Saturday, March 31, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 15: Steering Columbia SDS Into Action, 1968

Chapter 15: Steering Columbia SDS Into Action, 1968 (vii)

Everyone in the student hang-out was white. And only a small number seemed disturbed enough to remain glued to the TV set for more than a few minutes, although none of the whites were happy to hear the news of King’s assassination. By the time I left the restaurant, after watching the TV for about 20 minutes and hearing a saddened and enraged Stokely Carmichael proclaim that “White America just lost its best friend” and “Non-violence is dead” on the screen from Washington, D.C., all the other white students were again acting as if nothing special had happened.

Like Carmichael, I felt non-violence was dead and I was outraged that the Establishment had let King get assassinated. By early 1968, like most other white New Left activists, I felt King was insufficiently militant and was functioning as a “fireman” and “cooling out agent” in relationship to the African-American masses and the SNCC people whose advocacy of armed self-defense, more militant anti-imperialism, revolutionary nationalism, anti-integrationism and more aggressive call for Black political and economic empowerment in line with Malcolm X’s writings seemed to more adequately reflect the mood and aspirations of the Black working-class masses. But I was still angered that a morally righteous pacifist like King could be gunned down so easily, without the Establishment preventing his murder.

I immediately assumed that some kind of conspiracy was responsible for King’s murder. “The Establishment probably didn’t like King speaking out on U.S. foreign policy issues like opposing the war in Viet Nam and didn’t like his Poor People’s Campaign plans, which would attempt to unite poor whites with poor Blacks,” was my first thought. Hence, I thought, at first, that the Establishment just had the FBI turn the other way when white racist conspirators moved in on King. I had no idea, though, that Hoover and the FBI had been conducting an extensive secret COINTELPRO campaign to politically neutralize and eliminate King as a political force “to prevent the rise of a Black Messiah” for most of the 1960s. If I had known about the FBI’s anti-King surveillance and harassment campaign, I would have assumed that the FBI, itself, organized the assassination of Martin Luther King.

In response to King’s murder, I wondered what would happen in the African-American ghettos. I returned to my sister’s room. She had also heard the news and was also shocked, and we discussed the possible implications of the King assassination. We were not too surprised when we turned on her radio and heard news of spontaneous African-American rebellions starting to break out around the U.S. We also would have been in the streets burning the cities to protest the assassination, if we were Black and living in a ghetto. We wondered whether the Black Revolution would begin rapidly, now that King’s peaceful approach had been gunned down.

My sister told me that she had arranged a car ride to New York City for me, with one of her English professors. The professor, a guy from Brooklyn named Bleich, was only a white liberal, but he seemed to be attracted to my sister. So he had agreed to let me sit in his car, along with another student passenger, when he left the following morning to spend Indiana University’s spring break with his mother in Brooklyn.

Early the next morning, I kissed my sister goodbye and got into the back seat of Professor Bleich’s car. He was in his early-to-mid-30s and looked like an academic who was starting to age. He loved to talk. And since each hour on the road brought news from the car radio that more and more U.S. inner cities were burning in protest over the King assassination, we spent most of our time on the road debating what could be done to end racism in the U.S. I can’t recall any of the specifics of the discussion. I just recall that Bleich and I did most of the talking in the car and he was fearful of the prospect of Black Revolution and uncomfortable with the Black radicalism and nationalism of SNCC. Despite our political differences, though, as the car passed through Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey—amidst more and more news of burning cities—we both agreed that the U.S. seemed to be falling apart, because of its failure to rapidly end the oppression of Black people and respond rapidly and positively enough to Martin Luther King’s movement, during King’s lifetime.

When we got to Manhattan, Professor Bleich dropped me off at the subway and I headed up to my dorm room at Columbia. I was surprised that no big mass-based African-American rebellion had taken place in Harlem or in Bedford-Stuyvesant, despite tempers being hot and the cops appearing to nearly provoke a rebellion. Mayor Lindsay’s white liberal approach to the African-American community and his willingness to personally visit African-American neighborhoods when people felt like revolting had proven to be an effective counter-insurgent approach and an effective way to cool down enough Black folk in New York City at this time.

Back at Columbia after King’s assassination, more people seemed to feel that the U.S. was in a political crisis, and more people were now interested in being political. An emergency inter-racial march to protest King’s assassination had marched from Times Square to Harlem, in which the spirit was more militant than in most previous Manhattan marches against racism. But around Columbia, Eugene McCarthy buttons suddenly also appeared on the shirts of many white liberals and white left-liberal students who had previously been flirting with involvement with SDS, following LBJ’s announcement that he would not seek re-election in 1968. A mass meeting in Wollman Auditorium at Columbia was then called by a group of left-liberal Columbia students, who hadn’t been active in SDS, to discuss the implications of King’s assassination.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 15: Steering Columbia SDS Into Action, 1968

Chapter 15: Steering Columbia SDS Into Action, 1968 (vi)

As the Council meeting broke up, I asked around for a ride to Bloomington, Indiana. Two SDS guys and an SDS woman from Madison, Wisconsin had extra space in their car for me. They were planning to pass by Bloomington on their way back to Madison, Wisconsin. But first they wanted to visit Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, before heading back north. Since I had never been to Mammoth Cave National Park, I did not mind not driving to Bloomington immediately. In the late afternoon, we left the University of Kentucky campus and started to drive towards Mammoth Cave.

The Wisconsin SDS activist who drove the car had longish black hair and a beard. The other guy from Wisconsin SDS had short hair, was beardless, seemed more sectarian and dogmatic when he spoke about politics, and was somewhat supportive of PL’s anti-bohemian line. The Wisconsin SDS woman activist who was in the car with us had worked with John in building a Madison draft resistance union. Before the sun set, we stopped off at a roadside restaurant in rural Kentucky and were able to eat a tasty, home-cooked, four-course dinner for an amazingly low price. We then got back in the car, continued to drive, and talked politics and debated whether or not the National SDS “heavies” were “too hippy” and “too elitist”, until we reached the inn that was located near the Mammoth caves. It was dark when we arrived at the inn.

Before we were going to turn the lights in our two adjoining rooms out, we watched and listened to Lyndon Johnson speaking on TV to the nation. We all were flabbergasted when LBJ suddenly announced that he was not going to seek re-election in 1968 and was going to stop bombing much of North Viet Nam. Nobody within SDS had predicted such a development. We spent the next few hours excitedly discussing the implications of the LBJ withdrawal from the election campaign and his limited bombing pause: Was it just an election year gimmick to try to regain his popularity? Did this mean Kennedy or McCarthy would be president? Was the war actually going to end? Were we going to be able to actually escape the war draft? Who gave LBJ the order to resign? How would SDS’s Movement organizing be affected by all this? If the war in Viet Nam did end, would there still be a mass base for the white New Left? Then we finally all went to sleep.

The next day we spent walking around the insides of the scenic Mammoth Cave with other tourists. After going through all the sections of the cave, we hit the road again and talked ourselves out until I was dropped off in downtown Bloomington, Indiana.

My sister was living off-campus in a room in a house, in which she shared cooking facilities and a bathroom with other women in the house. She was now as politically radical, comparatively, as she had been in high school. But since there was no active SDS chapter at Indiana University yet, most of her knowledge of what was going on within SDS came from telephoning me.

During the week I visited her, she was busy catching up on her academic work and term papers, and working at her part-time clerk-typist job. So she didn’t have much time to hang out with me during the day. But one evening, we visited the local Woody Guthrie-type folksinger and his woman friend, at another off-campus house. Another evening, we dropped by a meeting of local anti-war students who were planning their student government election anti-war campaign. And a third evening was spent with a grad student she was dating named Cramer, whose father was a paperback book publisher in New York City. Cramer had attended Columbia as an undergraduate and we recognized each other from having played basketball together in Riverside Park one spring Sunday afternoon, when I had been a freshman. He took my sister and me out for dinner at a local drive-in restaurant along Indiana State Highway 37. He still seemed more interested in his academic career than in radical New Left politics.

Most of the other time in Bloomington, I spent walking around campus, hanging out in the student union building or browsing through books in the library. Alone, I also attended an evening meeting about the draft on campus, where I got into a big argument about the war with a U.S. military official who was addressing the sparsely-attended meeting, after I had asked a question about the war’s morality which he had difficulty answering.

It’s hard to recall anything else of what I did in apolitical, non-bohemian Bloomington, Indiana that week. Because on the evening of April 4, 1968 I was sitting in an off-campus student hangout, eating a cheap dinner, when I noticed something strange was being broadcast on the TV screen behind the counter. I stood up from the table where I had been eating and approached the counter to try to get closer to the TV, in order to hear the sound better and to find out what unusual event had evidently happened. In about 20 seconds, I realized what they were saying, and my heart sank.

Martin Luther King had just been shot in Memphis, Tennessee. That was why the TV was broadcasting pictures of him speaking, while they waited for news that he was officially dead.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 15: Steering Columbia SDS Into Action, 1968

Chapter 15: Steering Columbia SDS Into Action, 1968 (v)

There had been some pressure put on the University of Kentucky Administration by the local newspaper and local power structure not to let university facilities be used for an “anti-American” and “communist” meeting like the SDS National Council. But the University of Kentucky Administration hadn’t bowed to this pressure.

In the cafeteria of the student union building, I noticed Mark and other people from Columbia SDS. Mark laughed when he noticed me there and said: “Bob! When did you arrive here?”

“I just hitched down from Cincinnati,” I replied.

Jeff Gordon of PL was also there with his loyal band of PL followers and it appeared that the usual round of PL vs. New Left faction-fighting would take place. In the cafeteria, the PL people sat in the corner by themselves, while all the New Left people from the rest of the country socialized with each other.

