- Interview by
- Meagan Day
The 1960s in Los Angeles were explosive. The LAPD brutally enforced segregation, raided gay bars, policed the counterculture, and repressed radical students and anti-war protestors. But the working class of Los Angeles fought back against the police and the city elite with passion and muscle.
Jacobin’s Meagan Day spoke to Mike Davis and Jon Wiener about their new book, Set the Night on Fire: L.A. in the Sixties (Verso 2020), which covers everything from the causes of the Watts rebellion to the outsize role of the local Communist Party in city politics to the persecution of Venice, “the last poor beach” in Los Angeles.
The heavy presence of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) is felt throughout the entire book. It seems like nearly every left-wing political movement in Los Angeles at the time was acting in response to it. What was the LAPD like under Chief William H. Parker?
Back in the 1930s, there was a great journalistic exposé of corruption among US police departments, and the LAPD was considered the most corrupt in the country. In the late ’40s, a marine general was brought in to clean up the department for a year, and he introduced a number of reforms. He was succeeded by William Parker.
So Parker took the reins of a department that had been scrubbed of a lot of its traditional corruption. But he reinforced the racist character of the department. One of the Southern Freedom Rides participants ended up in jail somewhere in Texas or Mississippi and discovered on the wall of the jail a recruiting poster for the LAPD. Parker particularly favored Southern white ex-service members, but above all ex-Marines.
Parker was the sworn enemy of J. Edgar Hoover, primarily because Parker wanted Hoover’s job. Just like Hoover, Parker used the department to amass secret files on virtually anybody who was considered of interest. And we’re not just talking about Mickey Cohen and the gangsters up on Sunset Strip, but all the political figures that might oppose him or promote reforms in the department.
The Parker years were years of unconstrained police brutality in South Central LA and the policing of the boundaries of the ghetto. If you were a young black person in Hollywood or on the West Side of LA, you’d get stopped by the LAPD. Like any Southern police force, they policed segregation in Los Angeles. In other circumstances, without the blackmail files that Parker possessed, there might have been a big reform movement.
Parker was something of an innovative genius in American policing. Immediately after he took office, he began to cultivate Hollywood and promote the police department as the ideal subject for movies and TV series. Thus you got Dragnet, extolling the LAPD as the guardians of safety in an out-of-control city. Gene Roddenberry of Star Trek was actually assigned to coordinate these publicity activities.
In those days, the greatest radio show was broadcast out of a record store called Dolphin’s of Hollywood, the best R&B on the West Coast. When I was seventeen, shortly before a hot-rod accident, a friend and I drove up to LA. We wanted to visit Dolphin’s, so we asked around, and finally somebody told us it was in South Central LA. In those days, Dolphin’s was a mecca for everybody. But Parker didn’t want race mixing, so he set up an illegal blockade to prevent white customers from coming down to South Central. That’s the kind of guy he was.
After our book came out, I got an email from a student who said her mother had a cop boyfriend back in the Parker days who worked in the San Fernando Valley, and he said they had a code, “NNR,” which stood for “n**ger north of Roscoe.” That was the LAPD under Parker.
You’ve mentioned how Parker’s LAPD treated black people in general. How did it interact with the emergent civil rights movement?
You have to remember that Parker had a massive pulpit. He was one of the most outspoken police chiefs in the country, and he was totally unafraid to appear before a human rights committee of Congress investigating conditions in LA, where he claimed that LA was the most lawful city in the United States, except for all of these Southern migrant blacks who were coming in. He described Chicanos on the Eastside as being descended from the wild tribes of Mexico. His racism wasn’t just under the table. It was overt.
In 1961, the surprise winner of the mayoral election, Sam Yorty, was a very strange populist of a sort who won on a coalition of San Fernando Valley homeowners and black people, to whom he had promised to bring Parker to book. But Parker had his infamous files, and sooner than later, Yorty was in Parker’s pocket.
So in 1963, during the monumental civil rights struggle in Birmingham, groups popped up outside the South, and many of them decided to follow the Birmingham model. In Los Angeles, you had a United Civil Rights Campaign, which brought together everyone from people who were close to the Communist Party to the NAACP.
They demanded action on all fronts: education, housing, jobs. They were, of course, immediately opposed by the LAPD whenever possible. Their tactic was mass demonstrations, but the LAPD was there at all times to arrest people. It became almost impossible to maintain a focus on the real power in Los Angeles, the biggest banks and corporations and other elites who profited from segregation, when people were getting systematically hammered and sent to prison by the LAPD.
