The government was lying through its teeth. Not unusual in wartime – “The first casualty of war is truth.” But still, we shouldn’t let them get away with it, should we?
So, 50 years ago today, at 9:30 a.m. on Feb. 28, 1970, I walked into the employees’ entrance of the St. Paul Post Office Building in downtown St. Paul. I was not an employee of the Post Office or of any of the other offices in that building. Confidently, trying to portray a sense that I was someone who was where he should have been, I walked to the stairway in the middle of the building and proceeded up to the 14th floor, an entire floor of empty, vacated offices. I used the stairs so as not to draw any attention to the 14th floor. I went into one of those unlocked offices at the end of the hall, and waited. Half an hour later, I was joined by a second person; half an hour after that, by a third. And for the next several hours, each half hour someone else would add to our numbers. We said not a word — kept totally silent sitting there on the floor of this empty room.
Ultimately, there were 15 of us. Some had brought equipment — glass cutters, tape, butane torches, black spray paint. And we waited, and we waited. Shortly after midnight, after the security guard had made his cursory, obviously inadequate “inspection” of the 14th floor, half of us went down a few floors to the office housing the 12 Ramsey County draft boards. The other half went to a different floor, where the State Headquarters of the Selective Service System had its office. We removed small glass triangles from the glass portion on the upper half of the doors, stuck our arms in, opened the doors from the inside, and invited ourselves in.
For the next five hours, I spray painted out names on the covers of 1-A and 1-A-O draft files — that is, files of those people subject to immediate induction into the military — and then ripped up the files. All 15 of us walked out with the morning postal worker shift change. I think it was around 7 a.m. I recall a light snow had just begun to fall.
Simultaneously destroyed that night were all the 1-A and 1-A-O files in the 22 Hennepin County draft boards, housed in the basement of an office building between Second and Third Avenues South on 11th Street in downtown Minneapolis. Statements sent special delivery to the media claimed the Beaver 55 were responsible for both the St. Paul and Minneapolis raids.
Six days later, on March 6, 1970, at a rally in Coffman Union at the University of Minnesota, four of the participants, including me, said we were Beavers and claimed “moral and political responsibility” for these actions. Regrettably, the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) chapter on campus ill advisedly used the energy of that rally to encourage people attending it to go across the Washington Avenue Bridge to the West Bank and destroy files in the Criminal Justice Studies Department. The SDSers were mistakenly claiming that department was a front for the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA), a division within the Justice Department. The SDS group not only was factually wrong, but in an unprincipled way, it used people caught up in an emotional rally situation to commit acts SDS wanted them to do, without giving those people any real opportunity to think through their actions and the implications.
SDS shenanigans aside, I remember that for several days after the night of Feb. 28-March 1, I could barely unbend my fingers. That was from having ripped up sometimes fairly thick files for several hours. It was exquisite pain.
We Beavers of the Beaver 55 delivered a small blow against the machinery of war that night. Thousands of draft files were destroyed in what was one of the biggest draft board raids of that era. Some Minnesotans told us they avoided the draft as a result of our action. Others told us it inspired them to work harder against the war. Still others, of course — even people strongly opposed to the war — thought that these kinds of actions were wrong, both morally and strategically. Some, like conservative radio commentator Paul Helm, told us such actions were treasonous, and we should be taken out back and shot — “after a fair trial, of course,” he added.
All in all, I think we did the right thing. Through meticulous planning, we worked hard to endanger no lives other than our own. We were simply trying to enforce laws the government wasn’t interested in enforcing: minor laws like the Geneva Conventions. Someone had to perform this task. Time and again, the courts had abdicated their responsibility. As they do all too often, especially when it comes to issues of war and peace, they had let themselves become complicit in massive government illegalities. We as citizens had to fill the breach, and we did it the best we could.
No one was ever arrested or charged with the Minnesota actions of the Beaver 55. But still, the war went on, and on, and on.
Chuck Turchick, of Minneapolis, was part of both the Beaver 55 and Minnesota Eight draft board raids. For the latter action, he served 20 months in federal prison.
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