|Social and political comments|
Early history of the California Peace & Freedom Party (1968)
Back to Social and political comments page
Feb. 10, 2008
I don’t remember writing this early history of the Peace and Freedom Party, but I apparently wrote it in early (Jan./Feb.) 1968. I do remember the Party. It was a heady time, as they say, and I think it was some surprise that we managed to get the party on the ballot. It still exists (http://www.peaceandfreedom.org/). It appears to have remained on the California ballot until 1998 after which a new signature drive began, though I don’t know the result.
In the interest of a textual integrity only I probably care about, and to retain whatever authenticity the original text may represent for the time I wrote it, I have edited it ONLY to make sure it matches the original draft that I found among many other old papers that my son had been storing for me for a number of years. Since the manuscript is a carbon copy on yellow copy paper with corrections often overtyped or covered with x’s (those were the cave days before word processing), the OCR result had many mistakes. I hope I have corrected them all. (If you spot what you think are typos or other errors, please post them on my blog or e-mail me.) I have not, however, corrected the style (including for mistakes like hyphen usage) or content (which I would now make more circumspect in key places), much as I would love to have done so—though the text is not bad considering that I apparently wrote it very quickly and with fervor. I note that I wrote this shortly before the rise of a new feminist consciousness that would soon stop me from following the then-traditional practice of making male all people of unspecified sex (e.g., “...give a reader the feeling he knows more than...”).
Something is missing at the end—probably just a few concluding lines on a separate page. (Is it apt that the history trails off as it is rising to a fevered rhetorical pitch?)
As I read and corrected the text, it felt as if “we” did not necessarily embrace my own views (which surely often matched others’) but rather what was running through the minds of various “party” activists, of whom I was only one. I must confess feeling pleased that it is sometimes hard to tell now where I stood—that my 25- or 26-year-old self would have made such an effort towards "objectivity" on topics of so much importance to me then. I can see that the relatively neutral reporting of the relationship between the PFP and the Black Panthers must have been quite a volatile topic at the time.
no idea who “Mike,” mentioned in the first paragraph, was. Clearly, this was a draft for party use in the
near future. I also have no idea what “Mike”
or the PFP did with it. I wouldn't be
surprised if it was a bit too frank at times for militants concerned about PR,
but perhaps that statement merely reflects a cynicism that has grown over the years.
THE REAL AND ACTUAL SLIGHTLY EXPURGATED HISTORY OF THE PFP
Mike (or anyone else): I estimate this will cover 5-6 8-1/2x11 pages, possibly only 4 pages of 8-1/2x14. Please, of course, correct any facts I have wrong. I may have left out events that are worth discussing; I tried to include the key events of the campaign of which I’m aware. I also included some paragraphs which are not critical to the history (such as a description of some of the problems the bus ran into), but which, I think, probably help to make the “history” less dull than it might be, and give a reader the feeling he knows more than merely the well-publicized facts about the party. I have also tried to deal with some of the complications we ran into in ideology, in order to avoid giving this the nature of a party-line or personal-opinion history. I would hope we can start dealing with some of the basic sources of disagreement in the party, and to a limited extent, I tried to show how these came up during the campaign.
This whole thing, of course, in style and content, is limited by my having had one afternoon in which to write it…
The CNP decided to try the second method. The reasoning was that it would not require people to change their party, which many sympathizers might hesitate to do, and in general, that it would be easier to raise the 10% than the 1%. Objections to this idea were that the 10% was, in fact, more difficult, and that the idea of an independent third party would be compromised by allowing people to remain within the Democratic Party.
Those in favor of the petition method also felt that the black community wanted to work for change within the Democratic Party, and in particular would be running a black candidate against Jeffrey Cohelan for the Democratic nomination for Congress in the 7th Congressional District. Furthermore, some people in.the CNP themselves approved of the idea of working within the Democratic Party, arguing that a PFP.would be a pressure device to get the Democrats to nominate a mass-acceptable peace candidate as an alternative to LBJ
The generally accepted third party ticket was Martian Luther King for President, Benjamin Spock for vice-president. The petition campaign was tried during the summer, but met with little success. When the Detroit ghetto uprisings broke out, many people were disillusioned with Rev. King’s announcement approving the sending of national guardsmen and federal paratroopers into the ghetto.
The CNP organizers of the campaign began thinking about a registration drive to replace the petition approach. In September, the National CNP convention was held in Chicago, and many California representatives brought up the idea of forming an independent radical third party that could function nation-wide.
The idea met with much opposition. There was general agreement that the CNP’s main task should be community organizing, and many people were unconvinced that an electoral campaign would be an effective organizing device. Others simply believed in working in the Democratic Party, some for ideological reasons, some because they themselves had worked with the Democrats and had, or hoped to have, personal power within that party.
The convention decided to let each State make its own decision whether to try the third party approach.
During the convention, one of many complications was the demand of the black delegates to be given 50% of the vote, and for the convention to adopt without amendment or restriction a series of resolutions passed a few weeks earlier at a black power conference in Newark. Some of these resolutions were secret; one was especially controversial, condemning Israel for imperialist aggression in the Middle East. The Chicago convention accepted these demands of the black caucus by a 4-1 vote, feeling unity with blacks was the all-important factor.
The same approach was tried by a black caucus a few weeks later at the California CNP convention in San Luis Obispo. This time the effort failed, partly because many delegates were disturbed by the way the Chicago convention had seemingly emasculated itself in an effort to insure black participation.
Out of the California CNP convention came the decision to launch a drive to collect the 66,000+ registrations needed to qualify the PFP for the ballot. ‘The registration deadline was January 2; no one was sure sufficient interest could be generated so far before the general election. But California was the first state that would reach a deadline for ballot qualification, and people knew there was strong enough sentiment in the State that a registration campaign could very well accelerate and reach its goal. With California’s particularly strategic political force in the country, people felt it was especially important that we should qualify a PFP for the ballot if anyone else were going to do it in another state. The campaign was approved.
The drive had its greatest focus In Los Angeles, San Francisco and Alameda County. Offices were opened, leaflets and posters printed. People began to become deputy voter registrars and to sit at tables on campuses and at supermarkets to register primary voters . The issues on which we campaigned were limited: immediate withdrawal from Vietnam and support for black liberation and self-determination. This had the benefit of leaving specific party policies and candidates open for the membership to determine once we made the ballot, allowing a wide divergence of views among potential registrants. On the other hand, people frequently asked, “Well, what do you stand for?” or “Who is your candidate?” and were dissatisfied at not having a lengthy list of concrete positions and names.
The PFP was to be a separate entity from the CNP, although in Alameda County we functioned as an independent committee of the County CNP, using their office. We were not bound, however, by any of the decisions made at the now infamous Chicago convention.
The Alameda County CNP did insist that we not actively register in the black community. We could welcome black registration and participation where offered, but, the CNP argued, we would only antagonize black “leaders” who continued to believe in working through the Democrats, and who planned to challenge Cohelan. Many of us were unhappy with this, feeling that part of our approach should be to break completely with the existing two-party structure, that if we agreed on trying to work within it, we ware sanctioning the system, saying that major changes in basic American foreign and domestic policy could come through the established system.
Nevertheless, we went along with the policy, partly because as an almost entirely white group we were hesitant about our right to organize blacks. The registration drive began slowly. Proposition P in San Francisco, demanding immediate withdrawal from Vietnam, drew many of our potential workers until the November election was over. By that time, SF had still managed to collect 1000 registrations, although it was only afterwards, during the two months left in the drive, that volunteers began to flock into the SF office. SF, on the other hand, had the advantage that the County registrar (in a move he may later have regretted) allowed the P&F office to train its own deputy registrars, whereas in other counties, we were required to schedule registrar classes in advance at the County Court House.
In Los Angeles, it was only about mid-November that the acceleration came which eventually gave L.A over a third of the state-wide registrations. Alameda County was probably the best organized at the start because we had the functioning CNP to start from. Besides setting up tables on the Berkeley campus and at supermarkets and special events, we fitted a car with sound equipment and sent it through a several block area each evening, announcing that leafleters and registrars ware going house-to-house in the neighborhood to register people for the PFP.
To our surprise, we did well in places like San Diego and Orange County, though the latter declined as the campaign went on. Marin and San Mateo Counties began to build effective registration drives, and Santa Clara County, of whom many people hadn’t even heard, turned out to km be the fifth strongest registration area, after L.A., Alameda, SF and San Diego.
Many things hampered us. We were told that registrars must remain neutral, and could not ask people to register P&F nor volunteer information about the PFP. For awhile, the Alameda County registrar was threatening not to train any more deputy registrars. (We got around that by pointing out that the Republicans and Democrats were allowed 1000 registrars each in the county.) Some radical groups withheld support, waiting to see what our chances were for making the ballot, or arguing that the best electoral method was to support Eugene McCarthy, who announced his candidacy shortly after our registration drive began to accelerate.
In early December, our lawyers told us that nothing in State election law required deputy registrars to remain neutral, so long as they registered a person as he wished. This was a major turning point for us. It had become obvious that many people were registering Democratic, or declining to state any party, simply because they were unaware of the existence of the PFP, or unclear about its nature.
We found now that our rate of registrations increased tremendously as we were able to walk up to someone and ask him if he wanted to register P&F. O ften the person had been meaning to, but had put it off, and might not have gotten to it before the registration drive was over. We were now able to inform people about the PFP and then register them. We could also ask registrants to help on the campaign, which added many people to our working force.