There were about 400 white delegates walking in and out of the main mass meetings that weekend in Lexington. It seemed like SDS membership around the country was increasing. Chapters from as far south as Texas were represented and white radicalism in the United States, as a result of the prolonged war in Viet Nam and the draft, no longer just seemed a New York Jewish radical or a Berkeley bohemian phenomenon. There were literature tables with printed material from National SDS’s Radical Education Project [REP] and literature tables staffed by white Southern student radical organizations.

On the Friday evening before the Council meeting officially opened, New Left SDS people relaxed with each other in small groups on a hilly campus lawn of the University of Kentucky and conversed. I can recall noticing Carl and Karen Davidson walking arm-in-arm and Jeff and his woman friend, Phoebe, also touching each other in affectionate ways.

The Columbia SDS men who were unattached were driven by local anti-war religious activists from Lexington, along with other unattached SDS men from around the U.S., to some church on the outskirts of town, on the Friday night after the first session of the Council meeting. We all ended up sleeping cramped next to each other in sleeping bags on the floor of a fairly modern church, after spending a few hours in informal, interesting political discussion with each other. The SDS men and women who formed part of couples ended up crashing in friendly off-campus houses adjacent to the University of Kentucky campus.

I can only recall a few moments from the Council debate itself that seemed significant. Columbia SDS appeared to have the politically strongest and most active SDS chapter in the U.S. by this time. We had sent the most student activists to this meeting and our people usually made the most arguments during the various debates. JJ—although he had by now dropped out of Columbia, did no day-to-day organizing for Columbia SDS and only appeared on campus when demonstrations or SDS general assembly meetings were being held—loved these National Council debates. He would often speak for 10 minutes in a rambling, left-sectarian monotone, in support of some obscure ideological position, until people no longer understood what he was talking about—or even cared. His essential point still was that doing anything other than immediately kicking ROTC and recruiters off U.S. campuses everywhere and immediately trashing university military research labs, in support of the Vietnamese, was bull-shit. But he still didn’t know how to use political argument to persuade anybody that his super-militancy was politically correct—or that his call for SDS people to prepare for campus brawls with those few students he felt would actually fight us if we disrupted campus life, was a good strategy for radicalizing liberal students.

There were again debates over whether to support, at the expense of local campus organizing, national anti-war marches in Washington, D.C. that were being organized and controlled by Socialist Workers Party [SWP] people. Again, National SDS people argued that organizing for national anti-war marches was a waste of time, in terms of building an on-going multi-issue radical movement.

One of the most dramatic moments of the Council meeting occurred on Saturday afternoon when, after long months of study, solitude, thought and non-activism, a former National SDS president—Carl Oglesby—now clean-shaven, came down from the mountain to present his latest political analysis of the U.S. Oglesby was in his mid-30s at this time. He had worked as some kind of white-collar professional at Bendix in Ann Arbor in the early 1960s, before being radicalized by the war in Viet Nam and then discovering that U.S. foreign policy since World War II had been anti-democratic and hypocritical in its Cold War anti-communist hysteria.

“There’s a fight going on in the Establishment between what I call `The Yankees’ and `The Cowboys,’” said Oglesby. “The `Yankees’ are members of the old Eastern Establishment and they’re being represented by Bobby Kennedy. They had power until the Kennedy Assassination and now they want power again, in order to end the war in Viet Nam. `The Cowboys’ are the Southwestern and Western, newly-rich, military-industrial complex-linked members of the Establishment, with Texas and California-based wealth. They’re represented by Lyndon Johnson. They want to continue to escalate the war in Viet Nam until it is won. They’ve held power since the Kennedy Assassination and they want to keep holding power.”

Oglesby then continued his speech, while SDS people listened very attentively. “For the last few years we’ve been saying that the main issue in America is the war in Viet Nam. But the recent Democratic primary results in opposition to Johnson make it look like the `Yankees’ and Kennedy are going to regain the Presidency again and end the war in Viet Nam.

“Now being `radical’ means taking up issues that the liberals are afraid to take up. And no longer will the war in Viet Nam be the main issue in the United States. The main issue is now racism.

“Because of racism, more Black urban uprisings are inevitable. SDS must now prepare for these ghetto uprisings. We must prepare to donate arms to Black activists who need to defend their communities from racism and police brutality.”

At this point in Oglesby’s speech, Ben of the Motherfuckers suddenly stood up in the back of the hall, went into a tantrum and began to shout, as he approached Oglesby in a menacing way: “Donate arms! And let Black people do all the fighting and bleeding while SDS sits securely in the classrooms! White radicals have to fight too, you honky! They may be either Yankees or Cowboys, but we’re the Indians!”

Ben then started shouting incoherently about “white collar radicals” and preparing for guerrilla warfare for a few more seconds, while people laughed at his comment about us being the Indians. Then other SDS people cooled Ben down, finally.

Oglesby next resumed his speech by saying: “Before we can change anything, we have to be sure we’re psychologically together ourselves.” He then stated that the main issue SDS had to now decide was whether or not to support Kennedy in the 1968 election and how to prepare to donate arms to the Black community.

Oglesby’s speech did not go over well because most SDS people were not that certain the liberal “Yankees” were less dangerous than the right-wing “Cowboys” or that it was inevitable that the “Yankees” would end the war so quickly or really alter the foreign policy of U.S. imperialism. People also felt that to respond to Black ghetto uprisings by just donating arms, instead of initiating simultaneous struggle against the common oppressor for radical democratic goals, was too white liberal and passive an approach to responding to racism in 1968.

People were also turned off to the idea of even considering working for the “liberal opportunist” Robert Kennedy, instead of working to build a New Left Movement that radically changed more than who sat in the White House or which country abroad U.S. troops occupied. By this time in National SDS circles, Oglesby was seen as too “apolitical” in his political thinking and not Marxist or neo-Marxist enough in his way of analyzing events. Within SDS rank-and-file circles, the only presidential candidate who had any kind of credibility at this time was Eugene McCarthy because, unlike Bobby Kennedy, he had been willing to run as an anti-war candidate before it became apparent that LBJ could be defeated electorally in the Democratic primaries because of his war’s unpopularity.

In the evening following this Saturday debate a number of parties were held at various locations. I ended up at a party in which people like Ben and the other Motherfuckers and JJ smoked a lot of pot and mingled with local University of Kentucky anti-war movement women. I can recall getting stoned myself and walking around while high with other leftist students and leftist hippies, through car less Lexington streets around the campus. Inside the house, ten to fifteen of us, while stoned or tripping, spent a few hours pounding loudly on steel cooking pots, as if they were drums, at the same time rock music was blaring. Everyone stayed up stoned until mid-morning, turning on again and again, until we each dropped down somewhere and fell asleep either with a leftist or hippie woman in our arms or alone.

On Sunday afternoon, after enough SDS people had recovered from the Saturday night parties, the National Council passed resolutions and tried to raise money, by stirring up friendly chapter rivalry and ridiculing each of the most prominent National SDS “heavies”. Then it wrapped up its business. It was agreed that in late April 1968 SDS chapters would try to simultaneously carry out anti-war and anti-complicity actions on as many campuses as possible, as part of a “10 days against the empire” campaign which would “put SDS on the map.” Although Columbia SDS seemed to have the strongest chapter and Mark’s action-oriented, confrontational leadership appeared to be dynamic, nobody at the Council meeting foresaw how big the spring confrontation at Columbia actually would become.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 15: Steering Columbia SDS Into Action, 1968

Chapter 15: Steering Columbia SDS Into Action, 1968 (iv)

After the pie-throwing incident and the steering committee meeting in which he skillfully outdebated all his Praxis-Axis critics, Mark was clearly in control of the chapter’s direction and was able to lead in a freewheeling, charismatic way, with the enthusiastic support of the bulk of Columbia SDS’s hard core. The next evidence of Mark’s dynamic leadership and willingness to return Columbia SDS to its pre-Praxis-Axis confrontational style of politics was the March 27, 1967 demonstration inside Low Library. Two hundred of us playfully defied Columbia President Kirk’s ban on indoor anti-war demonstrations at Columbia at this time.

The initial goal of the March 27th march into Low Library was to deliver more petitions to Kirk which called for an end to Columbia’s institutional sponsorship of IDA. But—like in December, when Kirk was down in Virginia attending an IDA executive committee meeting—Kirk was not in his office when we entered the Columbia Administration building.

So chanting “IDA must go! IDA must go!,” we marched into the offices of other administrators, including the office of a guy named McGooey, who was your typical mid-50s, suit-and-tie-wearing administration bureaucrat. We asked him to justify Columbia’s ties to IDA and, naturally, McGooey didn’t know anything about them. But he seemed uncomfortable having to face a jeering Columbia SDS crowd led by Mark, Dave and Ted, each of whom shouted questions at him in a derisive, humorous way. Although Ted was hurt by the outcome of the post-pie-throwing meeting, after a few days he put his personal feelings aside and continued to be willing to do chapter agitational work at rallies under Mark’s leadership. After about a half-hour of confrontation and defiant marching inside Low Library, we left the building.

By March 27, 1968, most Columbia SDS people were so frustrated with the Columbia Administration’s failure to cut its ties to IDA that we were ready to sit-in immediately, once we had enough people. We no longer had any faith that the Columbia Administration would resign from IDA because of rational persuasion. We realized that only by showing Kirk that continued ties with IDA meant disruption of business as usual at Columbia would we be able to persuade Kirk to get Columbia’s trustees to pull out of IDA. Our hope was that by defying Kirk’s ban on indoor demonstrations in a confrontational way we would encourage the mass of apathetic anti-war students who had mobilized behind us in the April 1967 confrontation with the Marines to go into political action again. Everyone in Columbia SDS felt “up” after the March 27th demo inside Low Library.

A day or two after the March 27th indoor demonstration in Low Library, spring vacation began. During the spring break, most of Columbia SDS’s hard-core of 30 activists ended up traveling out to Lexington, Kentucky for what was to be a well-attended SDS National Council meeting. At first I wasn’t going to attend. It seemed like too much of a hassle to find a ride in a car going from the Upper West Side, when I only half-believed that National SDS meetings were of relevance to local SDS chapter activity. But after I spent a day back with my parents in Queens, I thought to myself: “What am I doing here? Why don’t I splurge a little and combine a trip to the SDS National Council meeting in Kentucky with a visit to my sister at Indiana University?”

