August 8th, 1974: ‘I Remember Exactly Where I Was When Richard Nixon Resigned as President’

by on August 8, 2017 · 9 comments

in Ocean Beach

It’s true, I do remember exactly where I was when Richard Nixon came on the tube and announced he was resigning the presidency. It was August 8th, 1974, 43 years ago exactly, and I was sitting in a Mexican restaurant having dinner in the little town of Isla Vista – right outside the campus of UC Santa Barbara. I was in the midst of driving down the coast from the Bay Area, returning to my home on Cape May Avenue in OB.

An announcer came on the TV above us, which was clamped to the wall. Something about “… an important message from the President of the United States … directly from the White House.”

My attention immediately was jolted and while I stared at the black and white, Nixon came on and after his brief introductory remarks, he announced he was resigning effective noon the following day.

Unbelievable! Amazing! Adrenaline and joy flooded my body. This was the most wonderful of news!

I knew it was the ultimate culmination of the Watergate scandal, the White House cover-up – and the Articles of Impeachment then being drawn up by the House of Representatives. I had been involved in the Impeach Nixon movement for months, had made speeches at rallies – and along with other OB Rag staff – was engaged in a constant war of words against his administration and authoritarian rule.

Many of the people who made up the Impeach Nixon movement had come out of the anti-Vietnam war movement, including myself. In fact, that’s why I was in Isla Vista that night – to honor that community’s history in the at times fierce and combative anti-war struggle.

Like OB back then, Isla Vista was a student ghetto which butted up against the UC campus and had been the site of intense demonstrations and protests against the war and Bank of America – a visible profiteer of the war (one student had been killed during a burning of the bank when sheriff deputies shot into a crowd).

Yet August 8th that year was a moment I – and my generation – will never forget. As with an earlier generation who always remembered where they were when they heard Pearl Harbor had been bombed, and with a later generation who will always remember where they were when the Twin Towers were attacked, the day that Nixon resigned is etched in my generation’s memory like none other.

The resignation of a sitting American president was an historic and momentous occasion for us. Parties among progressives broke out across the nation; a joyous crowd whooped it up right outside the White House that night.

I couldn’t party – I had to drive back to OB. But I recall a huge relief being felt because the continued reign of Tricky Dick during those dark days before he left was not a pleasant time.

Far from it – it was actually a pretty scary time. Those of us involved in social change had followed the scandal closely and once it was crystal clear he was covering up not only the Watergate break-in but his entire campaign of using the national security and law enforcement apparatus to harm and harass his political opponents – including the progressive movements – we, of course, didn’t know that he would just resign, and go quietly via helicopter into the night of that noon.

From the time he was clearly guilty of the abuse of power to the time he resigned – we’re talking more than a year – we didn’t know what he would do. He was capable of a lot of nasty stuff.  The burglary at the Watergate was just the tip. (Read up about COINTELPRO.)

iSome of us thought he might declare martial law (in fact the San Diego Door made a mock copy of the front page of the very-conservative San Diego Union with screaming headlines of “Martial Law Declared!”)

It was a very real fear. Progressives were stressed out, on pins and needles, worried about their future and the future of the nation.

So when Nixon quit – the nation let go a sigh of relief that shook the continent.  The worst had been avoided. And sure, Gerald Ford, Nixon’s Vice-president, pardoned him a month later. But there were enacted, through Congressional action, a whole generation of reforms such as the Church Amendments that sought to limit executive power.

There are, of course, distinct parallels today with those days. And it’s a good thing we still have Richard Nixon and the Watergate Scandal to kick around, for they represent models for our body politic today.

We have the model of the Congressional investigations, the model of the special prosecutor, the model of the Saturday Night Massacre, the model of the Supreme Court decision that forced Nixon to give up his tapes, the model of Nixon’s resignation – all to help guide us and give us standards – while the very same specter haunts Mr. Trump.

Will history repeat itself – but more like a comedy?

[See Doug Porter’s similar memories at San Diego Free Press.]

The Washington Post announces

 

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Jan Michael Sauer August 8, 2017 at 7:11 pm

You’re right Frank. A lot of positives happened because of the Watergate scandal. And we are going to turn this negative fascist Trump regime into a lot of positives also. We can’t let up though. You have to admit that Our Resistance is very encouraging and I greatly admire the fact that the OB Rag is at the forefront of our historic movement. We shall overcome.

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avatar South OB Girl August 9, 2017 at 12:05 pm

Loved this article. What a great reflection on a momentous moment in history.

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avatar Daniel Smiechowski August 9, 2017 at 12:17 pm

Seems like yesterday, I was a few miles from the White House ironically driving a Jody Powell Bug on way to Chesapeake Bay! Elect Danny SD CC 50 years liking and supporting OB! Danny D2 SD City Council!!

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avatar Brett Warnke August 17, 2017 at 10:01 am

Great work as always, Frank. Was there a feeling that progressive forces had brought him down or that his criminality was just so overt, that he self-destructed?

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avatar Frank Gormlie August 17, 2017 at 10:35 am

It was both.

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avatar Frank Gormlie August 21, 2017 at 10:30 pm

I guess by 74 an exhaustion, a movement fatigue had set in among many in the movement. Definitely progressive forces backed up those in the establishment who felt compelled to act against Nixon. And the reason Nixon was so paranoid was because in large part of the continued and constant hammering at him by progressives and democrats. He thought he could get away with it, just like Trump does today. But the forces of truth and righteousness encircled Nixon as they will with Donald.

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avatar rick callejon August 17, 2017 at 10:03 am

Nixon dug his own grave.

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avatar Geoff Page August 17, 2017 at 2:32 pm

Funny, I remember watching this on TV, that image is clearly in my mind but where I was isn’t as clear. I know where I was but I don’t associate the place and the event. I do remember feeling absolutely elated. I was living in a red state at the time, Michigan, so I don’t remember big celebrations although folks were happy that their homegrown son, Gerald Ford was now president. I do clearly remember where I was when we got the news about Kennedy, I was in the 7th grade standing around a large work table in shop class. I remember I was riding a bus to school when I heard about Bobby Kennedy. I think that hit harder than it might have because Martin Luther King had been killed earlier in April that year and Kennedy died in June.

For people who did not live through that, it really felt like the world was coming apart. Nixon’s resignation was a ray of bright light that helped.

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avatar Daniel Smiechowski August 17, 2017 at 3:46 pm

Bobby wrote to my Father two weeks before the Ambassador Hotel. Mrs. Coretta Scott King wrote my Father in 1970. Danny

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