Monday, April 30, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 21: Weatherman Comes To Queens, 1969

Chapter 21: Weatherman Comes To Queens, 1969 (i)

In early July 1969, I heard from the Weatherman faction people, myself. A meeting was held at Frank’s 3-room apartment, which was located on top of a store on Bell Blvd. in Bayside, Queens. Frank had moved into this apartment after graduating from Columbia College in June 1967, in order to do full-time “White Suburbs” organizing for SDS, within the neighborhood he had grown up in: Douglaston Manor. Living alone, Frank single-handedly organized a white radical group composed of about 15 high school students, who were mostly women students from Little Neck and Douglaston Manor. Frank and his followers were able to open Movement organizing storefronts near the Douglaston Long Island Railroad station, just north of Northern Blvd. In Fall 1968, I had visited their original storefront once to lead a workshop on doing radical research and had visited it a second time to staff the phones, on the day when his group’s women high school anti-war activists leafleted outside their high schools.

The enthusiasm and idealism of some of the high school women that Frank had turned on to the Movement impressed me, as did Frank’s continued off-campus dedication and enthusiasm. My roommate Brian had also spent some time visiting Frank’s White Suburbs Organizing Project in Fall 1968 and he was also impressed by the core of high school activists Frank had recruited. One of the most dedicated of these activists was a Cardozo High School student named Erica, who lived with her parents in Little Neck. When she attempted to leaflet outside Cardozo H.S., in order to call for a student anti-war walk-out, she was roughed up by the cops. But the police harassment of her only hardened her steadfast commitment to the Movement.

One reason why Frank seemed to have such success in getting a White Suburbs Organizing group together was that he also turned his Bell Blvd. apartment into a kind of liberated, private space for his followers, who all felt somewhat repressed, as a result of still having to live with their parents in Douglaston Manor. Frank’s apartment became the place they could go to after school, in the evenings and on weekends, in order to listen to vinyl records, smoke grass and get away from their parents. Frank usually had an ample supply of marijuana and he generously shared it with those of his followers who came over to his apartment to have meetings, talk politics and listen to music in an atmosphere that was free of sexual harassment.

Besides Frank, me and his Douglaston Manor/Little Neck core of high school student activists, the post-National SDS Convention meeting in Bayside was attended by Dionne, Ted, Nick and a woman activist, new to the East Coast, named Heddy. Heddy had spent the previous year working with Tijerina’s movement for Chicano autonomy, self-determination and land rights in New Mexico. Although Heddy was older than Dionne, she seemed more militant and politically stronger. Heddy seemed to have committed her whole life to making the Revolution. Prior to the meeting, Ted joked about how he and Dionne had had to pretend that they were a married couple while searching for a Weatherman collective house to rent in Queens.

Nick began this meeting by slowly reading and interpreting the Weatherman Statement, for those of us who hadn’t been out at the National SDS Convention. The main thrust of the Weatherman Statement, according to Nick, was that, within the domestic colony of Afro-America, revolutionary armed struggle, led by the Black Panther Party, was likely to break out in the early 1970s; at the same time that more wars of national liberation against U.S. imperialism (like the inevitably victorious Vietnamese national liberation struggle) would occur. Within the “mother country” oppressor nation of “White Honky Amerika,” the task of white revolutionary communists like us was to build a United Front Against Imperialism that was mass-based among white working-class youth, which opposed all forms of racism, sexism, national oppression and capitalism, and which militantly fought for the cause of revolutionary world communism.

After Nick finished reading the Weatherman Statement, everyone in the room, including myself, agreed that it accurately described U.S. political reality at that time. We all agreed that we would play our part to build an off-campus revolutionary white working-class youth movement which would fight for communist revolution in “the white mother-country” at the same time Black Panther Party-led masses of Third World revolutionaries in the U.S. domestic colonies, and Third World revolutionary masses in Asia, Africa and Latin America continued to fight, by any means necessary, for national liberation. Dionne then talked some about the need to free political prisoners like Ahmed Evans, who had been unjustly jailed for an act of armed self-defense in Cleveland. And we finally discussed possible methods of recruiting masses of white working-class youth out in Queens to the U.S. revolution and possible ways to stimulate more mass anti-racist consciousness among white youth.

