The Day I (Almost) Stormed the Capitol

It was April 24, 1971. My roommate and I left our college campus in western Pennsylvania to drive to Washington DC for “Out Now,” the largest-ever anti-Viet Nam War protest march.

Button with date and Out Now logo
I still have this button from the march.

The first day, Friday getting there, is a blur. Us in our long hair, bell-bottoms and repurposed Army jackets. The high school friend of my roommate and her car (since we didn’t have one). Hours of driving the 300 miles of unfamiliar highway. But I know the mood was excitement! We were standing up for something we believed in (“PEACE!”) We also expected to find something else we admired (“PARTY!”) And cigarettes were only 50 cents in the nation’s capital, so we planned to “stock up!” (This meant at most a carton apiece, since our cash was limited).

I’m sure we drove around the city, looking for where to land our vehicle (difficult to do with an influx of half a million people). I don’t remember a single meal, so we probably ate snacks from convenience stores. Most likely we grabbed a few hours’ sleep scrunched up in the car.

When the sun came up Saturday morning, though, we were on the move—on foot. It wasn’t hard to figure out where to go, considering the salmon-like flow down Pennsylvania Avenue. Black and white, young and old. Some in wheelchairs and others wearing a clerical collar. Parents with children riding on their shoulders. All kinds of people were against what the U.S. was doing in Viet Nam.

Our crowd grew ever larger as we moved toward the Capitol. We were chanting things like, “Hell no, we won’t go!” referring to the draft, and the more general, “Power to the people! Right on!” Until finally we were a sea of protesters, shoulder to shoulder, waves churning at the bottom of the steps. Shouting our chants, calling for President Nixon to come out and face us. (He didn’t.)

Suddenly a few rogue voices began to rise above the noise of the crowd. “Storm the Capitol!” here. “C’mon, let’s take it!” there. There was a moment when I felt the crowd begin to surge, the bodies behind me pressing to go forward. That was the fulcrum when the huge but peaceful protest could have tipped and become a mob, and I would have been swept up in it.

It ended as quickly as it started. Not because of a police presence (I don’t remember one). It was because the organizers of the event—clearly well trained, very present and LOUD—shut it down. “NO! This is a peaceful protest!” and “STOP RIGHT HERE! We are not going there!” They pushed back firmly until the rogue voices gave up and the crowd stopped surging and returned to a mellow flow. It was impressive. We were there for peace. We didn’t want anyone to get hurt (like that little girl hanging around her dad’s neck over there). We didn’t want to go to jail (if we could barely afford cigarettes, how could we afford bail?) Our parents didn’t even know we were there—did we want them to see us bleeding on the evening news?

Instead, we listened to impassioned speeches from people like John Kerry. A Viet Nam vet who returned with a strong conviction against the war, and later entered politics and served as U.S. Secretary of State. The mood was passionate, but also peaceful and positive, until finally we were ushered by the organizers to turn and disperse.

I wish those organizers had been the ones in charge at the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Not for the Trump mob that invaded our government with the intent to create chaos, do violence, and overturn the U.S. government. But to fill the void left by lack of law enforcement and turn those thugs away.

Maybe it wouldn’t have worked. As far as I know, our organizers were committed to non-violence. But would they have responded with force if our crowd had turned into an unlawful mob? And could they have responded with strength to Wednesday’s insurgents, hell bent on breaching and bragging afterward, but also carrying zip ties and guns, and because of whom lives were lost?

Some would say that the movement I was a party to was no better—that there were radical factions (there were), violent events (yes), and lives lost (sadly). But I do see one contrast. The majority of that movement was largely people like me who love our country; who were deeply saddened to see the ways in which our government did not live up to our constitutional imperatives of equality and agency; and who wanted our legislators to do better. The domestic terror attack this week was perpetrated by people who love ‘our country’ only if it follows their white supremacist and evangelical agenda and allows their oligarch to rule. Yeah, big difference indeed.

Many things about this week’s attempted coup need to be investigated, such as why the police presence was so small and unprepared, and what to do about those in power who encouraged and supported it (‘President’ Trump—that title still rankles, considering that it puts him in the company of patriots like Obama, Carter, JFK, FDR) and Senators Hawley, Cruz, et. al.) My wish list would include the immediate removal of Trump (unfit is an understatement). Impeachment proceedings for sure (and strip him of every presidential perk that he doesn’t even deserve to enjoy).

And most of all? I want to see Trump and his criminal family in prison garb behind bars where they belong. Oh, how I long for that. Their crimes are many and heinous.