All their energy was absorbed in desperate defensive struggles rather than taking the offensive to demand change from those who were actually responsible, at the end of the day, for segregation. Ultimately, the most major frontal attempt to bring about a civil rights revolution in an ultrasegregated city was a failure.
It wasn’t just black LA that was targeted by the LAPD under Parker. Gay life was subject to repression, and gay people were subject to frequent raids and arrests.
Venice Beach was constantly a target of police sweeps, who were looking for countercultural things like drum circles and nude bathing. I remember arriving here in the late ’60s, and it became a regular thing on Sundays that hundreds of young people would go down to fight the cops on Venice Beach.
When the women’s movement got organized, Los Angeles was one of the first to get a women’s self-help health clinic on South Crenshaw. They were busted by the LAPD and charged with practicing medicine without a license. Carol Downer was famously put on trial for the crime of prescribing yogurt for a yeast infection. This was the work of the LAPD.
This is a theme of our book: no matter how different or unconnected these different movements were, the LAPD targeted every single one of them. And this made unity between these movements necessary, where otherwise it might have been impossible.
I was very convinced by your argument that LA was the pre-Stonewall birthplace of much of what we think of as the gay rights movement. You contend that, actually, this owed a lot to the character of the LAPD compared to, for example, the NYPD. Can you say more about that?
Credit where credit is due — this is from Martin Duberman, an old teacher of mine who wrote a definitive history of Stonewall. The gay bars of New York, especially Manhattan, were controlled by the mafia, and the mafia paid off the NYPD to limit raids, to provide advance warning of raids, and so on. The LAPD was the opposite. Because it was not corrupt, there were no payoffs, and so the police were ruthless and systematic.
The result was that two years before Stonewall, LA had the first street protest after a police raid on a gay bar, the Black Cat Tavern in Silver Lake. It was raided on New Years’ Eve, and patrons were arrested by the vice squad for kissing at the stroke of midnight. Several weeks later, there was a picket line outside.
One interesting thing is that this picket line coincided with the teenage protest against the LAPD-imposed curfew on the Sunset Strip the same night, and not only did the gay picketers endorse the Sunset Strip protestors, but the Sunset Strip protesters were seen holding the same signs as the Black Cat Tavern picketers. The signs said, “End Blue Fascism.”
There’s another connection that’s little known, which is stronger here than it was in New York, and that’s the connection between gay organizations in LA and the Communist Party. Some of the first and best organizers of gay groups in LA had been Communists and had been expelled from the Communist Party because they were gay. The official rationale was that because they were gay, they could be manipulated by the police or the FBI. But some of those activists then switched their focus to gay organizing.
So LA had a gay organizing infrastructure in some ways borrowed from the Communist Party. And that infrastructure eventually planned the first gay pride march. LA’s gay movement also had the first gay newspaper, the Advocate, which started as a gay activist newsletter. All of this has to do with the connections in LA, often beneath the surface, between movements that were being simultaneously targeted by the LAPD.
Although we fought like cats and dogs, and she expelled me from two different groups, my political mentor and probably the greatest moral and intellectual influence of my life was the remarkable woman who was the head of the Southern California district of the Communist Party, Dorothy Ray Healey.
Morris Kight was one of the Communists who was expelled for being gay, and he went on to be one of the key people organizing in the gay movement in LA. I worked in the Communist Party bookstore, and Morris used to come in a couple times a week and argue my ass off about queer people and whether they should’ve been expelled from the Communist Party. So I went to Dorothy and asked her why she expelled Morris, who was a great organizer. And she confessed to me that she’d done this for the reason Jon just said.
But she told me there was one person she should’ve paid attention to: Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, who sat on the central committee of the Communist Party. Gurley Flynn was bisexual, and I believe she was living with a woman at the time. She was the only one who got up and defended the rights of gay communists.
One thing your book takes pains to emphasize is that the local Communist Party in Los Angeles was a different beast than elsewhere in the United States. You could say that, much as the unique characteristics of the LAPD shaped the politics of the city, so too did the unique characteristics of the city’s Communist Party. What was different about it?
First of all, the original members of the Communist Party in California included many members of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World), and that IWW gene was probably constituent in the unorthodox and at times heretical nature of the Communist Party in California from the 1920s onward.
Dorothy Healey joined the leadership after having been the state’s labor inspector, appointed by the popular front governor Culbert Olson during the Second World War. She became a district organizer of the Communist Party at a point when it had probably about ten thousand members in Southern California.