I telephoned my sister (who was now finishing up her BA work at IU), looked at my collection of road maps, telephoned an airline company at LaGuardia Airport, took out some money from my bank account, packed a sleeping bag and some clothes in a knapsack, said goodbye to my mother and took a few local buses to LaGuardia. For the first time in 10 years, I got on a plane—a jet that was bound for Cincinnati. I could only afford a one-way ticket to Cincinnati. So my plan was to land in Cincinnati and hitch to the University of Kentucky campus in Lexington. After the National Council meeting ended, I then hoped to get a ride, or hitch, to Bloomington, Indiana, where I would crash with my sister for a week, before getting a ride back to New York City from Bloomington.

Although I had never hitched before on a highway, I had read through enough Woody Guthrie books and listened to enough Dylan to feel quite eager about starting to do a little hitching in the U.S. My 1968 hitch-hiking from Cincinnati to Lexington was my first time “on the road” hitching.

After the jet landed in Cincinnati in the early afternoon of a hot spring day, I soon found myself on a highway on the outskirts of the city. Within five minutes, a young guy who was a student at Xavier College picked me up and drove me from the airport to the southern outskirts of the city. Five minutes after he dropped me off, two poor whites from a mountain town in Tennessee, who were heading back home, picked me up. I sat in the backseat of their beaten-down jalopy during the hour or two that it took to reach the highway exit for Lexington. After being dropped off, I walked into the town and followed the signs that directed cars to the University of Kentucky campus.

The road from the highway through the town passed through the impoverished African-American section of Lexington, and I walked through this section towards Main Street and the center of town. In the center of town, I made a left and walked by many stores of the downtown shopping section, then up a hill to the University of Kentucky’s campus. As I walked up the hill and saw more of the university buildings, I felt more and more as if I was in a campus town. In the late afternoon, I found the building where the SDS National Council meeting was being held.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 15: Steering Columbia SDS Into Action, 1968

Chapter 15: Steering Columbia SDS Into Action, 1968 (iii)

The Columbia SDS steering committee meeting to discuss the pie-throwing incident took place in one of Earl Hall’s side rooms. I was picked to chair it because both the Praxis-Axis people and Mark felt I would chair the meeting in a neutral way. “What we’re going to discuss is whether Columbia SDS should repudiate the pie-throwing action,” I said right before we went around the room to debate the merits of Mark’s actions.

There were about 20 people in the small room and, initially, it looked like the vote was going to overwhelmingly repudiate the pie-throwing and a move might then possibly be made by the Praxis-Axis to call for new SDS chairman elections the following week.

“Throwing the pie in the middle of the Colonel’s speech was a terrorist action. What Columbia SDS has to still be about is building a mass movement by rational discussion and education—not infantile, small group terrorist actions. It was totally irresponsible for you to ignore the Draft Counseling Committee vote, Mark,” Peter Schneider argued, in an angry voice.

Then Ted followed: “We had a long debate in the committee, Mark. And you lost. You had no democratic right to go off and plan such a politically childish action on your own. It hurts us politically on campus because it alienates us from most of the liberals who still have hang-ups about free speech.”

Teddy and Al and a few other SDS hard-core activists followed with more angry Praxis-Axis condemnation of Mark. It looked like the whole debate was going against Mark, as each speaker poured on heavy criticism of him, and none of his previous sophomore caucus supporters appeared willing to defend either him or the pie-throwing action.

Jeff, from the SDS Regional Office, had dropped by to attend the steering committee meeting. He was one of the first speakers to talk about the pie-throwing action in a positive way. “I was at another campus yesterday and, when I mentioned the pie-throwing, they dug it and thought it was a great action,” Jeff said with a twinkle in his eye and a smile.

A Resist! organizer named Ron, who had been a civil rights worker in the South during the summer before he enrolled at Columbia, also supported Mark’s action.

I then stated my own position: “I think it was a good political action because it shows the campus that we’re about militantly resisting the war and not just having more polite academic discussions. But I don’t think Mark was right in violating the democratic forms of the chapter, in order to carry out the pie-throwing.”

Another speaker or two continued to pour criticism on Mark, as he sat impassively and carefully listened. Finally, it was Mark’s turn to speak. And there was an air of hushed tension as he began his reply:

“The issue isn’t really a question of democratic forms. Or whether the pie-throwing was a good tactic. The issue is whether the old leadership is going to really surrender control of the chapter to me and stop trying to block those of us who want to use more creative tactics to build the Movement.

“Many activists around Columbia have been made to feel like outsiders by the old leadership that still doesn’t want to relinquish control. Now that I’m trying to act more independently and provide a chance for people who have felt excluded from the chapter leadership to get involved in a creative way, they’re trying to undermine me.”

The Schneiders, Al, Ted, Teddy and Nancy began to frown, while the faces of SDS sophomores like Stu and Sokolow began to smile. Then Mark looked at each individual who had criticized him, in turn, and proceeded to answer, in a specific and convincing way, each of their specific individual criticisms, one-by-one. After demolishing each individual’s arguments and criticisms of him, he then made his own psychological and political counter-criticisms of their individual political practice, before turning his attention to the next individual whose criticism he responded to. By the time Mark had finished his 20-minute response, he had won over everyone in the room to his point of view, with the exception of Ted, Teddy, Nancy, the Schneiders and Al.

I called for a vote on whether or not Columbia SDS should repudiate the pie-throwing action. And everyone—except the hard-core Praxis-Axis of Ted, Teddy, Nancy, the Schneiders and Al—voted to support Mark’s position. Ted, Teddy, Nancy, Al and the Schneiders then hurried out of the room after the vote. Everyone else remained in the room to converse about what had just happened, in a gleeful way.

“Did you see Nancy’s face when the vote went against Teddy?” Stu asked somebody, while laughing.

Mark was smiling widely and talking with people in an enthusiastic and animated way.

“That was great! You really exposed their true motives in a clear way. I never saw anyone turn a political meeting around so dramatically like that,” I said to Mark right before I left Earl Hall to get some dinner.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 15: Steering Columbia SDS Into Action, 1968

Chapter 15: Steering Columbia SDS Into Action, 1968 (ii)

The pie-throwing incident of March 20, 1968 marked the start of Columbia SDS’s more confrontational approach, under Mark’s dynamic charismatic leadership.

Colonel Akst, the New York City Director of the Selective Service System, had been invited by some Earl Hall religious counselors of Columbia to speak about the draft options of students. A meeting had been held by Columbia SDS’s Draft Counseling Committee to decide the best way to greet Colonel Akst. At this meeting, Ted, Peter Schneider and Al had persuaded the bulk of Draft Counseling Committee members that the most effective way to respond to Colonel Akst’s presence was to “ask probing and embarrassing questions” after the Colonel spoke.

Mark, however, had argued that this response was not dramatic enough and that SDS people should use guerrilla theater in the middle of Akst’s speech to disrupt the speech of a war criminal. But Mark’s proposal had been voted down by 31 to 3 within the draft counseling committee because Ted, Schneider and Al had argued that it would “alienate” the non-SDS people who would be listening to Col. Akst. Hence, when Col. Akst began to speak in the Earl Hall auditorium all that was expected was that Columbia SDS people would “ask probing and embarrassing questions.”

A de-classified “Red Squad” document of March 22, 1968, however, described what happened when Colonel Akst began to speak:

“Approximately 150 students had assembled in the hall at 4:00 P.M. when Col. Akst began his talk. He had spoken about one-half hour, when a group of students, identified as Students for a Democratic Society (S.D.S.) members, entered through the rear of the audience and proceeded to cause a commotion. The invading students were equipped with an American flag; some were masked, and some carried toy pistols and fake rifles. They conducted what was purported to be a mock war. While everyone’s attention was drawn to the rear of the hall, one or two youths sneaked up on the stage and threw a lemon meringue pie at Col. Akst. The pie struck the Colonel on the left shoulder and left side of his face. The perpetrators escaped before they were apprehended.”

This same document also erroneously identified me as one of the pie-throwers:

“7. [deleted…] F.B.I., advised that a confidential source had been present at the above meeting, and was able to identify the following members of S.D.S. who had taken part in the `mock war’…The source also indicated that one BOB FELDMAN, a member of Columbia University S.D.S., not previously known to this command, was one of two persons who had perpetrated the above pie-throwing incident. The other person was not identified. Bob Feldman is described as follows: 20 years of age, 6’, very thin face, smooth complexion, brown curly hair, blue sun glasses, brown leather jacket…”

The description of me also overestimated my age and height and described the physical appearance of somebody else.

When I noticed Colonel Akst wiping the pie from his face—from a seat in the rear of the auditorium—I was as stunned as everybody else in the room. Nobody in the crowd was laughing and most of the audience perceived the pie on Col. Akst as an act of humiliation against a human symbol of the hated Selective Service System.

It was Mark who broke the silence a few seconds after everybody realized that a pie had been thrown. He stood up and yelled out: “He’s a war criminal. He has no right to speak on campus.”

The meeting soon broke up and the humiliated Col. Akst quickly left the campus, to the jeers of a few students. Ted, Teddy, Al, Peter Schneider and other Praxis-Axis people who had voted against Mark’s proposal to disrupt the speech at the Draft Counseling Committee meeting were furious that Mark had unilaterally decided to arrange for the pie to be thrown.

An emergency steering committee meeting was set up for a few days afterwards, and there was some talk among Praxis-Axis people that Mark would be ousted as Columbia SDS chairman. In the evening after the pie was thrown, Mark, himself, had self-doubts about the political wisdom of planning the pie-throwing and about his own ability to be Columbia SDS chairman. I can recall bumping into him near Harkness Theatre, in the basement of Butler Library, when he was walking around with an increasingly active Barnard SDS activist named Ann, on the evening of the day the pie was thrown.

