Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Sundial:Columbia SDS Memories:Chap.7: Into Columbia SDS, 1966

Chapter 7: Into Columbia SDS, 1966 (ii)

At the rally, John spoke and emphasized that what students at Columbia now wanted was more student power over University policy decisions and genuine student involvement in Columbia University decision-making. Mike Klare of the ICV, although still not interested in building a Columbia SDS chapter, also spoke at the rally. He criticized Columbia for accepting research contracts from the Department of Defense and drew the distinction between the Movement approach to politics and social change and the Columbia Administration’s approach:

‘We can attend yet another committee meeting. And speak to yet another bureaucrat. And wait for yet another dean. And attend yet another bureaucratic meeting. And we still won’t get any results. That’s the Administration’s approach. That’s the kind of politics they want us to be involved with.

“But what about the Movement? We do things differently in the Movement. In the Movement, we avoid all the bureaucratic run-around. That’s why the Movement is going into Low Library today.”

As the 300 of us marched up the steps of Low Library to confront Kirk, I was ready to join in a sit-in inside the administration building. I was fed up with U.S. foreign policy, fed up with U.S. racism, fed up with the endless mass murder in Viet Nam and fed up with the Columbia University Administration’s failure to speak out against all this and its whole “business as usual” attitude. It looked like many of the other anti-war students who had been fruitlessly protesting the bombing of Viet Nam for over 1 ½ years also shared my sense of frustration and willingness to sit-in. Earlier in the fall, Savio and other FSM people had tried to stop military recruitment on campus at Berkeley and there had been some kind of confrontation with police out there again. If something was happening politically at Berkeley again, it was only natural that many of us would feel that the time was now ripe for something to happen at Columbia that was equally militant.

We marched into Low Library and gathered in the Low Library rotunda. Kirk uneasily read a statement in which he argued that Columbia University should make no value judgments and take no political positions regarding U.S. government policy. Therefore, organizations like the CIA would continue to have the right to recruit on campus.

After he read his statement, Dave, John, Mike Klare, Lew and some of the other Movement “heavies” at Columbia started to throw questions at Kirk. Students hissed in response to Kirk’s initial answers. Kirk quickly retreated to his Low Library office for another appointment, before students felt the discussion should be terminated.

Grayson Kirk was a former Columbia University Professor of Government in his ‘60s, who was now used to spending more time sitting on the corporate boards of companies like IBM and Socony-Mobil Oil and elite foreign policy-making institutions like the Council on Foreign Relations, than in talking with Columbia College students. When flustered, Kirk would redden in the face and start to speak with a slight stutter.

During the 1950s, Columbia President Kirk had fired a few Columbia professors who were accused of being Communist Party members. He had also written that Columbia University would not knowingly hire a communist intellectual to teach on its faculty. In 1954, Kirk had worked with the CIA’s “cultural freedom congress” campaign which linked the celebration of Columbia’s 200th anniversary to the CIA’s 1950s anti-communist Cold War propaganda campaign. In 1954 or 1955, Kirk had given an honorary degree to his friend Allen Dulles, the CIA Director in the 1950s. Personally acquainted with former Columbia University President Eisenhower and those U.S. ruling class officials who sat on the Columbia board of trustees, like New York Times publisher Sulzberger and CBS board chairman William Paley, Kirk identified himself totally with the U.S. Establishment.

After Kirk left the rotunda, some of the anti-war students began to laugh. John had a big smile on his face. Dave was the first activist to speak to the rest of us:

“Those are his values. But we have different values. And if we want Columbia University policy to reflect our values, we’re going to have to build a Movement here that fights for student power and for participatory democracy at Columbia. And that’s why we have to build a Columbia SDS chapter.”

There was more discussion, and the anti-war students were enthusiastic about attempting to build a Columbia SDS chapter which would fight the Columbia Administration on a multi-issue basis, attempt to win student power at Columbia and work to build a mass-based radical student movement in the United States. A time for follow-up meetings was agreed upon and we broke up for the day. There was a big headlined article on the student left’s confrontation with Kirk in the Columbia student newspaper Spectator, the next day. My feeling was that John and Dave’s Columbia SDS chapter-building approach seemed more dynamic than the Independent Committee on Viet Nam’s more stagnant approach.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Sundial:Columbia SDS Memories:Chap.7: Into Columbia SDS, 1966

Chapter 7: Into Columbia SDS, 1966 (i)

November 1966 was also the month that, along with Ted and most other ICV activists, I became a Columbia SDS activist.

During my freshman year, I had seen John around campus anti-war rallies, often talking with a tall guy named Lew. And during a late September 1966 Wollman Auditorium meeting, I had heard John, in a panel discussion, explain why Columbia students should get into political activism:

“First you get yourself a Barnard chick. Then you look for something worthwhile to get involved in and you join the Movement.”

John had provoked hisses from his mostly freshman audience later in the panel discussion when he said:

“The best writers are always leftists. The best poets are always leftists, like Allen Ginsberg. People who are right-wing politically can’t create good literature or good poetry.”

John was a thin senior guy of average height. He wore glasses and his longish hair was beginning to recede. His father was a conservative Republican (who was apparently the City Manager of New Rochelle in Westchester County in the mid-1960's)...

John had spent an extra year doing academic work in London, which, according to Ted, was “one reason he’s so smart.” Along with Dave, John was the activist most responsible for starting an SDS chapter at Columbia.

John lived with a Barnard woman a few years younger than him, named Joan, in his West 108th St. apartment. Joan appeared devoted to John and leftist in her politics, and she usually dressed in a bohemian way. But Joan never became involved in a day-to-day way in campus political organizing like John did. She wasn’t socialized to feel comfortable participating in the 1960s leftist student meetings at Columbia. These meetings tended to be male chauvinist in their form, so Barnard women usually found it difficult to participate in the political discussion as intellectual equals.

In 1965, John had been involved in the anti-war student disruption of the Columbia Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps [NROTC] awards ceremony. As a result of this protest, which was busted up by the Columbia Administration with the aid of New York City police, John had received a disciplinary warning letter from Columbia College Dean Truman. On the kitchen wall of his West 108th St. apartment, John had taped up this letter from the Dean, in the same way that doctors tape up their medical school diplomas on their office walls.

Prior to founding the Columbia SDS chapter with Dave, John had been involved in Columbia student government politics and had also attempted to radicalize National Student Association [NSA] members all around the United States. John had also worked with National SDS people and been involved in some of the New Left student activists’ arguments with Michael Harrington and the League for Industrial Democracy [LID] people over the Social Democrats’ desire to impose a red-baiting, anti-communist tradition of political organizing on the younger New Leftists.

In early November 1966, John took the initiative on campus when it was learned that the Central Intelligence Agency [CIA] was coming to recruit students in Dodge Hall. Columbia SDS sponsored a sundial rally to protest the CIA’s presence on campus and demanded that the Columbia Administration not allow the CIA to use university facilities to recruit.

Speakers at the sundial during a lunch hour rally explained what the CIA had already done around the world prior to 1966: overthrown the democratically-elected government of Iran in 1953, overthrown the democratically-elected government of Guatemala in 1954, planned the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961 and helped set up the Diem dictatorship in Viet Nam in the 1950s, which led to the 1960s U.S. military escalation in Viet Nam. Then around 100 of us marched into the lobby outside of Dodge Hall’s recruitment office and stayed there until CIA recruiting was cancelled by the Columbia Administration.

The following day, a letter was sent to Columbia University President Grayson Kirk, asking for a meeting to discuss university policy on CIA recruitment and university relations to the U.S. government. Later in the month, another rally was held at the sundial, prior to confronting Columbia University President Kirk in the Low Library administration building. Kirk appeared to feel he had to meet with the 300 Columbia and Barnard anti-war students who were rallying, in order to avert a possible Low Library sit-in.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Sundial:Columbia SDS Memories:Chap.6: Enter Ted Gold, 1966

Chapter 6: Enter Ted Gold, 1966 (iii)

I started to go down to the Greenwich Village area more often in Fall 1966 on weekend evenings to listen to other folksingers. The Pinewoods Folk Club was very active at this time and it sponsored cheap Friday night folk music events in churches and at NYU’s Loeb Student Center in Washington Square.

I continued to practice guitar and folk songs and write more folk songs in my dorm room, as a form of relaxation, self-expression and emotional release. I no longer wrote plays and my creative writing was limited to folk songwriting. Yet I still attempted to interest Columbia University Professor of Dramatic Literature Bentley in looking over my A Ball In A Basket and The Barrier plays, but he was too busy.

At this time, I wrote a song called “Mr. John,” which expressed my desire to break out of my anonymous, alienated, routinized student life into the more exciting world of folk music concert performer circles. And I wrote a song called “Girl With the Scarf” for Beth, which began with the following lyrics:

Girl with the scarf
I knew you from the start
‘Cause your eyes echoed mine in your search…


(Women college students didn’t object to being called “girls” or “chicks” at the time I wrote this song).

I also wrote a love song for Nancy which contained the following lyrics:

You’ve got such long blond hair
And a mind so rare
And the words you utter
Come through so clear
And I did realize
When you sat so near
That my heart was warning:
`Look out! Beware!’


 

I bought more guitar strings, a harmonica, a guitar strap, a new capo and a few songbooks at a music store on West 96th St., between Broadway and West End Ave. A friendly guy worked there who encouraged me in my musical ambitions. I mistakenly assumed that, with the songs I had already written, I was, instantly, going to be invited to cut a folk music record which would enable me to escape from the whole Columbia academic scene of bullshit, overnight. But I still lacked the contacts required to make that kind of jump into the U.S. music business and entertainment industry, as well as, perhaps, the required talent.

November 1966 came. I traveled out to Evanston, Illinois by car with my mother, father and sister to attend my first cousin’s Bar Mitzvah reception at the Hotel Orrington in downtown Evanston.

My mother had grown up in poverty in Chicago during the Great Depression. Her father, William, was a Russian-born ice delivery truck driver who worked on an irregular basis during the 1930s. In the late 1940s, he found a union job at the Chicago Tribune, loading newspapers onto delivery trucks between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. each night. He kept this job until the sickness of old age made it impossible for him to work anymore by the late 1960s.

