The United States roared in upheaval during the ‘60s and ‘70s. In Chicago and on Loyola’s campus, students non-violently demanded change, even in the face of the law.
Three Loyola alumni and one then-current student raided the Selective Service office in Evanston, Illinois, at noon on April 29, 1971. The draft board office held the names of men who would likely be drafted to serve in the Vietnam War. These four Catholic anti-war activists breezed by the front desk, seized the documents and drenched them with cow blood, effectively destroying 500 draft records
And then they waited.
The police arrived to find the anti-war group, the Four of Us, praying and singing “We Shall Overcome.” The group consisted of John Baranski, Eileen Kreutz, Mary Beth Lubbers, all 23 years old and members of the class of 1970, and 21-year-old Thom Clark, a member of the 1976 class. The four activists, two of whom were former seminarians and one a former nun, were held in jail overnight and later charged with four felony counts each.
Clark returned to campus this Nov. 11 for the showing of Hit & Stay, an award-winning documentary by filmmaker Joe Tropea about the methods and ideology of the anti-war movement. After the screening, there was a panel discussion with Clark, Tropea and Loyola history professor Michelle Nickerson.
During Clark’s first year at Loyola, in 1968, a burgeoning anti-war movement led by the Catholic Left made national news. The protesters were members of the Catholic Church who valued leftwing initiatives –– programs and movements that promote social justice. That same year, violence in Vietnam peaked and more troops than ever were drafted for combat.
A year prior to the Four of Us draft board raid, universities across the country, including Loyola, erupted in strikes and protests over the killing of six non-violent, anti-war student protesters. Clark, a sophomore at the time, met Baranski, Kreutz and Lubbers while organizing the faculty and student strike at Loyola in May of 1970.
“That’s really where the four of us not only met, but worked together — in running that strike for three weeks at the end of the school year,” Clark said.
The activists protested the Vietnam War by publicly destroying draft board records and then peacefully surrendering to police. The Four of Us was one of the last groups of the movement to willfully surrender to authorities.
The main focus of the movement was not only to prevent the government from drafting men by destroying draft board records, but also to symbolically challenge the federal government and the war.
While in Maryland, the Catonsville Nine burned draft records with napalm in order to draw attention to the atrocities committed by the U.S. government, the Four of Us used blood to convey a similar message: the violence and death of the war in Vietnam.
“There is a spiritual aspect to cleansing when you use fire, but we felt the blood metaphor was far more symbolic of the point we were trying to make,” Clark said.
The Catonsville Nine, a group of nine anti-war activists that destroyed 600 draft board records from a Selective Service office in Catonsville, Maryland, in 1968, spurred the movement, inspiring the tactics and ideology of the Four of Us.
“Expending resources in Vietnam violated our preference for the poor,” Clark said. “It wasn’t just that young men were being sent over to kill in a senseless political battle, but we also weren’t using resources this rich nation has at home in a very good way … Increasingly we felt [the Vietnam War] was immoral. And our basic point was that people are more important than paper, and we will do a symbolic action of pouring blood on paper to demonstrate that these 500 young men should not go [to war].”
The Loyola activists not only took part in a larger movement that helped to end the war in Vietnam, but they also directly prevented draftees from going to war.
“Ironically, we did stop 500 draftees from going [to Vietnam] because the blood coagulated while being held by the FBI for evidence for our trial six months later, and therefore were rendered unusable,” Clark said.
According to Nickerson, the director of Loyola’s graduate history program who is currently studying Catholic left-wing activism in the anti-Vietnam War movement, the draft board raids presented Catholic radicals with an effective strategy to protest the war.
“When [activists] saw the draft board raids happening, they jumped in because it was something they could do that was actually working,” Nickerson said. “It attracted attention, it yielded results and it was a way in which they could also challenge the federal government that they believed to be deeply implicated in horrendous acts of human rights abuses in Vietnam and against their own people.”
Like many Americans, Clark said he was personally affected by the war.
“[The Vietnam War] was not only unjust, it was immoral. It was robbing us of our male youth,” he said. “I had friends who were serving who did not come back whole as people because of what they saw — what they had been through. I thought it was an archaic, medieval way to solve disputes.”
In the fall of 1970, while Clark studied at Loyola’s Rome Center, a friend who had been serving in Vietnam visited him, urging him to go home and protest the war. Meanwhile in Chicago, Clark’s three friends had already begun planning anti-war actions.
“They had begun to case out possible political actions they might take, centering on the then Selective Service office on Chicago Avenue in Evanston,” Clark said.
Clark returned home a semester early and discovered Baranski, Kreutz and Lubbers had already decided to take non-violent action against the draft board. By the end of March 1971, Clark had become fully integrated into the group and was actively working to pull off the draft board raid.
While other activist groups engaged in violent forms of protest, activists such as Clark’s group, urged a non-violent approach.
“Our particular form of action was very much a response to what other parts of the left were doing in a more violent way,” Clark said. “We just didn’t approve of that. We thought there was another way to make the point without acting as the government was.”
In fact, non-violence was fundamental not only to the strategy but also to the identity of Catholic anti-war activists.
“So much of how they defined who they were as radicals was about their refusal to take weapons or sanction any form of violence, even in the form of protection,” Nickerson said.
Clark described the strategy of non-violent protest, or civil disobedience, and its consequences.
“The essence of traditional civil disobedience is that, like Gandhi and [Martin Luther] King [Jr.], you point out the injustice, you put your body on the line and you take the consequences,” he said. “You don’t try to get out of going to jail; you don’t try to skip court. In our case, we had a very specific agenda, or strategy, of doing things during the action that we could then use as evidence in our trial to put the war on trial.”
The U.S. roared in upheaval during the 1960s and 1970s. In Chicago and on campus, Loyola students non-violently demanded change, even in the face of the law.