“Everybody thinks it was a big mistake, Bob. They’re furious. I don’t know why I did it. Maybe I should resign as chairman. It reinforces Ted and Teddy’s notion that I’m too impulsive to be a good chairman,” said Mark.

I reassured Mark that arranging for the pie-throwing wasn’t necessarily a bad political move, although he probably shouldn’t have overruled the vote of the Draft Counseling Committee. “Regardless of what Ted, Teddy and Schneider think about the pie-throwing, you still should stay on as Columbia SDS chairman, because there’s still nobody else who can do a better job,” I said.

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap.15: Steering Columbia SDS Into Action, 1968

Chapter 15: Steering Columbia SDS Into Action, 1968 (i)

A few days before Columbia SDS was to hold its March 1968 elections for its 1968-1969 officers and steering committee members, there was a knock on my dorm room door in Furnald Hall. It was Ted. Ted hadn’t visited me before in the dormitory that spring, so I asked him what was up.

“Some of us have been talking about next week’s chapter elections. And we feel that of the juniors in SDS, you’d make the best chairman.”

I laughed in disbelief and replied: “Are you kidding? Mark would make the best chairman. He’s a great speaker.”

Ted scowled. “Mark’s a good speaker. But he can’t be trusted politically. His political arguments in debate with liberals are often incoherent and unpersuasive. And he doesn’t seem able to work collectively or get along with chapter people as well as you do. We want you to run against Mark for chairman.”

I shook my head. “No. I have no desire to be Columbia SDS chairman. I’m not even sure we should have a chairman and a vice-chairman, since it reduces the collective power of the steering committee. And it creates a hierarchy of power in the chapter that may be unhealthy.”

Ted looked disappointed. “Well, if you feel you don’t want to run for chairman, how about running for vice-chairman?”

I shook my head again. “No. I have no desire to be vice-chairman. Why not ask Nancy to run for vice-chairman? She’s a junior, also.”

“We can’t have a woman speaking from the sundial. The campus isn’t ready to accept a woman as vice-chairman.”

Personally, I felt that Nancy deserved to be the new vice-chairman of Columbia SDS. But I didn’t argue with Ted over this subconscious capitulation to 1960s Ivy League male chauvinism.

We spoke for a few more minutes. And when I suggested that Brian might also make a good vice-chairman, Ted replied that Brian wasn’t charismatic enough to be effective, although he was a hard worker and a decent guy. Shortly afterwards, Ted left the dorm room. The Praxis-Axis faction he represented decided it would have to accept Mark as chairman but would back a sophomore named Nick as vice-chairman—because I didn’t want the post and Nancy couldn’t have the post because of her sex.

The next week, after Mark had returned from Cuba, Columbia SDS chapter elections were held one evening. Mark was elected chairman, Nick was elected vice-chairman and I received more chapter votes than either of them, after somebody renominated me for the steering committee. I seemed to be politically popular with the New Left members of Columbia SDS, whether praxis-axis or action faction, with PL cadre within Columbia SDS, and with Barnard women students in Columbia SDS.

The new Columbia SDS vice-chairman, Nick, was a tall guy with long hair and a mustache, who was from Long Island. In his freshman year, and the early part of his sophomore year, he had spent most of his time working as a Columbia Citizenship Council bureaucrat and a P.A.C.T. organizer. But in early 1968, he had started to spend less time with Citizenship Council and more time working on Columbia SDS’s IDA Committee. By the time of his election as Columbia SDS vice-chairman, Nick seemed to be defining himself as a Columbia SDS New Left radical activist, primarily, and not as a Citizenship Council bureaucrat.

On the night Mark and Nick were elected to head the chapter, the sophomores in Columbia SDS seemed much more enthusiastic than before. Robby, Stu and other sophomores—like Joel, Sokolow and Fitzgerald—were jumping with excitement, as if a dead weight had been lifted from their shoulders. There was a sense of expectation among them that Mark was, indeed, going to return Columbia SDS to a more confrontational style of campus political activism.

To try to channel student anti-draft sentiment away from involvement in Columbia SDS, the Columbia Administration met with a few of its student bureaucrat puppets and organized a “draft moratorium” around this time. For one day in March 1968, all classes were suspended by the Administration and students heard a variety of speakers in the McMillan Theatre talk about the immorality of the Viet Nam War draft.

In response, Columbia SDS’s IDA Committee adopted my proposal that we hold an “anti-complicity fast” to begin when the draft moratorium ended; in order to protest Columbia’s continued ties to IDA. My main argument in favor of holding this fast was that it was a good way to generate publicity for our anti-IDA campaign when people would be in a more receptive political mood because of the anti-draft moratorium.

At this IDA Committee meeting, Teddy and Nancy were not too enthusiastic about Columbia SDS sponsoring an “anti-complicity fast” because it seemed “too apolitical” and “too churchie.” And after the committee had finished planning the fast and the meeting was breaking up, Teddy said to me in a condescending way: “Are you trying to imitate our `fast for peace’ of last year?” Nancy laughed at Teddy’s remark in a condescending way.

“This fast is completely different. It’s just a publicity device to raise consciousness,” I answered.

About 20 Barnard and Columbia SDS people participated in the fast. And we were able to generate a news article in both Spectator and the Columbia School of General Studies’ student newspaper, The Owl. And some of the students involved in the 3-day fast became more deeply committed to radical politics as a result of hanging around the Columbia SDS table, while fasting on Low Plaza. Yet militant non-violent confrontational action, not more fasting, was what would be most effective in stirring up students that spring about the need to institutionally resist the war machine.

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 14: Back In Furnald Hall, 1968

Chapter 14: Back In Furnald Hall, 1968 (v)

By early March 1968, I had reached my peak of personal loneliness and misery at Columbia. I was feeling so alienated and broken-down emotionally that I made an appointment at the student health service at St. Luke’s Hospital to see a shrink. By this time, also, Eliezer was so crazy from his acid trips and his metaphysical rebellion that Columbia had given him a leave of absence and committed him for a few weeks’ hospitalization at St. Luke’s, until he recovered from his hallucinations. When I visited him at St. Luke’s, he appeared to be in an emotionally helpless state and very illogical and paranoid.

My own emotional problem was the same as it had been in Summer 1967: I couldn’t seem to find any women to love in sustained ways and my New Left political activism, although it fulfilled me morally, failed to satisfy me emotionally. I had quit my job at the Journal of Philosophy, so I no longer saw Nancy and Teddy outside of political meetings. I had drifted apart from Ted, Dave and Mark and had not gotten close to Stu. I was not personally involved with anybody in any deep way, so my Friday and Saturday nights were now being spent alone pretty much, except on the few occasions when I would get invited to some hippie pot party--like one in which I stumbled into Mark, as he was sharing a joint.

I felt uncomfortable when I walked into the shrink’s office. He was a young guy in his late 20s who had short hair and no beard and didn’t wear glasses. As soon as he started talking, I regretted making the appointment. He seemed to lack the ability to empathize with my loneliness and my political commitment. I made a second appointment, but did not keep it.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 14: Back In Furnald Hall, 1968

Chapter 14: Back In Furnald Hall, 1968 (iv)

In March 1968, Howard University students occupied their Administration Building in support of their demands. Columbia’s African-American student activist leaders were influenced by the tactics used by activists at Howard. I read about the Howard University Administration Building occupation, but, insofar as I could envision a spring shut-down of Columbia, I could still only imagine a mass sit-in inside Low Library. The issue at Columbia that stirred the African-American students up was Columbia’s gym construction project in Harlem’s Morningside Park.

In early March, Columbia SDS’s “bread-and-butter” mass organizing issues were still the Viet Nam War-related issues of IDA-Columbia University complicity with the Pentagon and the draft issue. Despite numerous demonstrations—and even a December 1967 anti-war student march in and out of Low Library to drop off anti-IDA petitions signed by over a thousand students—the Columbia Administration still refused to resign its IDA institutional membership. And most Columbia SDS people involved themselves in some way in anti-IDA work.

But the PL cadre, which functioned as an external cadre within the SDS mass umbrella, had also organized a Columbia SDS “Labor Committee,” which was more oriented towards uniting students and transit workers than organizing the mass of students at Columbia to act collectively around their own oppression as students, and in support of anti-militarist and anti-racist demands. PL student activists pretty much controlled this committee, which was led by Tony and his PL disciples and a guy named Roger—who always argued in favor of an immediate sit-in, regardless of whether 300 people or 2 people could be mobilized by SDS to sit-in. In March, however, this committee was strengthened when a newly active, bombastic-talking, politician-type guy named Ed—who seemed somewhat phony in his radicalism—pushed himself rapidly into a prominent position in Columbia SDS by working with this PL-dominated SDS Labor Committee and loudly articulating a PL line.

Another committee within Columbia SDS was a small committee formed to work with community residents to resist Columbia’s further expansion into West Harlem/Morningside Heights. Columbia’s institutional expansion in the late 1950s and early 1960s had already caused the destruction of thousands of homes and the removal of thousands of African-American, Puerto Rican and white elderly tenants from the neighborhood, as a result of what is now called “gentrification.” Columbia SDS’s University Expansion Committee was carried by a tireless, dedicated tall guy with glasses, in his mid-to-late 20s, named Michael.

Michael was not part of Columbia SDS’s inner circle or steering committee leadership and he had been into liberal Democratic Party electoral politics when most of Columbia’s New Left leadership was already revolutionary communist or anarchist. Neither was Michael bohemian or hippie or a part of the aesthetic left or interested in getting involved in Columbia SDS’s theoretical or strategic discussions. But were it not for Michael, the Columbia gym issue would not have been raised by Columbia SDS in early 1968.