Her mother, Jenny, was an Orthodox Jewish immigrant from Lithuania who had arrived in the States a few months after the Titanic sank. In Fall 1966 my mother’s sister, an elementary schoolteacher, was living in an old house in Skokie, Illinois. She had previously lived near Wrigley Field in Chicago. My aunt’s husband was a Bell & Howell factory worker.

I explored Evanston and Northwestern University’s campus when I wasn’t attending my cousin’s Bar Mitzvah events that weekend. I also spent some time in my family’s hotel room in Evanston reading for my political science course from an anthology of Lenin’s writings. It was in this hotel room in Evanston that I first read Lenin’s Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism work that he wrote during World War I.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Sundial:Columbia SDS Memories:Chap.6: Enter Ted Gold, 1966

Chapter 6: Enter Ted Gold, 1966 (ii)

Around the time I met Ted, I found myself feeling drawn to Beth. Beth worked as a student volunteer group leader in P.A.C.T. on the same afternoon that Nancy, Harry and I did. She was a senior at Barnard and was a dark-haired beauty. She was less socially-concerned and politically radical than Pat had been, but she had a gentle, tender, sweet, soft-spoken personality. Beth was majoring in Philosophy and her father was some administrator or doctor in the mental health field.

Near the end of October 1966, P.A.C.T. held a party in Juan’s 104th St. apartment which was attended by about fifty Barnard and Columbia students who came in and out of the apartment during the night. There was much dancing to 60s rock music in the living room and much talking, laughing, beer drinking, wine-drinking and liquor-drinking around the people who danced. In a second room, there was pot-smoking. And in a third room, there were Columbia men making out with Barnard women.

About an hour after I arrived, I noticed Nancy appearing at the party accompanied by a thin, taller guy with a mustache and longish hair. He reminded me somewhat of Errol Flynn in the Robin Hood movie. He was dressed in a hip bohemian kind of way. I vaguely recalled having seen him around the ICV table during my freshman year. In the apartment, Nancy put her arm around her new boyfriend. They then spoke with some people at the party and both laughed.

Nancy had met her new boyfriend during a campus “Fast For Peace in Viet Nam” which he had organized earlier in the month. His name was Teddy.

Teddy was from a Jewish working-class section of Brooklyn. His parents were European-born communists who had survived imprisonment in the World War II concentration camps, and settled in the U.S. after the war. He also had a younger sister. In the 1960s, Teddy was totally assimilationist in his philosophy and rejected a Jewish cultural nationalist or Jewish religious self-identification.

Teddy had gone to Stuyvesant High School at the same time Ted had and, in the early 1960s high school student peace movement in New York City, Teddy had been active. In high school, Teddy had been more grade-oriented and more popular with his teachers than the more affluent Ted had been. He was ranked 6th—ahead of Ted—in their graduating class at Stuyvesant.

As a Columbia freshman during the 1964-65 academic year, Teddy had spent his first term studying heavily in order to prove to himself that he could get high marks at Columbia, and he did get high marks. The next term, however, Teddy devoted himself more to anti-war activism, independent reading and love relationships. He became a soft-spoken, super-friendly, bohemian left-anarchist, counter-cultural, charismatic personality at Columbia. He loved to talk with everybody he bumped into around campus. He exhibited a charming spirit which made him popular with the Barnard women he spoke with and caused him to have many Columbia men friends by the beginning of his junior year in Fall 1966.

At the P.A.C.T. party, Teddy and Nancy seemed to get bored quickly and left the party within an hour. Juan came on friendly to Beth, and she was hugging him passionately in the corner of the living room after a few drinks and a few dances. Seeing that Beth seemed into Juan that night, I escorted another Barnard woman I had been talking with for much of the evening home to her 106th St. and Broadway apartment.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Sundial:Columbia SDS Memories:Chap.6: Enter Ted Gold, 1966

Chapter 6: Enter Ted Gold, 1966 (i)

In early October, I attended the Independent Committee on Viet Nam’s first meeting of the year. The room was packed with anti-war Columbia and Barnard students. The ICV at this time was led by Mike Klare. Klare was a red diaper baby and graduate student in art who liked to do research on university complicity with the Pentagon. He also liked to speak at campus anti-war rallies and was a hard worker and dedicated activist in the 1960s. Young Socialist Alliance [YSA] members, like Peter Seidman and Carol Seidman, also held leadership posts in the ICV at this time.

To rank-and-file ICV members and sympathizers who attended the first meeting of the school year, all the leaders appeared to be equally dedicated radicals. We were generally unaware of the below-the-surface campus political rivalry that was already going on between YSA-Socialist Workers Party [SWP] people, Progressive Labor [PL] people and the three or four people around campus—other than Dave—who were sympathetic to SDS. At this first meeting, I signed up for the ICV’s dorm canvassing committee, indicating that I would be available to knock on doors and discuss the war in Viet Nam with students in Furnald Hall, a few nights each week.

One evening after dinner the next week, as I practiced my guitar, I heard a knock on the door. I put down my guitar, walked to the door and opened it. A short, stocky, white guy with thick glasses, short hair and no beard stood in front of me, with a clipboard in his hand.

“Are you Bob Feldman?” he asked shyly.

“Yeah,” I nodded.

“My name is Ted. I’m from the Independent Committee on Viet Nam’s dorm canvassing committee. You signed our list saying you’d be interested in doing dorm canvassing,” he said uneasily, but earnestly.

“Oh yeah! Come on in!”

Ted walked into my dorm room.

“I’m coordinating the dorm canvassing in Furnald Hall. I live up on the 8th floor. In room 801.”

We then exchanged views on how immoral we both felt the war in Viet Nam was. We agreed it was important to try to get more students in Furnald Hall talking about the war and involved in anti-war protest.

Ted then noticed my guitar and asked: “You play the guitar?”

“Yeah. I like folk music. I’m into folk music like Pete Seeger is into folk music.”

Ted smiled. “I like folk music, too. I have a lot of old Pete Seeger records. You can come up to my room sometime and listen to some of them, if you want.”

“That sounds like it would be fun,” I replied.

Ted then said goodbye, in order to speak to other people in the dorm who had signed the dorm canvassing list. We agreed to meet the next night to do some anti-war canvassing together on the 5th floor of Furnald. Ted seemed sincere and interesting to talk to. I liked him from the start.

Ted was a red diaper baby—the son of an Upper West Side medical doctor and a Mathematics instructor at Columbia who had both been part of the Old Left. Although Ted’s father spent his days practicing medicine—not political activism—he was to the left of the Communist Party, intellectually, in 1966. Ted’s father considered himself a Maoist, in the days when Maoism appeared to provide a left-wing revolutionary alternative to the CP’s non-revolutionary revisionism, domestically, and to the Soviet Union’s apparent abandonment of support for Third World guerrilla movements, internationally.

In the 1960s, Ted’s father still seemed to be a young, vigorous man in his 40s whom Ted was still quite fond of, despite Ted’s rejection of many Old Left cultural and lifestyle values which he had come to regard as too “bourgeois.” When I met Ted in 1966, he considered himself a Marxist and a communist who sought to establish “decentralized socialism” in the United States. He regarded his father’s brand of Maoism as well-meaning, but too dogmatic an ideology to be applicable to U.S. conditions.

“Marxism is a method and a tool, not a dogma,” Ted would reply if some other leftist would argue against a political position by stating that “Lenin wrote” or "Marx said” or “Mao says.”

Ted’s mother remained politically interested, despite having to use a wheelchair to move to and from her mathematics teaching job at Columbia. The other member of Ted’s immediate family was a brother, about four or five years younger than Ted, who wasn’t interested in radical politics in the 1960s.

In Fall 1966, Ted was a junior at Columbia College. His parents lived in an upper-middle-class high-rise apartment on West 93rd St. and Amsterdam Ave. While Ted’s father had gone to medical school, Ted’s parents had experienced economic hardship. But by 1966, Ted considered his parents affluent and upper-middle-class, although certainly not part of the Establishment or ruling-class. During his freshman year, Ted had lived at home with his parents. At the beginning of his sophomore year, however, he had moved into his 8th floor single dorm room in Furnald Hall.

In 1958, shortly before his 11th birthday, Ted had attended his first Civil Rights demonstration in Washington, D.C. As a boy, he had gone to summer camp with other red diaper babies at Camp Kinderland, in Upstate New York.

Ted had attended Stuyvesant High School, an elite public high school in Manhattan, where he had received high grades and had run cross-country. In high school he had kept up an interest in professional sports, college sports, the Civil Rights Movement, radical politics, folk music and dating. Because of his past attendance at high school red diaper baby social gatherings, Ted knew more women college students who attended schools other than Barnard than did the more typical Columbia student.

Ted was a good athlete, although he was too short to have a chance to make either the basketball or football team at Columbia. He didn’t have much of a jump shot, but he was good at driving towards the basket for a lay-up and he played basketball in an intense way.

Arriving at Columbia in Fall 1964, Ted immediately became involved in campus Civil Rights activity. He worked with a sweet, hard-working white Barnard student named Barbara as one of the campus Friends of SNCC coordinators, organizing fund-raising activities for SNCC at Columbia. Ted identified more with SNCC activists than with the activists of any other 60s political group.

Initially, Ted had planned to major in Mathematics at Columbia. But by his junior year, Ted had decided that sociology was a more relevant field for him. He was emotionally involved with a college student named Judith, who was attending a school outside of New York City.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Sundial:Columbia SDS Memories:Chap. 5: In Furnald Hall, 1966

Chapter 5: In Furnald Hall, 1966 (ii)

What was on Kesselman’s reading list were works by Marx and Engels, works by Lenin, Bernstein’s book on democratic, evolutionary socialism and Sorel’s Reflections On Violence. For the course, I wrote a paper comparing Bernstein’s views on party organization with Lenin’s views. I concluded that, although Bernstein’s democratic socialist organizational principles might be appropriate in democratic capitalist societies, Lenin’s democratic centralist approach was probably necessary, realistic and justified for the Russia of his time, given the politically repressive nature of Czarist society. I also explained Lenin’s willingness to justify the use of revolutionary violence, in contrast to Bernstein’s socialism through peaceful elections line, by noting that Lenin’s brother had been executed by the Czarist government.

