LEPOCO, the familiar acronym for the Lehigh-Pocono Committee of Concern, has over the past ten years become an organization known to thousands, loved by many , and despised by more than a few.
LEPOCO’s roots date back to the early 60’s to a group of people concerned about the Vietnam War and other issues of world peace. They called themselves the “Lehigh Valley Peace Council.” These people and those who have followed throughout LEPOCO’s history were never a monolithic block, but individuals drawn together by conscience and a common desire to speak out. What all have shared is a concern for some form of suffering.
Naturally, Vietnam took most of the group’s energies for many years and kept us from speaking out on other issues as much as we might otherwise have done.
But though the War was our major concern, it has been by no mean s the only concern. Members have over the past ten years, worked on ecology, women’s rights, world hunger; peace conversion, simplified life styles, race relations, education and community problems, to mention a few of our “other” concerns. It would be impossible to list all the activities and participants over the years, but here are some highlights .
In November 1965, a group of Lehigh Valley residents including Bob Thompson and Sue Ravitz decided that the area should be represented in DC on Nov. 27 for the “March on Washington” rally. About 27 persons wanted to go, but almost immediately they ran into opposition: the bus drivers for Tri-City Coaches voted not to drive any buses to Washington for the demonstration. After a lot of scrambling, Sue found another bus company.
Upon returning, John Oliver Nelson and several others called a meeting at the Kirkridge retreat center near Bangor to discuss “United States policy in Vietnam..” Invitations were sent to 59 people (14 of whom are still dues-paying members of LEPOCO). Of those attending; about 35 decided to form an organization to speak out against the Vietnam War. It was first called the “Ad Hoc Committee of Concern for Vietnam” but soon became the “Lehigh- Pocono Committee of Concern for Vietnam,” later shortened to today’s title. The members of the new group held their first demonstration on Dec. 23, 1965 in Allentown and Easton.
As has often been the case during the last ten years, some of the first demonstrations were small, consisting of as few as four persons. Hostility towards people opposed to the War was intense in those early years and we were harassed by counter pickets many times.
The first draft of purpose and platform was prepared by February 1966. Peter Cohen took an early leadership role and became LEPOCO’s first chairman that year.
The founding members of LEPOCO believed strongly in the U.S. political system and so sought to express their point of view through the ballot box. The first effort was Henry Messinger’s “peace” candidacy for Congress in 1966. Henry lost the Primary to Fred B. Rooney, but he was able to speak out against the War.
During 1967, LEPOCO started a speaker’s bureau, with Peter Cohen. Henry Messinger, Jane Nelson, John Oliver Nelson, Ed Shaughnessy and Bob Thompson listed as available to speak at any function imaginable.
One highlight during 1967 and 1968 was the vigil every Saturday in Easton. Although sponsored by the Easton chapter of WILPF and not LEPOCO directly, many LEPOCO members were active in WILPF and took part in the vigils. The activity ran from May 20, 1967 to May 17, 1968.
Also during 1967, LEPOCO picketed Hubert Humphrey when he spoke at the dedication of Freedom High School in Bethlehem. It was typical21 of what was to follow: an overabundance of police. There were about a dozen LEPOCO members, along with 48 Bethlehem police, 25 Bethlehem Township police, state police and Secret Service.
Also during 1967, LEPOCO sent two busloads to the “March on the Pentagon” and sponsored many vigils and demonstrations locally.
In 1968, LEPOCO returned to the political arena. On Feb. 12, the Common Sense Party was formed. Peter Cohen became the candidate for Congress, and Mary Cohen, Agnes Coleman, Philip Jurus and Robert Richardson were officers of the party. Peter lost but Rooney still refers to the campaign.
In an effort to bring the peace issue before the people and support candidates backing the peace position, it was decided that LEPOCO members would run for delegate positions at the nominating conventions in an attempt to increase the likelihood that one would get favorable ballot position. The ballot was flooded with peace people intending that after positions were drawn, all candidates would support the top two or three.
For Democratic delegate, John Coleman got the first slot, Paul Pfretzchner was 2nd, Howard Agar 5th, Art Ravitz 7th, Hugh Moore Jr. 8th, Adelaide Geist 10th and Roberta Wood was 11th. Ed Shaughnessy was 2nd for alternate delegate. John Wood drew top position on the Republican ballot, with George Dinsmore Glenn Fisher was first for alternate, Ernest Farmer 4th.
John Coleman was elected a Democratic delegate, with John Wood similarly selected for the GOP convention, but the other positions went to machine candidates. Ed Shaughnessy was elected a Democratic alternate and later hitch-hiked to Chicago for the convention.
In June of 1968 LEPOCO showed that its concern went beyond Vietnam and joined 50,000 other people in Washington for “Solidarity Day” at Resurrection City. Earlier the Easton vigil became a silent memorial to Martin Luther King after his assassination.
Early 1969 found m any of LEPOCO’s members and friends resisting the draft. LEPOCO sent a busload to Scranton for Neal Neamand’s trial. Bill Lang Jr. turned himself in to FBI agents after refusing induction. Jeff Vitelli tossed his physical forms into a waste basket at the induction center.
In late 1969, anti-war sentiment reached its peak and LEPOCO was present as a catalyst for people to express their dissent and disgust. The first moratorium on Oct 15 found LEPOCO people participating in the following activities:
Rally at Moravian College – average of 50 participants at any one time.
“Walk for Peace” from Moravian Seminary to Nisky Hill Cemetery .About 400 take part.