All of us who were busy trying to mobilize students around the IDA and draft issues were opposed to the gym construction project. But because neither the Student Afro-American Society nor African-American activist organizations in Harlem initially seemed outraged enough to mobilize many people against Columbia’s land-grab, we tended to feel that there wasn’t much point in white radicals, alone, trying to lead a confrontation on the gym issue at Columbia.

Michael, however, had spent a few years in local electoral politics and being involved with neighborhood tenant groups at meetings in which they had argued with elitist, arrogant representatives of Columbia’s real estate and housing office. As a result, he felt a strong passion to prioritize the fight against Columbia’s land-grabbing in West Harlem/Morningside Heights, whether or not the African-American community was in leadership. When the bulldozers moved into Morningside Park to rip up land for Columbia’s gym, Michael and his neighborhood allies—plus some politically liberal Columbia Citizenship Council people—got arrested in a symbolic way.

Among the people arrested when the gym construction began was Juan of the Columbia Citizenship Council’s Program to Activate Community Talent [P.A.C.T.]. Although Juan was still only a liberal, his work at P.A.C.T. and in Citizenship Council had made him feel—before most Columbia SDS and African-American student activists did—that it was worth getting arrested symbolically to stop Columbia’s gym project—even if most community residents were not mobilized yet on this issue. (Presently, Juan is the Democracy Now! radio show co-host who moonlights as a New York Daily News columnist).

In addition to Columbia’s proposed gym project being an institutionally racist attempt to steal Harlem’s parkland for white upper-middle-class students, there was a Jim Crow aspect to the project. African-American Harlem residents were to be allowed to only enter the token “community” portion of the gym through a back door, while most of the gym space would be utilized by the white Columbia students, who would enter through a separate, elite student front door. Hence, the chant: “Jim Crow Gym must go!”

From the time it was first proposed, there had been some community and liberal verbal opposition to Columbia’s proposed gym construction project. And Harlem CORE had warned Columbia in early 1968—as had SNCC chairperson H. Rap Brown [n/k/a Jamil Al-Amin and currently imprisoned in the South]—not to go ahead with the gym construction. But as late as March 1968, there was still little evidence that the mass of Harlem residents could be mobilized to prevent Columbia’s Morningside Park land seizure.

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 14: Back In Furnald Hall, 1968

Chapter 14: Back In Furnald Hall, 1968 (iii)

Two events related to the African-American student movement made an impact on Columbia’s campus: the Orangeburg Massacre and the student occupation of Howard University’s Administration Building.

Student activists and SNCC people who had been involved in resisting racial discrimination at a local bowling alley in Orangeburg, South Carolina were shot at by racist cops. Some students were killed. Hence, the event was characterized as “The Orangeburg Massacre.”

To publicize what had happened in Orangeburg around the United States and to raise some money for bail and other Movement needs in Orangeburg, a meeting was set up at Columbia by Bill and another leader of the Student Afro-American Society, named Ray, in which Cleveland Sellers, a SNCC worker who had witnessed the Orangeburg Massacre, was to speak. Ray had observed Columbia SDS meetings with Bill on a number of occasions and seemed, with the exception of Bill, to be the most politically radical African-American student on campus. In discussions with Ray on a number of occasions during the 1967-68 school year I had often indicated that Columbia SDS was interested in forming a working political alliance with the SNCC-oriented African-American students on campus.

The meeting to discuss the Orangeburg Massacre was scheduled to be held in Harkness Theatre, in the basement of Butler Library, at around 7 or 7:30 p.m. Before the meeting had even begun, the hall was packed and it appeared there would not be enough seats for the predominantly white anti-racist student crowd that wished to join about 30 African-American students, in listening to Cleveland Sellers speak about the Orangeburg Massacre.

Coincidentally, Jeff Shero of the New York SDS Regional Office was scheduled to hold a film benefit showing for his new radical underground newspaper—Rat—on that same night in Columbia’s McMillan Theatre, which had a much larger seating capacity than Harkness Theatre had. In Harkness Theatre, some Columbia SDS people suggested to Ray and Bill that we all should walk over to McMillan Theatre and hold the emergency meeting there, so that everyone who wished to attend could fit into the larger hall and a maximum amount of money could be raised. Bill and Ray thought the idea was logical, and the crowd of 150 students walked over to McMillan Theatre expecting to be seated in the hall that the New York Regional SDS Office had reserved.

When we all arrived at the entrance to McMillan Theatre, however, Shero told Columbia SDS people that since he and other Regional SDS and Rat people had reserved and paid for the hall, “You can’t use it for any kind of meeting, no matter what emergency has come up.” Shero was a white Southern transplant from Texas who was short and fairly thin. He also had a full beard and short hair. Prior to his recent arrival in New York City, he had been a vice-president of National SDS for the 1965-66 academic year.

Outraged, I and a few other Columbia SDS people attempted to argue with Shero for a few minutes. But after Ray saw how much bureaucratic argument Shero was giving us just to avoid letting the crowd walk into McMillan Theatre, he told people that “The meeting will be held as planned in Harkness Theatre.” And as we walked back to Harkness Theatre, Ray scowled and said sarcastically to me: “Is this what SDS means by having an alliance with the Black Revolution?”

Embarrassed by Shero’s bureaucratic white Southern racism in placing his white radical underground newspaper’s need ahead of the emergency needs of SNCC people, I replied quietly: “SDS still has political problems,” as Ray turned his back on me and walked ahead towards HarknessTheatre.

In Harkness Theatre, Bill gave a militant introduction to Sellers, who looked somewhat dazed, almost as if he had just returned home from some kind of war zone. In detail, Sellers then described the atrocity that had been committed in Orangeburg. People were moved and enraged at the deadly repression down there that had produced the massacre. There was little doubt that in early 1968 most white anti-racists at Columbia were solidly behind SNCC, not the SCLC or CORE. The Orangeburg Massacre of African-American students once again seemed to confirm that racism in the U.S. could only be ended by mass armed resistance of the Black masses, and not by non-violently singing “We Shall Overcome” and imitating the tactics of the non-African Mahatma Gandhi.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 14: Back In Furnald Hall, 1968

Chapter 14: Back In Furnald Hall, 1968 (ii)

The New York SDS Regional Office was organizing a trip to Havana, Cuba at this time. Mark decided that he wished to visit Cuba on this trip. To raise money for the trip, Mark began to deal grass to Columbia students. We ate together one night at Duke’s all-night diner on Broadway and W. 112th St. a week or two before he was to leave. He told me that his dealing had been successful in raising money for his travel expenses. At this time, he still had a beard and long-hair.

Another SDS person who was going on the Cuban trip was Karen. Karen had dropped out of Antioch College and was crashing in Mark’s apartment for a few days before she, Mark and others were to leave for Cuba. I first met Karen when she was crashing in Mark’s apartment. She was from white suburban Roslyn, New York—in Nassau County—and she was short, had dark hair and was wearing a skirt and blouse when I first met her. She seemed earnest and pleasant, and she was excited about the Cuban tour that she was coordinating. But aside from some vague discussion about the logistics of how people were to fly to Havana by way of Canada, I can’t recall talking with her in any significant way at this time. Like most full-time Movement women, she seemed very committed and very intelligent. But Mark later mentioned that an article on SDS and New Left women in the liberal New York Times Magazine had, in a male chauvinist way, recently portrayed her and other SDS women activists as “just Movement cunts.”

In late February, Mark left for Cuba and vanished from the Columbia scene for about three weeks. Right before he left, rank-and-file Columbia SDS people were becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the non-confrontational, over-academic, frivolous, praxis-axis approach of the Ted-Teddy-Peter Schneider-Al chapter leadership. The majority of students at Columbia College who had voted in a non-binding referendum were opposed to Columbia’s ties to IDA and the War—but still felt that freedom of speech included the right of organizations like the CIA and Dow Chemical to recruit on campus. So Ted and Teddy were unwilling to prevent Dow Chemical recruitment on campus on February 23, 1968, to avoid “alienating” the majority of liberal students on campus that SDS was still trying to “organize” and “radicalize.”

On other campuses around the U.S., however, anti-war students had sat-in to stop Dow Chemical recruiting, regardless of what the majority opinion of students on their campus was, on the grounds that it was morally wrong to permit Dow Chemical to recruit on campus. Thus, when Ted and Teddy tried to persuade Columbia SDS’s rank-and-file to—“on tactical grounds”—limit the anti-Dow protest to just picketing Low Library, everybody ignored them and marched up to Dodge Hall to sit-in and stop the campus recruitment process of Dow Chemical. Most Columbia and Barnard New Leftists now felt it made no moral and political sense to passively let Dow Chemical recruit at “radical” Columbia University, when it was being stopped at every other less radical university in the U.S.A.

After seeing their leadership being ignored, Ted and Teddy followed the rest of the chapter up to Dodge Hall to join in the sit-in in a half-hearted way. Dow Chemical recruitment was cancelled, the Columbia Administration took no disciplinary action against SDS people and there wasn’t much of a liberal student campus backlash in response to our “violating” Dow Chemical’s “free speech rights” in order to stop them from recruiting people to help produce napalm to drop on Vietnamese civilians. An undercover “Red Squad” detective, however, also attended the demonstration and filed a report on the demonstration which listed some of the people “observed by the assigned taking part in the rally, picketing and sit-in that SDS sponsored that day.”

Mass student interest in Columbia SDS around this time was further stimulated by the U.S. government’s decision to eliminate the student deferment of graduate students in the U.S. Those Columbia students whose personal strategy for avoiding the Viet Nam War draft was to enroll in graduate school were now personally threatened by the War and more likely to feel a self-interest in mobilizing behind the leadership of an anti-draft organization like Columbia SDS. Columbia SDS had both a draft counseling committee and an off-campus anti-draft organizing project, coordinated by Will, who was a student in Columbia’s School of General Studies. Very few Columbia School of General Studies students became involved in Columbia SDS but, single-handedly, Will’s organizing project did manage to spread some anti-draft consciousness off-campus to some African-American high school students.