Lenin’s State and Revolution book influenced me. In the middle of Fall 1966, I began to think of myself as more of a socialist than an anarchist, and more democratic socialist than radical humanist. But after reading Lenin’s State and Revolution, I considered myself a revolutionary socialist Marxist who felt that Lenin’s interpretation of social reality was more accurate than C. Wright Mills’ interpretation had been. Yet I still did not consider myself a Leninist for two reasons: 1. I thought that non-violent methods alone, if engaged in by white anti-war people, could eventually bring socialism to the United States; and 2. I thought that Lenin’s notion that socialist revolution could not happen without a Bolshevik-like democratic centralist party was applicable only to less industrially-advanced countries than the United States.

After reading Lenin and Marx in much greater detail, I realized that they were both great men whose main motivation was to change the world so humanity would be liberated from wage slavery, class oppression and injustice. Although I considered Lenin’s tactical and strategic approach irrelevant to 1960s organizational problems, I now saw myself as being much closer to the intellectual tradition of Marx, Engels and Lenin. I agreed with Marx’s assertion in The German Ideology that only when the division of labor was abolished and an individual worker could be a poet in the morning, a factory worker in the afternoon and a lover in the evening—and not be trapped in one menial job slot for his or her whole life—would human beings around the world really be free.

One afternoon a week, I continued to spend at P.A.C.T. I was a group leader of 11 and 12-year-old boys this time. My co-leader was a guy named Harry.

Harry was a tall, bespectacled Columbia College freshman. He lived in the Carmen Hall dormitory, was the son of an Antioch College professor and hoped to become a writer. He was an earnest guy who seemed genuinely interested in Citizenship Council, in P.A.C.T. and in working with neighborhood children.

Together, we visited the parents of the boys in our group in their homes. Harry and I would also spend an hour or two each week together to plan our group’s activities. In his dorm suite in Carmen Hall, we listened to an early Donovan folk music album while we also discussed our group’s dynamics and activity interests. Harry expressed an intellectual interest in LSD around this time because he noted that “it releases your id.” Harry interpreted human behavior more psychologically than sociologically.

Carmen Hall was the most modern and expensive Columbia dorm in which to live. One of Harry’s suitemates was the son of a rich Venezuelan businessman and he was into photography. The suitemate had his private dormitory room plastered with many pictures of his photogenic woman friend.

As the Fall 1966 term progressed, Harry became involved with a Barnard woman named Peggy, who was friendly but not too politically radical. He also became more involved with Stein and Juan in the administrative side of P.A.C.T. In talking to me about one of the P.A.C.T. administrative meetings, Harry said the following:

“You know that Nancy? She really is too angry, too radical and too uncompromising. All she does is criticize P.A.C.T. for being too white paternalistic.”

Nancy had transferred to Barnard after spending her freshman year at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. She had long blond hair and was as beautiful as Pat. I first heard her speak at a P.A.C.T. group discussion session of group leaders one Tuesday evening in the church basement. The radical, anti-racist commitment and intellectual awareness she expressed made an impression on me.

Prior to walking back up to Columbia’s campus within the group of fourteen Barnard and Columbia student volunteers, I attempted to engage Nancy in conversation. But she was cold towards me. Then a few other Columbia men surrounded her in order to flirt with her, so I retreated from what appeared to be shaping up as some kind of intra-P.A.C.T. competition to win Nancy’s love. Instead, I headed uptown towards Columbia’s campus while talking to some other Barnard student volunteers who didn’t seem to be as popular.

Nancy had grown up in the Philadelphia area. An uncle of Nancy was one of the jailed Hollywood Ten old left celebrities and he later directed the Salt of the Earth movie in the 1950s, following his release from prison. In the early 1960s, Nancy had apparently become friendly with a summer camp counselor named Julius Lester. Lester was an African-American SNCC activist from Tennessee, a folksinger in Sing Out! magazine circles and a columnist for the radical Guardian weekly newspaper in the 1960s. Apparently influenced intellectually by her contact with Lester, Nancy appeared to have a deeper understanding of the African-American Liberation Movement and white racism than other Barnard women when she entered the Columbia scene as a sophomore, after her unsatisfying freshman year in Madison.

Another sophomore transfer student lived in the dorm room next door to mine. Eliezer was a thin, frail-looking guy from Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He had been educated in Brooklyn yeshiva schools and had spent his freshman year at some Orthodox Jewish college. In transferring to Columbia and moving into the dormitory, he was attempting to break away completely from his Orthodox Jewish background. Eliezer analyzed every little action in a super-intellectual way. He always looked for the hidden meanings and hidden psychological motivations behind people’s words and behaviors.

In Fall 1966, Eliezer was a philosophy major who considered himself a radical. Shortly after the school year began, he also realized that Columbia’s academic life was intellectually worthless. We became close friends for awhile.

It was Eliezer who first introduced me to Paul Krassner’s satirical Realist magazine and the now-defunct East Village Other underground newspaper. Eliezer also was the first person who mentioned Tuli Kupferberg and the Fugs to me. It was also Eliezer who first persuaded me that the hippie-drug culture of the Lower East Side was as important and potentially subversive a subculture as the subculture of the radical political Movement or the folk music subculture. Talking for long hours with Eliezer in either his dorm room or my dorm room—or while walking around the campus—was intellectually more interesting than either doing assigned academic coursework or listening to Columbia professors lecture in class.

My Furnald Hall 5th floor dorm counselor was Bill. Bill was an efficient dorm counselor. Like Nancy, he was also from the Philadelphia area, and he had been active in the Congress of Racial Equality [CORE] in the early 1960s at the University of Pennsylvania, before coming to Columbia. At Columbia, Bill was approaching 30 years of age and was working for a Ph.D. in the School of International Affairs. He was around 6 feet tall and usually wore glasses.

Bill exercised a dominant political influence in the Student Afro-American Society [SAS] at Columbia, which was more of a social club than a Movement action group during most of the 1960s. I had first met him in May of my freshman year in the Livingston Hall dormitory lobby when he sold me a journal produced by the Afro-American Society.

Intellectually, Bill was interesting to talk with when he chose to drop into my dorm room and participate in a political discussion with me, Tom and other students on the floor. Bill knew much more about politics, African history and African-American history than I did in Fall 1966. He influenced my political thinking. He had SNCC politics and he persuaded me that an armed struggle to win Black liberation in the 1960s was both politically practical and morally justified. My residual pacifist reservations about supporting an armed struggle political strategy for African-American liberation were continually challenged by Bill. Bill seemed to have a clear sense as to which direction a radical student movement should go.

Sundial:Columbia SDS Memories:Chap.5: In Furnald Hall, 1966

Chapter 5: In Furnald Hall, 1966 (i)

September 1966 finally came and I was glad to get back to Manhattan to live again in a dormitory on Columbia’s campus. Over the summer I had changed from an aspiring playwright to an aspiring folksinger-songwriter and I brought my cheap guitar to Room 521 of Furnald Hall, where I now lived.

My roommate, Tom, was a government major who was planning to be a journalist. He was so into journalism that he decorated the walls of our room with the mastheads of different newspapers from all across the United States.

Tom was also an extremely religious Christian of the Lutheran sect. He felt his intellectual views and his personal actions had to genuinely conform to a Christian value system and to the teachings of Jesus. During our sophomore year at Furnald Hall we continued to debate philosophical and political issues frequently, in a way that we both enjoyed. Sometimes we would be joined in our discussions by other students on the 5th floor, because Tom liked to keep the dorm room open in the evening. The open door encouraged people to stop by and chat in-between studying or after dinner.

Our tiny dorm room had a bunk bed, two desks and two fluorescent lamps, as well as a sink and mirror. The dorm room’s window faced onto the South Lawn of Columbia’s campus.

Tom rarely cut classes like I did. He usually wore glasses and often spent time in the room writing letters to his many correspondents around the world. He had spent previous summers at some international camp in New England and had met people from all around the world there. During the school year, one of Tom’s friends from camp, a Yale student, visited New York with his knapsack and camped out on the dorm room floor.

Tom’s father worked in a factory. But Tom was not anti-capitalist in the 1960s. To afford Columbia, Tom had to work during the school year at some work-study journalism job with the University. His other main extra-curricular activity, aside from Sunday church attendance and Lutheran student group attendance, was to sing in the Columbia Glee Club. Although Tom liked to sing, he wasn’t into either folk music or rock music in college. He listened on the radio to either an all-news station or a classical music station only.

There were often times when I was able to practice my guitar and write songs in the dorm room without anyone else being present because Tom was attending class, working, singing, worshipping or doing something else. Likewise, because I was involved in much activity outside the dorm room, Tom would also have sole use of the dorm room often.

Tom was easy to room with because he was good-natured and knew how to share the space in a just fashion. We spent long hours discussing all kinds of issues. He expressed a New Right conservative position, generally, and I usually defended the New Left position. So discussion with Tom gave me good practice in articulating and clarifying my radical politics in ideological debate. Tom didn’t convince me of the correctness of his views and I didn’t convince him of the correctness of mine. But he was a good intellectual companion and, personally, very kind.

In early September, I bumped into Stein in front of Ferris Booth Hall. He was trying to recruit freshmen as student volunteers for the P.A.C.T. program. The previously clean-shaven Stein had grown a long, black beard over the summer and now dressed much more proletarian and radical than he had dressed the previous spring.

“How will SNCC’s call for white activists not to organize in the Black community affect P.A.C.T.?” I immediately asked Stein.

“We’ve been discussing the implications of the SNCC call for Black Power on P.A.C.T. And we’re going to hire a full-time organizer from the community to manage a P.A.C.T. office with Juan,” Stein answered. We then talked for awhile about how to prevent P.A.C.T. from being an outdated white missionary program.

