next morning, Billy Graham, hair silvered and stylishly long, standing aside a banner which proclaimed ambiguously "Hour of Decision- God or Country", proclaimed intensely that we ought to reexamine the stitches in the Ameircan flag. Poor stitching, included racism (we ought to "build not burn" and "remedy this problem in time for 1976, our 200th anniversary!"), poverty, pollution, and "moral permissiveness which could lead to decadence". And racism... The crowd of 10,000 appreciated the remarks, but there were only 10,000. Everyone knows Amerika is uneasy, but Rev. Billy had nothing much to offer except Old Glory and warmed over God.
Billy Graham is to religion what McDonalds is to Hamburgers. The rest of the "All Star" Honor Amerika cast fell off from there. With a thud. If the potential for a popular fascist movement is to be realized, leaders will have to provide a crusade that - can give people a sense of purpose and a feeling of importance as individuals. Bob Hope, Billy Graham, Nixon and Agnew hardly do that. Though the idea was there, halfhearted as it was, the execution was third rate. You can't mouth platitudes and build fascist consciousness. You have to appeal to base emotions and the deepest insecurities. No moderate can hold this country together. Western capitalist institutions such as educational and family structures, and legal systems, and religion have degenerated too far. Catholic conditions will accelerate until the country is reorganized to the right or the left.
The staging of the Honor Amerika show looked like the Iowa Falls High School drama teacher was given a big budget and told to whip up something on a patriotic theme. Hitler would have rolled over in his grave. Instead of Power and authority, the people were offered nostalgia-fond fantasies of tranquil and simple times in the past. Nothing sent the blood racing. Not even ex-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Curtis LeMay advocating something like ending the war in Vietnam by bombing the North Vietnamese "back to the stone age".
I've spent most of the last eight months traveling and talking with average white working Amerikans, mostly in the South. I cut off my beard, clipped my hair, and it still took me two months to lose my middleclass hip paranoia around working people.
At first I thought my reactions were my own failure. But as I began to more clearly understand the class structure of the South I realized that this system divides people by training middle class people to feel a certain arrogance and superiority, and at the same time fear, toward the working class.
When I got to the point I felt easy about striking a conversation in a roadside tavern or lingering with a farmer on a general store porch, I began to understand the curious uneasiness and anger that passes for patriotism. It's not so much love for the flag or the other nationalistic symbols, (after all as nations go this one is relatively young and has thoroughly trained people to look out for themselves), but that people who work hard are pissed off at people who don't. Patriotism is in essence a misdirected class hostility among the masses of people.
Wandering stoned through the afternoon Mid-Amerika crowds, I began striking up conversations to discover why people had come. One burly, aged Pennsylvanian, wearing a yellow hard hat with an Amerikan flag decal and painted with "America Love it or Leave It" couldn't figure out the war in Vietnam and didn't like it. Because the numbers of hips had created a stalemate for the day, he seemed willing enough to talk. He didn't like demonstrators because they were college students who didn't have to go to the war, but "were always making noise and disrupting things." His son went to work after high school, but was considering going to community college when he saved some money. He got drafted and was serving in the infantry in Vietnam. Later the man told me he didn't like the Republicans like Nixon because they were "in with the rich people". He thought he might support Wallace next time because "Wallace understands the problems of people who have to work for a living."
Another man wearing Bermuda shorts and carrying an American flag talked mostly about the sixty thousand dollar inheritance he'd invested in a coin collection. "It's one of the best investments, much better than stocks." Though he was unable to relate on any level beside discussions of different types of investments, he was clearly lonely and hoped I would talk longer. A middle-aged bachelor, he'd come "to feel a part of something".
A young girl with a puffed and laquered hairdo told me while her boyfriend watched me savagely that she carne to Honor Amerika day because she was afraid if the demonstrators got their way her brother who had been drafted might be abandoned over in Vietnam and wind up killed.
A Polish guy in his twenties who worked in a factory and had a wife and two small kids thought people like him should get together like the blacks. His tone was a mixture of hostility and respect toward blacks. He thought they were getting the things he needed, and it was getting tougher with the inflation to take care of his family. He couldn't exactly express why he carne to Honor Amerika day, but he sort of had the sense that if his loyalty was recognized, then the government might appreciate people like him and take care of them a little better.
These people like most of the rest, are disoriented: I've found the militaristic racist right relatively small. But very real frustrations exist for most middle Amerikans- they're bound to intensify as the country degenerates. While some will become disheartened and seek escapes, many, including the most intelligent and energetic will either become a new element of the movement or they will be organized on Fascist lines. In one case we will have a sea of people to swim in, in the other hip youth and minorities will fight a civil war against the military industrialists using working people as their pawns. The question still hangs in the balance.
In the past certain academically oriented student based groups such as Progressive Labor, RYM II, and Young Socialist Alliance have argued for a workers' strategy. Invariably these politicos have read Marx and can expound on super exploitation, the theory of surplus value, the labor aristocracy, industrial versus craft unionism, the new working class, etc. What they can't do well is talk to working people. They lecture them. Hips are a little better off. They offer a greaser a joint and talk about life, but all of us possess an incredible arrogance. We were trained to be the elite, so even when we drop out, we assume we are the elite of the revolutionary struggle.