When the meeting ended, Nick, Ted and Dionne drove back to Manhattan in one car and Heddy drove me and some other activists in another car through Flushing, where I was dropped off at Union St. and Northern Blvd., in front of Flushing High School. In the car, I sat in the front seat next to Heddy. Heddy noted that she used to be into modern dance before she became a revolutionary activist and she talked about some of the experiences she had had while working with Tijerina in New Mexico. Although I felt Heddy was one of the earliest and most fully-liberated Movement women in the U.S. at this time, the high school women activists in Frank’s group felt she was “too masculine” and “too domineering” in relation to them, and felt she was out of touch with where most young women in Queens were still at politically.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 20: Commune On Staten Island, 1969

Chapter 20: Commune On Staten Island, 1969 (iii)

Near the end of April 1969, I stopped by the New York SDS Regional Office on Prince Street with an evening student at Richmond College who had been working to build TDS in Manhattan with Ted and Teddy, in order to use the office’s mimeograph machine. We bumped into Mark in the SDS office, where he was winding up a stint of organizing there that had begun in October 1968. (The lecture fees Mark obtained from his 1968-1969 campus speaking engagements also had been used to finance the daily operations and pay the rent of the Prince Street SDS Regional Office). Despite the pre-April 1969 campus quiet around New York City, it suddenly appeared in late April 1969 that the spirit of the 1968 Columbia Student Revolt had spread to other U.S. campuses over the past year. Revolution in the U.S., once again, still seemed to be developing. SDS around the U.S. had, indeed, grown, and Mark appeared comfortable in his role as head of the SDS Regional Office at Prince Street.

Despite the failure to shut down Columbia again in Spring 1969 and despite the intensified repression of the Black Panthers, the Movement in the U.S., as a whole, still appeared much stronger than in the previous year. I had just spent a weekend in Cambridge, Massachusetts, after Harvard SDS’s seizure of the Harvard Administration Building there and the calling-in of cops to brutalize students on campus. Harvard’s 1969 student revolt appeared to be a less dramatic imitation of the 1968 student revolt at Columbia. But it provided yet another indication that Revolution in the U.S. still appeared to be on the historical agenda.

Earlier in the month, I had bumped into Mark at an anti-war march in Manhattan, as he marched with his woman friend Jean. My hair was much longer than during the previous year at Columbia and I now looked more like a hippie than did Mark. While the other marchers were chanting, “End the war in Viet Nam, bring the troops home!”, Mark made a point to chant: “End the war in Viet Nam, bring the War home!” Because I supported the Leninist notion that revolutionaries should always attempt to “transform an imperialist war into a civil war at home,” I felt Mark’s chant was both clever and politically appropriate.

Around this time, I became closer to a hippie woman student in her mid-20s at Richmond College, named Helene. The dark blond-haired, blue-eyed Helene resembled a Hollywood movie actress like Marilyn Monroe in her physical beauty, worked part-time as an usher at Bill Graham’s Fillmore East rock concert hall and lived, with a musician, a few blocks from me on Staten Island. During previous summers, she had worked as a lifeguard and she was somewhat of a tomboy. One of her previous boyfriends had been an African-American guy in the music business, named Eric.

Helene made additional money from dealing marijuana on a small scale and was usually stoned all the time. After we turned on together in her apartment and I noticed her huge Bob Dylan poster on her bedroom wall, I began to feel that Helene and I might be destined for each other. The powerful hashish that we shared made me long for Helene even more. But although she was New Left in her political sympathies, Helene wasn’t interested enough in political activism to fall in love with me.

Around this same time, I also first met Karen of Newsreel. Like Helene, Karen of Newsreel had Hollywood movie actress looks and was in her mid-20s. But unlike Helene, Karen was intensely committed to the Movement and her work with Newsreel. She decided to make a short documentary about the Richmond College Social Change Commune and the political choices faced by Social Change Commune members each day: i.e. to what degree did Commune members attempt to relate their lives to organizing for Revolution, now that they were free of the usual academic work requirements?

In early May, Scott, Wendy, Stephanie and I decided to move out of the Carrol Place apartment on Staten Island, after the apartment was broken into and robbed one day. Scott moved in with his woman friend Carol on the Upper West Side. Stephanie and Wendy moved in with different guys on Staten Island and I decided I had had enough of Staten Island. To accumulate the remaining 12 credits I needed to secure my CUNY BA, I decided to enroll at Queens College during its two summer sessions; and live at my parents’ apartment again, for a few months.

Once Scott had moved from Staten Island, the scene there seemed less interesting politically, especially now that Richmond College was deserted because the semester had ended. During late May, June and July, I attended Queens College and did Movement work in Queens in my spare time. Not having any summer job lined up and being out of money, the rent-free option of moving back to my parents’ apartment while I went to summer school seemed the only economic option for me at this time.