The only class that I found relevant to my life and my concerns in Fall 1966 was the “Reflections On Politics Since 1914 I” class that Professor Kesselman taught. Kesselman was a friendly guy with a mustache, who was in his late 20s or early 30s. He had studied in France and written a book on French electoral politics.

Politically, Kesselman was a social democrat. But he wasn’t the kind of social democrat who worried more about Communist Party manipulation and “Stalinists” than about stopping the current crimes of the corporate capitalist Establishment. In the 1960s, there were many social democrats who seemed more interested in re-fighting the sectarian squabbles of the 1930s than in uniting people in a new movement for radical social change in the United States.

Culturally, Kesselman was a white middle-class academic, who wore a suit and tie, and who was neither bohemian nor interested in the U.S. Movement. He lived in a fancy high-rise apartment, just off Riverside Drive, with his young wife.

Kesselman’s reading list didn’t include the writings of any women political thinkers like Rosa Luxemburg or Alexandra Kollontai. This was an indication of the male chauvinist intellectual bias of Columbia’s faculty in the 1960s, before the women’s liberation movement of the late 1960s and 1970s began to make an impact on institutional university life.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Sundial:Columbia SDS Memories:Chap.4: Summer Folk Songwriting, 1966

Chapter 4: Summer Folk Songwriting, 1966 (iii)

I heard Pete Seeger live for the first time in July 1966 at an evening concert in Lewinsohn Stadium near CCNY at 137th St. in Manhattan. The stadium was packed with a mixture of old leftists from the 1930s and red diaper baby and left-liberal folk music fans from the 1960s “folk-left.” Seeger received the most applause when he sang “If you love your Uncle Sam, bring them home, bring them home” and “Turn, Turn, Turn.” As I walked back to the Broadway IRT subway station at 137th St., within a massive crowd of Seeger folk music fans, it again seemed that everybody in New York City was against the war in Viet Nam. But I now realized that U.S. foreign policy was not determined by the people of the United States, but by a small corporate elite and its corporate economic interests.

At the end of July, the Children’s Treatment Center closed down for the rest of the summer, so I secured another Urban Corps work assignment from the City: assistant teacher at the Monticello Day Care Center in East Harlem, near 104th St. and First Ave. To get to Monticello Day Care Center, you had to get off the Lexington Ave. subway at either 103rd St. or 110th St. and then walk east, by housing projects, until you reached the daycare center. The center was directed by a middle-aged African-American woman and it offered community people a day camp and a teenage recreational program, as well as the head start and pre-school nursery programs in which I worked.

During my last week of work at Monticello Day Care Center, two Puerto Rican guys in their late teens or early 20s from the neighborhood jumped me as I entered the 110th St. subway station on my way home. They took my cheap watch and emptied my wallet of the four dollars I was carrying, but didn’t harm me physically. It was the first time I had ever been mugged and I did not like the sensation.

On the remaining few days of my work-study job at Monticello Day Care Center I walked uneasily to and from the 103rd St. subway station—not the 110th St. station. And I was glad when this summer job ended.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap.4: Summer Folk Songwriting, 1966

Chapter 4: Summer Folk Songwriting, 1966 (ii)

The other non-work activity I became involved in at this time was doing volunteer work in the Student Peace Union [SPU] office at 5 Beekman St. in Lower Manhattan. After working at the Children’s Treatment Center until 3 p.m., I would go down to the SPU office and stuff envelopes or staple and collate leaflets for a few hours each day.

The SPU office was a small room located within the larger office of the Fifth Avenue Peace Parade Committee and the War Resisters League, on the top floor of 5 Beekman St. In July 1966, I felt that the Student Peace Union, not SDS, was going to be the organization that would most readily mobilize masses of students to resist both the Viet Nam War and all other expressions of U.S. militarism around the globe and on campus. I thought about possibly starting an SPU chapter at Columbia that fall. But National SDS had a much better organizational structure of dedicated hard-core activists than SPU had in 1966, so SDS, not SPU, became the organizational vehicle on campus which was able to mobilize anti-militaristic white students in the U.S.

In the SPU office there was one full-time SPU staff person, a white bohemian man in his early 20s who seemed quite dedicated to the cause. He was somewhat elitist in relation to young student volunteers, like me, who walked into his office. Occasionally, a sexually obsessed, male chauvinist SPU member would also be in the office talking, but not doing any Movement shitwork. When he started talking about Judy Collins’ alleged love affair with Tom Paxton in a gossipy, detailed way or started to repeat the latest sexist joke he had heard, the full-time SPU organizer would reply “That’s gross,” in an impatient way.

When the SPU office had no special work for me to do, I would sometimes help out in the War Resisters League section of the office floor, where Ralph DiGia or A.J. Muste would sometimes be working. But after Hiroshima Day of August 1966 passed, I stopped going down to 5 Beekman St. because there didn’t really seem to be enough work for an SPU volunteer to do each afternoon.

In searching for ways to continue to resist the war politically that summer, I also checked out the anti-war Congressional campaign headquarters of Ted Weiss in Manhattan. But his campaign didn’t seem to have an apparatus set up to effectively make use of student volunteers, when I visited his campaign headquarters. In 1966 it appeared to me that Weiss’ election might make a positive difference in Washington, D.C. I had not yet become completely disillusioned with trying to use the left-liberal wing of the Democratic Party to change U.S. foreign policy.

After James Meredith was shot and wounded while attempting to march through the South, SNCC began to popularize its “Black Power” line. Kwame Ture, who was then known as Stokely Carmichael, began to get much exposure on national television news and political interview shows.

Carmichael became one of my idols. He seemed to make more sense than Martin Luther King. I read all I could on SNCC’s new Black Power political orientation. A Black Power orientation sounded logical and righteous to me.

Yet, initially, I felt somewhat uneasy when I heard that all white activists were being asked to leave SNCC and that some African-American SNCC activists had now concluded that all U.S. whites, regardless of their politics, could not really be trusted politically. But Carmichael’s arguments quickly convinced me that it was really necessary for African-American political activists in SNCC to organize autonomously on a Black nationalist basis, without the intrusive paternalistic and stifling presence of even the remaining white activists in SNCC.

By Summer 1966, as Carmichael and SNCC argued, it seemed obvious that white anti-racist activists could most effectively fight in support of African-American liberation by organizing in white communities—among poor whites, white working-class people and white campus youth—in order to attempt to eliminate white racist mass consciousness and white racist political attitudes. The source of the white racism problem of the United States was in the white communities. White activists who sincerely wished to strike a blow against white racism in 1966 could best do so, not by intervening in the internal affairs of U.S. African-American communities in a paternalistic way, but by mobilizing whites enmasse to fight institutional racism in the U.S.

Consequently, if I taught in the New York City public schools after college, I would now seek to teach white working-class vocational high school students or white high school students of Jewish background, not African-American ghetto high school students. My support for SNCC’s new Black nationalist orientation also meant that I became more critical of the white missionary aspects of the P.A.C.T. daycare center program and more inclined to focus on organizing other white Columbia and Barnard students. I supported the nationalist SNCC notion that only African-American activists should organize in African-American communities.

I also supported SNCC’s 1966 shift towards advocating the right of self-defense in response to white racist attacks, instead of Martin Luther King’s philosophical non-violence. The influence of Malcom X’s theoretical writings and Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth book, as well as the lessons of their own personal political experiences in the Deep South, made it quite understandable that SNCC activists were now rejecting Gandhi’s philosophy of social change.

During the long, hot summer of 1966, there were African-American rebellions in cities other than New York. I watched TV news reports of these rebellions and felt they were justified responses to white police brutality and oppressive ghetto conditions. These African-American rebellions, however, did not affect the 9-to-5 world in Manhattan or evening and weekend life in Queens. But I assumed that SNCC, under Carmichael’s charismatic leadership, was soon going to be able to organize this Black mass anger into a mass-based revolutionary nationalist youth movement for Black Power.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap.4: Summer Folk Songwriting, 1966

Chapter 4: Summer Folk Songwriting, 1966 (i)

I applied at Columbia’s Placement Office in Dodge Hall for a work-study New York City Urban Corps summer job. But the Lindsay Administration’s city government bureaucracy still didn’t have the program organized enough so that financially needy students could be assigned jobs in early June. So after arriving at my parents’ apartment and quickly getting over the measles, I was forced to seek a job in the private sector.

The job I obtained was a messenger job at Rapid Messenger Services that paid the minimum wage of $1.25 per hour. Rapid Messenger’s dispatching office was located at Broome St. in Lower Manhattan. Most of my deliveries were below 34th St. and above Canal St., between the East River and the Hudson River. One of the other messengers spoke as if he was mentally retarded. Another messenger was a well-dressed, middle-aged African-American man who wore a suit and tie and came to work with an empty briefcase. The dispatcher was a white man in his late 50s with white hair who wasn’t dictatorial. He could quickly rattle off the quickest pick-up and delivery routes for the messages or packages I was responsible for carrying and he gave me my paycheck on schedule.

I found the messenger work too low-paying. But it was more interesting than doing clerical work at one skyscraper desk for seven hours a day. On hot days, it could be quite grueling if I had many rush deliveries or pick-ups to make. Yet many of the women receptionists I delivered messages and packages to seemed to feel themselves superior to messenger workers. Heavily made-up women in their 20s, they talked down to me or related to me in a snobbish way.

In mid-June 1966, the Columbia Placement Office notified me that the Urban Corps work-study job program was ready to assign work assignments. I chose to work in the mental health field for the summer and went down to the Worth St. office in Lower Manhattan of the government agency that assigned jobs in the mental hygiene field. The friendly bureaucrat in charge of giving out work assignments matched me with an assistant teacher opening at the Children’s Treatment Center.

The Children’s Treatment Center was a school for emotionally disturbed children that was located at 71st St., between Broadway and West End Ave. The work-study job was a 30-hour per week job that lasted from 9 to 3, five days a week. I acquired some special ed experience, and a smattering of special ed jargon, by working at the Children’s Treatment Center. And while I worked there in 1966, I also became involved in two activities which indicated the life direction I was going to take.