To reach other people we have to have a strong sense of our own culture, but we can't assume its superiority. You can dig rock music and still get into country music, which is basically poor white blues. Maybe grass has the same properties as the workers' beer (one very stoned chemist who has been doing drug research told me that certain alcohols have psychic properties and that he's convinced that our social training interferes with our realization of them. Of course on any alcohol its hard to stabilize at a particular stage of the high. The tendency is to keep drinking and pass on to the point where you begin to poison your body and experience the bad sensations associated with drinking. (We must think about bridging the cultural gap, and getting into other uncommercialized styles which are a part of our real roots. women's liberation movement taught us that we still have lots of death culture's hangups still inside us. Recognizing that there still more hangups to discover, we should be a little humble when we try to turn on new people. Any person who spent most of his time in school has a lot to learn from working and country people.
continued on page 28
The nation's finest turned our to see God et al. Left, Billy Graham tells the expectant masses the latest, direct from Mr. Nixon. Right, two of the cultures have a tete-a-tete. Next page, a pig and a boy scout. All photos, David Fenton, Liberation News Service.
The nighttime festivities attracted a huge number of MidAmerikans, maybe 125,000, in addition to about 25,000 hips. Our impact was phenomenal. We had passed from a protest movement to the youth mainstream of the country - only these people hadn't realized it yet. Except for some Turkeys running around in YAF suits, all the young kids were with us in spirit. The important thing wasn't the chanting which disrupted the Honor Amerika day message. (From the stage: "God bless Amerika", from the field thousands chanting, "Free Bobby Seale".) Or the fact that our battles with the police and their use of tear gas was a more interesting show than the stage production. For those present it became clear that we weren't as Billy Graham had put it earlier, "a relatively small extremist element, which has knocked our courts, desecrated our flag, disrupted our educational system, laughed at our religious heritage, and threatened to burn down our cities." We were in fact the future. We were from their flesh and blood, and couldn't be written off as Amerika 's bastard black child, which they one day may try to destroy . In fact, as honky white adults moving fearfully in this country's first black city, they might have understood in the secret corners of their minds that an attempt to preserve their white Christian imperialist Amerika by employing the Nazi final solution on black America, would also mean killing their blue eyed children. The small number of blacks in the crowd were with the whites who had chanted "F-U-C-K, Fuck! Smoke dope. Get high, all the pigs are gonna die." The impact was shattering. So many emotions crossed the faces of these red white and blue Amerikans, from bewilderment to hatred, from desperation to an impending sense of defeat.
The tactical debate
The night ended with a fireworks display, but the finale, the turning of the Washington erect cock monument red white and blue - was spoiled. Freaks had destroyed too many searchlights.
We carried away a sense of elation. We had entered an uncertain situation and shaped its definition. The state had mobilized its prestige, and we had relied, on our own media and information channels, yet except for the July 4 night entertainment we had turned out as many people as the establishment. More importantly our people had struggled well. Because of the Mid-Amerika crowds, the police could only take a defensive posture. They had to form defensive cordons, and experienced an evening when the advantage was on the other side.
More importantly, the consciousness of every non-freak had been altered. In the heart of the Capital, utilizing their publicity machine and right wing stars, they weren't able to mobilize enough people to carry on a God, Military, Nationhood Revival. Our mood was up. There was a sense that we should hold simultaneous festivals with other honk Amerikan events. Decentralized organizing without announced leadership seemed the intelligent response to repression. Particularly in our situation when advocacy of illegal actions such as trashings or smoke-ins often lead to long and defensive trials.
Two days later spirits had dropped. The national media mentioned the smoke-in as a minor incident, and painted a rosy picture of 50,000 more citizens flooding Washington in patriotic fervor. Sharp debates arose. Did the objective experience of the people involved matter or was the impression the rest of the country had more important? Some felt that only the reality could have much effect on peoples' lives, and a newspaper or tv account was soon forgotten. Others responded that it made the world think that Amerika could still pull off a public pro-war gathering with minimal dissent. If people had this false impression then the reactionary movement had been given a boost.
Some militants argued that cadres should have decided tactics in advance, brought bull horns and led the people in confrontations. Others argued that it was more important that we gain a sense of our self-reliance and unity, and that a few, leading a veteran crowd into an action it didn't spontaneously take was the worst sort of elitist manipulation. Everyone agreed that we had within our tactical grasp the ability to storm the stage and stop the performance. If we had halted the show the national media would have had to headline "Dope Smokers Dishonor America, Performance Stopped by Unruly Mob" or something like that. That plan had been discussed throughout the day by groups of people, but never undertaken. For the stage to be stormed it would have meant a self-appointed vanguard taking an action and the mass of people accepting the consequences without any say. The many busts, and heavy legal charges which follow would all have been for media impact, it wouldn't have altered the basic experience.
Discussions resulted in no clear resolution. Most people believe that we are entering a new and more serious stage of struggle. Elitist relationships, and swaggering macho leadership, have to give way to deeper bonds of friendship and collective trust, if we are going to survive. National actions such as the smoke-in only present part of the problem, because most people must fight in harder day-to-day ways on their home turf. In local situations with limited numbers, the operation and trust between affinity groups, collectives, communes and families is crucial. Progress of people toward honest and closert relationships has been enormous since the spring, largely because of the questions raised by women's liberation. And we are still too consumed by our ego competitive death-culture conditioning to choose leaders who we can trust and bolster, rather than undercut and make weak through petty jealousy and infighting. We have just approached the point when people begin to lose their selfishness and individualism, and learn to work together. We have not reached the necessary stage where people can be chosen for positions of responsibility and leadership and not be cut down. For the smoke-in to have been a complete success, we needed to have reached that stage