As usual, I found it difficult to adjust to being back in Queens with my parents again. In May and June, I would spend the morning in my two classes at Queens College and hang out in Caf Plaza for a few hours each afternoon. In June, my sister also began crashing in my parents’ apartment. Initially, her presence made my stay there more pleasant because she was still a fellow-radical at this time. On a few afternoons, we spent time together at a local beach club off Whitestone Parkway that our parents had joined for the summer.

Near the middle of June, my sister decided to go out to the 1969 National SDS Convention in Chicago. I considered going out there also, but decided that I could hear about the Convention from my sister. It didn’t seem to make sense for me to lose the summer session class time just to attend a national meeting which I assumed would not be particularly relevant to local New York City revolutionary organizing problems.

At the June 1969 SDS Convention, my sister felt alienated from both the PL faction and the New Left faction, although she followed the New Left faction when Bernardine led its walk-out from the Chicago convention hall, after it expelled PL because of PL’s opposition to revolutionary African-American nationalism. She ended up hanging out with the anarcho-communist followers of Murray Bookchin, who criticized both the PL and the Weatherman-New Left faction for being too elitist, too Marxist-Leninist, too politically sectarian and dogmatic and too much into anti-democratic “vanguarditis.”

Because most Columbia SDS veterans who were at the June SDS Convention went into the Weatherman faction, I naturally identified myself with that faction, initially, despite my sister’s reservations about the way Bernardine, Mark and other Weatherleaders had handled the convention split.

By early July, I was bored attending the Queens College classes I needed to secure my BA from CUNY. I was taking an introductory economics course and a sociology course on deviance. In both courses, I was the only student who participated in the class discussions with the professors with any kind of intellectual enthusiasm. The other Queens College students only seemed able to passively take notes in class and seemed to have no confidence in the worth of their own intellectual opinions. After classes broke up in the early afternoon, I continued in July to spend a few hours each day just hanging out in either the college cafeteria or outside the cafeteria in Caf Plaza, smoking cigarettes, flirting with Queens College women students and chatting with Queens College hippie men or politically radical men students. On a few occasions I bumped into some students whom I had known at Flushing High School, but none of these old classmates appeared to be on the same SDS wavelength I had gotten on.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 20: Commune On Staten Island, 1969

Chapter 20: Commune On Staten Island, 1969 (ii)

By March 1969, more and more students at Richmond College seemed to be hipper and more politically radical. In early April, twenty-one Black Panther Party activists were falsely charged with a “conspiracy to bomb Macy’s and the Bronx Botanical Gardens.” A few weeks later, CUNY’s campuses experienced Third World student-led revolts around open admissions demands. At CCNY, Brooklyn College and Queens College, buildings were occupied. In support of African-American student demands and the demand that Columbia abolish its NROTC program, Columbia SDS people also occupied a campus building again in April 1969—in defiance of a Columbia Administration-secured court injunction.

Political motion was all around and the U.S. mass media was compelled to cover this student political motion. After the Staten Island cops arrested the editor of our underground student newspaper, Russ, on trumped-up dope-peddling charges, 30 of us seized the President’s office at Richmond College and held it for 5 hours—before the white left-liberal professors persuaded the upper-division community college students to leave because they “had made their point.” The brief occupation of the Richmond College President’s office took place after a few Newsreel people had screened their film about the NYC Fall 1968 Teacher’s Strike and fight for community control of city schools.

The following day, I was arrested for walking into McKee High School to help an African-American high school student distribute city-wide High School Student Union leaflets inside the school. (The leaflets had been picked up by me a few days before from the High School Student Union’s commune apartment on the Upper West Side, where about ten men and women high school student hippies—the leaders of the High School Student Union—shared a hippie pad that smelled of pot and had mattresses scattered on the floor). Teachers surrounded me inside McKee High School and called the cops.

The cops took me to the local precinct and then drove me to the local courtroom jail. The Staten Island judge initially set bail at $500 because the cops initially charged me with “obstructing government machinery.” Later this charge was reduced to “loitering.” Social Change Commune people appeared at my courtroom arraignment in the afternoon and Professor Nachman put up the bail money needed to get me back on the street. I then went to the Emergency Civil Liberties Union office a few weeks later and they referred me to a lawyer at the Law Commune in Manhattan named Fred. The Law Commune was an experimental collective of hippie lawyers who specialized in collectively defending 1960s Movement activists on a non-profit basis. Fred took the case—for free—in order to test the constitutionality of denying anti-war activists the right to pass out leaflets inside City public schools.

