Almost 50 years ago, in May 1971, Vietnam War protest leaders called for “May Day” protests in Washington, D.C. If the federal government would not stop the war, then the nation’s capital would be brought to a standstill — by non-violently clogging its major intersections with thousands of sitting protesters. That seemed like a grand idea to some college buddies and me. We didn’t think twice about driving to the district to join in.

It didn’t seem like a good idea, however, to the federal government under President Richard Nixon. At least 10,000 military troops (including 4,000 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division) and an almost like number of federal agents and police from the District and surrounding jurisdictions were waiting for us and the estimated 40,000 other protesters that initially amassed.

Robert Benjamin is a former Baltimore Sun reporter and editor. Email: