Refuge, Refusal, and Acts of Holy Contagion: The City as a Sanctuary for Soldiers Resisting the Vietnam War

  • Jennifer Ridgley Center for Place, Culture and Politics The Graduate Center, City University of New York
Keywords: municipal sanctuary, federal authority, Vietnam War, citizenship, soldiering, sovereignty, refuge, sanctuary for soldiers


This paper explores the first instance of municipal sanctuary in the United States, when in November of 1971, the City of Berkeley, California, declared itself a Sanctuary for soldiers on the aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea who were refusing to return to duty in the Vietnam War. Berkeley’s left-leaning City Council called on residents of the city to provide bedding, food, medical and legal help to the soldiers, and passed a motion to establish a protected space where soldiers could access counseling and other support. The city also placed restrictions on local police and service providers, limiting their participation in the enforcement of federal laws related to military service. These local efforts to establish the city as a space of refuge from federal military authority came out of the sometimes contradictory politics of GI resistance on the Coral Sea, local civilian anti war organizing, as well as church-based traditions of Sanctuary and refuge. At the intersection of these political and religious movements, diverse practices of citizenship, soldiering and sovereignty produced the contemporary idea of the city as Sanctuary, and disrupted inherited ideas about the relationship of soldiers to the nation state. While a relatively minor intervention into anti-Vietnam organizing at the time, Berkeley’s 1971 policy became a model for municipal Sanctuary in the United States for decades to come.
How to Cite
Ridgley, Jennifer. 1. “Refuge, Refusal, and Acts of Holy Contagion: The City As a Sanctuary for Soldiers Resisting the Vietnam War”. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies 10 (2), 189-214.