Friday, 3 April 2009

Dissent in the Heartland: The Sixties at Indiana University

By Mary Ann Wynkoop

This grassroots view of student activism in the 1960s chronicles the years of protest at one Midwestern university. Located in a region of farmland, conservative politics, and traditional family values, Indiana University was home to the antiwar protestors, civil rights activists, members of the counterculture, and feminists who helped change the heart of Middle America. Its students made their voices heard on issues from such local matters as dorm curfews and self-governance to national issues of racism, sexism, and the Vietnam War. Their recognition that the personal was the political would change them forever. The protest movement they helped shape would reach into the heart-land in ways that would redefine higher education, politics, and cultural values. Based on research in primary sources, interviews, and FBI files, Dissent in the Heartland reveals the Midwestern pulse of the Sixties, beating firmly, far from the elite schools and urban centers of the East and West.


Members of SDS and other student groups across the country began criticizing the war in Vietnam, and on Easter 1965 twenty thousand protestors marched on the Washington monument. Folksingers Joan Baez, Phil Ochs, and the Freedom Singers led the crowd in singing "We Shall Overcome." The demonstrators presented Congress with a petition to end the war.


The National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (nicknamed "the Mobe") had organized a Stop the Draft Week from October 14 to 21, 1967. The point of this campaign was to confront Washington policymakers with the fact that thousands of young Americans - straights and hippies, blacks and whites, working class and middle class - were opposed to the war in Vietnam. The week ended on October 21 with the March on the Pentagon. Protestors gathered at the Lincoln Memorial, where they listened to music by Peter, Paul, and Mary and Phil Ochs and speeches by David Dellinger and Dr. Benjamin Spock.

Then the crowd marched across the Arlington Bridge toward the Pentagon, where they were met by military police. The protestors sang songs, talked to the troops, and joined together in a sense of community. Allen Ginsberg and Abbie Hoffman chanted "om" as they and others tried to levitate the Pentagon. However, by midnight the police were replaced by the 82nd Division and the scene turned ugly. Paratroopers cleared the area by beating peaceful protestors, who faced their attackers singing the national anthem. By the next morning, only a few hundred were left. The protest was over.

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