My sister had learned guitar chords and been into folk music in the early 1960s. But by 1966 she was no longer interested in playing the guitar. I was eager, however, to learn the guitar and to sing folk songs with guitar accompaniment. So I borrowed my sister’s old cheap guitar and her old instruction book and taught myself a few chords. Then I bought myself a capo and persuaded her to give me her cheap guitar. She also gave me a book of civil rights songs that SNCC had published, called We Shall Overcome. I also bought a cheap book of folk songs that Moe Ash had put out in the late 1950s.

In the evening, instead of writing plays, watching much summer TV, reading or listening to much radio or many records, I stayed in my room and practiced guitar chords and sang folk songs. By the middle of the summer, I was singing the songs I had written a cappella with the musical backing of my elementary guitar accompaniment. By the end of the summer, I was using the guitar to pump out more original folk songs of love and protest.

By Fall 1966, I thought I might be another Dylan, Ochs or Guthrie because the songs burst out so easily and naturally. I went to one Tin Pan Alley music publisher to try to get an audition, but I couldn’t get past the receptionist. I also knew no one in the industry to help me market my songwriting talent or to back me financially.

After the summer of 1966, however, I found it more satisfying to be, artistically, a songwriter-folksinger than an aspiring playwright. I felt that writing songs, not writing plays, was the easiest way for me to reach the mass of people with my message of universal love, youth revolt and equality for all people on the earth.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 3: Freshman At Columbia, 1965

Chapter 3: Freshman At Columbia, 1965 (ix)

I continued to go to anti-war meetings and attend anti-war campus rallies. From a distance, I watched Dave give anti-war speeches from the sundial of Columbia’s Low Plaza. I also heard him debate the head of the Young Republican Club in Harkness Theater in the basement of Butler Library. He opened his briefcase before the debate and pulled out his notes. Then, during the debate, he demolished, with the facts he possessed, the pro-war speaker’s case for a continued U.S. military presence in Viet Nam.

Paul also began to speak at sundial rallies against the war during Spring 1966. He was a fiery speaker who would condemn U.S. war policy from a Jeffersonian Democratic point of view. A graduate student, Paul was the editor of Gadfly, which was a muckraking newsletter sponsored by the office of Rev. William Starr, who was a religious counselor at Columbia. Gadfly was one of the first publications in the U.S. to expose on campus the CIA’s covert actions around the world which violated international law. It also exposed and criticized Columbia University’s complicity with the U.S. war machine and Rev. Starr was telephoned, at least once, by a Columbia Administration official who unsuccessfully requested that Rev. Starr cease publishing Gadfly.

Both Dave and Paul were quite convincing when they argued that major violations of international law and the Nuremberg Accords were being committed by the U.S. government in Viet Nam. Dave also had written a mimeographed paper on U.S. imperialism in Latin America which convincingly argued that U.S. foreign policy in Latin America was as immoral as U.S. policy in Viet Nam.

In late March 1966, there was a packed anti-war teach-in at Columbia’s McMillan Theatre. Most of the professors who spoke opposed the U.S. war policy. A State Department bureaucrat also spoke at the teach-in. But the audience hissed at him and heckled him because his arguments in favor of U.S. policy were unconvincing.

There was another march against the war down Fifth Avenue to Central Park, which was even more well-attended than the Fall 1965 anti-war march. Norman Mailer gave a comical speech at the rally which followed the march and Judy Collins sang an anti-war folk song. But I now realized that the Viet Nam War was not going to end soon.

I attended Independent Committee on Viet Nam [ICV] meetings. I remember an evening meeting in Fayerweather Hall at which Stanley Aronowitz, representing some committee for independent political action on the Upper West Side, gave a dogmatic, left-sectarian speech in a thick Brooklyn accent. Aronowitz used much Marxist jargon when he spoke and didn’t understand that anti-war students at Columbia in 1966 were solely into working directly to end the war in Viet Nam in the quickest way possible. Most anti-war students at Columbia were not yet into working outside the two-party system for a radical change in society’s structure. Unlike Aronowitz, Columbia anti-war students also accurately perceived that the U.S. industrial working-class in 1966 was still too highly-paid, affluent and anti-communist to be open to a socialist political alternative at that time.

By Spring 1966, anti-war students at Columbia and Barnard were increasingly dressing up like beatniks and, if men, were growing beards and mustaches and getting haircuts less often. Both men and women who were anti-war at Columbia were increasingly just wearing dungarees. And Barnard women were starting to wear much less make-up and no lipstick, and letting their hair grow long in a natural way.

Finals came and went. My freshman year at Columbia was over. Prior to leaving my dormitory room for my parents’ apartment, I went down to the reference room of the 42nd Street New York Public Library. In the reference room, I walked to the college catalogue section and pulled out the catalogue for the University of California at Berkeley. I turned to the pages which described the application procedure to follow for students who wished to transfer to Berkeley. I also checked out what the cost of me transferring to Berkeley in Fall 1966 would be.

I couldn’t swing a transfer to Berkeley, financially. My New York State Regents Scholarship wouldn’t be applicable to attendance at a California college, and tuition for out-of-state students at Berkeley was too high for me to afford. I closed the college catalogue and put it back on the shelf. I realized that, despite my loneliness, restlessness, boredom and dissatisfaction with the whole emotionally dead, impersonal and intellectually dull scene at Columbia, I was still going to be stuck at Columbia.

As I packed up my dorm room possessions and waited for my parents to come with their Pontiac car to pick me up, I felt that the academic year of living alone in Livingston Hall had provided me with the free space I desired.

I had now completed two plays. I was now a political radical who had read Writers On The Left, which was a work on literary leftism and literary communism. I now considered myself a leftist writer, as well as a political activist.

I still intended to teach in a public high school if I couldn’t earn a living as a published writer. I was completely turned off by U.S. foreign policy and corporate capitalism. I assumed that, if I were not drafted and killed in Viet Nam after graduation, my Columbia degree would guarantee me escape from the kind of 9-to-5 clerical job my father had been chained to during his life.

I felt lonely and my heart still ached for Pat. But I realized that, since she was graduating, it was unlikely she would ever fall in love with me. I was friendly with a few guys at Columbia like Tom, with whom I had agreed to share a dorm room in Furnald Hall in Fall 1966, after one of the many friendly philosophical and political discussions or debates we engaged in during our freshman year. But what I really longed for was Pat’s companionship.

I was a man of the left now. But I wasn’t yet personally integrated into Columbia’s counter-cultural leftist student community. My daily activism had been centered more in Columbia Citizenship Council’s P.A.C.T. program than in helping to do the day-to-day work for the ICV’s campus anti-war organizing. When I checked out of Livingston Hall in late May 1966, there was no indication that in less than a year a Columbia Students for a Democratic Society [SDS] chapter would exist as a mass-based organization and that I would be on the steering committee of Columbia SDS.

But back at my parents' apartment a few days later, I suddenly began to feel physically miserable, my eyes started to feel irritated, and I felt like I was going blind. My parents had gone away for a week to some cheap Catskills Mountains hotel resort, so I had to call Doctor Cohen, myself:

"I feel weak and fatigued. And there seems to be something wrong with my eyes."

Dr. Cohen, who was in his late 50s, agreed to stop by the apartment in the afternoon. He arrived, took one look at my arm and noticed red spots. "Measles. Don't use your eyes for 10 days. And rest," he advised. Then he left the apartment.


Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories:Chap.3: Freshman At Columbia, 1965

Chapter 3: Freshman At Columbia, 1965 (viii)

During the Spring 1966 term, my strongest feeling was falling madly in love with Pat. Pat was a senior at Barnard, majoring in Sociology, who planned to become a social worker. She was a beauty who I met after Stein re-organized the day care program at Grace Methodist Church.

In the middle of the fall semester, a Columbia student named Juan had become an enthusiastic volunteer in the program. He was a sophomore from Brooklyn who was a very good-natured and friendly guy. When, at the beginning of the 1966 spring semester, Stein renamed the program “P.A.C.T.” and increased the number of student volunteers recruited into the program, he also named Juan as the program’s coordinator. Pat was one of the new student volunteers recruited after Juan began coordinating P.A.C.T. Like me, Pat worked on Tuesday afternoons as a group leader during the Spring 1966 term. Her group consisted of 8 to 10-year-old girls, while my Tuesday group consisted of 8 to 10-year-old boys.

After each day’s activities, all the student volunteer group leaders were required by Stein to meet for an hour in a group discussion that was led by a bohemian-dressed older woman social worker. As a result of hearing Pat speak in these weekly discussions, I fell in love with her. She and I seemed to be the ones most willing to participate in an emotionally open way in these group discussions.

I also began to feel some affection for another Barnard woman named Anne. She was my co-leader in the group of 5 and 6-year-old boys I took care of on Thursday afternoons. Each week, Anne and I would talk on the phone to plan our group’s activities. Anne was friendlier towards me than Pat was, but my obsession with Pat’s beauty caused me to be blind to Anne’s beauty and not adequately respond to Anne’s warm personality. Although both Anne and Pat always wore jeans and dressed in a bohemian way, Pat was more anti-war politically than Anne.

But nothing developed out of my wild longing for Pat—who often wore a scarf on her hair—except some more love poetry, songs and emotional frustration for me. Yet I still found my two afternoons of volunteer work with the children and with other students at the P.A.C.T. daycare center more meaningful than being inside the classrooms of Columbia.

Although my volunteer work in P.A.C.T. did enable me to meet Barnard women more easily, I was not motivated to work in P.A.C.T. primarily to meet Barnard women. Guided by the integrationist Civil Rights Movement’s assertion that non-exploitative education and cultural exchange between white students and ghetto children was progressive, I saw my volunteer work as a daycare group leader as a concrete, tangible way of expressing my commitment to African-American and Puerto Rican liberation. In Spring 1966 I was more committed to working in P.A.C.T. than to my academic studies. Pat also seemed more committed to serving people than to academic careerism, which is one reason why I fell in love with her.

