Review of Richard Pena and John Hagan’s Last Plane Out of Saigon, by Daniel C. Lavery, for VVAW’s “The Veteran”

Traveling Wall

Beginning at the Traveling Wall in Austin, Texas, a smaller replica of the National Vietnam Memorial, Richard Pena expresses a somber emotion for those who died in Vietnam seeing a woman's tears. He knew her pain would never cease. Pena was on the last plane out of Vietnam after spending a tour as a medic in Saigon. His photo was taken by a Viet Cong soldier when that final plane left. He recognized himself carrying his law school brief case upon returning with a delegation at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City in 2003. Pena's journal entries while serving from 1972 to 1973 as an Operating Room Specialist are aided by John Hagan, author of nine books and many articles as professor of Sociology and Law, Northwestern University, who comments on the context of Pena's story in history with references.

Last Plane Out of Saigon Pena      

Author Richard Pena pointing to himself entering the last plane out of Saigon

Pena's parents were proud of their Hispanic heritage and taught him by example. His father won a Silver Star for his service at Iwo Jima. Pena won best all-around high school athlete in San Antonio, Texas. He attended University of Texas at Austin when students burned their draft cards and protested the Vietnam conflict. The My Lai massacre struck raw nerves his senior year. Soon at Kent State National Guardsmen killed four students and wounded more wrenching America. His low lottery number made it certain he would be drafted. He tried to fail his physical but they were taking anyone who breathed then and entered the Army, June 14, 1971 as one of the last drafted.

3rd Field Hospital SaigonPena arrived at the 3rd Field Hospital in Saigon during the North Vietnamese siege of An Loc when they shot down four aircraft and killed nearly all the residents a few months before Nixon's presidential election during an opportunity for peace talks to resolve the conflict. His objections to pressing for peace were politically motivated as Humphrey would have gained substantial support as a peace candidate despite his role with LBJ. Nixon's voice on tape in the oval office showed he proposed nuclear weapons to succeed but Kissinger replied he thought it would be too much. Nixon said, "I don't give a damn" about civilians killed by U.S. bombing USA Today reported February 28, 2002. While peace was possible Nixon refused to press for it and made the South Vietnamese think if he were president they would get a better deal prolonging the war needlessly and causing more than 20,000 more American deaths.

Nixon against ProtestorsPena called Vietnamization a catastrophe demonstrated graphically as he arrived. Young ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) troops threw down their weapons and fled with villagers as the North Vietnamese launched an unprecedented invasion. They expected 200 or so casualties but 2000 marched toward a 100 bed hospital 60 miles away. However many were mortared by Communists on Highway 13 and others accidentally killed by our B-52s. The Air Force accidentally missed the Communists and hit a South Vietnamese village! Pena joined a group of fifteen who worked the Operating Room confronted by death who built a strong companionship.

Soon a C-130 aircraft crashed from mechanical failure causing them to expect many casualties. Burn patients were the worst, difficult to look at, tough to treat, and many died. The first soldier's face appeared plastered red, hair and eyebrows burned away, red burns ran the length of his young body. He had a wife and young child.They smeared Sulfamylon cream over him feeling helpless. His coworker said he would soon die. A sergeant arrived with a broken ankle and numerous lacerations. These professionals knew the risks but it is for the young whom Pena felt the most sorry. The lifers have some control but not the draftees. The sergeant wanted to know how many survived but Pena couldn't tell him only three made it. Pena wondered how many were on the plane and learned there were forty five. The government released only the number fourteen. Such lies insulted Pena and the others. It added brainwashing to misinformation. C 130 Crashed in Vietnam

An allied Cambodian arrived by air in desperate condition and needed a transfusion from someone with B positive blood. Pena readily provided it as the only one with that type. The doctors said he couldn't survive the operation, yet he wouldn't live without one! They amputated his left leg and blood splattered all over the floor. A nineteen year-old soldier was shot in the head and died from his wound. An American asked him for a cigarette but he didn't have one, so he shot him in the back of the head at point blank range with a .38 pistol. A clean-cut man named Holley had a wife he never cheated on but once. He was found the next morning in a lover's embrace as the girl had put ground-up glass in his food, the sixth American that girl killed. Soon we understand how Pena felt an impermanence sweep over him and all his previous concerns seemed small and unimportant. Richard Pena President of the Texas State Bar Much later Pena became President of the American Bar Foundation and State Bar of Texas. His practice started as a solo attorney for the common person, without an office using an old beat up car. He felt his experience in Vietnam gave him the courage, willpower and confidence to stand up against injustice and fight for his clients. "It was the road less traveled, but it was my road." Published 2014 by Story Merchant Books, 9601 Wilshire Blvd. # 1202, Beverly Hills, Ca 90210