The Communist Party was everywhere in LA. It was active on the Eastside, which was the largest Jewish community as well as the largest Mexican community. It was active in Hollywood, though the center of gravity was not so much in the writers and actors who were later blacklisted as in the craft unions. There were black communists in South Central and the industrial suburbs.
At the height of the McCarthy era, the Communist Party commanded its leadership to go underground, which Dorothy thought was a stupid thing to do, though she went along with it. But what Dorothy did differently was she struggled to ensure that the party in Los Angeles did not get consumed by the trials of the period, which is what happened elsewhere. She continually fought to keep a public presence and maintain strong connections.
So during the underground period, the popular front in Los Angeles may have been occluded for a while, but it never really went away. It continued in LA, and in the ’60s, Dorothy continued in quest of rebuilding the kind of strength they’d had in the ’40s, so they could influence local politics on a large scale. She was a very public figure in Los Angeles in the ’60s. She even ran for tax assessor as an open communist in 1967 and got something like eighty-five thousand votes.
Her attitude toward recruiting youth was totally different from the Communist Party’s. Elsewhere, by this time, the party was kind of repellent to people like me who came out of SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) — I wasn’t a student, but I was a full-time organizer. But the party had these youth groups called the Du Bois Clubs. After I joined the party, I learned how totally unorthodox and crazy the communist youth in the Du Bois Club in Los Angeles were. Nobody really believed in Russia. They believed in Cuba and Vietnam and Black Power.
We did some very crazy things. There were some very adventurous moments. And Dorothy, instead of applying the brakes, one of her favorite quotes from Lenin was, “Youth must come to socialism in its own way.” She’d been a product of that since she’d been picked out of a high school in Oakland to stand on soapboxes to rouse the unemployed back in 1931 and 1932.
One of the most remarkable things about Dorothy Healey was that she had a radio show on KPFK starting in the late ’50s called “Communist Commentary.” KPFK was not a left-wing station at that point. It was classical music with a little bit of public affairs. Their political idea was that they would be open to all points of view. All kinds of centrists, people on the right, and then Dorothy Healey, who was known as the communist of LA.
This being the heyday of McCarthyism, all the other people who hosted political shows on KPFK quit because they wouldn’t be on a station with a communist. So now KPFK’s only public-affairs commentary was “Communist Commentary” by Dorothy Healey. Pretty soon, the government went after KPFK.
They subpoenaed Dorothy, and she appeared and was, of course, fearless and fiery. She both pled the fifth and denounced the committee. They kept saying that wasn’t fair, you either don’t speak or you answer our questions respectfully. She didn’t go along with it, and eventually she ended up defeating them. They gave up the campaign against her, and KPFK kept Dorothy on into the ’60s. She used to have her mother on all the time.
Her mother, Barbara Nestor, came from an immigrant Jewish background and grew up in Denver. Barbara was an extraordinary figure in her own right. Both Barbara and Dorothy had an ease and ability to talk to working people. Dorothy lived in a totally black neighborhood. Barbara used to argue over the fence with her neighbor, who was a Pentacostalist. She really knew the Bible. I asked her once why a Jewish communist would know the Bible, and she said, “To talk to working-class people.”
Eventually, Barbara came to live with Dorothy in LA. In her later years, she had dementia, but in a very interesting way, it involved almost total cinemascope recall of the events of her life. I remember talking to her once, and she said, “Goddamnit Bill, you take the couch all the time. My dad offers you the bed. Bill, you’re too big for the couch, take the bed.” And, of course, Bill was Big Bill Haywood.
To sum it up, though, the Communist Party was unique in Los Angeles because of Dorothy Healey. Dorothy was known for her charm and her wit. She could also be ruthless, as someone like Morris Kight would have testified. But in any case, she’s one of the most compelling political personalities of the ’60s, despite belonging to an older generation.
I want to back up to something mentioned in passing before: Venice Beach and the Sunset Strip. What was the white youth counterculture up to in Los Angeles in the ’60s, and how were they regarded by the LAPD?
You have to start from how authoritarian the 1950s were, and also the fear of teenagers. It was a national hysteria. So the foundation for the ’60s was a revolt that began in the ’50s of working-class kids, above all black kids, but also white kids, to authoritarianism.
Our heroes were hot-rodders. My first political act — as an observer; I was too young to drive — was a 1960 riot where, after the police in San Diego had shut down the local drag strip, thousands of kids shut down one of the main streets in the middle of the city and raced cars along it.
