A Story of Protest and Prison during the Vietnam War
Narrated by Elliott Walsh
Approximately 19 hours
Book published by Cornell University Press
Bruce Dancis arrived at Cornell University in 1965 as a youth who was no stranger to political action. He grew up in a radical household and took part in the 1963 March on Washington as a fifteen-year-old. He became the first student at Cornell to defy the draft by tearing up his draft card and soon became a leader of the draft resistance movement. He also turned down a student deferment and refused induction into the armed services. He was the principal organizer of the first mass draft card burning during the Vietnam War, an activist in the Resistance (a nationwide organization against the draft), and a cofounder and president of the Cornell chapter of Students for a Democratic Society. Dancis spent nineteen months in federal prison in Ashland, Kentucky, for his actions against the draft.
In Resister, Dancis not only gives readers an insider's account of the antiwar and student protest movements of the sixties but also provides a rare look at the prison experiences of Vietnam-era draft resisters. Intertwining memory, reflection, and history, Dancis offers an engaging firsthand account of some of the era’s most iconic events, including the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the Abbie Hoffman-led "hippie invasion" of the New York Stock Exchange, the antiwar confrontation at the Pentagon in 1967, and the dangerous controversy that erupted at Cornell in 1969 involving African American students, their SDS allies, and the administration and faculty. Along the way, Dancis also explores the relationship between the topical folk and rock music of the era and the political and cultural rebels who sought to change American society.
Bruce Dancis had a long career as a pop culture critic and editor, including sixteen years as the arts and entertainment editor of the Sacramento Bee, before his recent retirement.
“In Resister: A Story of Protest and Prison During the Vietnam War, Dancis, as candid and cleareyed as he was a half-century earlier, escorts readers on a backstage tour of the antiwar movement and the evolution of a democratic socialist. Dancis, who would become an editor, critic and writer, also had the courage of his conviction—he was sentenced to federal prison after tearing up his card (the day was too windy for it to burn). He also encouraged others to take part in a mass draft-card burning.”
—The New York Times
“Above all, Dancis distinguished himself with the depth of his resistance to the draft. With other resisters, Dancis made a public showing of his opposition, forswearing the student deferment he could easily have garnered and destroying at a rally his Selective Service card to tempt authorities to prosecute him. More than displays of personal conviction, Dancis reminds us, such acts were envisioned as a way to literally sabotage the war. The early hope was that a growing wave of this resistance would jam the courts and then the jails, imposing both an administrative and moral burden American society could not bear ... By some socio-historic alchemy we may never understand, an uncommon number of young people felt in the 1960s that it was both their right and obligation to resist injustice, and to do so fairly anonymously, with little thought of personal plaudits. In today's world of ubiquitous celebrity and self-aggrandizement, Dancis's humility as he served that obligation is both refreshing and instructive. One senses that he never felt himself a hero. Setting a positive example that others might follow to achieve a moral goal was his steadfast priority ... By the end, I concluded that his impassive, observant tone is essential to who he is: a profoundly decent and thoughtful man, with an unshakable moral compass, and an intent to do the right thing with precision and follow-through.”
—Los Angeles Review of Books
“Resistance to the draft helped restore honor to a misguided nation that invaded Vietnam, where it left millions dead. In his admirable memoir, Bruce Dancis, a hero of draft resistance, casts light from fresh angles on the movement's inner life, the course of Cornell’s radicals, and the imprisonment that was a price paid for honor.”
—Todd Gitlin, Columbia University, author of The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage
“Resister is that rare memoir by a 1960s radical that teaches as it enthralls. Bruce Dancis narrates his odyssey from childhood in a left-wing enclave of the Bronx, to antiwar activism at Cornell, to prison in Kentucky with a historian's grasp of context and a journalist’s flair for anecdote. It is one of the wisest books about this era of conflict I have ever read.”
—Michael Kazin, author of American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation and editor, Dissent
“What makes someone resist fighting in his nation's wars, redefining his citizenship and masculinity in militancy not the military? In this beautifully crafted history/memoir, Bruce Dancis, former Cornell University SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) leader, takes us on a road trip that crosses the country as civil rights, war, and feminism upend the expected. Dancis recaptures his life from a young boy in the Bronx, to an SDS organizer who becomes a federal prisoner in Kentucky for destroying his draft card, while landing finally as a California journalist of music and culture. Anyone interested in how change happens should be happily immersed in this compelling and eminently readable book, at once autobiographical and analytic, that captures the seriousness, craziness, and impact of the long 1960s era in new and nuanced ways.”
—Susan M. Reverby, McLean Professor in the History of Ideas and Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, Wellesley College, author of Examining Tuskegee: The Infamous Syphilis Study and Its Legacy
“Bruce Dancis has put a crucially important slice of American history on the record, in a deeply personal, down-to-earth way. But unlike almost all the rest of us who lived through the 1960s, he had the courage to go to prison for his beliefs. He and the few like him are the real heroes of that time.”
—Adam Hochschild, University of California, Berkeley, author of To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914–1918
“Bruce Dancis has written a brave memoir and history that sheds light on a little-known aspect of this nation's fractious internal conflict over the Vietnam war. Millions of Americans opposed the war and the military draft, but Dancis was among the few willing to sacrifice years of his life to end both. We can learn much from his account.”
—Clayborne Carson, Stanford University, author of Martin’s Dream: My Journey and the Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
“Bruce Dancis's Resister reminds me of the chaotic combination of innocence, hopefulness, anger, and alienation that motivated hundreds of thousands of young people (and many not so young) to join together in the effort to oppose a brutal and unjust war in Vietnam in the late 1960s. Dancis paid the price for his own antiwar convictions by spending nineteen months in federal prison for refusal to cooperate with the Selective Service System, when he could have easily avoided the draft (as many of his contemporaries, radicals and conservatives alike, chose to do). Thoughtfully and modestly retold in this memoir, his is a story of American heroism and self-sacrifice.”
—Maurice Isserman, Hamilton College, coauthor of America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s
“Bruce Dancis is a figure representative of the cultural life of the 1960s and early 1970s. The range of actions and events he was involved with, and the people he worked with and against, place his story at the center of the politically minded activism of the day.”
—Winthrop Wetherbee, Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities, Emeritus, Cornell University, and faculty director of the Cornell in Auburn prison education program
“Do we need another book on the antiwar movement? We need this one—a story about the audacity and courage of one young man. I've read many memoirs written by sixties activists, but Bruce Dancis’s may be the most compelling, the most illuminating, and the most insightful.”
—Jon Wiener, UC Irvine, author of Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files
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