On April 4, Pitzer College’s Office of Alumni and Family Engagement and the Intercollegiate Media Studies department presented a screening of “The Boys Who Said NO!,” a documentary on the draft resistance movement during the Vietnam War. A panel discussion with documentary contributors Sara Wood Smith PZ ’66 and draft resister Bob Zaugh followed the screening in Benson Auditorium.
The film covered the development and course of the resistance movement, from the early 1960s to the draft in 1975 to the end of the war. Smith, who served as a volunteer and advisor to the film, spoke about the integrity and courage of those who resisted the draft and remained in the United States with the threat of prison sentences of up to five years.
“[The film] allows us to see the power of people speaking up and taking a stand,” Smith said. She added that she experienced encouragement around social justice protesting while at Pitzer.
Bob Zaugh, one of the draft resisters interviewed in the film, also attended the screening and spoke to the audience about the need to spread awareness about the movement and its historical impact.
Zaugh emphasized the impact of people working together in the resistance movement, including the participation of people ineligible for the draft through complicity statements. Such statements served as petitions through which ineligible Americans indicated their support for the movement and intention to help the resisters in a manner that could result in indictment by the government. This furthered the civil disobedience central to the movement and demonstrated the moral opposition to the draft and war from general Americans, not just those who could be drafted. Zaugh described this collaboration as “breathing together.”
“That’s what the government fears most,” he said, “breathing together. And we breathed together for years and we put an end to the draft.”
During the documentary, interviews with draft resisters and major figures in the movement, such as folk singer Joan Baez, joined footage, images and recordings from decades when the movement operated. The film illustrates the story of the boys who said no through the politics of the war effort, media coverage of the war and the resistance, the Civil Rights Movement and beyond.
“Evil is a participatory phenomenon. It counts on participation to be successful,” David Harris, a major leader of the movement, says in the documentary. “The first option you have is withdrawing your participation.”
For Zaugh, the draft resisters’ intentional withdrawal was not passive avoidance but active resistance.
“I am still called a draft dodger … And it’s not the truth, we resisted,” he said. “We walked straight towards this stuff that we did. We pulled ourselves out of the system completely.”
Smith added that actively resisting the draft required courage, resilience and profound moral conviction.
“What all of these men did by protesting and resisting and understanding that they could go to jail was not an easy choice, and there were sacrifices that they all made,” Smith said.
The film ended with photographs from recent protests around climate change, police brutality, immigration restrictions, queer rights and more.
Both Smith and Zaugh noted the significance of the number and complexity of the challenges the United States currently faces. Smith named both climate change and staying attentive to the youngest generation’s needs as the most pressing issues facing the country, and Zaugh listed a number of issues ranging from fast fashion to LGBTQ+ rights and mass incarceration.
“There’s so many issues that the youth can work on –– just pick one and do it, because we’re in real trouble,” Zaugh said.
One of those youth, Isadora Crane, an admitted student to Pitzer’s Class of 2027, resonated with this idea of individual action.
“I thought [the film] was really impactful, especially with so much going on today,” Crane said. “There’s so many things that you can work on because there is so much that needs to be improved in this country.”