The Thistle Volume 13, Number 1: August 29, 2000.

Or Does it Explode

by MK - Ultra

I see striking students running from tear-gas hurled by police from the steps of 77 Mass Ave. I see hundreds of white crosses staked in rows across Kresge Oval to symbolize the tragedy of war. I see empowered students seizing the presidentís office, occupying the ROTC building in protest of MITís complicity in US imperialism. This is not some vision of the future-those were just pictures I came across while looking through some old Techniques. There is a very important and vivid history of protest on this campus, yet this is probably the last youíll ever hear of it.

The US governmentís participation in an inherently immoral and unjust war in the 60ís and 70ís brought about an unprecedented public resistance at home. The resistance was especially remarkable on campuses across the country. The Youth International Party began a movement on the University of Berkeley campus in protest of the Vietnam War. This movement would sweep over campuses across the country, and it would reach Cambridge in the fall of 1968.

That year, Michael OíConnor, a 19 year-old soldier in the United States Army, announced he was absent without leave and was given sanctuary in La Sala by members of the Social Action Coordination Committee (SACC) and the anti-war group Resist! Almost instantly, the campus became mobilized as hundreds of MIT students, led by soon-to-be expelled UA president, Michael Albert, began an around-the-clock vigil in La Sala. The action was planned both to protect OíConnor from the authorities, and to highlight the peopleís resistance to US intervention in Vietnam. Granting sanctuary to AWOL soldiers had already become a popular form of protest on the campuses of Boston University, Harvard, and later Brandeis. After almost two weeks of speeches, teach-ins, and communal living, the sanctuary had ended as dozens of federal agents raided La Sala in the early morning hours and arrested Mr. OíConnor. But the Sanctuary action had longer lasting effects on the institution than anyone could have expected.

Mobilized by the Sanctuary, members of the SACC along with faculty belonging to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) next planned an action that would highlight MITís direct involvement in the war effort. The close ties MIT had with the department of defense was well understood at the time, and attacking MIT was the closest MIT students would get to attacking the war machine. The action was a campaign to halt all reasearch at MIT on March 4, 1969. A letter was then circulated to faculty and graduate students asking them to sign as a promise to stop their research for this one day and consider the effects their research had on society. The action gained media attention and soon other colleges (Yale, UPenn) were starting similar campaigns. Though March 4th didnít end up stopping all the research on the campus, the day did produce six proposals for action to be addressed by MIT. The proposals included the termination of all military related research projects, the replacement of all war related research with socially constructed research, and the abolition of the ROTC on campus.

Two of the most popular examples of MITís war related research at the time had been the guidance systems for the Poseidon missile (MIRV), and the tactical guidance for helicopters. The I-labs (now know as Draper Laboratories) were the principle center for development for these projects, and they would see their share of protests before it was over.

The campus was just as active in the fall term of that year. Chanting slogans like "Kick the ass of the ruling class-end war research", students marched to the Sloan building on October 3 and attempted to enter a closed meeting of the MIT Corporation-the body (still) responsible for deciding how MIT is run. The marchers were confronted at the entrance by the administration and the campus police, and after a brief struggle with the administration and campus police, a handful of the marchers were allowed into the meeting. Almost two weeks later, the October 15 moratorium took place. 100,000 people protesting the Vietnam War rallied on Boston Common and listened to speakers that included professor Howard Zinn (A Peopleís History of the United States). In November, 300 students participated in a sit-in near the administrative offices of building 3. The goal was to obstruct these offices until the administration capitulated to the demands of the protesters (the demands hadnít really changed since the last action). After several attempts by authorities to break through the sit-in, the demonstrators left peacefully after three hours.

Throughout the campus actions, President Johnson had maintained that it wasnít in his power to end government funded research, a claim the protesters apparently ignored. The sit-in tactic was used again in January as students broke into and occupied the office of MIT president Howard Johnson. When authorities threatened arrest, the demonstrators left only to march to the house of President Johnson, again demanding an end to war research.

On April 30, 1970 Nixon announced to the world that U.S. soldiers had invaded Cambodia. Campuses around the country mobilized to strike. 1,500 students voted to strike on May 5. With the news of the four students at Kent State shot to death by the National Guard, and with the support of the faculty and administration, students filled Kresge Oval with placards and anti-war sentiments, as classes were cancelled for the week. MIT was mobilized. The Bush room was turned into communication central as MIT students began outreach campaigns all over the state. Students distributed information about the war to the public, postcards were sent to congressmen, the neighboring high schools were given guidance by MIT students as to mobilizing efforts on their own campuses.

Before the war in Vietnam was over, thousands more would rally on the Common, and MIT students would continue demonstrating for peace. The now defunct Building 20, which held ROTC classes, would be occupied by anti-war demonstrators, and thousands more young men would be drafted and sent to Vietnam. The campus would return to a relative calm shortly after the war ended. Without a large target like a war to focus on, and with everyone drained of energy, the movement simply died out.

It would seem that the movement on MITís campus was greatly enhanced by the support of the faculty and administration. By allowing classes to be cancelled, signing petitions of support to end the war, and all the while letting the students organize and mobilize themselves, the faculty really facilitated the anti-war movement on campus. Professor Noam Chomsky, Professor Luis Kampf and faculty belonging to the UCS were especially helpful in informing students about the war, and motivating students to action. They also provided a legitimacy to the movement that it couldnít have had otherwise.


The Thistle Volume 13, Number 1: August 29, 2000.