Despite my obsession with Pat, however, I continued to browse in Butler Library. I read books on Nazi Germany, Hitler, Mussolini and fascism because I feared that, under LBJ, fascism was developing in the United States. I also tried to understand why the 6 million Jews were exterminated in Europe in the early 1940s. In the stacks of Butler Library, I also thumbed through 1950s issues of Time magazine, Life magazine, U.S. News & World Report, and Newsweek and noticed how inaccurate and anti-communist their reporting was in those years.

When I wished to be surrounded by other students while studying, I would sometimes sit in the Burgess Library on the fourth floor of the Butler Library building. I also would sometimes try studying in either the main 2nd floor reading room of Butler Library or in the Columbia College Library within the same building.

My mind wandered whenever I sat in the Butler Library building. I would start to get restless after about a half-hour and start to feel myself drawn to the various women students who might be sitting near me while I was attempting to study. In the library, though, people didn’t generally talk to each other unless they already knew each other from classes or after-class activities. During my freshman year, I didn’t meet anybody new as a result of studying near people in the library.

For the second term of a “Contemporary Civilization” course, I wrote a term paper on the 1848 romantic revolutionaries and read Marx’s Communist Manifesto for the first time. After reading Marx, I felt his view of the world was possibly as accurate as the viewpoint of C.Wright Mills. I began to think of myself as somebody who was carrying on an intellectual tradition of siding with and identifying with the international working-class. But still influenced by Martin Luther King’s ideology, I was too completely a pacifist to be a Marxist.

In doing research for the 1848 romantic revolutionaries’ paper, I examined many books on the subject. Of all the books written about this period, Engels’ book on Germany’s Revolution and Counter-Revolution seemed to provide the clearest explanation for the 1848 historical events. Engels also described the wavering, over pedantic intellectuals and academics of 1848 in a way which reflected my growing disdain for the wavering, over pedantic U.S. academics of my own time, who appeared to me to be insufficiently resisting the U.S. war machine. In my term paper, I compared the romantic revolution of 1848 with the developing youth revolt of the 1960s. I expressed strong identification with the revolutionary democratic sentiments of all historical eras.

My most interesting course was Stade’s English Composition II course. For this course, I spent much time attempting to write the definitive term paper on W.H. Auden. Auden interested me because in an article on Dylan in the New York Times Magazine a Times writer had called Dylan the “Auden of the 1960s.” In studying Auden, I focused primarily on his 1930s poetry of commitment to changing the world and his work around the time he wrote his poem about the Spanish Civil War.

I felt that the Spanish Civil War issue of the 1930s was the intellectual equivalent of the war in Viet Nam issue. I evaluated Auden and his contemporary literary artists by the stand each had taken in relationship to the 1930s rise of fascism. If a poet had been activist against Franco in some way in the 1930s, then I felt his or her poetry was worth spending time reading. If a poet had either sat out the Spanish Civil War controversy or opposed the Spanish Republic, then I felt that he or she was so insensitive that his or her poetry could not be worth reading.

I ended my Auden paper by comparing him with the folksinger protest-song poets of the 1960s like Dylan, and I expressed my confidence that Auden’s dreams of the 1930s would be actualized by the followers of Dylan in the 1960s. I came out strongly in favor of the young politically-oriented Auden, in preference to the older Auden who wrote poetry after he converted to Catholicism and lost faith in the left.

I worked hard on the term paper. But Professor Stade trashed it. He gave me a “D” for the paper because I didn’t reflect his preference for an art for art’s sake aesthetic and for poetry which was “above politics” and beyond any partisan political commitment.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories:Chap.3: Freshman At Columbia, 1965

Chapter 3: Freshman At Columbia, 1965 (vii)

The Thanksgiving break came and I went back to Queens to visit my parents. I felt much more distance between us and felt I had changed as a result of being away from home. My sister had returned from a stay in Berkeley and was spending much time in my parents’ apartment, listening to an Erik Satie album and Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited album. My parents were pressuring her to become less bohemian.

I went to Flushing High School’s annual Thanksgiving football game at Memorial Field. The crowd was large, but I didn’t bump into Rona or anyone else I had known the previous year. Then I returned for the family Thanksgiving dinner and watched a football game on TV.

When Thanksgiving vacation ended, I felt both relieved and a little bit sad. Relieved to get back to my dorm room in Manhattan where I was free of old family constraints and actively living on my own in a whole new scene. But also, I was a bit sad that my parents could never really be as close to me again, now that I was living apart from them and starting to act out a different direction in my life than they wished me to go.

Back in school during the three weeks before the Christmas break, I finished writing my A Ball In A Basket play and mailed it out to one producer. By the time he returned the play and a rejection slip to me by mail a few months later, I was in the middle of writing a new play, with songs that could be sung a cappella, entitled The Barrier. The idea of either re-writing or devoting more time to trying to market A Ball In A Basket didn’t appeal to me.

A Ball In A Basket had been set in a Midwestern setting and reflected feelings of alienation produced by life within an All-American small city atmosphere and an All-American high school within white America. The Barrier was about the difficulty men and women found in communicating and becoming emotionally intimate with each other, in the context of a society moving towards escalated war in Viet Nam. The Barrier reflected some of the feelings my year at Flushing High School and contact with Rona had generated. It contained a folksinger narrator who tied the story together with the songs I had been writing. It also attempted to express a generational point of view.

I still continued to work at Grace Methodist Church in the afternoon. I listened to on-campus speakers in the evening. I began to spend more time trying to catch up on my schoolwork and pump out term papers, in order to avoid failing any courses. I became increasingly obsessed with the immorality of U.S. military intervention in Viet Nam and moved away from left-liberal radicalism to a mixture of anarchism and radical humanism. I read Paul Goodman’s Growing Up Absurd and bought a paperback anthology of anarchist writings. I started to dress more like a radical and took haircuts less frequently. I continued to wear a sweatshirt or a turtleneck and blue jeans everyday.

I began to evaluate people primarily in terms of their attitude towards the escalating war in Viet Nam. I began to feel that U.S. military intervention in Viet Nam might lead to World War III. In The Barrier play, I included the song “Viet Nam,” which contained the following lyrics:

Viet Nam
Viet Nam
Will it end my life?
Viet Nam
Viet Nam
Subtract me in my youth.


During Christmas vacation, I felt like Holden in A Catcher In The Rye by Salinger. I tried to catch up on meaningless academic work, in-between listening to Highway 61 Revisited and a few Joan Baez records. “We Can Work It Out” by the Beatles and “The Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel were two hit records at that time which also reflected my mood.

Away from Columbia’s campus, what especially struck me as hypocritical was the way people could still be into celebrating the Christmas spirit through shopping and ceremony, yet be so passive in terms of resisting the immoral U.S. war effort in Viet Nam. I also felt very lonely since I wasn’t emotionally involved with anyone. The people around me seemed cold and politically passive. The young women my age attracted me sexually but appeared emotionally closed to getting involved romantically with me in a way that I felt would not limit my freedom. I was glad to get back to Columbia in January 1966, where I then prepared for my final examinations.

The January exams were given and I felt the finals didn’t really measure the knowledge I had acquired. I received an “F” in Astronomy, instead of a “Gentleman’s C.” But I passed all my other courses and felt satisfied that I was able to keep up academically with the other Columbia students, without turning myself into an academic grub.

I returned to my parents’ apartment for a few weeks again, watched TV, read anti-war material and more anarchist writings and then began my second semester at Columbia. I still contemplated dropping out or transferring to Berkeley for the last three years of my undergraduate days.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Sundial:Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 3: Freshman At Columbia, 1965

Chapter 3: Freshman At Columbia, 1965 (vi)

Around the time I was still being radicalized in relationship to U.S. policy in Viet Nam, I attended my first off-campus anti-war rally.

It was a Saturday morning in late October. I was strolling up Broadway, past the 116th St. entrance to Columbia’s campus, when I noticed about 100 leftists lined up against the wall of Dodge Hall, facing towards Harlem. Some of these leftists I recognized from having hung around the ICV table in Low Plaza.

I was now against the war, but I was hesitant about joining a demonstration which a civil rights group wasn’t sponsoring. I was still anti-communist enough in my conditioning to fear being manipulated by communists, if I went on a demonstration which was organized only by leftists. I was ready to revolt. But I distinguished between “authentic” youth revolt a la Berkeley or led by African-American activists and “inauthentic” or CP-led “left sect” revolt. After walking about five yards past the demonstration, however, I turned around and joined the line of marchers. This was the first time I chose to express my alienation, political discontent and anti-militarist sentiments by joining a collective protest.

While we waited to begin marching, I got into a discussion with a hard-core pacifist woman who argued that “immediate withdrawal from Viet Nam” was a more moral and democratic position than the “stop the bombing and negotiate, but no withdrawal yet” position which I was still halfheartedly clinging to in October 1965. This was probably the last time that I argued against an “immediate withdrawal from Viet Nam” position.

After a long wait, our march finally began. At first, I felt embarrassed and uncomfortable chanting the slogans in unison with other anti-war marchers. But, after awhile, I got used to shouting along with everybody else. I began to lose my feeling that marching and chanting slogans was too simplistic a way of summarizing complex issues like the war in Viet Nam.

We marched down Amsterdam Ave. and then across 110th St. to Fifth Ave. We then marched down Fifth Ave. Along Fifth Ave., people were supportive. From windows in the high-rise apartments, white liberal upper-middle-class people stuck their heads out and clapped their hands in support of us. In New York City--even among Manhattan’s wealthy--the U.S. military intervention in Viet Nam didn’t have much support. As we marched downtown, I accumulated many leaflets and free leftist and pacifist newspapers from different young people, who kept shoving their interpretations of the war into my hands.

We met the other anti-war demonstrators at the Upper East Side meeting point and I was surprised to see how many other people were also against the war in Viet Nam. There was another boring long wait, and more leaflets and free newspapers were shoved into my hands. Finally, the main march went down Fifth Ave. to another closed-off street in the lower 60s on the East Side.

