Stewart Burns

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Stewart Burns

photo by Neil

War Resistance movement and the beginnings of “the Land”

(Transcribed by Court and Patsy)

The following excerpts are taken from former Struggle Mountain resident Stewart Burns's
book Social Movements of the 1960s: Searching For Democracy.


Stewart in 1993 at the service for Rip King on "the Land"

In March 1967 David Harris, Dennis Sweeney and other members of the Peace and Liberation Commune in Palo Alto, California, joined with Berkeley activists to create “the Resistance.” The next month at the Spring Mobilization rally in San Francisco, Harris announced the groups' call for a nationwide draft card "turn in” in October. Harris had recently resigned as Stanford student body president to pour his energy into anti-draft organizing. He and other commune members had already sent back their cards to the government and were prepared to go to prison.

Harris and Sweeny had worked with SNCC in Mississippi and envisioned the Resistance as a “white SNCC." It came to life as a blending of the risk taking, openness and direct democracy of SNCC, the principles of Gandhi and nonviolence, and the flourishing California counter-cultures, libertarian values, which centered on an “exploration of selfhood."

Success hinged on getting enough people to take the first big step of renouncing their deferments and facing induction. The summer and fall of 1967 Harris, Sweeney and cohorts roamed the west coast from San Diego to Seattle, searching out prospective non cooperators, telling their story to small groups or one to one and explaining why they had chosen the role of “criminal.” Sometimes they played music and smoked marijuana together. “Part of the process was creating a sense of intimacy between us which…we felt was the basis of our organization,” Harris recalled. The organizers planted a seedbed of local Resistance groups that by the end of the year had sprouted in all parts of the country and had coalesced into a loosely structured national federation linked by common action and political style. Rejecting formal leadership, stressing consensus decision-making, Resistance groups did not have officers (unlike SDS), partly because draft resisters faced a common risk of prison and thus, at least rhetorically, all were leaders or none. This concealed a benign “tyranny of structure less,” however, in which more articulate spokespersons like Harris exercised dominant leadership that was informal and sometimes unaccountable. But that organizational style had its advantages too. During this period draft resistance took hold as the moral cutting edge of the antiwar movement.

Three interrelated pursuits staked out the common ground of white radical activism and hippiedom: community, drugs and rock music. Many New Left groups considered community building (among themselves) part of their work, though a lower priority. Groups typically drew a line between working and living together. One that did not was the Peace and Liberation Commune in the small black ghetto of East Palo Alto, Calif. (comprising a dozen young men, including several Stanford drop outs and two blacks), which birthed the Resistance.” “For us, David Harris recalled, “resistance began when that community began.”

“We were into the idea that your life was your art.”

Of the whole New Left, the Resistance was probably most suffused with countercultural values and life-style and felt the strongest need for supportive community to help sustain those who faced prison. But within the Palo Alto Resistance, as elsewhere, divisions grew between those more caught up in the counterculture and “personal liberation”( faithful to the original resistance worldview) and others drifting toward hard-line Marxism-Leninism.

The Peace and Liberation Commune had an unexpected offspring. In March 1968 Harris married folksinger Joan Baez, who had founded the Institute for the Study of Nonviolence with Ira Sandperl and Roy Kepler. Just before he went to prison, Harris helped the institute get free access to a rustic 750 acre ranch in the golden, rolling Palo Alto foothills to use as a rural center for workshops and conferences. The owner was a sympathetic industrialist who had invented color videotape. As the word spread, several dozen Resistance folks and friends, many from the Los Angeles area, moved onto "the Land” without permission and raised cabins, domes, yurts , tepees, and other creative dwellings in the woods.

A few self-reliant women arrived singly and built their own homes. The institute staff was unable to remove the interlopers. Before long the back-land homesteaders (and kids), whose population peaked at nearly 200, overshadowed the handful of nonviolent activists who lived communally in the old ranch buildings by the road. The two communities became one, gardening, volleyball, and “boogying” together, until finally evicted by a new owner in the late 1970s/ bulldozers obliterated their homes

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