All of these kinds of events, including some of them much larger, particularly the ones involving black kids, were interpreted as a communist conspiracy. People were debating whether it was Russian communists or Chinese communists who were organizing drag-strip riots. They also believed that communists were helping students set up sex clubs on high school campuses. I wish that had been the case.
In any case, this hysteria about teenagers and communists became in some way a self-fulfilling prophesy. Many of the blue-collar, angry white kids that I remember from Southern California in the ’60s started out racing cars and ended up involved in political movements — in SDS, in unions, in the anti-war movement. One of the things that histories of the ’60s often leave out or get wrong is the role of working-class white kids who did not feature prominently in strikes at elite universities, who were not among the founders of the Weatherpeople.
There were two poles of white youth militant action in the ’60s. One was the Sunset Strip and the so-called teenybopper riots, which became this famous movie Riot on Sunset Strip, and there were rock songs written about it and so on. The other was Venice Beach, which was the last beachfront neighborhood that had not been developed into high-rise apartments or luxury housing for rich people.
At one end, there was Marina del Rey, and at the other end, there was Santa Monica Shores. High rises, tennis courts, swimming pools. Venice was one mile in the middle, the last free space, the last poor beach. Beaches were totally segregated in the ’50s, but Venice was one of the few beaches black people could go to.
The real estate developers thought it was a big waste. They wanted to tear it down and upgrade it. But Venice was organized. Among the people living there were elderly Jews, a black community that had been there since the ’20s, the beatniks who’d had their poetry readings in cafés there since the ’50s. It had always been a bohemian enclave, but it became a center of New Left activism.
They were able to campaign very successfully to block the city plan to tear down Venice Beach housing, the tiny little beach cottages built in the ’20s when Venice was oil wells and polluted canals — a failed dreamland development of a much earlier era, which was why poor people were able to live there.
The original nucleus of New Left politics in Venice was the Venice West Café, which had been celebrated in this book The Holy Barbarians by Lawrence Lipton. He wrote this lurid book to point out that North Beach was not the only place where the Beat Generation began. But in about 1963 or 1963, the café was taken over by John and Anna Haag, who were close to the Communist Party and members of the Du Bois Club.
John Haag was also the founder of the Peace and Freedom Party Venice branch, and he published the underground newspaper the Venice Beachhead, which encouraged and recorded the struggle.
Meanwhile, on the Sunset Strip, the teenyboppers staged repeated demonstrations for a period of about three years, protesting curfews on the night clubs, and they were greeted by the LAPD, who subjected them to police attacks and mass arrests.
It’s important to note that there was a higher-level conflict involving elites happening behind the struggles on the Sunset Strip. You had elites interested in sex clubs who were probably tied to the mob. You also had the rising producers of the rock-and-roll music industry who found the clubs to be a kind of proving ground for new groups.
But the kids themselves, who were they? They weren’t, for the most part, kids from Beverly Hills or Hollywood. They were kids from the valleys, the San Fernando Valley, the San Gabriel Valley, the Pomona Valley. Some of these kids would drive thirty miles to a record store in Pasadena just to buy a copy of the Los Angeles Free Press. They were the ones who flocked to the Strip. And in a way, that’s a continuation of the beach and hot-rod riots at the beginning of the 1960s.
From Venice Beach to Zabriskie Point
Another thing that differentiates the student movement in Los Angeles from elsewhere in the country is the role of community colleges. This is a very pronounced difference. What happened at the Los Angeles community colleges in the 1960s?
Mike was a regional organizer for SDS in the mid-’60s, so it was his job to find and develop leadership for SDS chapters. And like you said, he found it in places that were pretty different from Harvard or Columbia or the University of Michigan.
In the mid-’60s, when I worked for SDS, and then a couple of years later, when I became a truck driver and joined the Communist Party, Los Angeles City College (LACC) was seen as a key campus in the entire city or county. Some of the very first civil rights protests happened there. Some of the early Freedom Riders came from there. And Ron Karenga, who later founded the extremely influential black nationalist group called US, went to LACC. That campus continued to be a battleground until the end of the period.
The other two community colleges that were seen as key were East Los Angeles College and Los Angeles Southwest College. East LA College wasn’t just Chicano but also Asian and black and white, and it was a crucible of activism on the Eastside. And Southwest College was the orphan of the entire community college system. The progressive black paper the California Eagle had fought through the ’50s to have a junior college accessible to the black community, but there were always more urgent priorities, some suburban new campus to open.