Bio: VVAW member Daniel C. Lavery graduated Annapolis, navigated a Navy jet, and a ship, turned peace activist and became a civil rights lawyer for Cesar Chavez's UFW. His memoir, All the Difference, describes his experiences:

http://www.amazon.com/All-Difference-Daniel-C-Lavery/dp/1482676532/ website: www.danielclavery.com.

  Last Plane Out of Saigon by Richard Pena

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Review of Greta Marsh’s Frankie and Jonny and Mommy too, by Daniel C. Lavery,

Govap Orphanage VietnamReview of Greta Marsh’s Frankie and Jonny and Mommy too, by Daniel C. Lavery, Written for VVAW’s “The Veteran”

One kind woman’s determination to adopt a Vietnamese War orphan, make this truly an inspirational story. Written in heartfelt verse, Marsh dramatically presents the struggle of one woman to adopt a Vietnamese orphan surviving at the Govap Orphanage. She hopes to save him from the ravages of the Vietnam conflict, where his parents were victims of the outrageous My Lai Massacre. Greta, a Jewish single parent, with three girls in college, wanted to find an orphan that her thirteen year-old son, Jonny, could help grow up in Long Island N.Y. with a loving family. Frankie was the name Jonny chose for the orphan in honor of his recently deceased grandfather.

Her first obstacle was an unexpected confrontation with discrimination despite her responsible job as a probation officer in Family Court where she worked with troubled children and single parents. The adoption agency sent her a letter stating she was unqualified to adopt because “Every child deserves two parents.” They would, however, permit her to adopt a physically or emotionally disabled child. Outraged, she wrote them: “Who is in greater need of 2 parents, a physically and/or emotionally disabled child or a relatively healthy child? You should be ashamed.” They did not respond.

Religious bigotry struck next when a local friendly Vietnamese Priest told her a child was waiting for her in Vietnam, but the agency told her twice: “We do home studies for Christian families.” She informed the Priest of the prejudice. He paused and then said he could not help. She wrote: “Dear Father, Jesus was a Jew who never left his religion and I do not think he is smiling kindly upon you.”

After many years of struggle Greta’s dream of adoption was fulfilled when she, her grandmother, Aunt, and thirteen year-old son, Jonny, arrived by plane in Vietnam. She finally adopted a five year-old boy baptized “David” who became “David Frank”. The family welcomed him with love. Soon Jonny felt sad for him because he looked scared but Greta ensured that Frankie would be a part of a compassionate family. They dressed him in an adorable suit and found a mixed breed Dachshund Frankie named Suzi for him. He learned soon to ice skate, draw, play piano, and liked to build sand castles on the beach.

Marsh adds a summary of the My Lai Massacre, military problems of rape, sexual harassment, suicide, civilian casualty statistics, Agent Orange, and the extension of the Vietnam War to Laos and Cambodia. The author says she intends the money earned from her book will be used to help wounded vets and their families. Greta Marsh’s wonderful story of how she succeeded in saving the life of a Vietnamese orphan who became integrated into a loving American family shines with the finest sparks of humanity. She reminds us at the end of her inspirational story the Talmud says: “To Save One Life is as if you have Saved the Entire World.”

Published by 1stWorld Publishing, P. O. Box 2211, Fairfield, Iowa 52556 ISBN: 978-1-4218-8663-3 Soft Cover ISBN: 978-1-4218-8664-0 Hard Cover

Bio: VVAW member Daniel C. Lavery graduated Annapolis, navigated a Navy jet, and a ship, turned peace activist and became a civil rights lawyer for Cesar Chavez's UFW. His memoir, All the Difference, describes his experiences: http://www.amazon.com/All-Difference-Daniel-C-Lavery/dp/1482676532/ website: www.danielclavery.com.  

