During the second half of the 1960s and early 1970s resistance to the American War in Vietnam took a myriad of forms, driven by the horror of the war. Thousands of draft age men immigrated to Canada, Sweden and other countries. Many soldiers in Vietnam refused to follow orders and others organized against the war inside the military, risking court martial and prison. Conscientious objectors to the draft performed alternative service. Millions marched against the war.
The Boys Who Said NO! is a documentary film about an organization of young men and women who refused to cooperate with conscription in order to end the draft and the war. They called themselves the Resistance. Their personal acts of nonviolent civil disobedience eventually helped end the draft and intensified opposition to the war.
While an estimated 500,000 young men resisted, evaded or just refused to cooperate with the draft, 3,250 went to prison for their beliefs, the largest mass incarceration of war resisters in US history. They were willing to serve long prison sentences on the basis of their nonviolent principles.
The central characters of our film include David Harris, cofounder of The Resistance, and his wife during his incarceration, legendary folksinger Joan Baez. This film chronicles a unique moment in California history and the communities resisters built in the cities and rural communes of the Bay Area. At the same time the Bay Area was becoming a center of technology, it was also developing as a center for conscience. Resisters created a colorful brew of California ’60’s counter-culture and courageous nonviolent resistance to war.
As part of understanding the Vietnam War and the modern draft, the film reviews the controversial history of conscription and opposition to previous drafts, debates the legitimacy and morality of the war in Vietnam and examines the role of personal conscience during wartime. We explore the influence of Gandhian nonviolence and civil disobedience on The Resistance, as well as the example of the corresponding Civil Rights Movement. We make this connection clear with the inclusion of film of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. visiting and supporting Joan Baez and those jailed for blocking the Oakland Draft Board in 1967.
The film explores the Selective Service System, the labyrinthine justice system, and the prosecution and trials of war resisters. Documentary film captures the anti-war demonstrations and marches, anti-draft meetings, and resisters including David Harris speaking about the draft resistance movement. Smuggled film shows resisters during their time in prison.
The Boys Who Said NO! is an overdue account of the principled nonviolent opposition to our most problematic war. These young men risked everything to challenge the necessity of war and killing as national policy, and their leadership and personal sacrifices had a direct effect on that policy.
THE FILM’S TITLE
The documentary takes its tongue-in-cheek name from a humorous poster that was popular in the late 60s and early 1970s. It had a photo of the three Baez sisters sitting on a couch with a caption that read “Girls say yes to boys who say no.” We recognize that the title to some may not seem politically correct in a strict feminist sense, but we believe our audience will understand.