The morning of April 15 came with all the promise of a new world. The city, with all of its refuse and sour smells, seemed to me like the brightest and cleanest place on earth. I felt as if the things that were going to happen that day would shape the direction of our world forever, and I was there to be a part of it.
I grabbed breakfast at the same little diner where Sunni and I had shared coffee the night before, hoping she might be there. I tried calling her from a phone booth outside the diner, but a sleepy female voice told me she had already left for “that parade thing.”
Around 9:30 a.m., I headed toward Central Park, a few blocks west. White Room by Cream blasted from a third-story apartment window. The tension inside coiled like a spring as I neared the park. The same crowd I’d marveled at the day before was here, moving into the park. They were young, old, white, black, dressed up, dressed out—and all very excited.
Organizers herded us into one area of the park. Pete Seeger sang Where Have All The Flowers Gone, and Phil Ochs followed him with Draft Dodger Rag as dozens of young men, huddled at the foot of the stage, retrieved draft cards from their wallets and lit them on fire unceremoniously in protest of the unjust draft system. Several outstanding speakers, including Stokely Carmichael, took a turn firing up the crowd.
Then some people with bodyguards gathered at one end of the crowd and started walking south. The march was led by a group carrying a banner that read Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Hundreds of thousands of us began to follow.
It’s really not that far from Central Park to the United Nations Building. But the two-mile march took forever. We walked slowly. We sang We Shall Overcome. We chanted. We all locked arms, and some beautiful girl with a gorgeous smile and huge breasts squeezed my right arm tightly.
The parade was everything I had hoped for: exciting and energizing and thoroughly intoxicating. The diverse crowd, the rousing speeches, the electricity in the air all came together in a way I had never experienced before.
We slowly made our way down Park Avenue to the United Nations Plaza. There, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. implored members of the UN to convince the United States to end the war in Vietnam.
The trip back to Florida was as raucous as it could be. People were singing and shouting most of the way to Atlanta. Wine and weed were passed freely from seat to seat. Whenever one of the protestors got off the bus, everyone would cheer as if he or she had just graduated from college. Everyone said goodbye with a “See you in Washington,” referring to the upcoming march at the Pentagon in November.
Neither Maverick nor Knight was on my homeward bound bus, and I never saw them again. But I did make friends with some really far-out people. There were Butterfly and Track, both heading to Nashville, Tennessee, where Track hoped to record an album. There was Don Albee, going back home to North Carolina to teach eighth grade biology. There were several kids heading to various colleges across the eastern seaboard. And there was me, heading back to my church in Springlake, Florida.
The strange thing about returning from an emotional event like the Spring Motivation for Peace is that you feel changed, and you assume that everything else has changed as well. But that wasn’t the case. As our bus headed south out of Atlanta, young airmen boarded at every stop. At the bus station in Macon, Georgia, I watched silently as all were transferred to another bus bound for Robins Air Force Base. I wondered how many might be headed for Vietnam, and how many might never return home. We still had a long way to go.
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