In the Spring of 1968, nine Catholic activists, two of which were priests, entered a Draft Board office in Catonsville, Maryland, and removed stacks of draft records, which they dropped in the parking lot of the office and burned with homemade napalm. Instead of running away or trying to remain anonymous, the activists had alerted local media to attend and remained to pray around the burning records, awaiting their eventual arrest. Their actions were a protest against the military draft implemented for the Vietnam War, and the activists became known as the Catonsville Nine.
While the actions of the Catonsville Nine had an immediate impact on those whose draft records were destroyed, the impact grew when it was revealed that the draft office did not have back-ups or copies of any records (something members of the Catonsville Nine were already aware of due to a similar protest they were involved in earlier, as part of the Baltimore Four, who poured blood on draft records at a Baltimore office). In other words, once a record was destroyed, that was it; the person whose file was destroyed was no longer a potential draftee. This information spread and similar actions and antiwar protests popped up around the country. As protests and actions increased, so too did general awareness of, and distaste for, the Vietnam War grow.
Skizz Cyzyk and Joe Tropea’s feature documentary, Hit & Stay (named after the type of protest utilized by the Catonsville Nine where the action took place and the participants stuck around to take responsibility), introduces us to the story of the Catonsville Nine and then broadens to follow the surge of similar actions the Nine inspired. While I can’t say that the film covers every action, it probably comes damn close.
Which can be somewhat overwhelming at times, particularly because so many actions stuck to being referenced or named by the location and number of participants. Due to this reason, the mind starts to jumble cities and numbers by the end of the film. That said, the film remains easy to follow and the pace doesn’t drag; there’s just a lot to take in.
But honestly, it’s not like there’s a test to be taken after the film ends, where you need to correctly identify which actions equals which name. It’s not about information overload so much as it is about showing how simple, nonviolent actions made an immediate and massive impact that spread over time. Sure, that impact evolves over the course of the film, as activists change their scope and techniques, and likewise government push back increases, but the seed remains nonviolent and in the spirit of accepting full responsibility for one’s actions.
The Catonsville Nine was a small action that had massive repercussions; we have protests today because of the influence of the protests and actions of the past. Sure, the world has changed quite a bit since the ’60s, but that doesn’t mean we’re powerless, though maybe that’s what the powers that be want you to think; that the actions that worked in the past just wouldn’t work today, to dissuade people from doing anything. In that sense, try to put yourself in the place of those who protested in the ’60s and ’70s and understand that it has never been easy, it’s always seemed somewhat hopeless and, in the end, history has been borne out differently due to those who undertook the seemingly impossible. Hit & Stay is a reminder of the power of the people, something that must never be forgotten.