Underground Woman! (1970)
By Mary Moylan
Mary Moylan was one of the Catonsville 9, who destroyed draft files at a Selective Service office in the suburbs of Baltimore on May 17, 1968. The 9 were convicted of two federal and four state crimes; appeals failed, and six were to begin serving their concurrent terms on April 9, 1970 (two others were given brief extensions; the ninth defendant had died). Four of those scheduled to be imprisoned failed to appear at the appointed time. The woman among them-Mary Moylan-recorded the story of her first few days underground. Hard Times obtained a copy, and is presenting it in Miss Moylan’s own words. The editors believe that internal evidence in the story proves its authenticity. At the time she wrote, Miss Moylan was reportedly in an Eastern city.
I’ve been underground-if you can call it that-for only a short time. I was supposed to show up at the federal marshal’s offices in Baltimore on Thursday, April 9, at 8:30 a.m., to begin serving my sentence, which is two years, I think. We had gotten togetherthe remaining eight of us-about a week or so before that and the decision that came out of that meeting was that we would do our own thing. I hadn’t intended at all to show up, but then neither had I intended to-so to speak-go underground. To cooperate with such authority is to find yourself in a kind of weird position to begin with, and I had just planned to take a walk and smell the flowers and then they could come and pick me up when they so desired. But then, when I realized four men of the group were going underground, that they were not going to show up and were not going to be available, I did some re-thinking and decided that because women’s liberation is one of the most important issues being raised, I felt I had to do the same thing-and do it with sisters, and with the help of sisters. So I let a few sisters know that I did not want to show up, and with their cooperation, I’ve been sitting around since Thursday.
Being underground is strange. I live in an apartment with one bedroom, a kitchen, living room and hall. I spend my days reading, drinking, smoking and sleeping. I’m not at all sure what it means to be underground. I know it means being out of touch with many people, being inactive. I was thinking about the two Kathys-Wilkerson and Boudin-and wherever they are I hope they’re in good health because I’m sure they would probably get life sentences if they ever surfaced again. But then, how do you operate? I don’t think we have the mechanisms set up for that. I think the black community does, but not the whites. I think there is growing interest in the Movement in setting up some kind of an underground network, and people are trying to get straight in their heads what exactly underground means (we use the term so easily).
I expect to turn myself in after the four men do. I think that will be fairly soon, but if it lasts more than six months, say, I would probably leave the country and go to Canada and see what’s happening with the resisters. I don’t think the feds are looking very hard for us because we’re certainly not the 10-most-wanted, and yet in one sense I think we must be very irritating to them. And in this perhaps is our greatest impact.
Up until last Thursday I hadn’t really decided what I wanted to do because I’m confused on the whole question of non-violence. I believe in non-violence. There are two groups in the non-violent camp. One of those groups is straight pacifist; the other is much looser, and feels that somehow we have to continue to respect human life: and that’s probably the only way we hew the pacifist line. The sort of public non-cooperation of pacifists bothers me; most pacifists I know would have told me to go take a walk in the park and smell the flowers, but it just didn’t strike me as enough. It would have been such a futile thing because they would have come and picked me up. The other difficulty is that the feds know who my friends in Baltimore are, and I had to consider the question of how much pressure would be brought to bear on them, so I knew I couldn’t go to any of the people in Baltimore, and I had to go to other people in another city.
I have to laugh when I think about the Catonsville action. I don’t regret it at all. I’m very content and happy I did it. but it was totally insane. The nine of us drove out to the Catonsville draft board offices around noon. It was a weekday, because we wanted to go when the board was open. Tom Lewis and I went in first, and he had a prepared speech to read to the clerks to reassure them that we were not going to wipe them out. Bureaucracy is fantastic: We walked in and nobody would look at us. Tom came up and started reading: We are a group of clergymen and laymen concerned about the war. And nobody would look up, they were so busy writing. So we went through our scene-draft files were dumped into our baskets and the phones were taken care of so the clerks couldn’t. call for help until we had left the building. The clerks were very upset-one woman kept screaming about US taking her files, and she would have to protect her files. The other woman in the office was determined to make a phone call, so we went through a wrestling match. But we eventually made it out, and I guess they eventually called. The night before, we had cooked up some home-made napalm, so we put the files on the ground outside and stood around in a circle watching them burn.
There were some people from the press there, and some of our people made statements. We stood there and we waited and we waited and we waited, and the people were watching us-the clerks from the second floor-and nobody knew what we were doing. Then a little cop on one of those three-wheel things came up and he stood there and watched us, and we thought, My God, they’re not going to arrest us; what are we going to do? But eventually they came skidding into the parking lot and they arrested us, and we went through the arrest scene, with the FBI wandering in and out.
Then finally we went to jail-thank God-I was so pooped. We hadn’t had anything to eatAhose people don’t feed you-that was a big shock. I thought I’d always heard about cops giving you mugs of coffee, and I was just dying for a coffee or a Coke or something. We never got anything until 10 o’clock that night.
We had all known we were going to jail, so we all had our toothbrushes. I was just exhausted; I took my little box of clothes and stuck it under the cot and climbed into bed. Now all the women in the Baltimore County jail were black-I think there was only one white. The women were waking me up and saying, Aren’t you going to cry? I said, What about? They said, You’re in jail. And I said, Yeah, I knew I’d be here. So I lay down again and they kept on waking me up and wanting to know when I was going to cry. I said, I left this morning knowing I was going to be here-what’s there to cry about? I should have cried last night. They were funny; a lot of women in jail are coming off dope, and after they get off the first very bad withdrawal symptoms they have a hard time sleeping. I was sleeping between two of these women, and every morning I’d wake up and they’d be leaning on their elbows watching me.
They’d say, You slept all night. I’d say, Yeah, and I plan to do that every night. And they couldn’t believe it. They were good. We had good times.
I had a very thorough Catholic upbringing-all the way through nurses’ training. I spent some time in Uganda working as a nursemidwife with the Women Volunteers Association, a Catholic organization. The nuns sent me home in December, 1965; they decided tPey didn’t like me either. When I got home, I became, through some insanity, director of the group. Then I met Patrick Aloysius Cardinal O’Boyle. we had a few disagreements, and that finished me. I began working as a nurse in Washington-there’s no such thing as working as a midwife in Washington-and met some of the active black people there.
Then George Mische, whom I had known for several years, came to town, and he wanted to start a radical Catholic house.
It didn’t appeal to me at all. I just didn’t want to have anything to do with the Church to begin with and wasn’t interested in attacking it or saving it or doing anything with it. I just wanted it to go away quietly.
The establishment press constantly described us, after Catonsville, as Catholic pacifists, and that’s when I stopped believing the establishment press. I’m much too Irish to be a pacifist, and my relationship with the Roman Catholic Church has been off and on, to say the very least, for quite a while. Realizing that that was where I came from, the Catholic title bothered me less than the pacifist title. But it’s even more difficult now because I have no relationship with the Catholic Church, nor do I want any. Everybody in the group, except George and me, was either a priest or a brother or a sister or an ex-one-or-the-other. So everyone assumed when they met me that I was an ex-nun. I’ve had. a lot of problems in my life, but that wasn’t one of them.
I suppose the political turning point in my life came while I was in Uganda. I was there when American planes were bombing the Congo, and we were very close to the Congo border. The planes came over and bombed two villages in Uganda (1 don’t know how the hell anyone figures out where the borders are). But it wasn’t that; it was what the hell were American planes doing, piloted by Cubans, bombing the Congo when as far as I knew, the United Nations was the peace-keeping force in the Congo. Where the hell did the American planes come in?
Later on I was in Dar Es Salaam and Chou En-lai came to town. The American Embassy sent out letters saying that no Americans were to be on the street, because this was a dirty Communist leader; but I decided this was a man who was making history and I wanted to see him. We did go and Chou waved to us-probably because we were the only white faces there.
