Mayday: May 2, 1971
When 50,000 people arrived in Washington, D.C. for Mayday Tribe protests on Saturday, May 1, 1971, the U.S. Justice Department ordered D.C. officials to disperse the crowd and break up a permitted encampment at West Potomac Park.

Demonstrations organized by the Mayday Tribe were planned for Monday, May 3. The group planned to use non-violent civil disobedience to shut down the U.S. government by blocking intersections and bridges

Police swept the park early Sunday morning leaving demonstrators with no place to stay or sleep prior to planned protests scheduled for Monday morning.

Military forces were also boosted, including elements of the 82nd Airborne Division. A total of over 18,000 police and troops were called upon to combat the protests planned for Monday, May 3.

President Nixon feared the international consequences of the nation’s capital being paralyzed by antiwar protestors.

Following six years of opposition to the Vietnam War, including mass demonstrations, campus strikes and civil disobedience, a section of the antiwar movement decided to take a symbolic action of attempting to shut down the government through by non-violent blockading of traffic at key bridges and intersections in Washington, D.C.

The Mayday Tribe was a loose-knit group composed of individuals, collectives and affinity groups across the country.

A mass demonstration drawing over 200,000 against the war took place April 24. A weeklong set of protests in the city by Vietnam Veterans Against the War, the People’s Coalition for Peace & Justice and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference resulted in over 1,200 arrests.

Protestors secured a permit for a gathering at West Potomac Park that included a rock concert featuring the Beach Boys, among others, on May 1. Sleeping was prohibited under the permit, although the protestors could occupy the space continuously.

Many of the more than 50,000 people set up tents awaiting Monday’s civil disobedience. Most relaxed, listening to music, resting or smoking marijuana.

Authorities throughout the area were shocked at the number of people who showed up on Saturday. U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell’s office requested the permit be revoked. President Nixon ordered U.S. troops mobilized as back up to local police.

While local police cleared the camp in the early morning hours Sunday, May 2, thousands of protestors still showed up to block traffic Monday, May 3.

In the face of the massive presence of police and Army troops, including the 82nd Airborne, the protestors adapted their tactics and staged “hit and run” efforts to block intersections. Frustrated by the slow progress in clearing demonstrators, police suspended civil liberties sometime around 5:30 a.m. and locked up anyone who vaguely resembled a protestor.

Demonstrators and bystanders were taken to makeshift detention facilities at a practice field for the NFL Washington football team, a recreation yard at the D.C. jail and the old Uline Arena. On the unusually cold day, those arrested were housed for hours without running water, bathroom facilities, adequate shelter or food.

On May 4th and 5th, police employed mass arrests outside the Justice Department and at the U.S. Capitol.

In all, more than 12,000 people were arrested in the largest mass arrest in U.S. history. The total surpassed the previous record of over 7,000 arrested during the disturbances in Washington, D.C. after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Charges were later dropped against nearly everyone involved and thousands later received compensation from the government for their arrest.

U.S. troops continued to be withdrawn from Vietnam and nearly all the U.S. combat forces were removed following the Paris Peace Treaty in 1973. Armed forces of the Democratic Republic of [North] Vietnam and the National Liberation Front defeated the Republic of [South] Vietnam in 1975 leading to unification of the country.

In the end, the Mayday protests disrupted but did not stop government operations. However, the protest and countless other actions against the Indochina Wars helped to change Americans views toward U.S. military intervention against national liberation movements. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be long before the U.S. would embark on new misadventures.
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