Yet despite these developments, it still appeared in early March 1968 that people around Columbia were more interested in its basketball team than in its SDS chapter. Even I attended a few basketball games at Columbia’s old gymnasium around this time and cheered for Columbia’s team, as it reached the top 16 in the NCAA’s basketball championship finals.

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 14: Back In Furnald Hall, 1968

Chapter 14: Back In Furnald Hall, 1968 (i)

A few weeks into February 1968, I was assigned a share of a dorm room on an upper floor of Furnald Hall. Coincidentally, my roommate turned out to be another Columbia SDS hard-core activist who was from my childhood neighborhood in Queens. His name was Stu.

Stu had grown up in an affluent working-class garden apartment development in Glen Oaks—just a few miles from the Beech Hills development where I had lived. Like Robby, Stu had entered Columbia a year after me. His father was neither rich nor a professional, but Stu had been a socially-concerned student leader at Bayside High School, with a strong interest in civil rights and war and peace issues. During his 1965-66 senior year at Bayside, Stu had been mobbed by hostile right-wing students, after he organized the screening of an anti-war film at the high school. During his high school years, Stu had been somewhat active in the United Synagogue Youth movement. But by the time I first noticed him during my sophomore year, when Stu was a freshman, he seemed to be pretty much of an atheist or an agnostic, despite still identifying himself as ethnically Jewish.

During his freshman year at Columbia, Stu—like Robby—appeared to devote more time to his academic work than to political anti-war activism. In Spring 1967, however, when we both lived in Furnald Hall in different rooms, I recall noticing him in the dorm lobby more frequently, arguing with students about the morality of the U.S. war effort in Viet Nam and lecturing them in a stern way if they opposed his anti-war views. Stu seemed more easy-going when not talking about politics and more concerned about his academic career than in getting involved in day-to-day Columbia SDS chapter politics overall though, at this time. At best, he could be counted on to circulate a petition on his dormitory floor and do some dormitory floor canvassing from time to time.

In Summer 1967, however, Stu worked in Columbia’s “Double Discovery” program as a counselor and became more radicalized. By Fall 1967, Stu had become much more active in Columbia SDS organizing and was taking the initiative in setting up floor meetings and lobby meetings in Furnald Hall, under Columbia SDS auspices. By early 1968, he seemed to have lost much of his interest in Columbia’s institutional academic life and was spending most of his time either reading leftist and old CP-published books on his own, setting up floor meetings, dorm lobby meetings or teach-ins, arguing with Columbia students who weren’t yet leftist about racism and the war, or attending Columbia SDS strategy meetings.

What struck me most about Stu before I moved into Furnald Hall to share a dorm room with him was his restless energy and the degree to which, like me and the other hard-core Columbia SDS people, he had become obsessed with the need to resist the immorality of U.S. intervention in Viet Nam and Columbia’s ties to the U.S. war machine. Although we shared radical political beliefs, Stu and I didn’t become that personally close as a result of sharing a dorm room. We both generally spent most of the time out of the dorm room and used it only as a place to sleep.

Stu didn’t respect Teddy politically and he didn’t like Ted too much. He did, however, feel that Nancy was quite beautiful and he seemed to respect Teddy for being able to sustain a love relationship with a beauty such as Nancy. In addition to regarding Nancy as beautiful, though, Stu also regarded her, in this pre-feminist era, as too domineering a woman.

Around this time, Mark split up with Sue. He appeared to spend a few weeks wandering around campus to search for other possible female companions. I recall seeing him walking around with his English-accented old friend, with whom I had seen him occasionally during the previous year. When I visited him in his apartment one night, Mark said to me after I entered the apartment: “I have a new girlfriend.”

“That’s good,” I replied.

Then Mark went into the kitchen and, as he affectionately escorted Sue into the apartment hallway, he smiled and said: “Here she is.”

I started to laugh and Sue and Mark started to laugh with me.

Around this time, Sue seemed to wish to match me up with one of her unattached friends. She invited me to her own apartment for dinner with Mark’s unattached roommate, Neumann, and two of her unattached women friends. But since I was the only one who was heavily into Columbia SDS activism, and the other people had different interests from each other, the dinner conversation soon became boring. So we all left early from Sue’s dinner party.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 13: Christmas Vacation With Mark Rudd, 1967

Chapter 13: Christmas Vacation With Mark Rudd, 1967 (iv)

In early January 1968, I also started to look for my own apartment again. I enjoyed living above Mark. But I desired an apartment where I could freely entertain friends and cook.

I answered a bulletin board card ad in mid-January and sublet a Tiemann Place apartment from two Columbia students. The apartment consisted of 2 ½ rooms and had windows which faced out onto Broadway, a few blocks south of W. 125th St. Whenever the IRT Broadway local train rode by, the apartment shook and it sounded like the train was going to rumble into the bedroom. I had to give up possession of the apartment, however, when the landlord vetoed the sublet because my proposed roommate, Eliezer, now had long hair and looked too much like a hippie. I was forced to move back to my parents’ apartment in Queens for a few weeks until dormitory space in Furnald Hall became available for me. As a result of my unsuccessful Tiemann Place sublet, I was beat for $150.

In Queens, I filled up my spare-time for a few weeks hanging out around Queens College. But compared to Columbia in early 1968, Queens College seemed politically, intellectually and morally dead. At Queens College, I picked up a copy of the Phoenix student newspaper and ended up writing a letter to the editor which the newspaper printed—and the FBI agent who monitored political activity at Queens College inserted in my (now-declassified) FBI file because the letter recommended that Queens College students read the radical press for more accurate information about the Viet Nam War.

The TET offensive of the NLF in Viet Nam began in early 1968. Like most other Columbia SDS activists, I felt that the New Left’s analysis of the situation in Viet Nam had been validated by this offensive. I followed the TET offensive by reading the New York Times again each day and I felt happy that the Vietnamese people, despite the U.S. military escalation of the previous three years, were still able to fight for their liberation so effectively. Because it now appeared to many Columbia students that the U.S. government could not win its war in Viet Nam, campus opposition to continued U.S. military intervention in Viet Nam deepened even further.

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 13: Christmas Vacation With Mark Rudd, 1967

Chapter 13: Christmas Vacation With Mark Rudd, 1967 (iii)

Although I was sad to hear of Che Guevara’s October 1967 death and angry about the CIA’s role in his execution, I had not really examined Che’s thoughts and writings while he was alive. But to complete my term paper on the “ideology of anti-communism” before returning to W. 110th St. to write the position paper with Mark, I read about Che and Castro and the Cuban Revolution, which had taken place only 9 years earlier. In the summer, I had identified with the young Trotsky, as described in Isaac Deutscher’s biographical writing. Now I began to identify more with the martyred Che and the New Left Fidelista tradition in the Western Hemisphere.

Mark, too, had been reading about the young Trotsky and about Che. We both felt that many of the Columbia SDS theoretical debates seemed like reflections of debates held by the Bolsheviks and the Fidelistas of previous generations.

One night in Mark’s apartment, he mentioned that he had had a dream. “I dreamt I was speaking on the sundial to a huge crowd,” Mark said.

Because Mark, Sue and I had started to write a position paper which argued for an alternative, more confrontational SDS chapter political strategy, I thought Mark’s dream was just a reflection of the intensity of our strategic discussions at this time. I can’t recall any major points of disagreements with Mark and Sue during the week we collectively hammered out our position paper. What I do remember is Mark saying things like “What’s a good phrase to use here?” And then, if I replied with a phrase like “institutional resistance,” Mark would smile and say: “That’s a good phrase. Ted and Schneider will like that phrase.”

What we were thus attempting to do was to write the position paper in such a way so that the rest of the steering committee would be persuaded to accept our strategic call for a Spring 1968 confrontation-strike. We included a section which argued that the only way the mass of apolitical anti-war hippies could be politicized and radicalized, along with the mass of anti-war liberal straights at Columbia and Barnard, was if SDS consciously pushed for a Spring 1968 non-violent disruption. After the position paper was finished, Mark suggested that we use a quotation from one of Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde album songs, “Stuck Inside of Mobile,” as a kind of poetic preface. The lyric Mark chose was: “Your debutante just knows what you need. But I know what you want.”

I laughed at Mark’s clever choice of an appropriate Dylan phrase because it really did express the main thrust of our position paper, which was essentially a call for Columbia SDS to stop verbalizing about what we ought to be doing and to start just doing what we really felt like doing, as soon as we could: shutting down Columbia until it cut its ties to the U.S. war machine. Mark titled our position paper “How to Get SDS Moving Again and Screw the University All in One Fell Swoop.”

On the Sunday night before classes were to begin after the Christmas-New Year’s break, Mark and I went over to Trude’s apartment on W. 108th St. to show Ted the position paper we had written. Ted read the position paper, but wasn’t too impressed.

“We can’t start working for a spring confrontation or strike now because it’s too early to know whether we will have enough student support.”

Mark attempted to explain to Ted that the whole point of the paper was to make sure we would gather enough student support for a spring disruption, by motivating chapter hard-core activists with the promise of a spring confrontation.

“We still have to just focus on developing mass radical consciousness and organizing future New Working-Class people. That’s more important than whether or not we have a spring strike or confrontation,” Ted maintained.

“As long as Columbia is disrupting the lives of the Vietnamese through its IDA sponsorship, we have a right and an obligation to disrupt its campus,” I argued.

“That’s just thinking morally, not strategically or politically, Bob,” Ted replied in a condescending tone. “It’s not a question of whether we have a moral right to disrupt the campus. It’s a question of being politically sophisticated enough to know when it’s more important to educate the campus, and not alienate people by a confrontation. Otherwise we end up being as isolated as PL or being as politically crazy as JJ is.”

