A History of Resist

  This history was written by Rebecca Skarbeck, student assistant in the Watkinson Library during the summer of 1998 and processor of the Resist archive.

Resist, Inc., an activist foundation located in the greater Boston area, was founded in 1967 by a group of American intellectuals at the height of the Vietnam War, a period of great political and social unrest. During this time, opposition to the war was widespread among Americans, and anti-war, anti-draft groups, pacificist or otherwise, had begun to appear across the country. Resist was a product of this movement.

Several years before the onset of American involvement in Indochina, French intellectuals had organized what would become a model for the resistance movement in the United States. Intellectuals such as Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre, among others, opposed their government’s fight to suppress the Algerian struggle for independence begun in 1954. The war, through which Algeria eventually managed to gain independence from France, was long and brutal: over 100,000 Muslims and 10,000 French soldiers eventually lost their lives and to many in France it seemed to undermine the very values for which French civilization claimed to stand. They therefore urged young Frenchmen to refuse to serve in the war. Their model was followed by groups such as Resist in the United States, which organized "adult" supporters to urge young draft-age men to refuse military service in the Vietnam war. (Lauter interview, 7/22/98.)

Adopting some of the ideas of French resistance groups, Resist issued a statement, on September 28, 1967, entitled "A Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority." The Call committed Resist to becoming an organization dedicated to the belief "that every free man has a legal right and moral duty to exert every effort to end this war, to avoid collusion with it, and to encourage others to do the same." ("Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority," 1967.) The statement called "upon all men of good will to join us in this confrontation with immoral authority." "Especially," it said, "we call upon universities to fulfill their mission of enlightenment and religious organizations to honor their heritage of brotherhood" ("Call,"1967; see Box 6/1 for full text of "Call.") Signers of the Call therefore pledged themselves to "raise funds to organize draft resistance unions, to supply legal defense and bail, to support families and otherwise to aid resistance to the war in whatever ways may seem appropriate." ("Call to Resist," 1967.) These were the foundations upon which Resist was built at its inception in 1967.

The "Call" appeared in several publications including the New York Times Book Review and The New Republic. It was signed by the group of founders and many prominent scholars and influential people. The approximately 200 initial signers included Noam Chomsky, Benjamin Spock, the Rev. William Sloane Coffin Jr., Dwight MacDonald, Allen Ginsberg, the Rev. Robert MacAfee Brown, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, W. H. Ferry, Mitchell Goodman, Barbara Guest, and Markus Raskin, among others.

On October 2, 1967, Resistheld its first meeting at Columbia University in New York, to delineate Resist priorities, to decide how to implement the goals outlined in the "Call to Resist," and to create a temporary steering committee which would be in charge of distributing funds and meeting monthly to report on activities. In addition to influential founding members of Resist, also present at the meeting were members of other currently active organizations including Students for a Democratic Society and The Resistance. The temporary steering committee consisted of: Noam Chomsky, William Davidon, Paul Goodman, Hans Koningsberger, Paul Lauter, Richard Mumma, Richard Ohmann, Marcus Raskin, Sondra Silverman, Gilbert White and Robert Zevin. Paul Lauter would eventually be named national director, a title he would hold for a number of years. (See text of minutes 10/2/67 in Box 6/1.)

Earlier the same afternoon as the formative meeting of the Resist members, a press conference was held at the Hilton Hotel in New York City at which speakers issued the "Call to Resist" more publicly, outlined further the anti-draft initiatives scheduled to take place in the coming weeks and challenged the American public to take action against "illegitimate authority." Professor Noam Chomsky said at the conference,

after the lesson of Dachau and Auschwitz, no person of conscience can believe that authority must always be obeyed...those who refuse to serve in Vietnam are at the forefront of the struggle to salvage what remains of American honor. Their refusal is an act of courage and high principle. (Press statement, 1967.)

Mitchell Goodman followed Chomsky with an announcement of an impending anti-draft, anti-war march on the Justice Department to be held on October 16, 1967, initiated by a group which he named "Conscientious Resistance," at which draft cards would be turned in to the Attorney General. "We will, in a clear, simple ceremony," Goodman said, "make concrete our affirmation of support for these young men who are the spearhead of direct resistance to the war and all its machinery." (See text of press statements Box 6/1.) The press conference attempted, without a great deal of success, to win a wider audience for Resist’s intentions and the intent of all draft resistance groups active at the time.
Full recognition and heightened public awareness of the efforts of the draft resistance movement, and of Resist’s work particularly, would not arise until late that fall with the series of anti-draft activities in Washington, D.C. and the subsequent indictments of Dr. Benjamin Spock, the Rev. William Sloane Coffin Jr., and several other anti-draft figures. Benjamin Spock, well known pediatrician, was among the five men indicted in connection with the October 20 anti-draft march on the Justice Department in Washington, DC. Spock, the Rev. William Sloane Coffin Jr., Michael Ferber, Mitchell Goodman and Marcus Raskin were indicted in January of 1968 on the charge that the