The McCarthy campaign required an important policy decision. Few of us actually wanted to support him, but we had to deal with potential registrants who wanted both to get P&F on the ballot and also vote for McCarthy in the Democratic primary. Some of us were against any kind of implicit approval of the McCarthy campaign, arguing that to give it would be little different from those who actually wanted to support McCarthy. Part of our function was educational, it was argued, and we should be educating people to what was wrong with McCarthy, not giving the idea we accepted his campaign.
More people felt, however, that it was legitimate to tell people that while we would much prefer they stayed with the PFP after registering, they were allowed under State law to register P&F now, and after we had qualified for the ballot, which would be January 21, they could change their registration back to the Democrats, since the deadline for the June primary was not until April. Proponents of this tactic argued that we had no time for a major educational campaign, though we could (and did) put out a leaflet documenting our opposition to McCarthy. Registrars, at any rate, were required by law to explain registration deadlines if asked. It was also felt that we should not shut out people who agreed with our specific policies on peace and freedom but were unconvinced that ours was the best tactic for achieving our ends.
Meanwhile, we were developing registration and publicity devices. In Alameda County we acquired an old school bus and painted it orange (so that it became known as the “Orange Peril”) and mounted a stage and sound equipment on the roof. An agit-prop group formed—the Peace and Freedom Players— composed largely of people connected with the SF Mime Troupe, who wrote and performed political satire skits. We sent the bus on a month’s tour of college campuses around the state, with the Players, the Santana Blues Band (a rook group) and two speakers.
The bus met its troubles. On the evening it left Berkeley for its first stop on the tour, Fresno, the motor broke down before it reached Tracy. In San Diego, the Players were ordered off a college campus, but stayed when the several hundred students watching demanded the Players stay and perform. In LA, a citizen’s arrest was made when the Players mocked a high school ROTC exercise. In SF, where we had established with the police chief’s office our right to use sound equipment, a sergeant stopped the bus and warned he would arrest everyone on it if he heard us using the loudspeaker again. He added that he didn’t care what the police chief’s office had said about it.
Until the end of the registration drive, we found a nearly-total news blackout of our activities (whereas the Wallace campaign, for example, was getting good coverage). Press releases and conferences were often ignored by most newspapers and TV stations. About mid-December, one of our publicity people wrote a press release accusing the news media of deliberately ignoring us. Whether it was that, or whether it was because the registration drive was in its last two weeks, we suddenly found ourselves getting good press coverage.
What was thought to be a key breakthrough in the Bay Area also came in mid-December—our alliance with the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. The idea was first raised in SF, and because a lot of controversy rose around it, a little background on the Panthers is worthwhile.
The Black Panthers were begun by Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, both of whom had some college education [degrees?]. After checking relevant laws, they bought a second hand car and some guns. They began to patrol police cars. When a cop stopped a black man, Seale and Newton would park their car, get out, and stand the regulation 12 feet from where an arrest was being made. If they saw the cop violating the law in any way, they would inform their black brother of his Constitutional rights and warn the policeman he was violating, the law.
To gain publicity, the Panthers walked into the Sacramento legislature carrying guns; they were arrested, and Bobby Seale received a 6 month sentence. In Oakland, where Panther activity focused, the police frequently tried to harass them, but the Panthers were able for the most part to be sure they were staying within the law. They made it clear to the cops that they were prepared to defend themselves against police brutality, including using guns.
The Panthers began to expand, many new recruits coming from people whom Seale and Newton had helped in their patrols. They adopted a program of necessary reforms in the black community, all of which radicals, if not liberals, would find reasonable, including demands for employment opportunities and improved housing conditions. Many people might disagree with the Panthers’ tactics, but the reality was that they were meeting the cops on their own grounds, increasing black militancy and decreasing police harassment in the ghetto.
Then Huey Newton was accused of murdering a patrolman in a gun battle at three in the morning. Newton himself was injured, as was another cop. Newton was driven by a companion to Kaiser hospital, where he was arrested; his companion disappeared, and the police were apparently unsuccessful in trying to find him. (Because of this, Newton has also been charged with kidnapping the unknown companion.) No except those directly involved with the incident knows exactly what happened. The press was quick to convict Huey; the Oakland Tribune had a front page eulogy to the “martyred,” dead cop.
The Panthers felt this was a political issue. They argued that the odds were that Huey—assuming he shot the policeman—acted in self-defense, since it was well-known the cops were out to get him. In addition, the dead cop was known to be one of the more brutal on the Oakland police force. The Panthers went further: they argued that whatever had happened, Huey should be freed because, if nothing else, he was expressing the demand of black people to be free, fighting on its own terms the racist society that had brutalized and murdered his people for 350 years, and was still doing it.
