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.

No comments: