"You've got to say no to the draft if you're going to say yes to America the beautiful . . . I say yes to peace and I say no to the draft and war."
Had you closed your eyes you might have thought you were at an antiwar rally of the 1960s. But this is 1980 and there is no war, although there is a requirement that men born in 1960 and 1961 register for a potential draft by the end of this week.
Even more telling, this was no 60s-style rally of thousands in an open mall or park, but a quiet gathering of fewer than 100 persons under fluorescent lights at George Mason University.
The speaker was Jim Bristol, 68, a former Lutheran minister who went to jail for 15 months, in 1941 and 1942, for resisting the World War Ii draft.
The occasion was a Forum on Registration and Draft Resistance, sponsored last week by several groups that have joined forces in an organization called the Northern Virginia Coalition against Registration and the Draft. c
Bristol, an earnest, balding man with wisps of gray hair, was one of six speakers the coalition assembled to remind the audience of the history of draft resistance, and to encourage involvement in the antiregistration movement, especially as volunteer counselors of potential registrants.
But the movment, like the current registration drive, seemed to lack the passion and focus of previous anti-draft drives, particularly those of the Vietnam war period. Before the meeting, coalition leaders said they expected 150 to 200 people, but only about 75 showed up. All of them were white, and there were three times as many women as men. About 20 persons signed up to become draft registration counselors, according to Barbara Williams of Fairfax, a coalition leader.
Several organizers of the meeting described the antiregistration effort as, in the words of Ruth Fizpatrick, a coalition leader, "in a state of ambivalence."
Fitzgerald said that having men register in July, when there is little of the kind of support campus groups might be expected to give resisters, was a "brilliant" move by the government.
Some said they are concerned that the 19- and 20-year-olds are registering without thinking about the consequences.
"Nineteen and 20-year-olds are very impressionable," said Williams, who is working on a degree in social work at George Mason. "They'll do what they're told to do, pretty much."
"That's the insidious thing with this registration," Fitzpatrick said. "Everybody's used to signing forms and getting their names on a computer. Realizations and connections (that they might be drafted) are not being made." r
In answer to a question about whether the antiregistration movement might lose momentum once the initial registration phase ends, Bristol noted, "You don't have a draft which is taking people, and you don't have a war where people are dying.
"When and if you get those elements added to it, you're going to have a lot more movment . . . (If there were a draft) we'd be moving from the fight against registration to the fight against induction."
One speaker at the forum was David Barth, a 20-year-old who said he "probably" will register, but added that he will write on the registration form that he is a conscientious objector, "in big letters and in as many places as possible."
Barth said although he would resist being drafted, he is not totally opposed to registrartion. "By registering," he said, "I'm not committing myself to fight in a war."
Barth, who is from West Lafayette, Ind., is serving a summer internship with the Washington Peace Center. He said he expects to find little organized resistance to registration when he returns to Earlham College in Richmond, Ind. for his junior year.
"There won't be anything out there to attack directly when we get back," Barth said. "But if the draft is reinstated, then watch the campuses, because they'll go nuts."
Barth said he felt many people his age are opposed to registration but "it's just not quite as apparent, possibly because colleges and universities are not in session."
For some of the speakers, the forum was an opportunity to reminisce. Bristol, who is director of the antidraft program for the American Friends Service Committee in Philadelphia, recalled for the audience that A.J. Muste, a leading pacifist during World War II, helped Bristol to decide to go to prison to protest the draft. Muste told Bristol, "You'll give your daughter and wife faith and conviction they wouldn't have otherwise."
Bristol remembered that when he went to jail in 1941, "What people couldn't understand was that I would leave my wife and (infant) daughter. They thought my wife and I were crazy."
From the Vietnam era. Jeffrey Segal, 39, a former secretary of Students for Democratic Society who served 27 months in prison from 1968 to 1970, recalled with amusement how a judge told him he was "destroying the morale of the troops."
Segal, now a lawyer in Washington, added, "I told him I thought it was people like him who destroyed the morale of the troops -- they just wanted to go home."
Segal also recalled how potential draftees seeking deferment attempted to make themselves undesirable for induction by wearing strange costumes, losing or gaining large amounts of weight or taking drugs "to get themselves a little bent out of shape."
Barth, the 20-year-old, said after the meeting that he feels resisting registration "is now more acceptable" than it was for registers of the past. "You can say you're resisting and there's more support for it," he explained.
Reflecting on the speakers at the forum, Barth added, "Previous resisters paved the way and made it more acceptable to those of us who are resisting now."