The Panthers needed and wanted support. They asked the PFP only to demand that Huey be given a fair trial, asking us to bring pressure and publicity within the white community. The PFP had been given $20,000 for expenses of the closing registration drive, such as paying people to work for us instead of getting a job when they needed money (though our “wages” were low) or providing baby sitting for our workers. We felt it would be a legitimate use of this money to have the Panthers help us. They would normally have spent those last two weeks of December to raise money for Huey, so we offered to pay them $1000, an estimate of what they would make on their own, if they helped us organize and register in the black community.
In Alameda County, we held a meeting with about 100 or 150 registration workers and debated whether to go through with the deal. Some people objected that we were “buying” the Panthers, or that we were committing ourselves to Panther policies. Most disagreed. We could not buy the Panthers, it was argued. If they were going to work for us, the money might be a factor, but it would also be because the Panthers had a legitimate political reason for cooperating. They, too, for example, were committed to immediate withdrawal from Vietnam. We were not asking them to embrace all we said, and we certainly did not need to approve all their positions. We were making an alliance only on the issue that Huey Newton should be given a fair trial.
The alliance was formed. As it turned out, we had many more registrations than any of us realized, and we might have been able to make the ballot without the alliance; no one can be sure. We gained many registrations this way; we also lost people who had heard of the alliance and were convinced we were now supporting armed ghetto revolution.
During December, we also tried some court tests of the election laws. One law required only 1/15 of 1% of the vote in an election to maintain a party on the ballot once it had qualified. We argued this was unequal application of the law, and that to make the ballot should be no harder than to be dropped from the ballot. We also brought into question the registration law, arguing it* should be January 21 rather than January 2. This appeal was baaed on two apparently conflicting sections of the election code. The State Supreme Court denied both claims.
Over the Christmas holidays, we had our final registration push. In the last week of the campaign alone, we may have registered nearly half our final total. We had the bus and sound trucks touring neighborhoods. We had 1000 registrars throughout the state, many of them working 40 hours and more per week, covering every special event, walking the streets and stopping people, going house-to-house, setting up tables in busy shopping and entertainment areas. We had someone arrested in SF for blocking the sidewalk because he had a registration table set up; as a result, the SF P&F office complained to the Justice Department, and the FBI began an investigation of the SF police department under the provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that makes it a felony to interfere with a registrar in the course of his duty. During the Sproul Hall mill-ins on the Berkeley campus** we collected close to a thousand signatures, stationing one registrar at the selective service information window. Events were sponsored which allowed people who registered P&F, or brought a friend to register, to get in free. The SF office held a series of all night registration sessions at their office, and had rock bands playing throughout the night.
At midnight, January 2, we estimated that we had collected 87,500 signatures; three weeks later, the official count revealed our estimate to be almost 20,000 too low. Alameda County and SF each collected 20,000. LA had 37,000. San Diego had 7100, Santaa Clara 4200, Marin 2900, San Mateo 2500, Contra Costa 2400, Orange County 1500, Sonoma 1200, Santa Cruz and Sacramento 1000. The overall total was 105,100.
We soon discovered that our troubles had just begun. We were faced with the reality of having an official third party, when two weeks ago few of us had believed we could make the ballot. We had to begin constructing a concrete set of policies, and to create a framework allowing maximum democratic control in the party. The election laws, we were discovering, were highly restrictive towards new parties’ getting candidates on the ballot.
We began to make provisions to set up small area groups where all could come who wanted to participate. We decided to let anyone take part who was ineligible to vote because of age, citizenship, residency or felony convictions, and who would register P&P if he could. The lawyers prepared court tests of the election laws affecting our running candidates.
In the meantime, in Alameda County we held weekly meetings of people who had been active during the registration drive, constituting ourselves as a temporary decision-making body until we had processed all registrations and sent out a countywide mailing inviting people to area meetings. A temporary steering committee was elected for the County and for the. State. Several state-wide meetings have been held, planning the State convention-in mid-March and making necessary state-wide policy decisions. Decisions made by the interim committee would be reviewed by area chapters, and rejected if the area groups wanted. Most likely, few interim decisions will cause controversy. The most controversial will probably be the decision to switch our position from demanding a fair trial for Huey Newton to demanding his release.
We have only begun. Filing deadlines for various offices are scattered over the weeks until the beginning of April. The State convention will choose nominees for President and Senator. Congressional, state and local offices will be handled by the area groups in those electoral areas. In Alameda County, our most promising electoral contests are in the 7th congressional district, where Cohelan is now Representative and where we have 13,000 registrations, and the 16th and 17th State Assembly districts, currently represented by Don Mulford and John J. Miller.
We also have many longer range goals, and one of our tasks is to decide whit they should be. We must not merely look to this November*e election as our final goal. But we have begun, and we have defied all political tradition—including
*2008 note: presumably the registration deadline.
**The linked article is: