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Protest and Publicity

by: Olivia Brickley

The Tulip Time Festival in Holland, Michigan remains one of the most public events in Holland. Many event showcase the pride in the town’s Dutch history and roots, and the Tulip Time Festival Parade is considered by many to be one of the most anticipated events. However, on Saturday, May 14, 1966, the Tulip Time Festival parade, left a different impression on the 30,000 spectators, both tourist and residents[1] The parade was disrupted by a group of 10 Hope College students protesting the conflict in Vietnam and the Selective Service Examination. This was the first major protest against the Vietnam War by Hope students.

Thousands of people from all over the world come to see the tulips and all the festivities that surround them, and one of the most important traditions in Holland, Michigan, is the annual Tulip Time Festival Parade. In 1966 however, the rising tensions of the Vietnam War had begun to affect students in the most personable way possible: the draft. In response to this, 10 Hope College students broke into the Tulip Time Festival parade, without a permit, to voice their opinions concerning the Vietnam War and the United States’ involvement. This protest however, served a much larger purpose than merely communicating the students’ opinions. Essentially, the Tulip Time Festival parade protest served as a platform for discussion and debate about what appropriate protest looks like in light of the Vietnam War and the draft.

Many individuals within the Hope College community criticized the

manner in which the students protested, rather than the reasoning the

students had concerning the issues they were protesting. Following the

protest, the Anchor published reactions from students and faculty. In a

blanket statement, Robert Wege asserted that “Most students take the view

that the marchers gave the town a bad image of Hope students.”[2] Alvin

Vanderbush, professor and football coach, commented that “the

demonstration showed a ‘lack of manners.’”[3] One student used the

foundation that law creates the freedoms and restrictions, which thus

determines what should be considered proper and improper protest:

“The basis of freedom that we Americans enjoy is respect for and use of the law...And to be specific, law which meets the situation of two people claiming to have the freedom to conduct a parade at the same place and time by providing for the issuance of permits.”[4] Some students went as far to argue that the fashion in which the students protested and the lack of legality was in fact contradictory to the very nature of their protest: “The fact that the students failed to use lawful channels of dissent is a serious charge against their confidence in the democratic process...The issue of legality is an important one in a society that ensures individual freedoms by means of law...the demonstrators also shattered an image of our college and an image of what responsible dissent consists of.”[5] This critique of the means of dissent used speaks to the “The people of Holland Have their own town, their own customs, their own ideas; maybe this time it would have been best to let them have their own parade.”[6] However, the discussion of formalities and legalities remained only one part of the conversation.

            The purpose of the protest was present by the students who protested as a “Statement of Purpose,” which was handed out during the parade, as well as published in the May 20, 1966 Anchor. Of the students’ primary concerns were the failure of the administration “by refusing to deal with Viet Cong leaders as independent agents to attempt to bring this action to a close” which is believed to help “preserve the democratic way of life.” Furthermore, the students found the draft dest as a means of discrimination and a test of loyalty. The manner in which the students protest stood as a form of disruption, but also to “keep this protest alive in the eyes of our people - even during a festive occasion such as this...provide a sharp contrast to the general festivity.”[7] This is further backed by John Mulder, who wrote that “the fact that these 10 raised a question, an important question to a populace which was not thinking or talking about it, to a press and to churches who ignored it, is constructive. For the question involves all of us and the discussion must continue: Is the war right?”[8] However, the perceived inappropriateness of the students’ protest outweighed the possibility of dialogue or discussion to many students. One critic declared, “In attempting to encourage the local population to follow the interests of the protesters, they accomplished little more than uniting the narrow-minded opposition already firmly entrenched in this community.”[9] Student Craig Holleman argued that the protesters should not have expected much from the protest other than hostility: “They should have known they would be greeted with nothing but emotionally centered, defense-mechanized booing and jeering, which at best could objectify no purpose and at worst possibly lead to a small riot.”[10]

            The Tulip Time Festival, rooted deeply in tradition, served for some as another space to ignore the chaos of larger global socio-political relationships and tensions. Knowing this, the 10 student protestors decided that the Vietnam War was much more important and deserving of people’s attention than a parade. The interruption they caused served as a juxtaposition and reminder of the positions of comfort the people in attendance found themselves in, a position where looking the other way is both possible and easy.

 

[1] Rob Wege, "The Changeling: An Apology," The Anchor, May 20, 1966.

[2] Wege, "The Changeling: An Apology."

[3] George Arwady, “Readers Speak Out: Readers Criticize Vietnam March, Question NDL,” The

Anchor, May 20, 1966.

[4] Keith Tyler, “Dear Editor…: Marcher’s State Defense and Students Comment,” The Anchor, May 20, 1966.

[5] Tyler, “Dear Editor,” 1966.

[6] Craig Holleman, “Dear Editor…: Marcher’s State Defense and Students Comment,” The

Anchor (Holland, MI), May 20, 1966, accessed May 16, 2018.

[7] Hope College Student Protesters, “Statement of Purpose,” The Anchor, May 20, 1966.

[8]John Mulder, “On the March,” The Anchor, May 20, 1996.

[9]“Readers Criticize Vietnam March, Question NDL,” The Anchor, May 20, 1966.

[10]  Craig Holleman, “Dear Editor…: Marcher’s State Defense and Students Comment,” 1966.