Washington police yesterday arrested 60 of nearly 200 antidraft demonstrators who, swaying to song and the sound of folk guitars, sought unsuccessfully to shut down the Selective Service System headquarters in Georgetown.
The protesters, ranging in age from teen-agers to senior citizens, came mostly from cities throughout the Northeast to demonstrate their support for young men facing prosecution for refusing to register for the draft.
According to the Justice Department, two men have been convicted for failing to register, and 11 more have been indicted. Failure to register is a felony that carries up to a $10,000 fine and five years in prison.
Authorities said no one was injured in the more than two-hour face-off between the protesters, representing a variety of antidraft groups organized under an umbrella group called the October 18 Resistance Campaign, and about 150 Washington and Federal Protective Service police. Some demonstrators who refused to walk to police vans were carried away on stretchers and across police night sticks.
Police set up a 50-foot-long barricade at the foot of the hill where the demonstrators, carrying signs that said "Resist Slavery, Resist the Draft" and "No Draft, No War," gathered after an early-morning march from Washington Square downtown. Starting at about 8:30, groups of the protesters attempted to cross the barricade and enter the Selective Service headquarters, where employes were arriving for work.
As the demonstrators crossed the line, they were arrested. With each arrest, cheers and rounds of applause rose from their colleagues, most dressed in jeans, sweaters and sneakers. Police estimated the crowd as about 180, while organizers said about 300 persons participated.
Inside the four-story brick building at 1023 31st St. NW, said Selective Service spokesman Joan Lamb, it was business as usual.
"We don't find any massive dissent out there in the country on this issue," said Selective Service director Thomas Turnage, describing antidraft protesters as an "infinitesimally small, hard core of people out there trying to make an issue out of this."
Grace Hedemann, a spokesman for the demonstration's organizers, said the day's event had been a success. "We brought the issue to the forefront," she said. "We raised the issue not only for the 13 men [who have been indicted or convicted] but for the 600,000 who have resisted."
The administration has estimated that 500,000 eligible young men have failed to register for the draft.
Outside, as the demonstration continued, someone would occasionally burn a draft registration card.The protest songs and chants provided a constant refrain, for some heightening the sense of nostalgia.
Jim Bristol of Camden, N.J., watched and remembered. A former Lutheran minister, Bristol said he refused to complete his draft registration forms 42 years ago. For that, he spent 18 months in prison and developed an affinity with the subsequent generations of young men who also refused.
"I'm glad there are more people who are opposing the draft," said Bristol, 70. "It's good to see that some are so deeply opposed that they are willing to put their bodies where their words are."
By 10:30 a.m., 44 men and 16 women had been arrested. D.C. police spokesman Lt. H.K. Brewton said they were charged with the misdemeanor offense of violating a police line, which carries a $50 fine.
"I don't see this as an unpatriotic act," said Stephen Zunes, of the Mount Pleasant section of Northwest Washington. "I love my country," said the 25-year-old student.