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.

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