Eugene McCarthy: Campaigning for Peace in 1968 #AtoZChallenge2023

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.

Binghamton Sun-Bulletin, 9 July 1968. Along with some of the coffeehouse crew, I participated, at 18, (above, center) 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. Photo by Frank Bealo.

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).

Binghamton Sun-Bulletin, 22 Aug. 1968. I was among the 3,500 signers (in alpha order) of a petition demanding Broome County Democrats support anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy for president, which was placed as an ad in our local paper.

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.

© 2023 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

18 thoughts on “Eugene McCarthy: Campaigning for Peace in 1968 #AtoZChallenge2023”

  1. This brings back memories of campaigning for Paul Sarbanes for the Maryland House of Representatives. I looked up his bio and found his predecessor was George Fallon who is a second cousin once removed. Genealogy has opened so many doors to the extended family.
    The Vietnam War, the draft, and politics led us into an activism that we still see in the high school kids of today. Thanks for the reminder!

    1. Wow, so you also hit the campaign trail! And what a surprise to discover a family link in his predecessor. I am also heartened by the activism of high school youth — it’s never too early to advocate for causes you believe in.

  2. A spirit for and commitment to Justice and freedom fueled a lifelong journey… and friendship.

    1. It sure did! Who knew that when we started our activism as teens we would still be at it — and still be such good friends — more than five decades later?

  3. A very impressive commitment to your beliefs! The anti-Vietnam protests were a big deal here too. I wouldn’t have been brave enough to doorstep like you did though.
    So great you have the newspaper clipping. Would you/do you still petition and protest today.
    When we were 18, the young men could be drafted but couldn’t drink legally or vote.


    1. Yes, the activism has stayed with me and I continue to petition, protest and volunteer for progressive causes — which now sometimes includes lobbying for better senior healthcare.

  4. I loved seeing you in the newspaper Molly. I wasn’t quite old enough to be out there door knocking. I do remember writing to an Australian soldier who had no family. We were given names at church. I often wonder what became of him.

    1. Thank goodness I saved the newspaper clip, because it does not appear in digitized versions online! And good on you for corresponding with the Australian soldier — I am sure it meant the world to him.

  5. I’m not familiar with the A to Z writing challenge, but what a fabulous idea. This is a great story, about a significant period in time, which will now be preserved for future generations. Thank you for sharing.

  6. What a terrific experience.

    My father-in-law was a delegate at the 1968 convention. He went out to where the protestors gathered in Chicago to learn about their concerns. The family story that I’ve heard doesn’t recount how he voted, however.

    1. Thanks, Joy — and amazing that your father-in-law was a 1968 convention delegate. What a time to be politically active!

  7. I don’t remember being enthused about McCarthy. But the police rioting at the Democratic convention and their reaction to it, was so depressing. I was 22 and it would have been my first election but I boycotted it. The only election I didn’t vote in my voting life.

    1. I think McCarthy had more of a white, suburban base — and yes, the 1968 Democratic convention was hair raising. More on that in my letter R post.

  8. Good for you. Door to door campaigning is so necessary. In the past, I tended to vote for a candidate whose representative knocked on my door ready to hear me out, although maybe not so much in today’s world where we are so polarized. I’m so shy; I would have run from any opportunity to go door to door for anything, even if I believed in it strongly. I did have a McCarthy campaign button, which (too bad) I lost years and years ago. 1968. It’s a time people of today would find it hard to imagine.

    1. Thanks, Alana. A shame you don’t still have that McCarthy campaign button. My friend Kathy was shy like you, but she credits going door to door for McCarthy with helping her overcome it. And too true that 1968 is a hard year to explain to those who didn’t go through it.

  9. Molly, sounds like you were a mature young woman with firm convictions.

    I am wondering if you are still a passionate advocate for current causes.

    1. I felt like I was just coming into my heartfelt convictions in high school, but yes — I have held onto them to this day.

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