E is for Eugene McCarthy: Campaigning for Peace in 1968. Fifth of 26 posts in the April 2023 Blogging From #AtoZChallenge. Theme: Endwell: My High School Years — adding my story to the family history mix. Please join me on the journey.
My high school years unfolded against the backdrop of the Vietnam War (more in Letter V). In my early teens, when guys my age weren’t yet draft age, the war seemed far away.
By high school, however, the war loomed large – especially after 1967, when Gen. William Westmorland asked for even more troops to be sent there!
I was against the war, as were a good many of my classmates – but what could we teens do? At age 18, we could drink and be drafted, but we couldn’t vote until age 21. Fortunately, though, we could campaign, protest, and petition – so that’s what many of us did.
There was a lot of peace talk at our Friday night coffeehouse gatherings. One of our classmates said she was planning to campaign for Sen. Eugene McCarthy – the anti-war candidate – in the 1968 New York State presidential primary, and she asked us to join her.
Campaigning door to door
If elected, McCarthy promised to withdraw US troops from Vietnam and seek a negotiated peace, which sounded pretty good to us – and to young people all over the country, too, because they flocked to support his campaign.
I volunteered and soon found myself going door-to-door around Endwell, N.Y., with others my age, urging primary voters to choose McCarthy to end the war.
At some houses they wouldn’t let you past the front door, and I made many of my pitches from cement front stoops — but my friend Kathy remembers being invited in for meaningful conversations. Either way, we were filled with a sense of purpose to be doing something that mattered.
Protesting and petitioning
Nor was that all we teen peace campaigners did. In July 1968, along with some of the coffeehouse crew, I participated in my first protest outside a meeting of the local Broome County Democratic committee demanding that they go on record supporting anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy for president. We carried peace and anti-war signs, and our picket made the papers (shown above).
That action was followed by a petition in August 1968, again demanding that Broome Democrats support anti-war candidate McCarthy — and I was among the 3,500 signers (shown above, alpha order). A few other classmates signed, too, and the petition appeared as an ad in the Binghamton Sun-Bulletin right before I left for college.
Although Eugene McCarthy was not nominated, his campaign gave me and other teens our first lessons in direct, progressive political action – a bellwether of anti-war protests to come.
“A life-changing experience,” my friend Kathy called it. I couldn’t agree more!
Up next, F is for Florida Bound. Please stop back.
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