November 26, 2023 / Edward Hasbrouck / Draft Resistance News - Hundreds of people were arrested in sit-ins and other direct actions against draft registration in the 1980s, particularly at Post Offices during the mass registration weeks in July-August 1980 for men born in 1960 and 1961 and in January 1981 for men born in 1962.
Additional mass arrests took place outside court hearings in the cases of several of the 20 men eventually singled out for prosecution for publicly refusing to register, and during a blockade of Selective Service headquarters in Washington, DC, on 18 October 1982. (See these posters for some of these sit-ins and blockades.)
The consequences of these arrests were varied, but in some cases — particularly when arrests occurred inside Post Office buildings, which are generally areas of exclusive Federal jurisdiction, rather than outside on streets or sidewalks subject to state and local jurisdiction — included Federal charges.
The “Boston 18” were arrested inside the Post Office and courthouse in downtown Boston during the January 1981 registration week. The Post Office counters where draft registrations were being accepted by postal clerks were located on the second floor, inside the building, which also housed the offices of the FBI, the U.S. Marshals, the U.S. Attorney, and the courtrooms and judges’ chambers of both the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts and the First Circuit Court of Appeals. The fact that the sit-in took place in the same building as their offices may have led them to take it more personally and respond with more severity than they might have to an action elsewhere, but there’s no hard evidence of that.
The Boston 18 included Mark Bader, Elisa Barbour, Bill Beck, Carol Bellin, Chris Cutelis, Elizabeth Davidson, Mary Dore, Diane Dunfey, Ed Feigen, Carl Gerds, Sean Herlihy, Chuck Hughes, Gary Sachs, Rich Schreuer, Barry Shea, Anne Shumway, and Cynthia Waillette
I was one of several observers swept up in the mass arrest of the Boston 18, along with Jim Packer, a legal observer from the National Lawyers Guild. Charges against Jim Packer and me were dropped, but most of the rest including Gary Sachs, who also wasn’t actually part of the sit-in, were convicted, most of them in a mass trial on 27 January 1981. Each of those convicted was sentenced to 30 days imprisonment and a $50 fine, the maximum sentence for a Federal “petty offense” tried by a Magistrate without an Article 3 judge or a jury.
Thirty days imprisonment was an unexpectedly severe sentence for a simple sit-in, particularly compared to the much briefer jailing of those — including many of the Boston 18 — who had been arrested in the preceding few years for much more actively obstructive blockades by the Clamshell Alliance of construction of a nuclear power plant at Seabrook, NH. And while most people in the know would choose a minimum-security Federal prison over a city jail, being sentenced to a “federal prison” sounds like a heavier sentence.
Most of the men were sent to Federal Prison Camps or minimum-security Federal Correctional Institutions in Danbury, CT or Allenwood, PA. Most of the women were sent to Alderson, WV, at the time the only Federal prison for women (at all security levels) in the eastern U.S.
Because a transcript was prepared for use in the appeal, this is one of the best documented cases from the 1980s of mass anti-draft direct action. It provides a rare snapshot of who took part in an anti-draft direct action, their backgrounds, and their motives.
A notable theme in both the defendants’ testimony and the expert witnesses they called is that of feminist opposition to the draft.
In addition to the defendants, each of whom testified in their own defense, expert witnesses in the trial of the Boston 18 included:
- Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor at MIT
- Linda Gordon, Professor of History and Women’s Studies at U.Mass./Boston
- Karen Lindsey, freelance journalist (also instructor in writing and literature at Emerson College and women’s studies at U.Mass./Boston and active in W.O.R.D., Women Opposed to Registration and the Draft; see also her earlier speech to a rally on Boston Common against draft registration, reprinted as “Women and the Draft” in “Reweaving the Web of Life: Feminism and Nonviolence”, New Society Publishers, 1982)
- Howard Zinn, Professor of History at Boston University
Court proceedings in the cases of the Boston 18:
- Transcript of arraignments and bail hearings, 5 January 1981
- Transcript of trial, 27 January 1981
- Transcript of sentencing, 24 February 1981
- Opinion on appeal by the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, U.S. v. Gary Sachs (679 F.2d 1015, 2 July 1982)
- Opinion on appeal by the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, U.S. v. Mark Bader, et al. (698 F.2d 553, 24 January 1983)