Mark and I exchanged grimaces and a few minutes later left Trude’s apartment. By early 1968, as a result of Al and Peter Schneider’s right-opportunist influence, Ted tended to put down any chapter person who wanted to act, and not just talk, as being a person who was “unpolitical” and “lacking an analysis.” Mark and I circulated copies of our “How to Get SDS Moving Again and Screw the University All in One Fell Swoop” paper to other Columbia SDS hard-core people over the next week. But although Robby and some of the other sophomore activists felt the call for preparing for a spring confrontation-action was strategically correct, the Praxis-Axis of Ted-Peter Schneider-Teddy-Al pretty much blocked any serious consideration of the paper by the chapter as a whole.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 13: Christmas Vacation With Mark Rudd, 1967

Chapter 13: Christmas Vacation With Mark Rudd, 1967 (ii)

My next recollection is standing inside the hall of Mark’s apartment in the evening, at the very moment his woman friend Sue was coming out of the bathroom shower with only a towel around her body and a second towel around her hair.

“Hi,” Sue said with a smile, as she quickly walked matter-of-factly in front of me towards Mark’s bedroom.

“Hello,” I replied, with a smile in return.

Later in the evening, Mark formally introduced Sue to me, after she had put on her nightgown. She was a senior at Barnard, majoring in English, who had not been as interested in New Left politics as had Mark. Although she was a friend of Linda, unlike Linda, she did not attend Columbia SDS steering committee meetings or do much chapter organizational work. She had evidently been Mark’s friend for awhile, although I had not noticed her around campus before, because she rarely accompanied Mark to political meetings and never spoke at SDS general assembly meetings.

Sue was very sweet and easy to talk with, and I liked her from the start. If you gossiped with Sue about Columbia SDS people, she would often characterize people in humorous ways. But she seemed interested in Columbia SDS and New Left organizing only insofar as Mark was interested in radical politics. She seemed in love with Mark and to be mainly devoted to him. But her love for Mark wasn’t a clinging one and she didn’t sleep over at Mark’s apartment every night. It was always uncertain whether Sue would be at the apartment on any evening I dropped by to visit Mark.

Mark, Sue and I became close during December 1967, mainly because we gossiped about other people together, discussed radical organizing strategies and talked about literature and each other’s life in personal, not just political, ways.

Mark felt that Ted was too pedantic and that Peter Schneider and Al were too coldly intellectual to turn on many people to New Left politics at Columbia. Mark also felt Teddy was no good as Columbia SDS chairman and that Nancy was “too bourgeois.”

“I don’t like Nancy,” Mark said one night. “She’s not a friendly person.”

At the time, I thought that Nancy was a friendly person who just hadn’t been friendly to Mark. But Mark may have been reacting negatively to the fact that Nancy—although not a conscious radical feminist at this time—tended to be less submissive interpersonally in relationship to men than most other Barnard women.

Mark had an entertaining way of talking about his English literature courses. He related a story about Tristan and Isolde in a very tender way to me and Sue. Often in the evening, WNEW-FM rock music would be playing on his stereo radio in the background, as we talked. Sometimes we talked as Mark cooked for himself or scrambled an egg in his frying pan.

I can’t recall much of what our December 1967 small talk consisted of. But the general result was that Mark and I all of a sudden were friends, as well as political comrades. By the time Columbia classes broke up for the Christmas 1967 break, I felt personally closer to Mark than to either Teddy or Ted.

A few days before the Christmas vacation break, Mark and I conducted a small group meeting of some Columbia SDS people in the lounge of Ferris Booth Hall, in the early evening. Only a few other students showed up at the meeting. One of them was a petite Barnard freshman who wore a dress and earrings, used make-up and lipstick, had short hair and looked culturally straight. Her name was Josie Duke. She was related to the Duke family that had made its billions from monopolizing the tobacco industry and exploiting tobacco workers. But at this time I didn’t realize that Josie came from super-wealth.

Despite looking straight and bourgeois, however, Josie took a position in the political discussion on the issue of why Columbia SDS couldn’t recruit more people that was similar to the position that Mark and I had come to share: 1) Unless Columbia SDS activists felt their organizing was going to lead to some Spring 1968 confrontation and/or sit-in or strike, they would tend to retreat from day-to-day political activism; and 2) Unless there was some kind of Spring 1968 confrontation/sit-in/strike, the mass of Columbia and Barnard students would remain apathetic, unpoliticized and unradicalized.

At the end of the small meeting, Josie, Mark and I agreed that Mark and I should try to write some political position paper during Christmas vacation for the Columbia SDS steering committee which would argue that only if the chapter consciously began working in January 1968 for a Spring 1968 confrontation/sit-in/strike would the mass radicalization of students at Columbia and Barnard be a possibility. As we walked home, Mark and I felt more energized by Josie’s apparent agreement with our analysis as to why Columbia SDS continued to be stagnating under Ted, Teddy and Peter Schneider’s leadership. We agreed to return early from our parents’ homes during the Christmas break, in order to write a position paper which argued in support of working towards a Spring 1968 confrontation—analogous to the 1967 confrontation with the Marine recruiters—in order to both win the demand for an end to Columbia’s ties to the IDA and to radicalize large numbers of students.

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 13: Christmas Vacation With Mark Rudd, 1967

Chapter 13: Christmas Vacation With Mark Rudd, 1967 (i)

In late November, I was walking uptown on the east side of Broadway, near W.114th St., when I noticed an index card posted in the local barbershop window. The index card advertised a vacant furnished room, in an apartment on W. 110th St. Because I wished to move as close to Columbia’s campus as possible, I telephoned the advertiser and arranged to look at the vacant room.

The vacant room was located in a unit of a large elevator apartment building at 501 W. 110th St., on the corner of Amsterdam Ave. and W. 110th St. This was the same apartment building in which Mark lived.

The tenant who was seeking to rent the vacant room was a woman named Mrs. Rodriguez. Mrs. Rodriguez spoke English with a Spanish accent and seemed to be in her 40s. Her apartment was a well-furnished one. Within her apartment, she had had constructed a small, cell-like furnished room, no more than 15 feet by 6 feet in size. The room contained a small bed, a small drawer, a small desk, a small sink and a small toilet.

After speaking with me for a few minutes, Mrs. Rodriguez agreed to rent me the vacant room. I was not given any access to the apartment kitchen, but this did not bother me because I rarely cooked and I ate most of my meals on campus or in restaurants. I was given the right to use the shower in her large bathroom. I was not allowed to entertain any guests in either her apartment or in my tiny room. And I had no access to the apartment telephone and could receive no telephone calls.

In December, I moved in a few suitcases of clothes and books, plus my portable manual typewriter, to this tiny room on the 8th floor of 501 W. 110th St. I planned to just rent the room until I found myself a regular apartment of my own.

Living at the W. 94th St. apartment had further alienated me from Columbia’s institutional life. It had been much more fun turning on most nights with Dave to the beat of “With A Little Help From My Friends” and talking New Left politics with different Movement people than spending the evening doing assigned reading in one of Columbia’s dormitories.

Because Ted was now spending most of his leisure time with Trude and the Schneiders, I had started to see less of him outside of SDS political meetings. It now appeared that we would not get any closer on a personal level than we had become during the previous 14 months. I was also not getting that much closer to Nancy and Teddy than I had been during the previous 14 months; although I was still close enough to Nancy and Teddy to take a subway down to Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn early one morning and help hand out anti-war leaflets at the fort, when Teddy reported for his pre-induction draft physical, at the same time he was also applying for C.O. status.

As I spent my first night in my room at W. 110th St., I felt politically involved in a radical community in a vocationally meaningful way, but romantically unfulfilled on a personal level. There were still moments when feelings of emotional emptiness would paralyze me, in-between the rounds of Movement meetings and all the random reading and term paper research that I engaged in each week.

By early December, the Resist! Movement people around the United States were collectively frustrated enough to want to do more to resist the draft than just mail in their draft cards to their local draft boards. Hence, a “Stop The Draft Week” in New York City was planned for December 5, 1967, with the goal of using non-violent civil disobedience to shut down the induction center at Whitehall St., a few blocks south of Wall Street.

Like most other Columbia SDS steering committee people, I felt the idea of going down to the Whitehall Induction Center at 5 a.m. and sitting down in the street until the cops carried you away represented the politics of moral witness, and not the politics of New Left democratic radicalism. Our strategic alternative to “Stop The Draft Week” was for Resist! people and their followers to work to build SDS at Columbia, engage in the mass organizing on campus necessary to raise anti-imperialist consciousness and develop institutional resistance to the war machine’s manifestations at Columbia. It seemed obvious to us that there were not enough people willing to get arrested outside the Whitehall Street Induction Center to really shut it down. So it seemed more logical to continue to engage in mass consciousness-raising on campus rather than get SDS people tied-up downtown in court cases, for engaging in purely symbolic resistance. In retrospect, Columbia SDS probably underestimated the political and strategic value of protests like the civil disobedience outside the Whitehall Induction Center in encouraging the spread of anti-war sentiment.

As it turned out, the cops broke up the “Stop The Draft Week” demonstrations each day with an unnecessary amount of brutality, which was not reported by the Establishment’s mass media. Spectators and demonstrators who weren’t planning to get arrested were shoved around and pushed into side streets by cops, along with the anti-draft protesters who had been sitting down. One of the anti-draft demonstrators at the Whitehall Street Induction Center was the Columbia Daily Spectator’s soon-to-be-named editor-in-chief, Robert. A few days after the last early morning anti-draft protests, Ted said the following to me: “Robert’s evidently got radicalized by the police at Whitehall Street. Maybe Spectator’s coverage of SDS will get better.”

Some of the hard-core Resist! group people, although brutalized at Whitehall Street, still felt turned-off by Columbia SDS people. They felt we “were on a power-trip” and were not willing to really resist the war in a “morally pure” way or “put our bodies on the line” by going to jail for the cause of draft resistance.

Although I knew that I was now living one flight above Mark, I did not immediately ring his bell, once I had moved into the room at 501 W. 110th St. I had begun to like Mark more than during the previous spring, but I still didn’t feel close enough to him to be able to just drop by spontaneously at his apartment.