Time will tell. All will be revealed. Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean all will be investigated and punished as they deserve. I’m generally a fan of the Democratic Party. But I’ve seen time and again that our … hmm, I don’t even know what to call it. Kindness? Forgiveness? Or just lack of cajones? Suffice to say we’re not so good at standing up for ourselves and our beliefs, or taking to task those who commit aggressions against us.

Maybe finally that will change.


52 thoughts on “The Day I (Almost) Stormed the Capitol

  1. Hi Professor Lynda, thank you for describing and sharing your experience! Many unexpected things happened in this election, I totally agree with your view, and wow, 50 cents for cigarettes in the nation’s capital, that’s unbelievable!

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    • Haha, I wish I could remember what cigarettes cost in my state back then. I just googled it and it said average $.47 cents. So that doesn’t make sense, $.50 would not have been a bargain! Maybe it was $.35 in DC? Either way, those numbers sound ridiculous in light of prices today!

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  2. Really great post! I loved hearing your experience of the 71 march and how you feel the different point of view was of the protestors of the 21 mob.

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  3. As someone who recently protested myself, it was interesting to read what peaceful protests were like a few decades ago. The feeling of being a part of a political movement doesn’t seem to change much from one generation to the next, I appreciate you sharing your experience and reminding the world that activism is far from new.

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    • How kind of you to say “a few decades” ago. It was actually five decades, 50 years!!! LOL. It does seem like it’s mostly the young that has the spirit and energy to try to make things better. Keep up your activism for what you believe!

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  4. Hi Professor! I thought the posts were interesting and it is very unfortunate it resembled the events that happened not long ago. Comparisons of this kind really can make you think the questions “What went wrong?” and “What could we have done to either prevent it or contain the protest?”. It’s a sad reminder that this event could have ended with just a few people stepping up to lead. This event will go down in history as a dark day for America and our democracy.

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  5. Hi Professor, I agreed with you that the Democrats keep trying to keep to the high road and let Trump walk all over them. Even though the impeachment managers are very good, I doubt that he will be convicted. I guess being previously a party in minority in Senate made them too cautious.

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  6. I really enjoyed this article. Its so cool to hear about your experience with the protest! I really miss being able to protest like I used to before covid. It is so awful to hear about what those thugs did at the capitol and out “president” calls them very good people? It’s a really scary time to be in this country. I also loved what you said about Democrats “kindness” I totally agree with that because it seems like the Democrats in power don’t seem to care to hold the republicans accountable.

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    • To me it doesn’t seem like the Democrats don’t want to hold the Republicans accountable (this time), but rather that the rules call for a certain Senate majority and the Republicans just won’t take Trump to task. Sad and scary. It pisses me off to see them on their phones and rustling papers instead of listening. Hawley with his feet up on a desk just like that thug in Pelosi’s office.

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  7. Thank you for your vivid story. As I was reading, I could not help but wonder how much anxiety I feel when I see protest today. People have the right to protest peacefully but I get nervous if the few that are there have bad intentions. Thank you for sharing what it felt like to be in that situation.

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    • Usually at a protest things get out of hand when counter-protesters show up. For example, Black Lives Matter have no intention of perpetrating violence, but white supremacists come to angrily start something, and make BLM look bad.

      In the case of my protest, I think the ones who wanted to push forward were either vehement about our cause, or wanting to create some excitement. I’m glad they were stopped.

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  8. I thought this article were interesting to read about your experience. when a protest happened, I was in shocked. I have been here in the USA for 10 years never saw violence in saying people’s opinion. it shocked because because i have always thought that would not happen here. There will always be peaceful and violence people when all comes down to saying their opinions. This event will go down in history as a dark day for America and our democracy.
    Thank you for sharing!
    -Meret Estafanous

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  9. Reading your personal experience leading up peace protests; the young and carefree vibe, and mindset of just wanting peace gave me a sense of nostalgia for something I wasn’t even in existence for. It is great sense of community and pride protesting for actual injustices as I have done so myself. However, it is unfortunate that the protestors on January 6th think they have been victims of injustice themselves even though it is absolutely not the case and trying to prove them that is a lost cause.

    It’s sad to see how even after six months none of the leaders who have been involved in this (such as republican senators, the former president, etc.) have not been held accountable.

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  10. Hi Professor Hoggan! Your experience is beautifully well written. As a I kept reading, I couldn’t help but think how much progress we’ve made… but how little change that progress has made regarding equality and “peace.” There is still so much injustices in the world that need to be addressed and I hope this country continues to fight for change.

