Anti-war Dissent at Trinity, 1969-73
Steve Barkan ’73
The Class of 1973 entered Trinity in September 1969, smack in the middle of a tumultuous era of protest and dissent. The Vietnam anti-war movement was in full throttle, the civil rights and Black Power movements were still very active, the contemporary women’s movement was burgeoning, and the environmental and gay rights movements, among others, were just beginning.
Although Class of 1973 members and other Trinity students were active in all of these movements, it’s fair to say that the most visible movement during our four years at Trinity was the anti-war movement. Trinity had a very active draft counseling group, Trinity Draft Counselors, under the guidance of the late and great English professor Stephen Minot and that I helped lead, and several Trinity students were involved in other ways in the anti-war movement. Hartford was regularly the scene of “die ins,” leafleting, and other protests against the war that Trinity students either helped organize or at least took part in. A small group of people, including this writer and one other Trinity student, were arrested in May 1972 for blocking the doors of Hartford’s federal building in an anti-war protest. Their trial the following summer in a New Haven federal court ended in a deadlocked jury for four of these defendants, all of whom readily admitted blocking the doors, as at least one juror evidently thought the defendants should not be punished for protesting the war. The prosecutor in this trial decided not to retry the defendants, as he felt that a conviction would be too difficult to achieve.
For the Class of 1973 and other students during this period, the highlight of anti-war activity on campus was undoubtedly the campus strike that occurred in May 1970 after National Guard troops killed four students at Kent State University in Ohio. Trinity and campuses across the country went on strike by boycotting or canceling classes for several days. In place of or in addition to classes, Trinity students, faculty, and staff organized and presented many workshops on the war, imperialism, racism, poverty, and other topics. The strike week at Trinity was entirely peaceful, and I think I remember that President Theodore Lockwood congratulated the College community for its activities in the aftermath of the Kent State deaths.
Related to Trinity’s anti-war activism was the fervid support and work of many students for Senator George McGovern’s presidential campaign in 1971 and 1972. Trinity students knocked on doors in the New Hampshire cold during the primary and then worked in many ways for McGovern’s election after he won the nomination. Although McGovern lost in a landslide, I’m sure that any student who worked for him or at least voted for him remains proud to have done so.
A few years after graduating Trinity, I filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain any materials that the Federal Bureau of Investigation might have compiled about me. My FBI file included materials on my anti-war arrest, which did not surprise me, but it also included reports from someone who told the FBI about my attendance at several of the Kent State strike workshops and at a meeting or two of Trinity people organizing the workshops. I will never know who this person was, but because the organizers’ meetings included only a fairly small number of students, faculty, and staff, it is clear that someone at these meetings whom we all trusted was in fact an FBI informant.
On a lighter note, I was amused to see that my FBI file contained the masthead from a Hartford underground newspaper named the Wild Raspberry that listed me as the newspaper’s draft advice columnist. The masthead also listed its editor as Perry White. I would like to think that the FBI spent a lot of time, money, and energy trying to find out who Perry White was and where he lived because this masthead listing was in fact a joke. For the unitiated, Perry White is the editor of the Daily Planet of Superman comic fame!
I am speaking only for myself here, but I believe that Trinity provided a rather supportive environment from 1969-73 for those of us who were active against the Vietnam War. We had the general support, if not all the time, of a good number of faculty from what I could tell and of President Lockwood and other members of the College administration. I heard then and since that many Trinity faculty and officials were much less supportive regarding the needs of women on campus, so my assessment of support is not necessarily meant to apply beyond the anti-war effort. And I think I remember hearing that Trinity officials and faculty were less supportive of anti-war efforts before our class arrived on campus. But for the four years I was on campus, I remain grateful for the nurturing environment I found as someone who became quite active in the movement to end an unjust and horrible war.