The use of court injunctions by the Columbia Administration frightened Barnard and Columbia students away from another student revolt in Spring 1969. Columbia SDS couldn’t mobilize enough people to shut down Columbia again and withdrew in a demoralized way from the Philosophy Hall building it had temporarily occupied in April. The threat of repression created by the court injunction and the loss of New Left popular support at Columbia appeared to also create paranoia among Columbia SDS people; and a few activists who weren’t personally known to Columbia SDS leaders were erroneously labeled “police plants” because of the repression-produced paranoia. In June, Juan, Lew, Robby, Stu, Hurwitz and another Columbia SDS leader of the unsuccessful April 1969 occupation of Philosophy Hall were locked up for 30 to 60 days in jail, at Columbia’s request, on “contempt” charges, for their defiance of the court injunction against seizing Columbia’s buildings.

Ted and Teddy had visited Richmond College in early April to examine the possibility for recruiting Richmond College graduate students into their Teachers for a Democratic Society [TDS]. When Ted saw how loose the Richmond College Social Change Commune set-up was, he laughed and said: “There’s no basis for student revolt here, Bob. You’ve got so much freedom to do what you like at this school, that why would anyone want to revolt against the Administration here? It’s a classic example of co-optation of student radicalism by creating a soft `free school’ environment.” Ted and Teddy felt TDS could more productively organize on another campus.

Earlier in the 1968-69 academic year, I had bumped into Ted while he was walking stoned in December 1968 on Broadway, near W.114th St. After we embraced, I asked Ted how he liked teaching. “It’s hell,” he whispered, with a sad expression on his face.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 20: Commune On Staten Island, 1969

Chapter 20: Commune On Staten Island, 1969 (i)

By mid-January 1969, a consensus had developed among Richmond College’s anti-war students that the school was insufficiently experimental. Led by two Lower East Side hippies in their early 20s, Jesse and Debbie, we agreed to establish the Richmond College Social Change Commune in Spring 1969: 16 credits of doing whatever we felt like doing in a large classroom with a couch, and with a budget of $2,000, on a pass-fail basis.

To try to co-opt me into doing less SDS organizing, the Richmond College Administration gave me a job during registration week handing-out registration materials for the new term. I took the two-week job, enjoyed observing the whole student body as it registered—and continued to do SDS organizing.

Nixon was scheduled to be inaugurated in mid-January 1969 and I rode down to D.C. in a car with five other Richmond College SDS people for an anti-war march. A few days later, eight of us spent an afternoon in a Brooklyn apartment smoking grass together and planning guerrilla theater for a freshman orientation program, in order to try to recruit more people into our SDS chapter. A tall, bearded guy named Charlie—who was working with Mark at the SDS Regional Office—attended this Brooklyn meeting and offered us regional office encouragement and advice.

The Richmond College Administration continued to try to co-opt me and they invited me to sit on one of their Spring 1969 orientation panels. After hearing me speak on the panel, a tall, gentle guy with a mustache, named Scott, approached me. He had just transferred to Richmond College from Indiana University in Bloomington because he wished to attend an experimental college. At Indiana University, he had worked with my sister in the small SDS chapter she had eventually organized and he was surprised to find that now he was attending the same school as her brother.

Scott was the son of a Connecticut high school principal in some affluent suburban town. In high school, Scott had been on the basketball team. But at Indiana University, Scott had become a bohemian anti-war radical hippie who was into psychedelic drugs, hashish, marijuana and sometimes speed, and not into athletics anymore. Often Scott would wear a blue bandana around his receding long hair and he owned a Volkswagen car.

By 1969, Scott was nearly always either tripping or high on grass or hash. His good-natured, non-macho, gentle, laid-back personality—plus his generosity with the supply of grass he always possessed—made him popular with many hippie women. Moving with him from Bloomington to share an apartment with Scott on Staten Island were two hippie women drop-outs—each around 6 feet tall—from Indiana University: Wendy and Stephanie. A third hippie woman friend of Scott, named Carol, was of average height and was attending Barnard. Carol lived in an apartment on West End Ave., near 106th St.

Both Wendy and Stephanie wore glasses. Wendy had grown up in Cleveland, was a good, strong athlete and had long, light brown hair. Stephanie was less tomboyish than Wendy and had short, dark hair. Stephanie had grown up in a New Jersey suburban town and had been a Greenwich Village folk music groupie during her high school years. Both Wendy and Stephanie were usually always tripping or high on grass during their spare time. Carol was a red diaper baby who was intellectual and humorous. She had grown up in Mamaroneck, New York in Westchester County and her Old Left father owned a record store. Consequently, Carol’s collection of vinyl record albums was one of the best hippie record album collections around; because she could obtain any album she wanted from her father’s store for free.

Scott had gone to Chicago in August 1968 to protest the war at the Democratic National Convention and had been further radicalized by the police brutality in the streets. Although he was always high, he was more of a head than a doper, and he was both intellectual and politically radical.