As we marched down Fifth Ave. people chanted “End the war in Viet Nam! Bring the troops home!” over and over again. Socialist Workers Party people always added “now” to the chant “Bring the troops home!” There evidently had been much Fifth Ave. Peace Parade Coalition faction-fighting prior to the march as to whether the politically correct slogan to be chanted was “Bring the troops home!” or “Bring the troops home, now!” The latter position implied the more radical demand for immediate U.S. withdrawal from Viet Nam, instead of the less radical demand of just stop the bombing, negotiate and withdraw only after a negotiated settlement.

At the rally site at the end of the march I was surprised, again, at how many people were actually so against the war that they were willing to rally. Dave Dellinger spoke at length with enthusiasm and moral passion and moderated the street rally. The elderly War Resisters League head, A. J. Muste, also spoke. This October rally marked the first time I heard pacifist speakers like Dellinger and Muste, as well as other anti-imperialist leftist speakers, in an off-campus situation. I felt that these left activists all made more sense than the Democratic and Republican Party politicians I had seen on TV when I was growing up. Dellinger’s enthusiasm and moral passion especially appealed to me, immediately.

After the rally broke up, I took the subway alone back to the Columbia dorms and, in my dorm room, I read through all the free anti-war literature I had accumulated during the day. With so many people opposed to U.S. policy in Viet Nam, I thought the war would soon end. I also felt that what was written in the anti-war literature made more sense than what the New York Times was printing about the war in Viet Nam.

My opposition to U.S. military intervention in Viet Nam intensified as the school year progressed. I planned to attend a November anti-war march in Washington, D.C. But F.B.I. pressure on the bus company that had agreed to take us down to D.C. in chartered buses to demonstrate caused the bus company and its union to refuse, at the last minute, to provide enough buses to transport us. After awakening at 5 a.m., I was one of the people who was stranded in New York and couldn’t go to D.C. to demonstrate. The informal limitations on the right of dissent in the U.S. were being revealed to me.

I wrote a letter to Vice President Hubert Humphrey and used quotations from the then-recently-deceased former liberal Democratic presidential candidate, Adlai Stevenson, to argue against LBJ’s policy of war in Viet Nam. I urged Humphrey to speak out in opposition to LBJ. But Humphrey’s office sent back a form letter which stated that Humphrey had carefully considered the issue and believed LBJ was doing all that he could to secure a just and honorable peace.

Sundial:Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 3: Freshman At Columbia, 1965

Chapter 3: Freshman At Columbia, 1965 (v)

I discovered a bookstore on West 114th St. and Broadway. It was owned and operated by this tall, quiet, solitary white man in his late ‘50s who had been politically active in the 1930s. In the 1960s, the old leftist stocked many leftist magazines, newspapers and paperback books that couldn’t be obtained at many other bookstores.

At the 114th St. and Broadway bookstore, I picked up anti-war magazines like Viet Report and Liberation, discovered social-democratic magazines like Dissent and purchased even more politically radical magazines such as Ramparts, A Minority of One and Monthly Review. I also purchased paperbacks which described and analyzed the Berkeley Student Revolt of 1964 in great detail, works by C. Wright Mills such as The Power Elite and White Collar and a paperback anthology on Viet Nam which Marvin Gettleman had edited.

Instead of reading most of my assigned course readings, I spent much of my early freshman year study-time reading the Berkeley Student Revolt books and the works of C. Wright Mills. I read the Gettleman book on Viet Nam during Christmas vacation in December 1965. It provided me with the information which, when combined with what I had picked up from listening to Mel and reading ICV literature and many leftist magazines, enabled me to now convincingly argue against the morality of the U.S. government’s Viet Nam war policy.

On Friday mornings for about one month I went to Charles Evans Hughes High School to tutor history as part of the Citizenship Council program. The teacher in charge of the tutoring program was a personally pleasant guidance counselor, and the student I tutored showed up for the first two 45-minute tutoring sessions. But when the student chose not to appear for the next two scheduled sessions, the teacher in charge of the tutoring program decided it didn’t pay to have me come to Hughes H.S. to tutor anymore. I concluded that it was unrealistic to expect a high school student to give up a free period for a tutoring session, in the absence of some immediate benefit.

On Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, from 3:30 to 6 p.m., I went to the Grace Methodist Church on 104th St. and worked with other Columbia Citizenship Council student volunteers, as a group leader of 8-year-old boys in an after-school daycare center. The program later became known as P.A.C.T.: The Program to Activate Community Talent.

Bob Stein was the originator of the idea of having Citizenship Council set up a daycare center at Grace Methodist Church. He had spoken to the minister at Grace Methodist, Rev. Tatum, and had asked Rev. Tatum what people in the community most needed. Rev. Tatum had told Stein that all the working mothers most felt a need for a center to care for their children after school. Stein then began to organize a day care project to fill this neighborhood need.

Stein was a friendly left-liberal junior from the Boston area who majored in psychology at Columbia. He was a great believer in the value of group therapy and group discussion methods as a method of solving personal problems and work problems.

Around ten of us from Barnard and Columbia were initially involved in Stein’s project. The first few weeks of the fall term we spent cleaning up and repairing those rooms of the church which were to be used as day care facilities. Grace Methodist Church had a small gym and a large recreation room. There was also a small library and a few side rooms. After we had fixed things up, we opened up for recreational business.

I also continued to read as much as I could about Dylan and Woody Guthrie. By the second month of my freshman year, I was considering dropping out of Columbia in order to just write and go out to Berkeley and bum around. Dylan had dropped out of the University of Minnesota during his freshman year and it had not hurt his artistic career.

But I did not yield to my restlessness and immediately drop out. I had rapidly concluded that life in the classrooms of Columbia was not intellectually, emotionally, morally and politically stimulating. Yet living in Manhattan and exploring Manhattan on weekends was still a novelty in Fall 1965, so I stuck it out at Columbia for the time being.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Sundial:Columbia SDS Memories: Chap.3: Freshman At Columbia, 1965

Chapter 3: Freshman At Columbia, 1965 (iv)

Mel had black hair and was of medium height. He was in his mid-to-late 20s. He seemed to know Vietnamese history and the history of U.S. military intervention in Viet Nam better than anyone else at Columbia. Mel had been a Peace Corps volunteer in Algeria, and his Peace Corps experience had caused him to first become disillusioned with the reality of U.S. foreign policy.

I had started to get disillusioned with Lyndon Johnson in early 1965, when he started bombing North Viet Nam on a regular basis. I was against militarism, but I was also a left-liberal anti-communist in my politics. I thought that LBJ’s policy of an escalated bombing campaign was motivated by democratic goals. I still believed the U.S. government’s line that communist North Vietnamese leaders were seeking to enslave the South Vietnamese by unjustified force. But I felt LBJ’s decision to bomb North Viet Nam daily was morally questionable.

The first anti-Viet Nam War teach-ins had been organized at colleges like the University of Michigan, shortly after the sustained bombing of North Viet Nam began. The educational TV station in New York City, Channel 13, had televised these early teach-ins. I had watched the teach-ins and had generally agreed with the left-liberal anti-war professors, when they had condemned the U.S. military escalation and had called for a negotiated peace settlement with the North Vietnamese.

But in April 1965 I had not gone to the first anti-Viet Nam War mass march on Washington, D.C. which National Students for a Democratic Society [SDS] had organized. My older sister had been at the demonstration, after having done Civil Rights Movement volunteer work in North Carolina during a college spring break. She was much more anti-war than I was at that time because she had talked to Movement radicals who knew what was actually happening in Viet Nam. I was still dependent on the Establishment mass media for my information about Viet Nam at that time.

My sister had stopped by my parents’ apartment, the day after the April 1965 anti-war march. And she and I had spent much time debating U.S. foreign policy.

“I don’t like the bombing of North Viet Nam, either. But the North Vietnamese don’t want to negotiate. And Johnson has called for unconditional discussions. He really does want peace,” I had argued.

“The North Vietnamese want to negotiate. But as long as Johnson keeps bombing North Viet Nam, there can’t be negotiations. If Johnson really wanted to negotiate, he would stop bombing North Viet Nam. Or work through the United Nations,” my sister had replied. “The U.S. doesn’t have any right to be in Viet Nam, anyway.”

“We can’t just get out and let the Communists take over,” I had said.

My sister had shrugged. “Anything’s better than war.”

I had thought for a moment to myself that maybe she was right. And by the time LBJ had started sending more U.S. troops to South Viet Nam in the summer, I knew that I wasn’t going to let myself get used as cannon fodder, unless I believed the war could be justified morally. In the ‘60s, my sister was bohemian and politically radical, most of the time. Periodically, our paths would cross for a few weeks at our parents’ apartment in Whitestone and we would talk in a deep way about the world and our personal lives.

So Mel’s presence at the Independent Committee on Viet Nam table at Columbia, as the war continued to escalate, reinforced, hardened and deepened my opposition to U.S. government policy in Viet Nam. Students would stop by the table and debate with Mel the morality of U.S. policy. I kept stopping by to listen to Mel discuss the Viet Nam issue whenever I saw a crowd around the table. Mel’s talk seemed more relevant and interesting than any of the classroom discussion that went on inside Columbia’s classrooms.

“We’re committing genocide in Viet Nam. Napalm bombings and carpet bombings are designed to kill civilians. The Geneva Accords of 1954 required an election to unify Viet Nam in 1956. Even Eisenhower admitted Ho Chi Minh would have won the 1956 elections if the U.S. and the Diem dictatorship hadn’t violated the Geneva Accords,” Mel argued passionately, day-after-day.

Sometimes he would be joined by other anti-war students around the table. Every three or four weeks the ICV would hold an anti-war rally around Columbia’s sundial at which Mel and a Columbia College senior with a Boston accent, named Dave, would stand up on the sundial, and patiently explain to other students who gathered there why U.S. military intervention in Viet Nam was an immoral crime against humanity, in violation of the Nuremberg Accords.

