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


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.

Time period

June, 1971 to November, 1971


United States

Location City/State/Province

Philadelphia; Baltimore; New York City; Boston; Washington, D.C.
Jump to case narrative

Segment Length

Approximately 1 month

Notes on Methods

Exact timing of all methods is not known at this time.


A collective of the Movement for a New Society (MNS) (Overseas Impact Nonviolent Revolutionary Group), based in Philadelphia, PA, USA


Friends of East Bengal, other collectives of the Movement for a New Society

External allies

International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) and International Longshore and Warehouse Union; Baltimore, NY, Boston regional offices of American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and local Quakers, Bangladesh League of America, Bangladesh Information Center

Involvement of social elites

Senators Frank Church and Edward Kennedy and their staffs, then other members of Congress


US Federal Government

Nonviolent responses of opponent

Not known

Campaigner violence

None known

Repressive Violence

None known





Group characterization

Movement for a New Society activists
Friends of East Bengal (Bengalis and non-Bengalis on East Coast)

Groups in 1st Segment

Friends of East Bengal
Bangladesh Information Center
Baltimore AFSC/Quakers

Groups in 2nd Segment

Other MNS collectives in Philadelphia
staffs of Senators Church and Kennedy
International Longshoreman’s Association (ILA) Baltimore local.

Groups in 3rd Segment

International Longshoreman’s Association and International Longshore and Warehouse Union decide to refuse to load weapons anywhere in the U.S.

Groups in 4th Segment

Senators Church and Kennedy

Groups in 5th Segment

More Senators sign on to the Church bill denying military aid

Groups in 6th Segment

Growing Congressional support and State Dept. announces cancellation of all licenses for export of arms to Pakistan.

Segment Length

Approximately 1 month

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

3 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


3 out of 3 points

Total points

7 out of 10 points

Notes on outcomes

The campaign experienced complete success in preventing U.S. arms exports to Pakistan, but failed in its second goal of stopping U.S. economic aid to Pakistan.

Database Narrative

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.


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