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Draft resister insults Joan Baez

What does legendary folk singer Joan Baez and 1980s draft registration resister Ben Sasway have in common?

Prison, political activism, punk rock’s The Clash, and a 1984 Baez concert in San Diego that benefited Sasway’s legal defense fund.

In 1980, the San Diego area resident refused to register for the draft and explained why in a candid, four-page letter to then President Carter.joan-baez

… I am obligated to protest even simple registration since I feel the spirit of this mandate, like actual conscription, is immoral and incompatible with a truly free society

“…I love my country and would defend it in a time of crisis. Under the current circumstances, however … it seems equally important to the Pentagon that military forces also defend business interests abroad, an antiquated Soviet containment policy, the mythical American honor, and just generally the military status quo…”

After the 1979 Russian invasion of Afghanistan, Carter reinstituted draft registration in 1980. Six months later, Sasway, then 21, was indicted for failing to register. The legal battle ensued.

As a San Diego newspaper reporter, I was all over this story.

bensaswayEnter Baez,  43 at the time, who committed her first act of civil disobedience while in high school. Fast forward to ’84. She granted me a telephone interview about two weeks before the singer’s scheduled performance for young Ben at downtown San Diego’s Golden Hall.

When I told her that Sasway said to me that he preferred The Clash perform instead of her, she was a bit ticked off. Understandable, from my point of view.

During her concert for Sasway, she informed the audience that “a reporter told me Ben wanted The Clash instead of me…I’ll have to talk to Ben about that.”

Fortunately, I was sitting far enough from the stage that it was difficult for Baez to spot me. And Sasway was not on stage at the time. Nevertheless, I slinked down in my seat, eliciting a wide grin from my date.

Perhaps Sasway would have felt differently about Baez if the Humboldt State political science major had a clue about her decades of public protests and anti-war activism. In 1966, Baez was arrested twice for blocking an Armed Forces induction center in Oakland. This led to a month in prison.

Her résumé for demonstrating for social causes is extensive. From marching with Martin Luther King to delivering gifts to American POWs in Hanoi to recording an album at Sing Sing penitentiary.

Plus she married an anti-war activist – David Harris who did two years in prison for draft resistance during Vietnam.

Returning to the 1980s: Sasway ended up serving six months in a minimum-security California prison. He could have been sentenced to a maximum of five years and fined $10,000.

He was one of a half-million young men who decided to defy Carter’s registration policies, while about 7.5 million 19-and 20-year-olds complied with the order. Maybe none of the other guys wrote the President.

Sasway became the first American since the Vietnam War to be indicted and imprisoned for failing to register.

In 2011, Joan Baez was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She still performs.

The Clash disbanded in 1986, some ten years after forming. They were elected to the Hall in 2011.

 

 

 

 


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