Thursday, March 22, 2007

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.

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