Southwest College was just opened just after the Watts rebellion, and that was the main base for the Che-Lumumba Club of the Communist Party, which Angela Davis and other black activists were members of. The activists at Southwest College, by the way, joined forces with a local junior high — not a high school, but a junior high, and they would demonstrate together. And that was something else unique about the period, the incredible political relationships formed between community colleges, high schools, and even junior highs.
As far as protests went, the place with the most arrests anywhere in Southern California was a brand-new state college at that time called Valley State. It was at the far Western edge of the San Fernando Valley. The area was just being developed; it was bean fields. But it developed the most militant, most sustained anti-war movement and movement for black studies and Chicano studies anywhere in California.
There was a building occupation by the black student union at Valley State on election day of 1968. It turned out to be a coincidence that it was election day; they were protesting a racist incident at a football game. Valley State then became the place with the largest mass felony indictment and trial of activist students anywhere in the United States.
There were 1,730 felony charges brought against the twenty-four black students who occupied the administration building in 1968. The campus was in turmoil the whole year after that, as the very active SDS chapter had protest after protest against the indictment, the trials, the administration for supporting the trials. It’s a little-known story.
In the end, Valley State ended up with the biggest and most successful Chicano studies program probably in the United States, an unanticipated fruit of the militance of the black students. The black students got a black studies program, but because their leaders went to serve months-long sentences in state prison, it was the Chicano students who really reaped the fruits of all of this.
Why did this happen at this unknown campus in the middle of nowhere? One reason is its connection with the Old Left. Mike Klonsky, who became a national SDS leader in subsequent years, his father was part of the Dorothy Healey world. Right, Mike?
He was a hard-core Stalinist, though I wouldn’t wish the sins of the father on the Klonsky brothers.
But yes, so many of the kids in the Valley were Jewish kids, many of them from left-wing Jewish families, and they were sympathetic with the black cause. There are so many points in the history of the ’60s, or maybe in American history in general, where the coincidence of radical Jews and militant blacks produced some of the most important movements not only in politics but in culture, too. That’s the seed of the rhythm-and-blues revolution in LA in the late 1940s.
There’s a Michelangelo Antonioni film called Zabriskie Point that begins with a scene on an LA college campus, not an elite one, of black and white students in a political meeting. Then they protest, and they’re all attacked by the police and arrested, and this is the catalyst for the film — the main character is on the run.
Zabriskie Point was the first thing I thought of when I read this part of the book, and I looked it up, and it came out in 1970. So even though I’d never heard of these student uprisings in Southern California, it must have been in the zeitgeist.
I remember this vividly. At this point, at the end of the ’60s, my wife was a schoolteacher, and I was driving a truck. But I knew the guys who took SDS, and they were mainly guys, after I’d left in 1967. And I had no fewer than three of them confidentially tell me that they were going to be the lead actor in Zabriskie Point.
Antonioni had come out to LA and had interviewed tons of people, trying to get a measure of what was going on. The relationship between Zabriskie Point and Joan Didion’s White Album and writings of the same period is strong, this apprehension of apocalypse.
Antonioni was a presence in LA at that time, starting in 1968. He wanted to learn everything he could about radical students. Zabriskie Point appears in the book in a chapter on draft resistance. Bill Garaway, who was put on trial and sentenced to prison, was cast in the movie, and he used the money Antonioni paid him to set up a collective farm near the prison in Arizona where the draft resistors were sent, so it would be easier to visit them.
It’s an interesting point about the movie. The movie perfectly captures the fear that extremely wealthy people in LA had of their own children. There were innumerable cases that I think justified that fear. I remember three high school activists in 1965 whose fathers worked for the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica game-playing a nuclear war. There were a lot of kids who were traitors to their class backgrounds and their family’s politics.
Let’s pivot now to the next phase of black politics, after the Watts rebellion. What was happening in organized black politics in LA in the late ’60s?
Let’s go back to 1963, to the United Civil Rights Campaign. The real spark plug in that campaign was the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), which conducted these protracted heroic struggles to integrate suburban housing and provided most of the nonviolent protests within the larger coalition.
As it became clear that the coalition was getting nowhere, a more militant group split off of CORE. This group was headed by, among other people, Jimmy Garrett, who became the father of black studies at San Francisco State. This group continued to engage in militant sit-ins and protests, and they were absolutely hammered. Some of them ended up with long prison sentences.
The last campaign was against Proposition 14. The year before, the California legislature had passed an open housing law that was authored by a progressive black representative from Oakland named Byron Rumford, and Big Daddy Jesse Unruh, who was the master of the legislature, a poor white from Texas, he hammered it through. It wasn’t a complete bill, but it was a huge step.
