The November 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee

 
 

National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website

 

 

In this issue:

AFSC Honors War Resisters

David Harris: A Stirring Call to Conscience

Leonard McNeil: Resisting 'Rich Man's Wars'

Karen Meredith: A Mother's Plea for Peace

Not One More Death, Not One More Dollar

Massive Police Sweeps in Contra Costa County

Housing First for Poor Families

Landlords Sue to End Just Cause

Struggle to Save the Free Box

YEAH! Shelters Homeless Youth

Gentrification in Berkeley

New Home for East Bay Law Center for Poor

Wal-Mart Pushes Philanthrophy

Sutter Health's War Against Health Workers

Growing Gulf Between Rich and Poor

Inequality in America

Poor Leonard's Almanack: On Forgiveness


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Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

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The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Leonard McNeil: Resisting 'Rich Man's Wars, Poor Man's Fights'

Once I made the political and moral stance to oppose the war, and oppose the government, it set me on a path of being in the movement for political and social change that I will never relinquish.

Leonard McNeil (left) was a draft resister during the Vietnam War. He later counseled Tahan Jones (right) who resisted the first Gulf War as a conscientious objector. Lydia Gans photo

Talk given on October 27, 2005, at an AFSC peace event, "Remember the Draft? From Vietnam to Iraq: Honoring Resistance Then and Now."

by Leonard McNeil

I think that all of us as activists can speak of and remember moments in watershed years in our lives. 1968 was that for me. It began with Dr. Martin Luther King dying from an overdose of racism in this country.

When I was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles, the Eagles would not let me sign my contract because they claimed that they heard from a reliable source that I was a member of the Black Panther Party. That stemmed from the activism I did around the Black Students movement at Fresno State. I was not a member of the party; but if I was, I had a right to be.

In December of 1968, I was drafted by the United States military, and I refused to go by spending two years in exile in Canada, Vancouver, British Colombia, in opposition to the war.
I came back to the United States after being in Canada for two-and-one-half years, or so. I began working with the political prisoners movement, prison reform movement, and so forth. I was arrested one morning by ten FBI agents, in my underwear --they were Hanes. I ask you, with all humor aside, to consider the absurdness, and what is asinine about someone going to jail for refusing to kill someone.

I faced 10 years in prison, a $20,000 fine. I faced a charge of refusing induction, and another charge of refusing to keep my draft board posted of my current address. Which meant, when I got back from Canada, I didn't give them my address so they could come and pick me up.

As I mentioned, 1968 was a very watershed year for me. Because what it did for me was once I made the political and moral stance to oppose the war, and oppose the government, it set me on a path of being in the movement for political and social change that I will never relinquish. And as I dealt with different kinds of issues in electoral politics, when I look at some of the other things I've done in comparison to standing up to the United States Government and saying "no" to war, they paled in comparison. That stand gave me the strength to do that.

I do want to acknowledge my two lawyers, Paul Harris and Ann Fagan Ginger. They were two people who kept me on this side of the "gray-bar hotel" for 10 years and I will always honor them and respect them for helping me and for using their knowledge of the law as their example and experience in the movement for political and social change.

I also want to acknowledge Dr. King, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and some of you may remember the Fort Hood 3. These are folks who paved the way before you and provided the example that you can stand up and you can do that.

I want to tell you about why I refused to participate in the United State military. One of the reasons was I believed that the war was a racist war. I believed that the war was unconstitutional in the sense that it was never declared. I also believe in the First Amendment, that I have the right of freedom of expression. I also believe the military draft is a form of "involuntary servitude," forbidden by the Constitution.

For me to go and participate in Vietnam would be to support and defend the way Black people and other people of color are treated in this county. My people are undergoing a long-standing struggle for freedom, for justice, and equality; and I, as an individual, could not participate in the subjugation and exploitation of another people of color. I think down through history when you see the United States' wars, you will see "rich man's wars" and "poor man's fights."

I'm 60 years old and I've done a lot of different things. But one of the most wonderful things I can look back on in my life -- not that I am getting ready to go anywhere! -- was the eight and a half years I spent as the coordinator for the Peace and Justice Youth Outreach Project, under the auspices of the American Friends Service Committee. It was absolutely wonderful.

One of the most wonderful parts about it was training young people, going in their high schools to talk to the kids and do counter-recruitment, talk about issues of war and peace, fighting and dying.

But another part of that was counseling young people to separate from the delayed entry program. And I got so good at it that I would come into some of the military bases and I would walk in, and the military officer would look at me and say, "Oh, shit!" and just sign the papers. And we would turn around and just walk out. I lost track of the numbers of people I helped get out of the military.

That was a wonderful experience in turning people around and giving them a different point of view. I really want to acknowledge and appreciate the American Friends Service Committee for having the foresight, the vision, and the commitment and principles to have a program like that that I could work for. I thank you.


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