“Stop being juveniles,” a Lindsay aide, Donald Evans, admonished a construction worker.”
“What do you mean, being a juvenile?” he replied, punching Mr. Evans on the chin.
On May 8, 1970, New York mayor John Lindsay ordered all flags on city buildings lowered to half staff, in memory of the students who’d died in the Kent State shootings four days earlier.
Construction workers at the World Trade Center building site got wind of the plan. When anti-war protesters assembled at the George Washington statue on Wall Street that day — complete with Viet Cong flags — brokers and hard hats joined forces against the hippies, in one of the weirdest 70s events you’ve never heard of: the Hard Hat Riot.
Now is a great time to revive interest in the Hard Hat Riot. The Tea Parties represent a latter day, and far more successful, manifestation of the same frustration felt by ordinary, hardworking Americans, who believe the nation they know and love is being destroyed by the Left. Back in the 1970s, the mainstream media‘s monopoly on news and opinion was unquestioned and technologically unbreakable. The closest thing the people who later came to be called “Reagan conservatives” had to “alternative media” was a trickle of call-in radio shows and country & western music. Without the internet, the resentments revealed and energy unleashed during the Hard Hat Riot had nowhere to go.
Forty years later, how things have changed…
Here’s a brief account of what happened that day in May, 1970.
I’ve written about the Hard Hat Riot every May for a few years now. This year, I was contacted by photographer Henry Gordillo, who’d been on the scene that day with his camera. His photographs of the event have gone largely unseen, until now. One is posted at the top of this page, but there are others.
Like me, Gordillo has made the journey from Left to Right. I asked him to record his recollections of what happened on May 8, 1970:
As a committed Communist at the time, I felt that world revolution (and peace and good times, etc.) could be achieved through Tri-X film — if only I could take enough photographs. However Kent State seemed to prove that Fascism was on the march. We could be rounded up at any moment. It was all quite frightening and delightfully exhilarating and titillating.
So I head down to Wall Street to photograph the anti-war demonstration. Like a good student Communist, I slept in and got there around 11:30am. I could not reach the anti-war demonstrators because of the large number of on-lookers and the lines of police protecting the demonstrators. Though I could see the demonstration’s large “Free Bobby” (Seale) banner. So I wandered amongst Wall Street workers headed out to lunch. Because of my prejudices against suits and Wall Street, I thought the audience threatening, but looking back on the photographs there are lots of pictures of suits and long hairs debating, other folks just holding forth, and even one enterprising fellow selling anti-communist buttons, paraphernalia, and small American flags. It was fun.
And nobody minded my taking pictures.