1975 – End of Vietnam War

As the biggest global anti-war movement of 20th century (prior to that formed against war in Iraq), the Anti-Vietnam War movement included many nonviolent direct actions. One of the most dramatic was the 1971 Mayday Tribe’s campaign, when activists aimed to disrupt government business in Washington DC. It did not bring an end to the war, but it marked a wave of resistance against the war and growing public dismay at its human costs.

Many of the protests against the Vietnam War took place in the mid-1960s. Students burnt draft papers, clergy disrupted military job fairs and tens of thousands staged massive protests outside party conventions, the Pentagon and leading arms companies. Sports and cultural icons like Mohammad Ali, Joni Mitchell and Allen Ginsberg added their voices to the protest along with returning war veterans who reported on the atrocities committed by US troops.

In May 1971, the Mayday Tribe campaign decided to up the ante, mapping out a strategy for non-violently forcing the federal government in Washington DC into complete shutdown. Their slogan: “If the government won’t stop the war, we’ll stop the government”.

The Mayday Tribe compiled a 135-page guide for the action, detailing exactly how protesters would blockade 21 different key sites. Campaign leaders organized activists (the tribe) into regions, delegating individual tactical decisions to them.

On 3 May, the day of the planned protests, more than 10,000 police and soldiers flooded Washington, ordered to arrest every demonstrator. Protesters built barricades but scattered as soon as they spotted police. When police destroyed the barricades, protesters rebuilt them.

By 8am, 7,000 people had been arrested. No food, water, or toilet facilities were provided, but local residents brought supplies to those detained. Some of these residents had been harshly opposed to the Mayday Tribe’s plan, but were shocked by the denial of civil liberties at the detention centre.

The massive police reaction prevented a government shutdown, but turned the city into a state of siege. Over the next few days, protesters continued to lay blockades at locations including the Justice Department and the Capitol building. Six thousand more were arrested over the next few days, shattering the record for most arrests in a single action.

Though the Tribe disintegrated shortly afterwards, the protests showed the strength of radical opposition to the war and added to the growing tide of opinion against the war. By 1973, the US government had signed a peace accord that ended US’ combat role in Vietnam. In 1975, the unpopular Saigon regime collapsed.

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Mayday Tribe was one of the largest mass direct actions in US historyunder the slogan "If the Government won't stop the war, we'll stop the Government." Photo source: libcom.org

Last anti-Vietnam war march held April 19, 1975 in Washington, D.C. The Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) had launched what turned out to be a final offensive against the south on April 7. Photo
source: Washington Area Spark