defendants and others known and unknown, conspired to ‘counsel, aid and abet diverse Selective Service registrants to...neglect, fail, refuse and evade service in the armed forces of the United States and all other duties required of registrants under the Universal Military Training and Service Act...and the rules, regulations and directions made pursuant to said Act...’ (Court of Appeals 7/11/69.)

Spock, et al. were among many who took a stand to aid and support young men making moral decisions to resist the draft and to fight the continuance of what they believed was an "unjust war". As pointed out by Goodman in his press statement, a group of clergy supported this action by saying, "when young men refuse to allow their consciences to be violated by an unjust law, then it is necessary for their elders--their teachers, ministers, friends-- to make clear their commitment..." As signers of the "Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority," all five men brought greater attention to the efforts of Resist through their struggles with the U.S. Judiciary system in the following months, and these actions helped to launch Resist, financially and politically, into another realm and into a small, functional foundation.

The summer following the Spock indictment and the subsequent trial saw the rise of hundreds of draft resistance projects and programs all over the country. In conjunction with its move from New York City to the greater Boston area, Resist’s objectives began to take shape and to gain momentum in the summer of 1969 as well. Fund raising and generating public awareness became key initiatives in a broadened Resist plan. In an interview conducted July 22 1998, former Resist national director Paul Lauter said of Resist, that the organization first needed to decide if it was to remain strictly an anti-draft foundation, or if it would branch out to fund other small activist groups dedicated to opposing "illegitimate authority." The latter category is what would become the focus of Resist, with further extensions arising as the years passed and as the source and effect of "illegitimate authority" changed and evolved with the politics of the nation. Further, Resist began to take action in other ways "so that it would not just be a channel for funds"...but that it would also "play a proactive role." (Lauter 7/22/98.) This activity would take shape in the creation of a 6-8 page monthly newsletter, extensive fundraising and pledge solicitation, the launching of such activities as a draft-resistance poetry reading tour, to feature well-known poets of the era, and some activity in the public arena.

Resist also took action in the media, becoming the first outlet of information in the 1967 release of FBI files taken from the Media, Pennsylvania FBI office by the "Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI" in the late 1960s. (Box 6/2.) In addition to these efforts, Resist also collected, published, and distributed a series of informational packets on high school organizing, the fight against repression, and on other struggles. These "kits" consisted of a series of brochures and packets which outlined ways to become politically active and effective in one’s own community. Resist sold these packets for as little as $1, and often they were given free to applying groups and individuals. (Kits located in Box 10/1.)

The central and most effectual function of Resist is that of a small grant organization, which today has grown into a stronger and more financially sound foundation. In the early years Resist grants ranged from $100 to no more than $500, while today Resist grants average perhaps $1000 per organization. The majority of this collection is concentrated in the grant applications sent to Resist between the years 1967 and the late 1980s, a twenty year overview of a changing political and social panorama in the United States as seen through many small activist groups scattered all over the country. Resist has concentrated its funding on groups which were concerned with activist and educational goals; other deciding factors included whether a group would not be likely to receive funding from other sources in their area, or whether it was located in areas with insufficient fundraising potential. (Lauter 7/22/98.) The Resist office was divided into several parts, including at least two paid staff members, a volunteer steering committee composed of 10-15 people which made funding decisions, and "area people" responsible for the investigation and maintenance of applications submitted from all areas of the country.

As was not unusual among individuals who strongly held different political ideas, the functioning of Resist from time to time became difficult, and the organization was not without internal struggle, but unlike many "movement" organizations begun during the 1960s, Resist managed to concentrate on its objective as a movement foundation and thus continue its work. The Resist Steering Committe was initially a group of educators and intellectuals who came together once a month to discuss the applications received and to agree upon how to respond to them. Over the years, the Steering Committee has broadened in membership, but the decision-making process has remained fairly consistent.

Several steps are taken in the application perusal process. The process often begins before the actual written request is sent to the Resist office; after such an application is filed, it is read by members of the staff, a grants committee, and by those on the Resist board attending its regular meetings. Applications have generally included a description of the organization, how it intends to use the funds requested, its political orientation; applications have generally been accompanied by copies of a group’s publications or informational packets.

Early in the organization’s existence, area people were assigned to a specific region of the country , and it was their job to further investigate the requesting groups in their area. Today, staff relies on often long-established contacts to evaluate applications. According to Lauter, many decisions were also made on the basis of the committee members’ general knowledge of the activist groups of the time, most members being very well versed in the activities of small movement groups. The requesting group was often contacted by phone or through correspondence by the area person, who then made a recommendation about funding. Today, such recommendations are developed primarily by Resist staff. In many cases, organizations have applied multiple times to Resist; re-applying groups were not automatically funded again. Approval or denial of an application would depend not only on the nature of the request but also on how well it fit into Resist’s priorities, which have evolved over the years of its existence.

Through the course of its operation, Resist also played a role in the formation of other organizations when it saw the need for more concentrated assistance. For instance, at one point Resist was receiving a multitude of requests concerning funds for legal defenses and to deal with these issues more efficiently, Resist helped to found the Civil Liberties Legal Defense Fund which dealt specifically with those types of funding requests. (See "draft resistance- legal organizations," Box 6/2). Resist also was a contributor to the creation of the United States Servicemen’s Fund, an organization that supported opposition to the war among active GI’s.

Money for Resist grants comes to the organization mainly through monthly pledges and contributions. Support has also been received from some larger donors, who saw Resist as a useful means for disbursing grants from their personal funds. Today, Resist also receives legacies from earlier supporters. Even today, however, pledge contributions remain a main source of Resist income, which is funneled into grants, staff salaries, and other miscellaneous office expenses. Resist became a part of a network of movement-related foundations referring information and, on occasion, applications to one another when the situation seemed appropriate. These foundations came out of what Lauter describes as "young rich people active in the movement" who pooled their money in many cases to fund other activist groups. The Haymarket fund, a conglomeration of smaller funds, was one such source. (Lauter, 7/22/98).

The scope of politics and issues which are covered and supported by Resist has changed throughout the years of its existence, but it remains today a foundation dedicated to support for people struggling against "illegitimate authority." That illegitimate authority at one time was seen primarily as the American government, its pursuit of an "illegal" and immoral war in Southeast Asia, and its use of the Selective Service law. As the focus of politics changed in the three decades between the late 1960s and today, so did Resist change its main concentrations. There was, for example, considerable debate over whether or not to fund activities of the Black Panther Party; similar debates went on about funding organizing having to do with prisoners, gay and lesbian issues, and for Middle East justice. Political priorities throughout the years have ranged from tenant and community organizing, to radical black movement activities, to feminist publications and organizations, to aid for solidarity groups supporting progressive governments in countries in Central and South America, and to labor and working class unions. Resist has supported many of those who struggle to survive on the left of the political spectrum. The original "Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority" has been modified over the years to respond to changing political priorities as is reflected in "A Second Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority" (Resist, 1969, 1969-70, Box 6/2) and "A Renewed Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority" (Resist, 1976, Box 7/1). Today, relocated to Somerville, Massachusetts, Resist remains a foundation dedicated to opposing "illegitimate authority" primarily by supporting the men and women Resist continues to fund.

Works Cited

"Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority," Resist, August 1967, Box 6/1

Interview with Paul Lauter- interviewed by Rebecca Skarbek July 22, 1998, introductory notes and information

Legal Appeal issued by Spock, et al. 1969, and other trial information, Box 6/1

Resist Steering Committee Meeting Minutes- October 2, 1967- Columbia University, New York, NY, Box 6/1

Resist Press Conference- text of statements- October 2, 1967, Box 6/1

Other important informational documents

Resist Steering Committee Meeting Minutes- 1967-1987, Box 9/2

Resist Newsletter-1967-1987, Box 9/2

Resist informational brochures, Box 7/1

Resist office operating procedures and general information, Box 7/1

"Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority"- Resist, 1967, Box 6/1

"A Second Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority"- Resist, 1969-70, Box 6/2

"A Renewed Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority"- Resist, 1976, Box 7/1

The Spock Trial- information and articles- Box 6/1

October 20, 1967 march on the Justice Department- information, Box 6/1

Newspaper articles relating to activities of Resist and others in fall 1967- Box 6/1

"A Pledge to Resistance" - Robert Zevin, Box 7/1

Civil Liberties Legal Defense Fund- information, Box 6/1

Draft Resistance summer projects- 1967-68, Box 6/1

Citizen’s Commission to Investigate the FBI- 1967, Box 6/2

Grant applications- Boxes 1/2-5/2 and 10/2-13/1 (21 total- 1967-1984)


Prepared for electronic publication by Michael J. Breen '99, July 1999.