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Refuse To Surrender To Fear

Billy Mitchell

(Billy Mitchell played "What a Wonderful World" at the Onion on piano)

Friends, anyone notice how dark internet communications have become as we face ISIS the scourge of humanity, whose cadaverous faces smile awaiting the next calamity they shall visit upon us while we twist in the wind discussing how to deal with ISIS. I sing in a Unitarian Choir that had a black activist, Billy Mitchell, turned jazz pianist from the 60’s speak to us awhile ago. He, with more reasons to be negative than most of us, said: “Rather than see the negative all around me in my community and our world, there are more people now than ever working for a better world,” Then he launched into this song Louis Armstrong sang when Blacks were suffering from segregation, beatings from southern sheriffs, and all seemed so very hopeless:

Louie Armstrong wonderful world

I see trees of green, red roses too

Red Rose

I see them bloom for me and you

And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue and clouds of white

Hiroshima Do Your Peace

The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night

And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky

colors of the rainbow

Are also on the faces of people going by

I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do

But what they’re really saying is I love you.

Hands together avatar for peace

I hear babies crying and watch them grow

They’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know

And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

Yes, I think to myself what a wonderful world.

Louie Armstrong and kids

Terrorism is just one of many dangers in the world, and shouldn’t be allowed to divert our attention from other issues. When President Obama describes climate change as the greatest threat we face, he’s exactly right. Terrorism can’t and won’t destroy our civilization, but global warming could and might. So how to respond to terrorism? Before the atrocities in Paris, the West’s general response involved a mix of policing, precaution, and military action. All involved difficult trade-offs: surveillance versus privacy, protection versus freedom of movement, denying terrorists safe havens versus the costs and dangers of waging war abroad.

Obama wonderful world

Sometimes a terrorist attack slipped through.Paris may have changed that calculus a bit, especially when it comes to Europe’s handling the agonizing issue of refugees. Do you remember all the pronouncements that 9/11 would change everything? Well, it didn’t — and neither will this atrocity. The goal of terrorists is to inspire terror, because that’s all they’re capable of. The most important thing our societies can do in response is to refuse to give in to fear and that is my point in using Louie Armstrong's wonderful song.

wonderful world

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Tourists of Empire

Afghanistan war cartoon By William Astore, retired Air Force Lieutenant, who discusses America’s peculiar brand of global imperialism. He mentions in Afghanistan and elsewhere the U.S. is suffering from Imperial Tourism Syndrome. Published: October 28, 2015 | Authors: William Astore | TomDispatch | Op-Ed

(Photos and cartoons have been inserted from media)

The United States is a peculiar sort of empire.  As a start, Americans have been in what might be called imperial denial since the Spanish-American War of 1898, if not before.  Empire — us?  We denied its existence even while our soldiers were administering “water cures” (aka waterboarding) to recalcitrant Filipinos more than a century ago.  Heck, we even told ourselves we were liberating those same Filipinos, which leads to a second point: the U.S. not only denies its imperial ambitions, but shrouds them in a curiously American brand of Christianized liberation theology.  In it, American troops are never seen as conquerors or oppressors, always as liberators and freedom-bringers, or at least helpers and trainers.  There’s just enough substance to this myth (World War II and the Marshall Plan, for example) to hide uglier imperial realities.

Denying that we’re an empire while cloaking its ugly side in missionary-speak are two enduring aspects of the American brand of imperialism, and there’s a third as well, even if it’s seldom noted.  As the U.S. military garrisons the planet and its special operations forces alone visit more than 140 countries a year, American troops have effectively become the imperial equivalent of globetrotting tourists.  Overloaded with technical gear and gadgets (deadly weapons, intrusive sensors), largely ignorant of foreign cultures, they arrive eager to help and spoiling for action, but never (individually) staying long.  Think of them as the twenty-first-century version of the ugly American of Vietnam-era fame.

Cartoon Afghansistan

The ugliest of Americans these days may no longer be the meddling CIA operative of yesteryear; “he” may not even be human but a “made in America” drone. Think of such drones as especially unwelcome American tourists, cruising the exotic and picturesque backlands of the planet loaded with cameras and weaponry, ready to intervene in deadly ways in matters its operators, possibly thousands of miles away, don’t fully understand.  Like normal flesh-and-blood tourists, the drone “sees” the local terrain, “senses” local activity, “detects” patterns among the inhabitants that appear threatening, and then blasts away.  The drone and its operators, of course, don’t live in the land or grasp the nuances of local life, just as real tourists don’t.  They are literally above it all, detached from it all, and even as they kill, often wrongfully, they’re winging their way back home to safety.