A few days after I moved into the apartment building, however, Mark bumped into me by the front door of the building. He was exiting from the building, as I was entering.

“Bob! What are you doing here?” Mark said in a surprised tone.

“I’m living in a furnished room here now, on the 8th floor.”

We then talked for a few minutes and Mark invited me to stop by his apartment either later that evening or later during the week. We both were wearing ski stocking caps and Mark seemed genuinely interested in having me stop by his apartment.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 12: Marge Piercy and the Anti-Rusk Demo, 1967

Chapter 12: Marge Piercy and the Anti-Rusk Demo, 1967 (iii)

Near the end of November, Ted, Dave and I chose to move from the W. 94th St. apartment. We had discovered that Mrs. Grossman, our “landlady,” was not really the owner of the apartment building, after all. She was only a rent-controlled tenant masquerading as a landlord, in order to rip us off.

“What you’ve done is very wrong, Mrs. Grossman,” Dave pointed out to her when we confronted her with our knowledge of what she had done, in violation of New York City rent-control laws that protected tenants against the greed of landlords.

Mrs. Grossman looked very nervous, but she didn’t concede that she had done anything wrong or illegal. When we tried to bargain with her, so that she’d agree to sublet her rent-control apartment to us at the legitimate lower rent, she refused to bargain and demanded that we vacate the apartment.

After Mrs. Grossman ended our meeting with her and left the apartment, we decided that it would be too much of a hassle to squat in the apartment against her will. In addition, because Ted had pretty much been living at Trude’s apartment for most of October and November, it didn’t appear necessary for him to keep up the expense of a vacant bedroom, in another shared apartment. So we decided to all move out of the W. 94th St. apartment.

Although Dave and I had gotten much closer as a result of living together, we each didn’t feel it made much sense to look for a new apartment together. Most of Dave’s political work at this time was downtown with older radicals at the New School or around the New York SDS Regional Office with graduate students or with people just out of college. Most of my political work involved meetings inside dormitories, student union lounges and classroom buildings at Columbia. On a daily level, we didn’t seem to have enough in common to make any special effort to keep living together in the absence of Ted’s presence as a third roommate.

One of my last memories of life at the apartment with Dave was a Saturday night visit of Linda, Harvey’s woman friend and Harvey. Harvey and his woman friend had come in from Madison to visit Linda—who, herself, had returned to New York from Madison earlier in the month to catch up on her Barnard academic work. Harvey, his woman friend and Linda each looked like they were either high on marijuana or hash or on some kind of psychedelic drug trip. As we sat around Dave’s water pipe and smoked some more hashish and marijuana, Linda mentioned that she was on a mescaline trip. She appeared happier and gigglier than when she was straight. I felt a very loving kind of vibration in the room between Harvey, his woman friend, Dave and Linda that night, as we all shared more and more hash and grass.

Harvey’s friend still seemed in love with Harvey. Linda appeared content, although Josh had remained out in Wisconsin for the weekend for academic reasons. I was happy to have Harvey appear in the apartment, by surprise, that night. Like Dave, I missed Harvey being around the Upper West Side. Prior to Linda, Harvey and Harvey’s friend going back uptown to Linda’s apartment for the night, Harvey and Dave kissed each other goodbye.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 12: Marge Piercy and the Anti-Rusk Demo, 1967

Chapter 12: Marge Piercy and the Anti-Rusk Demo, 1967 (ii)

On the Saturday before the anti-Rusk demo, Gottlieb, Sutheim and Marge came to the apartment with Dave, after having held an afternoon meeting and eaten dinner out together. They had been smoking a lot of grass and dancing to Rolling Stones’ music for awhile, when I went into the living room to join them in their little party. I smoked some grass myself and was content to sit on a couch and just listen to the music while Sutheim and Marge took turns dancing with Gottlieb and Dave—in-between continuing to talk SDS Regional Office shop.

Near the end of the party, Marge—who appeared to be in high spirits from the pot—insisted that I dance with her, in a friendly tone. We danced to a few long songs on the Rolling Stones album that contained the tune “Something Happened To Me Yesterday.”

It was during the two weeks before the anti-Rusk demo that Mark and I started to gossip with each other. In early November, Mark telephoned Dave at the apartment when Dave wasn’t home. Somehow Mark and I began to talk about Trude, Ted and Dave. Mark mentioned that he and Trude had once been close. We gossiped for awhile. And we each discovered that we could make each other laugh.

After gossiping about New Left politics and New Left people with him, I began to feel that Mark was getting more serious about being a New Left activist. When he said “Ciao” at the end of the phone conversation, I felt more warmth from him than I had previously felt. He seemed more fun to talk with now.

On the day of the anti-Rusk demo, about 100 hard-core Columbia SDS people met at the sundial in the late afternoon. Teddy gave a brief speech from the sundial in an easygoing tone and, halfheartedly, urged everybody to head downtown towards the Hilton Hotel. We all entered the 116th Street subway station through the kiosk and, when a Broadway downtown local arrived, we all got on the train simultaneously.

“Maybe we should take over the whole subway train like they used to do in France during the Algerian War,” Teddy joked, as the train moved towards 50th Street and Broadway. Most of the hard-core SDS radicals heading downtown weren’t too enthusiastic about spending the night in front of the Hilton, because our numbers from Columbia were sparse. And we didn’t expect many other people to be at the demonstration. But since the demo against Rusk had been planned, we all figured we might as well follow-through on it, the best way we could. I didn’t expect to get arrested outside the Hilton. I assumed that even if we were blocking traffic for awhile, we would be able to get back on the sidewalks if we saw any cops coming towards us.

Around the beginning of the midtown rush-hour, Columbia SDS people stepped out of the subway station at 50th Street and Broadway, feeling in more of a party-like than a warlike mood, as we noticed all the 9-to-5 people mechanically rushing home from the skyscrapers. The 9-to-5 people all seemed unaware that an anti-Rusk demo was about to take place.

The hundred of us, three-quarters of whom were Columbia men, walked towards the Hilton in a conspiratorial, smiling way. I noticed that the streets and sidewalks were crawling with NYC cops, and that police barricades were in front of the Hilton on 6th Ave. and W. 53rd St. When we got as close as we could to the Hilton, I noticed that Mark and Ted were each chanting through bullhorns and encouraging people to go “block the limousines” in the streets and “block the rush-hour” traffic. Some of us went into the street to confront the honking, disgruntled rush-hour drivers and any limousines we were able to pick out in traffic. Within a few minutes, however, police on horses and police on foot, with their clubs swinging, were rushing into our group of demonstrators. And within a few seconds, most of the Columbia SDS-led contingent of white demonstrators that escaped contact with the clubs—including me—was back on the sidewalk, trying to blend in with the now-curious rush-hour crowd of spectators. Prior to escaping to the sidewalk, I noticed that—about 25 yards away from me—Mark and his bullhorn were being grabbed by a group of burly cops. During the next hour or so, groups of demonstrators from both the Upper West Side and the Lower East Side periodically staged “guerrilla” traffic-blocking actions on the street. And, in an indiscriminate way, the cops “retaliated” with horse charges or foot charges on all the remaining demonstrators.

While this was going on, I was thinking that “boy, the cops really are brutal” and “boy, what a futile way to confront Rusk this proved to be.” I heard later that a few limousines did actually get blocked. But most ruling-class limousines were unaffected by the demo.

I bumped into Marge again, in the middle of a crowd of some anti-war demonstrators who were standing across the street from the Hilton Hotel, near the end of the demonstration. She still seemed friendly.

“What do you do when you’re not doing political work?” I asked her.

“I write poetry,” she answered.

“I used to write poetry. But now my poetry seems irrelevant compared to politics,” I replied.

“I have to write poetry in order to be able to be political,” Marge said. She then started to talk to somebody else.

During the demo, I had heard that Ted and his bullhorn were also seized by cops around the time Mark was grabbed. So after bumping into Marge and, subsequently, Teddy and Nancy and the Schneiders—and listening to a few boring speeches by the Fifth Avenue Peace Parade pacifists and moderates until Rusk finally left the Hilton—I headed downtown to 100 Centre Street. I wanted to find out what had happened to Ted and Mark. As I rode downtown on the subway, I thought to myself: “How sick America is. Now they’ve trapped Ted and Mark in their jail.”

When I arrived at 100 Centre Street for the first time, I took the elevator up to the floor where arrested people were being arraigned. I then went into the night arraignment courtroom. Except for the judge, some cops and court officers, and a few prosecuting or defense attorneys, it was nearly empty of people. But I then noticed Dave walking down the center aisle of the courtroom.

“Ted and Mark are being charged with `inciting to riot.’ But we should be able to get them released soon,” Dave said earnestly. He had spent the previous few hours calling Movement legal people from the courtroom building, and he seemed to have everything under control.

“Inciting to riot? Are they kidding?” I replied in a surprised tone.

Dave smiled. “The cops want to say that their police brutality was just a necessary response to an SDS-incited riot.”

“Is there anything that I can do?”

“Not really. The lawyers are pretty much taking care of everything now.”

Dave had to hang around the courthouse a while longer to make more phone calls and discuss details with lawyers. So I headed back uptown to the apartment, alone. When I got there, I turned on the radio and listened to some radio news descriptions of the events around the Hilton. As usual, I found the news reports bore little relationship to what had actually happened on the street during the demonstration.

Ted and Mark were released without much delay and were back around campus the following afternoon. Neither Ted nor Mark had been roughed up while in police custody. Everybody within Columbia SDS leadership circles treated the “incitement to riot” charges against Mark and Ted as some kind of Establishment and cop joke. The consensus around Columbia SDS was that the anti-Rusk demo had, indeed, been a fiasco. We explained its failure as being a result of the New York Regional SDS Office’s isolation from a grassroots campus base, which tended to lead its staff members to plan unrealistic, left-adventuristic actions.