Lehigh University demonstration – 600 participants. David Amidon spoke.
Cedar Crest rally with Shirley Chisholm.
Muhlenberg College – 1500 at morning rally with John Oliver Nelson. Evening rally drew 4000 , Seymour Hersh spoke and a group from Allentown College walked from Center Valley to Muhlenberg carrying a casket.
Reading of war dead at Center Square Easton – 100 participated.
All night vigil and reading of war dead at Bethlehem City Center. Readers included Bill Gramley, Guy Gray, Bryn Hammarstrom, Howard Cox, Edith Scott, Sally Seem, Emily Cox and Joe Osborne.
For the November moratorium. LEPOCO took five busloads of people to Washington for the biggest rally of the War. The December moratorium found LEPOCO sponsoring a candlelight procession through Bethlehem in which 200 people participated. Three days later there was a similar march in Allentown. Interestingly, most of these activities were reported in the press as “’uneventful” – no violence?
INTO THE 70’s – CHANGES FOR LEPOCO
In 1970, LEPOCO participated in and or sponsored many demonstrations. During this period we were starting to look for an office, but finances were a big problem. This difficulty was overcome by an anonymous gift of $5000 in November. John Wood, then in the first of his two terms as chairman, had received word of the gift, but was really shocked upon arriving home one night and finding an envelope with $5000 in small hills laying on his dining room table and no one else in the house. He suddenly became very apprehensive about having that much cash in his possession and finally found a bank in, which to deposit the money that night.
On February 14, 1971, LEPOCO members ratified the constitution and by-lows, which we still use. The office at 14 West Broad Street, Bethlehem, was opened on Feb. 20 and Anna Hunt took on the job of coordinator. We also became a corporation early in 1971.
1971 was a very eventful year for LEPOCO.
During the year, we showed the film “Selling of the Pentagon” at a regular monthly meeting with 200 people present (the largest LEPOCO meeting ever). LEPOCO members participated in many local and national demonstrations, but the most exciting was in September when Mike Adams, Don Burns, Anna Hunt and Gary Rhiel were arrested at the Bethlehem Draft Board after chaining themselves to the door.
During 1972, LEPOCO found that people were still misinformed about the war in Vietnam and started an education campaign by buying the NARMIC “Automated Air War” Slide Show. It was shown to 50 different groups during the ensuing year.
Many members spent Holy Week 1972 in Harrisburg for the “Harrisburg Seven” trial and were joined by others on Saturday for a mass rally.
Between June 1971 and January 1973: LEPOCO sponsored 480 draft counseling sessions at the office (there were also sessions at Friends Meeting and Lehigh University) with many members assisting.
McGovern OR NOT?
1972 being an election year, it soon became apparent that LEPOCO had grown into two distinct albeit supportive factions. There were those who thought the political process was no longer the way to proceed, and those who saw George McGovern’s election as the only way to win peace in Vietnam.
Marie Burns, John Coleman and Roberta Wood ran for delegates to the Democratic convention. Edith Scott ran for alternate and Howard Penley ran in Lehigh County. Marie won and set about getting McGovern nominated. Other members decided to work with the Indochina Peace Campaign and sponsored the visit of Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden and Holly Near to the Lehigh Valley .
LEPOCO continued to work to bring the war to an end in 1973, January found LEPOCO members in Washington twice, once to lobby and once to demonstrate. When the cease fire agreement was signed , LEPOCO members soon realized that the war was not really over. While the rest of the country was celebrating the return of the POW’s LEPOCO was calling for unconditional amnesty for those who had resisted the war.
In February l973 Anna Hunt became our second international delegate (Bill Gramley being the first when he attended a conference in Paris while the Peace Talks were being held). Anna represented LEPOCO at the Paris Amnesty Conference (which was cancelled at the last minute) and at the Stockholm Conference on Vietnam held in Rome. Anna and Bill both met with Madame Binh and other well known Vietnamese. Numerous speaking engagements gave them the opportunity to tell of their experiences when they returned from their respective trips.
During 1972 and 1973, LEPOCO members started to get involved in many different concerns, including the United Farm Workers union and tax reform (a local chapter of the T.E.A. Party was formed). LEPOCO also started seriously calling for Nixon’s impeachment and worked hard to bring this about. Also in 1973, Hans Wuerth took over the helm of LEPOCO.
We found in late 1974 that LEPOCO members had been called “labor thugs” on one of the tapes most damaging to Nixon. The remarks referred to a demonstration against Tricia Nixon at the dedication of the new Boy’s Club in Allentown on June 18, 1972. It was rather satisfying to know that our meager actions had drawn that kind of attention, but also showed how Nixon and company were acting on misinformation.
After the war actually ended in 1975, LEPOCO decided to concentrate on three basic concerns: peace conversion, democratic socialism and simplifying lifestyles.
Although LEPOCO may not be as news making as before, we’re still working hard to bring about a better world. As before, education of the people is a basic tool.
Also during the past year, LEPOCO has begun sharing our office with the Lehigh Valley Friends of the Farm Workers and their staff person. As expected, it has been a mutually beneficial arrangement. In October 1974 Anna Hunt temporarily moved to Florida to take care of her aging parents after resigning as LEPOCO coordinator. Nancy Stinnett took over the coordinator duties at that time. In January 1975 Clarke Chapman became LEPOCO’s fourth chairman.
Our work over the first ten years to end the War and advance the human cause has been difficult. At times it was very rewarding, though often it was very frustrating. But no matter how frustrating, we will continue.