Imperial Tourism Syndrome

Call it Imperial Tourist Syndrome, a bizarre American affliction that creates its own self-sustaining dynamic.  To a local, it might look something like this: U.S. forces come to your country, shoot some stuff up (liberation!), take some selfies, and then, if you’re lucky, leave (at least for a while).  If you’re unlucky, they overstay their “welcome,” surge around a bit and generate chaos until, sooner or later (in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, much, much later), they exit, not always gracefully (witness Saigon 1975 or Iraq 2011).

Drone death protest

And here’s the weirdest thing about this distinctly American version of the imperial: a persistent short-time mentality seems only to feed its opposite, wars that persist without end.  In those wars, many of the country’s heavily armed imperial tourists find themselves sent back again and again for one abbreviated tour of duty after another, until it seems less like an adventure and more like a jail sentence.

The paradox of short-timers prosecuting such long-term wars is irresolvable because, as has been repeatedly demonstrated in the twenty-first century, those wars can’t be won.  Military experts criticize the Obama administration for lacking an overall strategy, whether in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, or elsewhere.  They miss the point.  Imperial tourists don’t have a strategy: they have an itinerary.  If it’s Tuesday, this must be Yemen; if it’s Wednesday, Libya; if it’s Thursday, Iraq.

Drone deaths

In this way, America’s combat tourists keep cycling in and out of foreign hotspots, sometimes on yearly tours, often on much shorter ones.  They are well-armed, as you’d expect in active war zones like Iraq or Afghanistan.  Like regular tourists, however, they carry cameras as well as other sensors and remain alert for exotic photo-shoots to share with their friends or the folks back home.  (Look here, a naked human pyramid in Abu Ghraib Prison!)

As tourists, they’re also alert to the possibility that on this particular imperial safari some exotic people may need shooting.  There’s a quip that’s guaranteed to win knowing chuckles within military circles: “Join the Army, travel to exotic lands, meet interesting people — and kill them.”  Originally an anti-war slogan from the Vietnam era, it’s become somewhat of a joke in a post-9/11 militarized America, one that quickly pales when you consider the magnitude of foreign body counts in these years, made more real (for us, at least) when accompanied by discomforting trophy photos of U.S. troops urinating on enemy corpses or posing with enemy body parts.

Here’s the bedrock reality of Washington’s twenty-first-century conflicts, though: no matter what “strategy” is concocted to fight them, we’ll always remain short-time tourists in long-term wars.

Imperial Tourism: A Surefire Recipe for Defeat Drone shooting missile

It’s all so tragically predictable.  When it’s imperial tourists against foreign “terrorists,” guess who wins?  No knock on American troops.  They have no shortage of can-do spirit.  They fight to win.  But when their imperial vacations (military interventions/invasions) morph into neocolonial staycations (endless exercises in nation-building, troop training, security assistance, and the like), they have already lost, no matter how many “having a great time” letters — or rather glowing progress reports to Congress — are sent to the folks back home.

By definition, tourists, imperial or otherwise, always want to go home in the end.  The enemy, from the beginning, is generally already home.  And no clever tactics, no COIN (or counterinsurgency) handbook, no fancy, high-tech weapons or robotic man-hunters are ever going to change that fundamental reality.

It was a dynamic already obvious five decades ago in Vietnam: a ticket-punching mentality that involved the constant rotation of units and commanders; a process of needless reinvention of the most basic knowledge as units deployed, bugged out, and were then replaced by new units; and the use of all kinds of grim, newfangled weapons and sensors, everything from Agent Orange and napalm to the electronic battlefield and the latest fighter planes and bombers — all for naught.  Under such conditions, even the U.S. superpower lacked staying power, precisely because it never intended to stay.  The “staying” aspect of the Vietnam War was often referred to in the U.S. as a “quagmire.”  For the Vietnamese, of course, their country was no “big muddy” that sucked you down.  It was home.  They had little choice in the matter; they stayed — and fought.

Combine a military with a tourist-like itinerary and a mentality to match, a high command that in its own rotating responsibilities lacks all accountability for mistakes, and a byzantine, top-heavy bureaucracy, and you turn out to have a surefire recipe for defeat.  And once again, in the twenty-first century, whether among the rank and file or at the very top, there’s little continuity or accountability involved in America’s military presence in foreign lands.  Commanders are constantly rotated in and out of war zones.  There’s often a new one every year.  (I count 17 commanders for the International Security Assistance Force for Afghanistan, the U.S.-led military coalition, since December 2001.) U.S. troops may serve multiple overseas tours, yet they are rarely sent back to the same area.  Tours are sequential, not cumulative, and so the learning curve exhibited is flat.