    -Tiffanie Melgar

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  11. Thank you for sharing your experience and your thoughtful story. I found it very interesting to read. It’s crazy how history does repeat itself, but with different generation and their point of view. The Jan. 6th incident was a complete shock, and it really shocked me how the protesters just stormed the Capitol like it’s nothing. Compare to the civil rights movement such as MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech and BLM, these protests/movements are peaceful, no violence, and most importantly, being respectful to one and another. I always hope for peace and change in the near future for our country.

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  12. I really enjoyed reading your experience at the capitol, it sounded both exciting and scary! I agree with you about our democratic representatives in the house and congress to be too forgiving, Unfortunately many of them are not progressive and that is why I believe not a lot is happening to prosecute many of the GOP leaders responsible for encouraging many people to storm the capital or helping cancel student loan debt or help pass some sort of universal health bill. Hopefully in the near future we begin to see more progressive democrats win seats in the upcoming elections.

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  13. It is incredible to see that although the incident that happened at the capital was incredibly rare, there has still been another occasion in which it could have happened. However, it shows how good leadership can have the biggest difference. The organizers of the Vietnam War Protest were able to keep everybody in place and prevent an insurrection. As you stated, I wish people in the capital had the same leadership ability.

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  14. Thank you for sharing your experience from back then, I can imagine how different everything was back then till now. It is amazing to see how many people can be together and fight for something that we all want and that is equality in the world.

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  15. Thank you for sharing your experience when you walk towards the capitol with your friends. The thing that got me interested was when it just began with a couple of people then a lot of people join but they every time I see a march when they get out of hand it scares me because I see that there are little kids involved or is around there they could get injured.

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  16. Hi Lynda,
    I was intrigued by your article given this years’ storming of the capitol. I enjoyed hearing your experience of protesting the Vietnam War. I found it interesting how you depicted the differences of the potential storming of the capitol in the name of peace versus the storming of the capitol in objection of the Presidents overturn. It has been about six months now since the attack against U.S. Congress and yet have not heard any consequences against Donald J. Trump or a thorough closure of the event. It is odd and concerning that the government has not put much attention to this matter.. maybe in the hopes that we will forget and not care. Hopefully, this is not the case and that accountability is served.

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    • Unfortunately, it’s the Republicans who are trying to block efforts at accountability. What’s really weird is that they (Senators) were the targets of the violence! I hope all get the consequences they deserve – especially Trump.

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  17. That’s crazy! Thank you for sharing. Those event organizers definitely know what they are doing. I hope we can continue to try to make change without the need of violence and get peoples voices heard.

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  18. Reading your blog made me laugh where you bought more packs of cigarettes because of the cost. That is something I would probably do because of the price not because of the product itself. I love this blog it was well written and straight to the point.

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  19. Hey Professor, thank you for sharing your experience. The difference aspect of how protesting occurred during the 70s and the recent protest gives you an point of view of how selfish those people where storming the capitol.

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  20. Hello Professor Hoggan,
    Thank you for sharing. As you said, there is a significant difference between the protest you went to and the insurrection that took place on Jan 6. I think one of the most telling differences was that in 1970, Nixon actually met with a group of similar protestors at the Lincoln Memorial. It wasn’t planned, and no one changed anyone’s minds, but at least a civil conversation took place. All I need to know is that Trump was not whisked away by the Secret Service during the protest because he had absolutely no reason to be in fear of the violence that he perpetrated. You would think that the president would be the first to be whisked away to safety during a violent insurrection, and the fact that he was not should tell everyone all they need to know about his role in it.

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  21. “No! This is a peaceful protest.” – It’s amazing how quickly a persons words can change a situation for the better OR worse, Thank goodness that the people in charge of the protest were level headed enough to stick to what the main focus was. It could have turned bad very fast! But what a thing to experience first hand!

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  22. Reading about this heinous event almost a whole year later, reminded me of waking up that morning in complete shock and anger. I can feel the passion through your words of the energy given though that peaceful protest against the Vietnam war. Comparing to the intentions that these privileged white supremacists had putting others at risks to demand a recount as if that election was “rigged”. Thank you for sharing your experience and interpreting this to make people understand that the mob that attacked on January 6th is not the same as the peaceful protest you attended against an unnecessary war.

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  23. This article was very interesting, reading it, I can see the anger you had, because I did too. The way the Trump crowd was the worst of the worst. The way a of our government officials praised those cowards when protesting say alot about our government and how anyone can be in it if they show us the way they are acting. It’s absolutely horrendous that they decided to storm it in a way of “protest” to make fun of the BLM movement.

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    • Yes, the insurrection was absolutely horrendous, and so is the cover-up that is following. I honestly don’t know what the Republican party is thinking. They have no platform except to reinstate Trump and block everything the Democrats try to do for the people.

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