By BETTE MCDEVITT
Because the three-part panel discussion entitled “Vietnam: A Working Class War” was taking place after this issue of the New People was laid out, we spoke to the organizers before the event, about their hopes for the program, and why it was important to look back fifty years. The conversations took place at the weekly breakfast meeting of the Battle of Homestead group, at the Waterfront Eat’n Park.
Mike Stout, local musician and activist, was clear about the “why” part. . ”In 1968, I and millions of others became aware of what we were doing internationally, not just Vietnam but all over the world. This conference should do the same thing, wake people up to what the US is doing. Even people in this room don’t know that we’re involved in eight wars, and how many troops we still have in Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and on and on..What is going on today is 100 percent blanked out by the corporate media.”
Charlie McCollester, local historian, one of the founders of the Battle of Homestead group, and a sponsor of this program, has been planning this conference for a year. “Fifty years before 1968 was 1918, the beginning of World War I, and who then gave a thought to World War I? It was not even in the public consciousness. Why then does Vietnam matter? First, because the deep political divisions that bedevil our American present time had their roots in the rice paddies, defoliated jungles and bomb craters of Vietnam and put hundreds of thousands of citizens in the streets to protest our nation’s actions. Second, the US lost the war, something that an almost religious belief in our nation’s manifest destiny held was not possible. Third, the Tonkin Gulf resolution of Congress, used to give political cover for the war, was based on a politically manufactured deception. This governmental deception was repeated in the “weapons of mass destruction” justification for the invasion of Iraq. Before John F. Kennedy’s assassination nearly 77% of the American people trusted our government; in 2017 that trust was 18%. Democracy cannot survive if people can no longer trust the people they elect to govern them.”
Jacqui Cavalier, associate professor of history at CCAC, who handled the logistics of the conference, said “I can stand in front of my class and talk about history, but there is nothing like having an army veteran, like Jesse Medvan, describe what it was like to be in Iraq.
From the perspective of an educator, there is a much greater impact from first hand experience” Ms. Medvan, whom Mike calls a “silver-tongued orator” didn’t hold back during the planning sessions, in describing the death, agony and destruction we brought upon Iraq. Mike Stout part of the panel as an anti-war activist, knows how to tell a story, and he shared his own “baptism by fire” “A lot of us came alive in 1968, in the streets of New York. Our brains came alive, our spirits came alive. We realized that there was stuff going on that we didn’t know about. I was 19 years old when I got off the subway at 7th Avenue and 42nd Street, to go sightseeing, and found myself in the middle of a 20,000 plus anti-war demonstration. I got swept up in it. There was Phil Ochs singing “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” and people selling bus tickets to go to the Democratic convention in Chicago. We marched over to the Armory at Park and 34th, about ten thousand of us surrounded the building. The police brought the horses in, turned them around and moved them into the crowd, kicking us out of the way. I got the shit kicked out of me by the police force. And that was my baptism by fire, It’s been antiimperialism and anti-war work for me ever since.”
Bette McDevitt is a member of the Editorial Collective and The Raging Grannies
PHOTOS : (left-hand side) Vietnam veteran Pat Conroy reminds his audience that a country’s wars begin with its citizens. “Your finger is on the trigger through your votes.” Standing behind Conroy is Sam Hazo, Pennsylvania’s Poet Laureate.
(Upper right-hand corner)Jessie Medvan, lead organizer of Pittsburgh Veterans for Peace, speaking at the August 25th Peace March in Oakland.
(Lower right-hand corner)“Welcome Home,” a poem written by late ironworker and Vietnam veteran T.J. McGarvey, is mounted at the North Shore Vietnam Veterans Monument. McGarvey was commemorated at the monument following a conference on “Vietnam: A Working Class War,” held at the Community College of Allegheny County on September 22nd. (Photos credit: Neil Cosgrove)
(TMC newspaper VOL. 48 No.8 October 2018. All rights reserved)