There’s a scene at the beginning of season four of “Homeland” in which ex-CIA chief Saul Berenson is talking with some four-star generals.  He says: “If we’d known in 2001 we were staying in Afghanistan this long, we’d have made some very different choices.  Right?  Instead, our planning cycles rarely looked more than 12 months ahead.  So it hasn’t been a 14-year war we’ve been waging, but a one-year war waged 14 times.”

True enough.  In Afghanistan and Iraq as well, the U.S. has fought sequentially rather than cumulatively.  Not surprisingly, such sequential efforts, no matter how massive and costly, simply haven’t added up.  It’s just one damn tour after another.

But the fictional Saul’s tagline on Afghanistan is more suspect: “I think we’re walking away with the job half done.” For him, as well as for the Washington establishment of this moment, the U.S. needs to stay the course (at least until 2017, according to President Obama’s recent announcement), during which time assumedly we’ll at long last stumble upon the El-Dorado-like long-term strategy in which America actually prevails.

Of course, the option that’s never on Washington’s table is the obvious and logical one: simply to end imperial tourism.  With apologies to Elton John, “sorry” is only the second hardest word for U.S. officials.  The first is “farewell.” 

Bumper Sticker VVAW

A big defeat (Vietnam, 1975) might keep imperial tourism fever in check for a while.  But give us a decade or three and Americans are back at it, humping foreign hills again, hoping against hope that this year’s trip will be better than the previous year’s disaster.

In other words, a sustainable long-term strategy for Afghanistan is precisely what the U.S. government has failed to produce for 14 years!  Why should 2015 or 2017 or 2024 be any different than 2002 or 2009 or indeed any other year of American involvement?

Unarmed Vietnamese Hide from US My Lai Assault

Unarmed Vietnamese Hide from US My Lai Assault

At some level, the U.S. military knows it’s screwed.  That’s why its commanders tinker so much with weapons and training and technology and tactics.  It’s the stuff they can control, the stuff that seems real in a way that foreign peoples aren’t (at least to us).  Let’s face it: past as well as current events suggest that guns and how to use them are what Americans know best.

But foreign lands and peoples?  We can’t control them.  We don’t understand them.  We can’t count on them.  They’re just part of the landscape we’re eternally passing through — sometimes as people to help and places to rebuild, other times as people to kill and places to destroy.  What they aren’t is truly real.  They are the tourist attractions of American war making, sometimes exotic, sometimes deadly, but (for us) strangely lacking in substance.

And that is precisely why we fail.

Vets against Afghan and Iraq wars

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Columbus Day should be Changed to Indigenous People’s Day

    Landing-of-Christopher-Columbus-in-America-at-San-Salvador-October-12th-A.D-640x479

Christopher Columbus has been presented to many children in our schools as a brave explorer who "discovered" America, as if those indigenous natives on the Caribbean Island in the Bahama's, called the Taino, had no history or culture of their own. Many American cities have re-evaluated Columbus Day and replaced it with Indigenous People's Day as more appropriate when the true history of exploitation, enslavement, and torture unfolded. The native Taino people of the island were systematically enslaved via the encomienda system implemented by Columbus, which resembled a feudal system in Medieval Europe.

Columbus lies              

Disease played a significant role in the destruction of the natives; however there is no record of any massive smallpox epidemic in the Antilles until 25 years after the arrival of Columbus. The truth is the natives' numbers declined due to extreme overwork, other diseases, and a loss of will to live after the destruction of their culture by the invaders. When the first pandemic finally struck in 1519 it wiped out much of the remaining native population. According to the historian Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdes by 1548, 56 years after Columbus landed, fewer than five hundred Taino were left on the island.

Columbus putting Indians in Grave            

Columbus' treatment of the Hispaniola natives was even worse as his soldiers raped, killed, and enslaved them with impunity at every landing. When Columbus fell ill in 1495, soldiers were reported to have gone on a rampage, slaughtering 50,000 natives. Upon his recovery, Columbus organized his troops' efforts, forming a squadron of several hundred heavily armed men and more than twenty attack dogs. The men tore across the land, killing thousands of sick and unarmed natives. Soldiers would use their captives for sword practice, attempting to decapitate them or cut them in half with a single blow.

