Fighting Racists Then and Now
By Barry Romo
VVAW has been anti-racist from the beginning. Whether it was the racism of the generals who drafted and put minorities out of proportion to their percentage on the front lines in Vietnam, the labeling and treating of all Vietnamese as "gooks," or your local KKK groups and Nazis. In the first issue of our newspaper, The First Casualty, on the front cover is a picture of Nazis (when you wear a swastika you are a Nazi, not a neo-Nazi). The headline reads: "Lifeline to Cairo" (Illinois). The civil rights labeled it one of the most racist places in America. The local African American minister asked if we could send a convoy to bring attention to what was going on. We did. For years after, in places where African Americans came and asked for support with convoys of goods or just bodies, we went.
In 1972, we brought in 1,500 VVAW member to the Nixon-GOP Convention in Miami Beach, Florida. As the VVAW convoy approached the park where we stayed, to my surprise from behind me on stage, 125 plus Nazis in uniform with swastikas threw me off the stage and chanted: "Nigger lovers," "Jew lovers," "Communists," "Race mixers," etc. They gave the Nazi salute and then we surrounded the stage, to keep them there. We set up a line towards the street and gave them seconds to leave, which they refused. So we dragged half of them off the stage, with no intentions of killing them of course, especially since we didn't want to go to jail, put other non-vets who were demonstrating in danger, and we were wary of a trial against us like the Chicago 8 and Black Panthers had been experiencing. A number of vets on stage got hit with folding chairs and sent to the hospital, we then threw the Nazis out onto the street, dragging their faces through the grass from the stage. Two Vietnam vet motorcycle cops had been assigned to us, and watched this and laughed. The Miami Beach community was gigantically Jewish, with lots of Holocaust survivors and families. We them told the remaining Nazis if they didn't leave they'd be dead. Their faces turned whiter than white, because we were clearly organized and using our military experience to deal with their sorry asses. They did a final Nazi salute and had to walk through a gauntlet of VVAW members towards the street. They had two combat buses, which had their windows covered, swastikas painted on them, along with white power slogans, plus their tires reinforced. The local council people and community members then approached us and opened the bathrooms and showers to us, and brought us lots of beer and pastries. The last night of the GOP convention, the state police rioted against us, tear gassing us and beating us up along with the the rest of the anti-war demonstrators, and the local community took us into their homes and apartments to protect us.
We didn't stop there. In 1977 we went to Washington DC for the National African Liberation Day, in support of the program Fatigues for Freedom Fighters. As we reached the site of the event, American storm troopers wearing swastikas attacked us. We kicked their ass. And threw them out, just like their buddies in Miami Beach, Florida. In the 1980's in Chicago, a large Nazi movement, centered in Marquette Park, had a two and a half story headquarters building with gigantic Nazi flags flying and wall murals with racist slogans such as: "Niggers beware" and "white power." They demanded to march in Skokie, Illinois, a largely Jewish suburb with lots of Holocaust survivors and their families. We formed a coalition that involved non-vets, Holocaust survivors and their families, and students and workers. We marched on the Nazi headquarters in opposition to their existence and their awful threat to the Holocaust survivor's feelings and health. They were becoming world famous, and every time we marched on their headquarters the cops would have their faces turned towards us and their backs to the Nazis who were chanting: "6 million more!" and "What do you call a full car ashtray? Jews from Auschwitz!" We politically defeated them, but we could never physically beat them because the cops defended them, but we tried. The Holocaust survivors and their families supported us and spoke at our events.
This history of anti-racist resistance is continued up to today. Part of the reason we could carry out these movements was because of disciplined unity of actions. We now see a resurgence of Nazis, KKK, and alt-right groups. They feel empowered, are not going away, and must be resisted against. We are proud of our history of anti-racism, and now stand side by side with this new generation of anti-racist folks.
Barry Romo has been involved with VVAW since 1971. this article was transcribed by Daniel Corral.