Supporters of the war in Viet Nam who came to the ICV table could not justify U.S. policy on moral grounds when confronted with Mel’s knowledge of the facts. Mel influenced me intellectually more than any Columbia professor did in 1965. His moral passion and detailed critique of U.S. foreign policy convinced me that the U.S. military’s role in the Third World was always anti-democratic and always violated the self-determination rights of Third World nations. Mel’s teaching at the ICV table and his personal dedication, at the expense of his career preparation and studying time, to raising consciousness about the war in Viet Nam caused me to completely question the U.S. mass media version of contemporary history. His teaching stimulated me to read more on my own, in order to find out the truth about the nature of U.S. foreign policy between 1945 and 1965.

Sundial:Columbia SDS Memories:Chap.3: Freshman At Columbia, 1965

Chapter 3: Freshman At Columbia, 1965 (iii)

After Freshman Week ended, the rest of the student body returned to the campus for the fall term. I had to move out of my Freshman Week dorm room and back to my parents’ apartment, temporarily, until dorm room space became available. For about a week, I commuted from Whitestone to Columbia by bus and subway. A few times I commuted from Whitestone by taking a bus over the Whitestone Bridge to the West Farms Square IRT subway station.

Going to Columbia as a commuter made you feel isolated from campus life. It made you feel that you were attending CCNY, not Columbia, and that you were just going to an extension of high school. A single room on the second floor of Livingston Hall, however, became available. So, by the second week of classes, I was living on campus in a room of my own. I again felt that, yes, I was really in college.

It was a novelty and exciting, but also costly, to buy my textbooks at the Columbia University bookstore, which was then located in the basement of the School of Journalism building. I spent money to also buy a Columbia sweatshirt. In Fall 1965 I also used my student pass to travel up to Baker Field on Saturday when Columbia’s football team was playing there, to watch “my team” usually lose. But I didn’t join Columbia’s marching band. I had lost interest in just being a cog in a school marching band. It involved too large a commitment of rehearsal time. I was much more interested in writing, activism, exploring Manhattan and working in the community in support of African-American people and the Civil Rights Movement. I didn’t want to be tied down to a band practice routine like I had been in high school. Too many other things were going on around campus.

On the second floor of Livingston Hall, I didn’t have much more than a nodding contact with the other guys who lived there. None of the other guys on the floor were in any of my classes or turned out to be politically involved or active in Columbia Citizenship Council. A few of my floor mates were eager to get into fraternities. A few others were on the football team and didn’t seem too intellectual. I disliked the “no women in the dorms, except during special hours, with the door open, and after signing-in” policy of the Columbia Administration. It seemed discriminatory, repressive and unnatural.

Yet once I had settled into my Livingston Hall room I still felt more personally free than I had ever been. I was on my own, with my only specific obligations being to make appearances in those classes I was taking and not to exceed the maximum limit of allowable cuts.

Initially, I was a major in government because the courses listed in Columbia’s government department courses offerings list appeared more interesting than the history department’s course offerings. I scheduled early morning classes so that my school day would be over by 2 o’clock on most days of the week. I would then have most afternoons free to do whatever I felt like doing.

At first, I awoke early enough to make my 8:10 or 9 o’clock classes. But by the middle of the semester, I usually preferred to sleep late, instead of attending class. I would cut early morning classes as often as possible and often end up reading what I felt like reading, or browsing around in the local public library or in Columbia’s Butler Library.

I started to listen to WQXR radio, after waking up in the morning or before going to sleep each night. I also began to listen to top 40 hit AM radio on WABC and WMCA. I read the New York Times frequently and bought the Sunday Times each weekend. I went to sleep by midnight, except on Friday and Saturday night. I ate my meals often in the John Jay Hall dormitory cafeteria, but I also ate dinners in restaurants on Broadway and purchased sandwiches from the deli on Broadway, which was called “Take-Home.” I remained thin because I preferred to spend my money on books and magazines, instead of on food. I didn’t have enough money for both books and food.

All my Fall 1965 courses were required. The course which most interested me was my required English Composition course which was taught by Professor Stade. Stade related to his students in a friendly, egalitarian way. He was the only Columbia professor whose office I would bother to visit when classes were not in session, in order to engage in intellectual discussion.

Stade was in his early 30s when I first met him. He had once been a roommate of Amiri Baraka’s in the late 1950s, when Baraka still called himself “Leroi Jones” and hung around with the white upper-middle-class liberal beatniks. As a result of his past friendship with Baraka, perhaps, Stade seemed to be more anti-racist in his consciousness than the other white English Department professors at Columbia.

As Stade aged and his hair became white in the 1970s and 1980s, he became more politically conservative in his ideological views, although he always remained a very friendly person. In the 1960s, however, he was anti-war and anti-racist in both his lecturing and writing. Stade was also one of the earliest Columbia professors who didn’t feel obligated to wear a suit and tie when he came to class. He participated in an anti-Viet Nam War read-in and used his class time to criticize, sarcastically and satirically, LBJ’s foreign policy.

Around lunchtime and in the early afternoon, I found myself habitually hanging around the anti-war Independent Committee on Viet Nam [ICV] table on the plaza in front of Low Library. A Columbia Teachers College graduate student named Mel would generally set up this anti-war table and be there from about 11:30 a.m. until sunset.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Sundial:Columbia SDS Memories:Chap.3:Freshman At Columbia, 1965

Chapter 3: Freshman At Columbia, 1965 (ii)

During Freshman Week, there was a big meeting in the Low Library administration building rotunda, where a professor told us that we were a “special group of people” and “the nation’s future elite.” A well-dressed “tweed”/preppie, in a suit and tie, who was the student coordinator of Freshman Week, told us to “use New York City as your campus” and he urged us to “look into the faces of people on the subway.” At a student union building reception for freshmen in Ferris Booth Hall’s Hewitt Lounge, punch was served and the friendly Dean of Columbia College, David B. Truman, shook our hands, individually.

A mini-tour of Greenwich Village was offered one evening. A group of us freshmen were escorted on the Broadway IRT local from 116th Street to the Christopher Street station. After leaving the Christopher Street station, we were led around the West Village for a few hours but were not shown any of the gay bars.

Our meals during Freshman Week were eaten together in John Jay Hall cafeteria. I would often find myself spontaneously involved in a conversation with a freshman from some place like Tyler, Texas.

I was interested in getting to know African-American students at Columbia. So I spent some time during Freshman Week looking through my Freshman Directory book, which pictured all the freshmen, and noticed where the small number of African-American students in the class had gone to high school. I hoped that Columbia College would be a place where I could form inter-racial friendships. In 1965 Black nationalism was still not dominant in liberal and left Civil Rights Movement circles. Inter-racial friendships and love relationships were not yet discouraged for political organizing reasons.

The white student left at Columbia was nearly invisible during most of Freshman Week. Prior to one of the Freshman Week events, George tried to sell the freshmen who were lined up to go inside Ferris Booth Hall some kind of leftist newspaper. The newspaper claimed that Columbia University was controlled by Wall Street corporation directors, was nothing more than an instrument of these corporations and was not really an institution concerned about the pursuit of knowledge.

George wasn’t able to interest any of us in buying his newspaper. From the freshmen on the line who bothered to notice him, there was much snickering and some taunting of him for being a “commie.” After glancing at his newspaper’s headlines and listening to his sales pitch, I thought to myself that George’s view of Columbia was intellectually simplistic and inaccurate, and that it was ridiculous to argue that Columbia University was “just another U.S. multiversity like Berkeley.” But the longer I attended Columbia, the more my own views about Columbia began to change.

The highlight of Freshman Week came near the end of the week, when representatives of various student clubs spoke to us in Wollman Auditorium and tried to use sexist humor and sexual innuendo to interest us in joining their clubs. Most of the freshmen cheered and laughed all night, as the junior and senior Columbia College tweed-preppie-types tried to demonstrate how hedonistic and sexually virile and sophisticated they and their clubs were.

But these Columbia student leaders didn’t strike me as being the kind of men I wished to emulate. If they were “Columbia Men,” I was not interested in being a “Columbia Man.” The anti-intellectualism of this student club recruitment night, which was called “King’s Crown Activities Night,” undercut the credibility of the pious words which Columbia administrators and professors had thrown at us during the more solemn previously-held Freshman Week events. Club night seemed to indicate that what the all-male Columbia College student body found most important was the sexual conquest of Barnard women, not the pursuit of knowledge and truth, or the love of other people. Columbia students seemed no more intellectual in their personal priorities than their male counterparts at less selective universities, like Indiana University or the University of Miami in Florida.

The one student speaker at this “King’s Crown Activities Night” who impressed me was the representative of Columbia’s ACTION group. ACTION had organized an anti-war, anti-NROTC demonstration in the spring of 1965, which the Columbia Administration had broken up by calling in New York City cops to arrest the less than 150 demonstrators. The ACTION speaker was the only student who mentioned the need to oppose the war in Viet Nam on campus at this club night. His presentation was interrupted by jeers from right-wing Columbia freshmen and by much heckling.

When it came time to sign up for campus activities, I signed ACTION’s mailing list. ACTION, however, became defunct early in Fall 1965 because most hard-core Columbia and Barnard activists joined the Independent Committee on Viet Nam (ICV).

I also signed up to be a Columbia Citizenship Council volunteer. I volunteered to tutor every week at Charles Evans Hughes High School at West 18th St. and 7th Ave., and to work as a group counselor in an African-American church on 104th St., between Amsterdam Ave. and Columbus Ave. Citizenship Council provided me with a way to make contact with people who lived in the neighborhoods around Harlem.

Because I saw myself as a writer-activist, I went to the freshmen recruiting meeting of Columbia’s literary magazine, The Columbia Review. During the previous academic year, the Columbia Administration had tried to curtail the campus distribution of the magazine because too many of the literary articles contained too many explicit references to sex. But the Columbia Review people seemed more snobbish, less dynamic, more self-centered, less socially concerned and less warm than either the Citizenship Council people or the ACTION recruiters. So I didn’t get involved with the Columbia Review crowd.