Cleve Andrew Pulley is a politician, civil rights leader and Vietnam Era veteran. As an army GI, Cleve was one of the Fort Jackson Eight imprisoned in 1969 for opposing the US war in Vietnam. Mr. Pulley went on to run on the Socialist Workers Party ticket for vice president in 1972 and again, for president in 1980.

“The anti-war movement among civilians was the key to inspiring the soldiers to feel that they had confidence and was able to use the constitutional rights we have as soldiers, and we did not renounce the use of those rights simply because we were soldiers.”

Vietnam Full Disclosure

This Courage to Resist podcast was produced in collaboration with the Vietnam Full Disclosure effort of Veterans For Peace — “Towards an honest commemoration of the American war in Vietnam.” Last year marked 50 years of GI resistance, in and out of uniform, for many of the courageous individuals featured. Interview and edit by Matthew BreemsJeff Paterson, Executive Producer.

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Photo of the Fort Jackson 8: Andrew Pulley far left.

Transcript

Andrew Pulley:
The anti-war movement among civilians was the key to inspiring the soldiers to feel that they had confidence and was able to use the constitutional rights we have as soldiers, and we did not renounce the use of those rights simply because we were soldiers.

Matthew Breems:
This is the Courage to Resist podcast. Since 2005, Courage to Resist has worked to support military resistance to illegal and unjust wars, counter recruitment, draft resistance in the policies of empire. On this episode of the Courage to Resist podcast, politician, civil rights leader and Vietnam vet, Cleve Andrew Pulley. An army GI, Cleve was one of the Fort Jackson Eight imprisoned in 1969 for opposing the war while on base. Mr. Pulley went on to run on the Socialist Workers Party ticket for vice president in 1972 and again, for president in 1980.

Matthew Breems:
Well, thank you, Mr. Pulley for taking time today to speak with us on Courage to Resist podcast. We’re looking forward to hearing your story of activism from the Vietnam era. Why don’t you go ahead and start off by telling us how did you end up finding yourself in the US military? What was your story?

Andrew Pulley:
Well, the story began in high school. I was an activist protesting in the killing of Martin Luther King. At the high school, we had a rebellion of sort of black students and the white students fighting it out. It had a history in the change in the neighborhood of which I was a part in Cleveland, Ohio. It stemmed from the fact that blacks were moving into the neighborhood that was unprovable all white and there was battles against us moving into the neighborhood.

Andrew Pulley:
It took the form of physical attacks on young people who visited the park in the area and they carried over into the high school. The day after they killed Martin Luther King, everything just balled over into attacks. I was a part of that and I had problems with attending schools at the time and was on probation for truancy, et cetera. As a result of that, I went into the army. The probation officer gave me a choice basically to go into the army or to face trial later. I went into the army. There, I began to oppose the racist character of the army and the war in Vietnam and so on. This led me to go on AWOL and then went back to the base within 30 days. That would have been equivalent to a felony as opposed to article 15, which is nonjudicial punishment.

Andrew Pulley:
I went back ahead of the 30 days limit and then I was sent to Fort Jackson. Fort Jackson is when I met people who had been socialists, who were active against the war in Vietnam and who introduced me to Malcolm X, his speeches. The guy who introduced me to Malcolm X, and to the Militant newspaper, were a Georgian, a white Caucasian gentleman from Georgia. He had heard that the black power punk had arrived. This was a campaign to denigrate me in hopes that there would be attacks against me, violent attacks against me. But instead, I was greeted by a Caucasian socialist with material that really aided me in seeing the world as it really was. Then, I began to listen to Malcolm X. Malcolm X tapes, discussed the war in Vietnam. When other soldiers came back, this is during the Christmas breaks, I was restricted to the base along with the other soldiers because of political differences with the army. Then, afterwards-

Matthew Breems:
Even at this time, you were pretty vocal with the army about your views and your stands towards the Vietnam war?

Andrew Pulley:
Well, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Very much so.

Matthew Breems:
You are a person of interest to them like, “Hey, we’ve got to keep this guy on a leash.”

Andrew Pulley:
Yeah. Yeah.

Matthew Breems:
Okay. Go ahead.

Andrew Pulley:
The thing is I didn’t know anything. I was fresh, but opposed to the war and opposed to the racist character of the army. When other soldiers returned from the Christmas breaks is when GI united against the war in Vietnam started. It consisted of soldiers standing around black and Puerto Rican soldiers listening to Malcolm X tapes. Then repeatedly, we had a meeting after duty on the base and then began to discuss why the war should be opposed and why soldiers, black and white, at a certain point, began to realize that we needed to open the group up to white soldiers, Caucasians soldiers as well because they were against the war. Then, those who were opposed to racist practices of the army was all welcome. We started to unite and inform of… That made it difficult for the brass to divide black and white soldiers.

Matthew Breems:
Right. This was the early 1969. Is that correct?

Andrew Pulley:
Yeah. Early 1969. Now, the first campaign we did we sent a letter of petition to demand a place to hold a mass meeting on the base to discuss the legal and moral courses on the war. We collected hundreds of signatures of soldiers and presented them to the base commander. We tried to present them to the base commander. Had a news conference at the gates of the military base. Joe Cole and maybe one or two other who were on a different level of discipline than I was at the time, and so they presented the petition.

