Burn, Baby, Burn! (those draft cards)
Imagine this: One day you're all alone sitting in your office reading and writing. Then all of a sudden, you receive a phone call. Some deep voice on the phone tells you that your office is going to be bombed sometime in the near future. Scared for your life, you leave the office and go home. Later that night you receive a phone call from a friend that your office has been bombed and everything was ruined. Luckily, nobody was hurt or killed.
This actually happened to David Gutknecht in 1967. David Gutknecht was living in Minneapolis, and working at the Twin Cities Draft Information Center. Like many anti-war organizations, this one was targeted by the U.S government. His office was bombed because not only was he not supporting the war in Vietnam, but he was also fighting against it. This organization was an anti-war organization that educated people on the selective service draft system, and on the truth about the Vietnam War and what was actually going on Southeast Asia. They felt that if people were going to be sent off to war and possibly die, they should, at the very least, be educated on why and how they were being sent away. This group also felt that the selective service draft system was very much in need of being amended, to make it a more fair system.
So, its employees did as much outreach education as was possible. Some of this consisted of visiting high schools to give presentations about the war in Vietnam and the selective service system. These presentations were very valuable because what they were talking about wasn't being taught in most public schools, and yet it was information that was going to be affecting the future of these high school students. David Gutknecht and the Twin Cities Draft Information Center also printed out a lot of literature and fliers to spread the word about the war and draft.
So why was such an elaborate organization like the Twin Cities Draft Information Center needed? And why was it bombed in 1967?
Well, with the Vietnam War going on in Southeast Asia, soldiers were needed to fight this war. In a time of war in this country, the president puts a draft system into effect when all the volunteer soldiers have already volunteered their time. The draft system that was in effect during the Vietnam War was called the selective service system. In short, this is how it worked: When you turned 18 years old, by law you had to fill out a registration form with all your information. The result of this registration form was that you received a draft card. The draft card gave you a status, and this status presented your level of availability to be drafted into war. For example, 1-A was high priority, meaning that if a draft call came along to send people out to war, you were one of the first to go.
As you can imagine, there were many people who didn't want to leave their lives and run off to war, so they figured out ways to get around being drafted. One of the ways was called a deferment. Deferment meant that you could postpone or be excluded from the duty of war for different reasons. Some of the different reasons were being a student in college, (which was called 2-f -- student deferment), having a short-term medical problem (1-x), or having a permanent medical problem (4-f, which meant that you would never be sent off to war). One final reason was having a religion or religious beliefs that prohibited you from killing. But overall, the first ones to be sent off to war were the 1-A delinquent, since this status meant that you were a delinquent (who wasn't a student and didn't have any medical problems) who had tried to dodge or fight the draft system before and had been caught. (This later would change in a very historical landmark case Gutknecht vs. The United States, but we'll get to that shortly.)
The selective service system had offices in Washington D.C and hundreds of others throughout the country. The offices consisted of a draft board that people would go to when they were called for service. Here they would receive a final physical issued by the army and would soon after go into boot camp, in preparation for being sent off to war. In other more potent words, these were the offices in which people's destiny would be decided.
David Gutknecht remembers fighting the draft, " We were completely opposed to the entire system and the entire war. It wasn't about us trying to save our own skin, we wanted to completely stop the entire system and end the genocidal war in Southeast Asia."
It was this attitude the provoked all the protests and demonstrations. These actions congested the courts on all levels all across America. In some states, over 50% of all indictments were those relating to the draft and opposition to the war. The selective service system had many faults and administrative problems, so changes were quick to be made, but not before some court cases that greatly impacted the changes had already taken place.
Oh my Joshua Tree!
After the Gutknecht vs. the United States court decision, some 30,000 court cases were overturned and several people were even released from prison. But the struggle continued for David Gutknecht. Even though his case was pivotal in the fight against the war, it still didn't keep him from becoming exempt from being drafted. He was handed right back down to the draft board to be sent to war! He refused to go once again, and finally this time, he was put in the "conscious objective" status. This phrase meant that he didn't have to go to war, but he that he did have to do two years of community service instead. Still infuriated by the entire war and the draft system administration, he still refused to cooperate completely. At this point, he wanted nothing less than to squash the entire system! At the time he refused to cooperate, the anti-war sentiment had escalated, and he was not alone in his rage. Nixon was losing popularity, the Kent State killings had taken place on May 4th 1970, and opposition was still mounting.
David hid out from the police for a while and was finally arrested in 1972. He was sentenced to three years in jail, which got reduced to two years, and then he ended up spending one and a half years in prison. And all because he didn't want to go over seas and fight a war with which he didn't agree. His prison experience actually turned out to be a united one. He remembers, "There were so many draft resisters in prison back then, we were all there in solidarity." When he was released, he decided to go into cooperative food organizing, because this was a way he felt that he could contribute to creating a better democracy. He continues to work in the food cooperative today.
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ALERT! ALERT! ALERT! ALERT! ALERT!
The military Selective Service Draft has been activated!
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