Member of “Baltimore Four” reviews “Hit & Stay” on 45th anniversary of Catonsville Nine action
David Eberhardt, 72, was a member of the Baltimore Four, who poured blood on draft files in Baltimore to protest the Vietnam War in 1967. For that he spent 21 months in federal prison, mainly at Lewisburg, Pa. He is a poet with three books of poetry. He is retired from 33 years of social work (directing Offender Aid and Restoration) at the Baltimore City Jail. For more information visit davideberhardt.webs.com
Reflections on Hit & Stay
By Dave Eberhardt
The documentary movie, Hit & Stay, directed by Joe Tropea and Skizz Cyzyk, played at the Maryland Film Festival last week.
Six years in the making, the 100-minute documentary is about anti-draft board actions–spanning 1967 to 1973– to protest the Vietnam War. The film begins with the Baltimore Four (of which I was part) and progresses through the Catonsville Nine, Milwaukee 14, Chicago Eight actions and many other actions (there were approximately 120 in all).
The movie describes how these actions were organized and progressed from the first–where four of us poured blood on draft files in 1967 in Baltimore and waited to be arrested (hence “hit and stay”)– to what is perhaps best known action, the Catonsville Nine, where, 45 years ago today, nine individuals burned draft files with homemade napalm. Despite the title, the film also addresses actions where persons would not wait to be arrested (“stay”) but would instead disappear (“run”).
Participants appear in the film speaking frankly and often humorously about their roles in the plots and schemes to break into and pile up and destroy a myriad of draft files. The actions are always creative but, in some instances are ruined by informants or the FBI. Humor abounds, for example, as she “cases” a draft board building, Ms. Dougherty spends the night watching the progression of lights on and off in the wrong building. Tom Melville gets great laughter as he describes seminary and the priesthood as perfect training grounds for prison. Weatherperson Bill Ayers says he finds religion a “bummer,” but praises the many clergy involved in the draft actions. Jim Forest muses over the drill sergeant side of Phil Berrigan’s personality.
As the actions progressed, they became more and more secular and youthful. Jerry Elmer states that Phil Berrigan was suspicious of him at first because of his age.
Though it consists largely of talking heads and interviews, the film creates a gripping narrative arc, thanks to Tropea and Cyzyk. The participants seem to provide glue to hold the the narrative together and interspersed is commentary by such luminaries as historian Howard Zinn and scholar Noam Chomsky.
The “other side” of the picture, that is those opposed to these actions, is well represented by a prosecutor, a judge, retired FBI agents, draft clerks, and church goers.
As Daniel Berrigan leaves a church having given the morning sermon after he decided to go “underground” instead of reporting to jail, a member of the congregation comments, “Oh that’s what it’s about? He’s supposed to be in jail with his bother?” And another says, “Well, he’s entitled to his beliefs but I don’t share them.” Another says, “I think destroying draft cards is un-American”.
Given the youth of the directors, I fully expected an amateurish work and was pleasantly surprised by the over all professionalism–thus leading to hopes of some wide distribution or play on PBS or another more established venues (the hard part).
All of us participants learned a great deal about the other actions previously known only in fragmentary fashion. To have big appreciative audiences as well as friends present to watch the movie was very moving.
Sadly, a number of crucial actors, such as Tom Lewis, John Grady, Phil Berrigan, and others have passed on. Dan Berrigan’s 92 birthday fell on May 11, the date of the second showing of Hit and Stay.
To me, Jim Harney of the Milwaukee 14 and the “weather person” Laura Whitehorn give the most moving summaries and analyses of what we were trying to accomplish, what we meant and “were about,” and what needs to be done. Because of such statements as theirs, the message is a plain and clear one, making the movie as relevant now as it will be in the future of war-making America.
For the most part, the trails of these groups were railroad jobs–as they continue to be today in the case of the Plowshares group. Plowshares actions took off as the draft-board actions stopped, specifically targeting nuclear war. The same week Hit and Stay premiered, three members of the Transform Now Plowshares group were found guilty of sabotage for “interfering with or obstructing the national defense” and “depredation of government property” (we of the Baltimore Four got the same charge in 1967) at the Oak Ridge nuclear facility, where they had poured the actual blood of Baltimore Four and Plowshares member Tom Lewis, which had been preserved since his death, on the walls of a building containing enough enriched uranium to end life on the planet. They had hiked a mile to get there, going through four fences, the last three in “Kill Zones” where they could well have been shot. The three Tranform Now Plowshares activists, one 82 year old nun, Megan Rice, were treated as terrorists.
At the “Transform Now” courtroom in Knoxville, the jury and judge were as leaden and dead as their counterparts were in the trials portrayed in Hit & Stay; but hopefully this movie will reach out to “middle America” and not just those of us who are a minority of exiles in our own country.