When David Harris, Dennis Sweeney, Steve Hamilton and Lenny Heller met in April 1967 to organize a massive draft card turn-in, they audaciously named themselves “The Resistance”. Citing their opposition to the immoral war in Viet Nam and the draft, which enabled the war, they pledged to refuse to cooperate with the draft in any manner and to take back personal power over their lives. The problem with the draft, they said, was that not only did it enable the war, it discriminated against poor people and people of color because they could not get deferments as could middle-class kids.
Not only did they refuse to cooperate but they organized against the draft and the war, enlisting others to join them even though they risked a $10,000 fine and a maximum of five years in federal prison. When they travelled around the country to college campuses speaking dozens of Resistance groups sprang up. They organized We Won’t Go conferences, draft card burnings, non-registration support groups and protests in support of individual resisters going to trial. Their first mass protest and draft card turn-in was October 16, 1967. Eventually 500,000 men refused the draft by either resistance or evasion, but only 8,000 went to trial and 3,250 were eventually convicted and served jail time, generally around two years in minimum security camps.
Their promotion of nonviolent direct action to the extent of being willing to go to prison made draft resisters a moral compass for the rest of the anti-war movement, which was largely non-violent. Resisters’ willingness to go to prison for their beliefs had a powerful effect on their families and the public, persuading more people to take the war seriously, to resist and protest it. The Resistance brought the war home.
The success of the Resistance in ending the draft and contributing to ending the war are evidence of the success of nonviolent direct action. Their experience and that of the Civil Rights Movement are examples for the future of how nonviolence can be used strategically to promote social justice.