When I came home from Africa I moved to Washington, and had to deal with the scene there and the insanity and the brutality of the cops and the type of life that was led by most of the citizens of that city-70 percent black. Nobody believed that cops were ever brutal-all black people just happened to be lippy and they needed to get a slap in the face once in a while and that was just a fact of life.
And then Vietnam, and the napalm and the defoliants, and the bombings: It was probably Vietnam last of all, as a matter of fact. All the liberals are running around bleeding all over Vietnam, and I can remember all those people who used to knit bandages for lepers in Africa, and all they prayed was that those lepers never ever came near them. The bandages went, and the lepers were happy, and they were happy, but there was never any desire to really deal with the problem. Sometimes I get the impression from some of the more liberal elements in the Movement that it’s enough to keep the Vietnamese happy in Vietnam, but we don’t want to be involved in any of the dirt and shit that goes on.
I got involved with the women’s movement about a year ago. I had heard about it and read about it and the women in Baltimore were forming a women’s liberation group. I was in New York where there were all kinds of women’s lib groups, so I got in on some of that. In my relations with men I was becoming more and more aware of the fact that they were chauvinists-I guess that’s the nicest thing I can think of to say about them. It struck me that there were all these men running around trying to build a human society who couldn’t relate to a woman as a human being.
The man-woman relationship is a basic unit of society; even if we have communes or collectives, still men and women are going to be with each other. Unless we can deal with that, I feel that our attempts to relate to the Third World or to any other group of people are going to fail. I began to believe that SDS, before their split, would have their revolution, and I certainly wasn’t going to stop them, but that we would just have to do it all over again because they were incapable of building a human society, in large part because they’re incapable of dealing with women’s liberation.
I think I’m really talking about freeing people: Men aren’t proving anything about themselves as people in saying they’ve got muscles or that they can rape a woman; or that they’re the brains and women are the heart; or that women have certain virtues, all of which are soft. Woman is compassionate, woman is this, that and the other thing, and it’s nice to have women around to help men out when they need compassion. I really feel that this is a pivotal issue, and for me it’s just a gut reaction; I very definitely would only relate to brothers who, I felt, were trying to deal with the issue-and preferably, only to sisters. If I ever decided to go through Catonsville again, I would never act with men: It would be a women’s action for me or I wouldn’t act. The Vietnamese and Algerian women have provided me with a real inspiration.
I think men get into competition with each other, and I don’t know what the hell everybody’s trying to prove. We’re all absurd when you come right down to it, but somehow all of us together add up to something that makes sense. And I don’t think that any one person or any group of people makes any more sense; somehow it’s a totality of making sense. The anarchism of the Movement with the very different groups operating makes sense. Out of all that is going to come a future that is a human society.
I was very excited by the Weatherpeople in the Days of Rage in Chicago. I was in Chicago for that, but I was with RYM II people [an antagonistic SDS fraction]. I felt that Weatherman was raising questions that the Movement wasn’t even dealing with. Unfortunately, RYM II just so overreacted to Weatherman that they-RYM people-ended up in the bag of being good guys and they’re not going to have any confrontations.
The day I arrived in Chicago, four Weathermen had been picked off from the middle of a demonstration. The Panthers had had a demonstration in front of the courthouse and then RYM had one, and these four Weatherpeople, two of whom were from Baltimore, were picked off: The cops just walked right into the crowd, picked up four people and walked out. The RYM people did nothing. I said, Oh, wait a minute, I’ve reconsidered this whole thing; I ain’t hitting the streets with you. It’s insane. Our Baltimore group got together and we talked about it and I said I couldn’t see any political reason to hit the streets with people who were going to let their own people be picked off.
And what the RYM people said to me, which freaked me out, was that the Weatherpeople were not ours to begin with, so they could be picked up. The proper response, they said, was to get the badge number of the arresting officer and find out what the charge was. I don’t know too many police forces-pig forcesin the world that compare to Chicago, and I really didn’t feel that there was going to be a big dialogue.