Andrew Pulley:
The army court refused to accept the petition and the ground that petition was a form of collective bargaining. I mean, that’s not recognized collective bargaining as they say. That was that. We had impromptu rally on March the 20th to discuss the victory that they won and to plan for the march on going… We were going to Atlanta to march against the war with the civilian and anyone moving. That was going to be on April 5th and 6th, the anniversary of the killing of Martin Luther King, but it never made it to that point because we were busted at an impromptu rally of 150, 200 GIs, soldiers. We were off duty and this was in the evening. We were busted and eight of us were sent to the stockade charged with breach of peace, disrespecting an officer, demonstrating on a base, demonstrating without permit, failure to disburse.

Andrew Pulley:
Originally, there were nine of us. One turned out to be an agent. It became the Fort Jackson Eight as opposed to Fort Jackson Nine. We won the case as being in jail for 60 odd days, and myself and others gathered a little later. We won… We were exonerated. All of the charges were dropped against us and so on.

Matthew Breems:
Basically, the army had nothing against you guys at that point?

Andrew Pulley:
Right.

Matthew Breems:
But you were held for 60 days because you gathered together?

Andrew Pulley:
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Well, it was 60 days that we were in pre-trial confinement. We ran through court proceedings and things of that nature and eventually the army dropped the charges. It was due to the fact that we had support among civilians. The anti-war movement among civilian was the key to inspiring the soldiers to feel that they had confidence and to have confidence, and was able to use the constitutional rights we have as soldiers. We did not renounce the use of those rights simply because we were soldiers. We were restricted by not being able to operate politically in uniform and on duty, but when we were off duty and out of the uniform, we had the same rights as any other person in the United States.

Matthew Breems:
What happened after this incident? You’re released. You’re exonerated from all charges. What was the next phase of this point, your military career and your activism?

Andrew Pulley:
Well, at this point, I joined the Young Socialist Alliance and the Socialist Workers Party about a year later. I went on this speaking tour of the country and the world, speaking about the anti-war movement among soldiers. Then, the anti-war movement in general in United States. Then, in ’71, ’72, I ran for vice president of the United States on the Socialist Workers Party ticket with Linda Jenness who was the president as a candidate. I continue to be fully active in the Socialist Workers Party and the Young Socialist Alliance. Then, in 1980, I ran for president of the United States on the Socialist Workers Party ticket with Matilde Zimmermann as the vice president future candidate. Then, in 1980, I went down to Grenada and I met with Maurice Bishop, who was the prime minister at the time. He was slain later in 1983 after the the coup d’etat, overturning the government, overturning the work of the farmers who were ruling Grenada when the US invaded that country at that time. I’ve been active in the DC area, in the Cuba solidarity movement called the DC Metro Coalition in solidarity with the Cuban revolution. It’s a group that organized to demand into the hostility that US wage against Cuba. I’ve been doing that since 2015 and I’ve been active in the mass action coalition to jail killer cops. It started last year in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and others throughout the country.

Matthew Breems:
When you think back to your early activism and there was a lot of momentum behind it, not only with GIs, but also with civilians, what’d you think was the greatest legacy of that activism movement?

Andrew Pulley:
Well, the greatest legacy of it is to recognize the power of millions of people in the streets demanding a change. It was the persistence of people in the streets, of students, to the young people to working people and soldiers over a period of 15 years or so that ended the United States involvement in Vietnam, and of course, without the Vietnamese people fighting diligently and tenaciously to win and control their own country and made it impossible for the United States government to achieve its goal that it’s doing the Vietnamese people and to deny them the right to self-determination.

Matthew Breems:
But do you feel, from your perspective, that there’s been any progress in America since your time during the Vietnam era as far as how the military conducts itself? Do you still feel it’s a intrinsically racist organization?

Andrew Pulley:
On the surface, the policies are different. I mean, the diversity of the army armed forces, the integrated character of the office at core and then even the top generals doesn’t change the fundamental character of the imperialist objective of the foreign policy of the United States. It still is still to oppress. It still is to keep its foot on the neck of working people and farmers, the world over, in Africa and in Asia and in Europe with the aggression against the people in Northern Ireland, for example. When that struggle was on the away, it is all designed to maintain the status quo of a handful of people in the biggest country, running the world to benefit the super rich and then to keep the world functioning in that way. The fate of the rest of humanity be damned.

Matthew Breems:
When you have opportunities to speak to young people now, maybe some of them are thinking of joining the military, maybe it’s an obvious question, but what type of advice do you give them or in which way do you try to change their thinking about their future?

Andrew Pulley:
Well, the fact is that those joining the military do so… They think they are doing something noble in Afghanistan, for example, fighting for women’s rights, fighting for the worst wars of the US. Some join for those reasons, other join for economic reasons to get ahead, to get some kind of skill to practice when they return to civilian life. But the problem with the army and the armed forces employment is that the fundamental role they play is to police the world and to keep the world safe for the profit of few billionaires who run the world and the conditions of the world basically as it is.

Matthew Breems:
Well, Mr. Pulley, thank you so much for taking the time to be with us on the podcast today and sharing your story and your experiences. We really appreciate it.

Andrew Pulley:
Thank you. Thank you.

Matthew Breems:
This podcast is encouraged to resist production recorded and edited by Matthew Breams, with special thanks to executive producer, Jeff Paterson. Visit couragetoresist.org for more information and to offer your support.