An RPCV'S Version of the Peace Corps Sit-In

[Yesterday, April 11,  I posted a blog by a right-winger Thomas F. Roeser, “An RPCV Sit-In at the Peace Corps” about RPCVs taking over the Peace Corps HQ back in 1970 to protest the Vietnam War. Elaine Fuller (Colombia 1963-65) was one of those RPCVs. At the time she was co-chair of the Committee of Returned Volunteers (CRV) – the first group formed by RPCVs, and their object was to protest the war.

For several years -beginning in the ’60s – Elaine was in the anti-war movement, mostly working with the Quakers. Then in the 1980s she went to work for an investment firm (who said Volunteers aren’t flexible?) and worked for Drexel Burnham Lambert (it later went bankrupt in a very spectacular way thanks to Mike Miken – he wasn’t in the Peace Corps!) After that she started teaching economics part-time, spent several years working on a Ph.D. in economics at the New School, and then in 1998 returned to her home state of Alabama to teach full-time. She retired from teaching at Tuskegee University a few years ago.

Incidentally Elaine’s younger sister Rosemay was also a PCV – she served in Ethiopia from 1966 to 1968.

The following is what Elaine Fuller remembers about the sit-in. – jc]

THIS IS VERY INTERESTING. Of course, we weren’t armed. But it is possible that someone assumed we were (dirty “woolly-headed” people that we were), and it is also possible that the idea spread as rumors are wont to do. Or maybe that’s just what they were telling the White House as a strategy to hold them at bay?

As I remember it, the Peace Corps honchos didn’t want the police to storm the place as the police were eager to do; they reached a compromise: if we were not out by the following Monday morning when people came back to work, we would be dragged out by the police. I recall a few telephone conversations with Peace Corps staff and we did allow a lawyer to come in to visit us at one point. I don’t remember now whether he was representing the Peace Corps or DC and I don’t remember his name, but he was known to some of us. It did not even occur to us to hold him hostage. (What innocents we were.)

We also promised Peace Corps staff when we took over early on Friday morning (not the afternoon) that we would not touch any of the file cabinets, and we kept our promise.

The thing that doesn’t ring true about Thomas F. Roeser’s account is the last couple of sentences. Would we have left that homemade ‘Viet Cong’ flag behind? It doesn’t seem likely, but, of course, it’s possible. And we had two flags. When we hung the first one out the window, some feisty Peace Corps staff member on the fifth floor lowered down something like a board with nails in it and ripped it up. The second one stayed. Perhaps we hung it after the Peace Corps staff had been told to leave the building. Also, I think anyone going into the area we held after we left would have commented on how filthy we left it. For one thing, we didn’t think we would be in there for more than a couple of hours at most and forgot to include a bathroom in the area we barricaded.

Many years later, someone I knew told me she had a friend who worked at the Peace Corps during that time and this friend absolutely hated us. She would not listen to anything good my friend might say about us. The reason was her memory of how disgusting we had left the place.


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