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The Democratic Convention: 1972
By as told to Richard Stacewicz
From Richard Stacewicz's Winter Soldiers p305-307
In the summer of 1972, the Democrats and Republicans held their nominating conventions in Miami, Florida. VVAW planned to attend both conventions in order to pressure the parties to bring the war to an end. Although the Republicans continued to resist VVAW, the Democrats proved to be much more amenable to its demands. For one thing, by that time the Democratic Party had become much more inclusive, having broadened its base among anti-war liberals as well as among African-Americans and other groups that had once been kept on its periphery. Also, of course, the Democrats were now the opposition party, trying to regain the presidency. The Vietnam war had definitely become a liability for the Nixon administration, which had been promising to end it since 1968, and the Democrats now hoped that VVAW, with its perceived legitimacy, could help them win.
Ann Hirschman: We got invited to the Democratic convention. The Democratic Party at that point was making overtures that indicated that they wanted to be progressive. There was a clear perception that some of the Democrats, particularly the black caucus, seemed to have a very clear notion that the Democrats were not looking good on defense, and that perhaps working with a progressive veterans' group would shine them up.
We went in, and the first thing they did was search everybody but me. I was carrying the first aid pack, and it was forty-nine vets and me. Ron Dellums came over with Barry's birthday present from home. Some California delegate brought us pizza and Kentucky Fried Chicken. We watched the convention. People were taking us seriously. It was hot shit.
Danny Friedman: The bottom line was that we were the honored guests of the Democrats. We were treated like royalty everywhere we went. We were applauded. We were welcomed onto the floor of the convention. Jim Bouton, who was a former pitcher of the Yankees and a delegate from New Jersey, sent us up a whole ton of fried chicken.
Barry Romo (BR): We had four organizations: there was National Tenants Rights Organization, the Welfare Rights Organization with Beulah Sanders, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Ralph Abernathy, and VVAW. The four of us formed a leadership to put pressure on the Democratic convention to demand an anti-racist platform with social justice. I was on the executive committee. I had a floor pass. I was allowed to go anywhere I fucking wanted.
There was a zillion good people there because they had beat fucking Daley, they had sat the black delegates, they nominated McGovern, they came out against the goddamned war. They put in a thing before the convention to pass a resolution in defense of the Vietnam Vets Against the War being attacked by the Nixon administration. The whole convention passed it. We won a lot.
Annie Bailey: We didn't lose a lot of people in those early days—we just kept getting more and more—but we had an exodus of vets who were working on the presidential campaign. Vets for McGovern. They really wanted us to take on Vets for McGovern as a national thing, but we wouldn't do it. That was something that we couldn't abide. We don't endorse candidates: democracy, yes; but candidates, no.
Bill Davis: I'd made one of the appearances [at a McGovern rally], and it just nauseated me. We had to take off our VVAW shit. It was like a wave of liberals left. Some went to work for McGovern.
BR: We didn't realize the allies and the depth of organizing that we could have expanded on with the people that were there. [We] didn't understand what we should have done in terms of networking with them, working from the base of that convention. It wasn't a question of rejecting it; it was a question of just ignorance. We were just too young. I'm a twenty-five-year-old national coordinator running around with Ralph Abernathy, not a graduate of a goddamned college, and only been out of the service four years.
We only had a small demonstration there, maybe 50 to 75 VVAW members. Everything was going for the confrontational one, which was with Nixon, what we called the Last Patrol with three car caravans going to the thing; 1,500 to 2,000 VVAW members.
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VVAW marching at the Democratic National Convention, Miami, 1972.