Well, the next year, two-thirds of white voters in California voted to repeal the Rumford housing bill, and that put an end to the period of nonviolent protest. And then we had the Watts rebellion, and out of the rebellion, groups began to come together, and they formed a united front called the Black Congress. The BC had its own headquarters and a series of offices.
The largest group was Ron Karenga’s US organization, often depicted as just purely cultural nationalists and refusing to work in coalitions. But in fact, it was probably one of the most important initial supporters of Huey Newton and the Black Panther Party. There was also a Los Angeles Black Panther Party, which Angela Davis joined, which had no formal affiliation with the Oakland-based Black Panther Party. Angela tells about the day somebody braced her up against a wall with a gun and told her there was only one Black Panther Party and it was based in Oakland.
Eventually, there was an official Southern California chapter of the Black Panther Party, led by Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter. Carter was an extraordinarily talented politician, and he preserved an alliance with Karenga’s US organization for about a year, at the high point of the Black Congress and of black power unity. There was tremendous potential there.
COINTELPRO was a national program organized by the FBI to provoke internecine conflict, distrust, and aggression within the radical movements of the ’60s. And LA was one of the places that COINTELPRO had its greatest successes, from the FBI’s point of view.
They worked hard to provoke paranoia between Ron Karenga’s US organization and the Panthers. This meant sending messages saying, “Your group is infiltrated by police agents” or “Your enemies are cooperating with the LAPD.” It succeeded in creating a massive wave of paranoia pretty much throughout the Left, but especially among these newer, younger black groups run by kids who were new to politics and weren’t very experienced. They were very preoccupied with the question of who the traitors and informers were.
It’s interesting that the Che-Lumumba Club avoided infiltration by the police or the FBI. Of course, they had the great advantage of being communists. They knew a lot about plants and infiltration. But in some ways, it was much easier to infiltrate either US or the Panthers, and in fact, several leader Panthers were coerced or blackmailed into being FBI informers.
This culminated at UCLA, where there was a famous meeting at Campbell Hall in spring of 1969 to discuss the future of the black studies movement. Bunchy Carter and John Huggins were shot and killed by members of Karenga’s US group.
We all believed at the time that this was part of a conspiracy by Karenga to assassinate the leaders of the Black Panther Party. But Mike has done a lot of research about what happened at Campbell Hall and has a crucial revision of the story we’ve inherited, the one that’s in Angela Davis’s memoir and all of the other radical accounts of the period.
Our conclusion in our book is that is that the assassinations of the two Panther leaders at UCLA were not ordered by Ron Karenga. It was not a conspiracy to destroy the leadership of the LA Panthers. It was — how would you characterize it? It was young guys with guns.
I spoke to someone I knew who was there at Campbell Hall, a black student, who told me that the US guys had gotten pushy with Ericka Huggins, John Huggins’s wife. John Huggins confronted him, and Bunchy Carter tried to de-escalate the situation, and one gunman shot them both.
The last movement to gain steam in Los Angeles in the ’60s was the Chicano movement. What was the Chicano moratorium?
You had the development of a grassroots anti-war movement on the Eastside that was really different from any anti-war movement in the entire country. Its base was in the Eastside working class. The Chicano moratorium was a massive rally against the Vietnam War on the Eastside of Los Angeles.
The moratorium was carefully designed to avoid any incident that might bring in the sheriffs or the police at the end of the rally. I marched in this, thinking I was walking on air for a couple of hours. I’d never seen anything like it. It was just the ordinary people of the Eastside out there. Abuelos and grandchildren and middle-aged war veterans and all the young activists. In some ways, qualitatively, it was the greatest anti-war protest of the whole Vietnam period.
But the forces aligned against the moratorium and the Chicano movement in general were now an even more powerful coalition than at the end of the black movement. The leaders struggled to keep things nonviolent, realizing that they had this broad-based participation in the community, support for the movement from people of all age groups. But the police attacked anyway. The movement’s opponents had realized that the way to destroy the movement was through police violence, backed up by extraordinary indictments against even the most peaceful leaders of the protests of the Eastside.
So, by the end of 1971 or certainly 1972, almost all of the important movements in Los Angeles were defunct. The Panthers, who after the infamous shoot-out at their headquarters got enormous support from black youth, were internally divided. Other groups disappeared from the scene. SDS split up. And the Chicano movement, which had become the most powerful pole of attraction and center of militancy at the end of the ’60s, was now virtually destroyed by repression.