By Felipe Vera
50 years ago on August 29, over 30,000 Chicanos took over the streets of East Los Angeles to protest the draft and the imperialist war against Vietnam. As the police flowed in by the dozens to repress them, some protesters began forming a front line to combat them. By the end of the day, three people were murdered in an event that would go down in history as the Chicano Moratorium.
During this era, the struggle of Chicanos could be seen in numerous trenches including the agricultural fields, high school classrooms, the fight against police brutality, the struggle against the Vietnam War, and even some attempts at armed struggle. Due to the fact that they were subjected to racist policies and discrimination, the tide of Chicano consciousness and rebellion was becoming harder to contain and would erupt sporadically throughout this timeframe.
During the late 1960’s, the National Chicano Moratorium Committee was formed, with some of its committee members being a part of the then-revisionist Communist Party USA. This leadership and the subsequent push for a peaceful protest serves as a negative lesson. It left the people ill-prepared for the imminent state repression, which Chicanos were no stranger to.
Tens of thousands marched across East Los Angeles, arriving at Laguna Park (which is now known as Salazar Park). Protesters were mingling with one another, attentive to the cultural events being put on, only to be met with dozens of officers rushing in after a claim that youth had stolen alcohol from a local liquor store. Immediately, the sheriffs began attacking the protesters with tear gas and billy clubs.
Some protesters responded by forming a front line, fighting back with anything they could get their hands on. As a result, some officers were injured and had to be carried away. By the end of the day, hundreds were arrested, dozens were injured, and three people were killed. They were journalist Ruben Salazar, 15-year-old Brown Beret member Lynn Ward, and Angel Diaz.
Salazar was a Chicano and progressive journalist at a time when no one was covering the struggle of Chicanos in an accurate manner; he dared to stand alongside the people, document their fight, and criticize the police.
Although Salazar was not a revolutionary, he was a defender of Chicano people. He incorrectly pushed electoral politics as a way to stop their oppression and his post was also within the framework of ruling class media, having been part of the Los Angeles Times and later KMEX. However, once he transitioned from foreign correspondence to documenting the struggle of Chicanos in the late 1960’s, he walked down the path of the people. He was out in the streets documenting, but more importantly listening and talking to the people. He gave airtime on KMEX to popular organizations such as the Brown Berets, Barrios Defense Committee, and La Raza newspaper. He understood that the police were counterpoised to the people and this is why he became a target of the LAPD, who had visited his home and threatened him.
During the march, Salazar let colleagues know that he felt he was being followed and entered the Silver Dollar Café. Shortly after, the sheriffs, specifically Sergeant Tom Wilson, launched a 10-inch tear gas projectile into the café, striking Salazar directly in the head and killing him.
Today, the only way to commemorate the life of Ruben Salazar, as well as the others who were killed and those who fought back during the Chicano Moratorium, is rebellion, being alongside the people and fighting for revolution. While the event is an important moment in history for the political struggle of Chicanos, it also mirrors the anti-imperialist struggle against the Vietnam War seen in the movement for Black liberation as well as student and worker’s movements.
Today we honor the Chicano Moratorium, not from an anti-war perspective, which in the long run does not deal with the root issue of imperialism, but rather as anti-imperialists and revolutionaries. Only though People’s War can this imperialist system which plunders our home countries and our people and spits out our youth as cannon fodder to be torn down.