John Clifford – Student

UMB Strike – May 4th, 1970

Organizing and the strike

When I was eight years old, I was caddy at the Belmont Country Club. My cousins and I used to go the 6 o’clock Mass at St. John’s. We took the Trolley Car to Waverley Oaks and hitchhike to the Belmont Country Club situated between McLean’s hospital and Fernal School. We could hear the crazy people yelling, it scared us to death. Anyway, the older caddies, including my older cousin, Jimmy Quirk organized a caddy strike. The members were furious and offered some kids more money to caddy. The older boys were furious and took the caddies off the golf course and beat them up. We won the strike. I learned at an early age about sticking together and the role leadership plays.

When I was twelve years old. I was a runner in an auction house with my older cousins on the Collins side. I attempted to organize them for more money. The auctioneer said, “You’re the youngest one here, you’re only twelve years old, get the fuck out of here.” We lost that strike.

After high school, I traveled the east side of the United States working in hotels ,sometimes in the kitchen, as bell hop, and sometimes as a doorman. Douglass and I tried to organize the bus boys at the Hollywood Beach Hotel in about 1963- 1964; we were unsuccessful and got fired. I got fired from the Laurel Hotel in Montcello, NY for refusing to give the superintendent of service, kickbacks. Tom Sawyer and I got fired from the Pine Crest Lake Club for trying to organize the bus boys. In 1965, I wound up at the Sheraton Boston, as a bell hop and it was a unionized place. It had active union meetings and shop the Sheraton Boston, as a bell hop and it was a unionized place. It had active union meetings and shop stewards. In 1966 I got drafted and elected to join the Marine Corps. I knew from my background, my education level up until that time,that I was probably going to end up in Vietnam, so I wanted to be with the “best.”

When I entered boot camp, I was shocked to learn that everyone there had grown up poor, most everyone there had been arrested, usually for minor things, but never-the-less arrested. Many did not have high school diplomas. This was the first time I realized, that not everyone went into the military because everyone I had grown up with, went, unless they had some real physical disability. I had not met anyone that had resisted the draft. It was probably the first time I was really separated from my family, friends, alcohol, and I really started to think, who was in the military and what I was doing there? In December of 1966, I went to Vietnam and again was in another state of shock to realize that we Americans were doing all of the fighting and not the South Vietnamese (fighting the communists from the North). My brain was swirling with thoughts mostly against the war and how I had gotten there? What was I thinking? It dawned on me that most of my opinions were shaped from reading newspapers and watching television.

Then, July 1967 in a major search and destroy mission, second battalion, 9,th 2/9, marines moved into the DMZ and after days of marching we set up beside the Ben Hi River. That was the dividing line between North and South Vietnam. When I got up that morning, it seemed like hundreds of B52s were bombing the North. I remember very clearly looking into North Vietnam and thinking “what the fuck am I doing here with my fellow poor marines?” I also thought, that if I was Vietnamese, I would be thinking that Americans were coming to take over the country. I thought if I ever made it out of that mess, I would try to do something to stop the war. In fact, that morning when we started to leave the area, we were attacked. There was huge firefights, mortars, hand-grenades. If my memory serves me correct, 58 marines died that day and over 200 wounded. The next day, when reporters came to speak to the troops, the officers were screaming at us, not to speak to them. Eventually when I read accounts of that battle, it said that we had won, when in fact we had lost. I started preaching to my fellow marines that this war was wrong. The officers kept telling me to shut up, but I never would. They needed bodies, so they wouldn’t transfer me. Its weird, but I had been with these guys for eight or nine months at this point, so I felt a loyalty to them and camaraderie to stick it out and hopefully I wouldn’t get killed. I did get wounded, pretty good too. But after a couple of weeks, I was put back into the field because they needed more bodies all the time; we were taking some many casualties. Upon discharge in June of 1968, I joined the Vietnam Veterans Against the War along with my cousin Danny Quirk. When my brother Douglass was discharged, he joined the VVAW. When Tony Quirk was discharged, he joined the VVAW. When Michael Quirk was discharged, he joined the VVAW.

Then, in January 1969, I enrolled at Umass Boston. Doug, Michael, Danny, and Tony would follow me there. However, there were hundreds of other veterans there and lots who had just returned from Vietnam like us. Every veteran seemed to be against the war. I started speaking out against it on campus, at rallies around Boston, at Boston Common, etc. In my classes at Umass seemed to fill in the gaps that I had been missing over the years, the power elite. Capitalism was an evil system based on greed, corruption, and of course its foundation was slavery. These thoughts, these beliefs, this education seemed to bring my focus together. I also realized there had not been any gains, without struggle. So ,along with many others, we protested the war and we spoke out against it. However there was the unique phenomenon going on at Umass at this time. There was a black movement, the women’s movement, a gay movement, an anti-war movement. Myself, and many others figured it out. We were better off fighting for these issues together in a collective effort, than one at a time. So we joined forces in supporting each other, demanding black studies, gay studies & gay liberation, women’s studies, and a daycare. With so many veterans and so many older students, so many students working it seemed that most people understood it. We all were educated and shaped by great teachers, who taught us differently. You didn’t study the kings and the queens and the presidents. We studied the struggles of people and how it shaped history, economics, literature. We studied the power structure and we studied capitalism. You know Barbara Chasin, Esther Kingston- Mann, David Hunt, Ted Richer, Linda Gordon, Ron Schiber ,all had a great deal of influence on me, and I suppose all of us were shaped by not only these teachers and some that we I have forgotten. I think that we started to understand collectively, we could win some of these battles and change some things. Then, with the killings in Augusta, Jackson State, Kent State, as universities across the country went on strike, it seemed natural that we should follow suit. We had a meeting and decided to take over the registrar’s office. I know was a leader during that demonstration, I was on the steering committee of the strike, when we entered the registrar building, all of the administration people left. It seemed to take off from there. The university decided the close down the school for the rest of the semester. With Joe, Peter, Curt Nichols,

I think that Curt Nichols played a leading role in creating this pamphlet. Joe recruited Cathy Tieehan, I recruited Alvin Johnson. I, along with others, were really influenced by “How Harvard Rules”, published by the Africa Research Group and by “Who Rules Columbia,” Linda Gordon and Danny Schner, hooked us up with the Africa Research Group and Hew Jessep. He was patient, loving, and intelligent; he helped us think this through. As we were doing this during the strike, we came to the conclusion that the founding fathers of Umass Boston, wanted to make this school like Harvard for the working class. However, the board of trustees had different thoughts. They wanted it to be school of midlevel managers, which we think prevails today.

I will say one thing; we rushed to get this done so it would be done before the end of the school year. I think we made 600 copies, we didn’t give very many of them out. I had them. I brought them to the opening of the fall semester of 1970. The momentum that we had built that caused the strike was gone. The interest in the pamphlet was minimal. Although many solid movement continued to exist at Umass at that time.

One Comment

on “John Clifford – Student
One Comment on “John Clifford – Student
  1. John, your account is very inspiring. I was a bit younger than you and only transferred to UMB in 1975 after a brief stint in the USAF, but even by then, with the war really winding down and out of our collective consciousness, there really was an intensity of purpose to most of the the UMB professors and students. I think it’s more like a working class Harvard though it doesn’t get the respect it deserves.

    You, yourself are an inspiration to any young person who thinks the world could be a better place. Thanks for your oral history.

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