The Weatherpeople came to Chicago and they said they were going to bring the war home. Maybe you don’t think that’s a good idea, but it’s the first time I’ve ever known SDS to do what it said it was going to do. And I’m not sure that’s a bad idea. I wasn’t going to go out and do it with them, but I didn’t think it was such a bad idea…car windows and apartment windows… I don’t have any problem with that…or the Loop…that’s all right. Weathermen are raising questions. They’re continually going through these insane fits of theirs, but some of their very basic questions still haven’t been answered. I disagree with them. I don’t think that Red China’s qoing to come marching over here and save us. I really don’t think the blacks are going to be able to do it without us. I think Rap Brown really believes in a colorless revolution, and I really believe in it too. But I think it means we’ve got to rethink our tactics: And one of those tactics is going to jail. At the time of Catonsville, going to jail made sense to me, partially because of the black scene-so many blacks forever filling the jails and the whites being very concerned. Jail was not part of the scene for those whites. I don’t think it’s a valid tactic anymore, because of the change in the country itself. I don’t want to see people marching off to jail with smiles on their faces. I just don’t want them going. The Seventies are going to be very difficult, and I don’t want to waste the sisters and brothers we have by marching them off to jail and having mystical experiences or whatever they’re going to have. We’re trying to get Bobby Seale and the sisters out of jail in New Haven. We’ve got to start picking up again on our sisters and brothers who have been put away and who have been screwed royally by this society. I think you have to be serious and realize you could end up in jail, but I hope that people would not seek it, as we did.
I have no problem with my own jail sentence. I’ll be at the Women’s Federal Reformatory at Alderson, West Virginia, and there’s a whole bunch of sisters down there in that jail-sister criminals as a matter of fact. I think it will be interesting to see what the women’s response will be to women’s liberation and the whole Movement. I hate to make this confession, but I am really looking forward to two years of peace, two years of three meals a day, and a bed I can sleep in every night and count on. I don’t know what their solitaryor whatever they call it is like, buttwo years: I can make it.
The idea of jail doesn’t bother me that much; the idea of cooperating with the federal government in any way at all irritates the hell out of me. My alternatives are to go to jail, go aboveground with an assumed identity, stay underground, or leave the country. Any way I choose, the government is choosing for me. But what we’re questioning is their right, and they lost that right because of the obscenity and insanity of their actions, which are growing more and more obscene and insane.
I’m not worried about getting parole, because I wouldn’t know what to do with it if I did get it. Parole can really screw you. They demand that you have a nine-to-five job that’s a fairly decent job, and it’s very much like being on welfare: They have the right to inspect where you live; you can’t move without their permission; you can’t get married without their permission; you can’t go out of town without their permission; you have to be careful whom you see and what activities you’re involved in.
What’s happening in the Movement now is a separation between so-called good guys and the dirty bad guys. A lot of people say that Weathermen are for shit and we’re not going to waste a lot of time helping them or defending them or trying in any way to deal with the issues they’re raising. You know the line: The government is going to have to take care of them and we’re better off probably if they do because their tactics are terrible and their politics are worse. The Catonsville 9 have always been in most people’s minds the good guys; we’ve been socially acceptable. Most people wouldn’t be too upset to have us to their house. You know, take-a-nigger-to-Iunch. But if we think the establishment is illegal, then what are we doing making ourselves so legitimate and so acceptable? It seems to me that we’re playing the establishment game. I think we should be saying that we identify with the two Kathys and with Erika Huggins and the women in New Haven.
I very definitely see myself as a criminal. I don’t even know what the hell prisoner of conscience means. I think if we’re serious about changing the society that’s how we have to see ourselves. That prisoner of conscience -if there is any such thing as conscience and if anybody has it-I guess all of us are prisoners of it, but it doesn’t do anything politically to me at all. We’re all out on bail, and let’s all stay out.
Source: Hard Times
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