U.S. Activists' Solidarity Campaign for Bangladesh (Blockade for Bangladesh), 1971

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Time Period:  
Location and Goals
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Philadelphia; Baltimore; New York City; Boston; Washington, D.C.
1. To prevent U.S. export of weapons to Pakistan, whose dictator (Yaya Khan) was engaged in widespread killing to prevent East Pakistan from seceding.

2. To stop U.S. economic aid to Pakistan.


Pakistan was splitting apart. Its eastern part, Bengali, declared independence and held a free election. West Pakistan declared war to end the secession, with U.S. support. President Nixon denied that the U.S. was sending weapons to Pakistani dictator Yaya Khan, but insiders knew otherwise.

In Philadelphia a group of activists decided in June to make it difficult for Pakistani freighters to load weapons at U.S. ports, by launching nonviolent fleets of small boats that would get between the freighters and the dock, a first in U.S. history.

Starting in Baltimore where the next freighter was due, the activists practiced maneuvers, gained publicity, and dialogued with the longshoremen/dockworkers. When the freighter arrived and, assisted by police arrests of the boats, managed to dock, the longshoremen refused to load the weapons!

Similar scenarios played out when Pakistani freighters came to Philadelphia, NYC, and Boston. The Movement for a New Society and the Friends of East Bengal were able to mobilize Quakers and others to protest through picket lines and watery maneuvers. In each case the boat actions attracted wide publicity.

Stirred by the campaign, the International Longshoremen’s Association decided to shut down all U.S. ports to Pakistani arms shipments.

Not satisfied with this victory, the campaigners then set up a constant presence across from the White House to pressure for an end to economic trade with Pakistan until it ended its genocidal war against Bangladesh. Campaigners were also concerned about possible air shipments of arms. Because Bengali refugees often found themselves in makeshift shelters provided by unused sewer pipes in camps, the activists brought giant sewer pipes to live in across the street from the White House. The U.S. Congress responded to the increased pressure and finally the State Department announced, in November, that no more military shipments would be made to Pakistan.

Deprived of the concrete support of the U.S. and then invaded by India in early December, Pakistan’s government fell. Bangladesh became an autonomous nation and refugees began to return home.

Research Notes
Blockade by Richard K. Taylor, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1977).
Additional Notes: 
Estimates of civilians killed in East Bengal range from 26,000 to 3 million, plus rape and destruction. U.S. government denied that weapons were going to West Pakistan from the U.S., but this wasn’t true.

Edited by Max Rennebohm (25/07/2011)

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
George Lakey, 09/10/2008