Columbus atrocities            

Howard Zinn writes that Columbus spearheaded a massive slave trade. For example, in 1495 his men captured in a single raid 1500 Arawak men, women, and children. When he shipped five hundred of the slaves to Spain, 40% died en route. Historian James W. Loewen asserts "Columbus not only sent the first slaves across the Atlantic, he probably sent more slaves – about five thousand – than any other individual... other nations rushed to emulate Columbus.When slaves held in captivity began to die at high rates, Columbus switched to a different system of forced labor. He ordered all natives over the age of thirteen to collect a specified amount (one hawk's bell full) of gold powder every three months. Natives who brought the amount were given a copper token to hang around their necks, and those found without tokens had their hands amputated and were left to bleed to death.

Columbus killing Indians          

The Arawaks attempted to fight back against Columbus's men but lacked their armor, guns, swords, and horses. When taken prisoner, they were hanged or burned to death. Desperation led to mass suicides and infanticide among the natives. In just two years under Columbus' governorship more than half of the 250,000 Arawaks in Haiti were dead.The main cause for the depopulation was disease followed by other causes such as warfare and harsh enslavement.

    Columbus slavery of prostitutes          

Samuel Eliot Morison, a Harvard historian and author of a multi-volume biography on Columbus writes, "The cruel policy initiated by Columbus and pursued by his successors resulted in complete genocide." Loewen laments that while "Haiti under the Spanish is one of the primary instances of genocide in all human history", only one major history text he reviewed mentions Columbus' role in it.There is evidence that the men of the first voyage also brought syphilis from the New World to Europe. Many of the crew members who served on this voyage later joined the army of King Charles VIII in his invasion of Italy in 1495. After the victory, Charles' largely mercenary army returned to their respective homes, thereby spreading "the Great Pox" across Europe and triggering the deaths of more than five million people.

Columbus was involved heavily in the Sex Slave business. On his way back to Spain to stand trial for accusations of abuse of Spaniard colonists, he wrote a letter to the nurse of the son of Ferdinand and Isabella, pleading his case. Among it he wrote:

"Now that so much gold is found, a dispute arises as to which brings more profit, whether to go about robbing or to go to the mines. A hundred castellanos are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand, and for all ages a good price must be paid."

 

No wonder after learning of these revelations many cities have changed Columbus Day into Indigenous People's Day.The idea of replacing Columbus Day with a day celebrating the indigenous people of North America first arose in 1977 from the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas, sponsored by the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. At the First Continental Conference on 500 Years of Indian Resistance in Quito, Ecuador, in July 1990, representatives of Indian groups throughout the Americas agreed that they would mark 1992, the 500th anniversary of the first of the voyages of Christopher Columbus, as a day to promote "continental unity" and "liberation."

After the conference, attendees from Northern California organized to plan protests against the "Quincentennial Jubilee" that had been organized by the United States Congress for the San Francisco Bay Area on Columbus Day, 1992, to include, among other things, sailing replicas of Columbus' ships under the Golden Gate Bridge and reenacting their "discovery" of America. The delegates formed the Bay Area Indian Alliance, and, in turn, the "Resistance 500" task force,which advocated the notion that Columbus was responsible for genocide of indigenous people.

In 1992, the group convinced the city council of Berkeley, California, to declare October 12, a "Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People", and 1992 the "Year of Indigenous People", and to implement related programs in schools, libraries, and museums. The city symbolically renamed Columbus Day to "Indigenous Peoples' Day" beginning in 1992 to protest the historical conquest of North America by Europeans, and to call attention to the demise of Native American people and culture through disease, warfare, massacre, and forced assimilation. Performances were scheduled that day for Get Lost (Again) Columbus, an opera by a Native-American composer. Berkeley has celebrated Indigenous Peoples' Day ever since.Beginning in 1993, Berkeley has held an annual pow wow and festival on the day

In the years after Berkeley's move, other local governments and institutions have either renamed or canceled Columbus Day, either to celebrate Native Americans, to avoid celebrating actions of Columbus that led to the colonization of America by Spanish conquistadors, or due to controversy over the legacy of Columbus.Two other California cities, Sebastopol and Santa Cruz, now celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day.