“If you have moral values, no matter how many times you trip, you’ll always still feel the need for a Revolution,” Scott asserted once, when we were discussing whether psychedelic drug-use encouraged or discouraged people from being politically revolutionary.

To enable us to spend more time doing SDS organizing together around Richmond College, Scott invited me to move in with him, Stephanie and Wendy in their 3 ½ room apartment on Carrol Place in Staten Island. The apartment was a modernized one. It was located a few blocks from the ferry terminal and had a good view of New York Bay. Since, by early 1969, most of my organizing time was now being spent on Staten Island and not around Columbia, I accepted Scott’s offer.

By February 1969, my mattress was on the floor in the living room of the Carrol Place apartment on Staten Island. The rent for the apartment was $140 per month, so Stephanie, Wendy, Scott and I each, individually, had to only come up with $35 each month, plus one-fourth the cost of gas and electricity. One room was a kitchen, another room a bedroom, a third room a living-room and a half-room was Wendy’s specially-painted, psychedelic “trip-room.”

Life in the Carrol Place apartment with Scott, Stephanie and Wendy was like a 3-month-long pot party. Other hippies from Richmond College and Indiana would often visit us and end up crashing for the night on one of the extra mattresses on the apartment floor. Music was always being played on the stereo and many nights were spent passing the pipe to Stephanie, to Scott, to Wendy or to other hippies, while listening to the Band’s Big Pink album that contained “The Weight” song, to the Blood, Sweat and Tears album that contained the “And When I Die” song, to the Beatles’ White Album and to an album by The Doors. Wendy’s favorite song at this time was “Light My Fire” by The Doors and Stephanie’s favorite song appeared to be the Beatles’ “Bungalow Bill” song.

When Scott and I weren’t out organizing together, we would sometimes drive around Staten Island in his Volkswagen. Some nights we would end up eating with Wendy and Stephanie in some local diner. On a few occasions, Scott and I would distract local grocery shop cashiers by buying a few counter items, while Wendy and Stephanie “liberated” some needed food. (Our breakfast each day usually consisted of just bread and jelly, because we couldn’t afford eggs at this time).

Each day consisted of a whole series of adventures. I started to get close to Stephanie and then I started to get closer to Wendy, as Scott started to spend more time visiting Carol on the Upper West Side. Then Wendy started to get closer to many of the other hippie men and radical men who were hanging around the Social Change Commune. To get money, Wendy worked for awhile as a typist at the now-defunct U.S. radical newsweekly, the Guardian. But she felt the office staff shitworkers there were exploited by the Guardian editors and writers and that the Guardian office, at that time, was run in too hierarchical and too male-chauvinist a way.

Scott and I sometimes leafleted at the ferry terminal early in the morning. And on numerous evenings, we’d ride on the ferry while high and bump into many other stoned hippies from Staten Island, who were also using the ferry as an interesting place to hang out while stoned or while tripping.

Living on Staten Island in February, March and April, I became closer to Neal. Each week there was news of more police killings or judicial frame-ups of activists in the Black Panther Party. I helped set up a Panther support meeting at Wagner College on Staten Island and a second Panther support meeting at Richmond College. I worked with Josie from the SDS Regional Office on this Panther support work on Staten Island, for a week or two. Josie had become intensely involved in the Movement, in a sustained way, and no longer wore short skirts and dresses. She seemed to have broken free of female gender role limitations and now seemed much more tomboyish than she had been at Columbia when she was a Barnard student.

The Commune invited Abbie Hoffman, Paul Krassner, Bob Fass and the Motherfuckers to speak at Richmond College. We also invited Carl and Karen Davidson from National SDS to speak there, as well as some people from Newsreel.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 19: Spreading The Student Revolution, 1968

Chapter 19: Spreading The Student Revolution, 1968 (iii)

In Fall 1968, the New York SDS Regional Office was flooded with requests for SDS speakers. So Karen asked me to go out to an Ethical Culture Society meeting in Nassau County one night to sit on a panel that was discussing “Student Rebellion.” Most of the people in the crowd were in their late 40s and early 50s, but I felt they responded positively to my spontaneous talk and seemed more disturbed by my casual dress than by my revolutionary political rhetoric. A Newsday columnist also wrote a fairly sympathetic column about me the next day.

Yet by mid-December 1968, SDS at Richmond College and the Black Panther Party on Staten Island still were not mass-based. After I had spoken with Mark in November about the difficulties I was having in getting the mass of students at Richmond College interested in becoming New Left activists, Mark had suggested: “Why not arrange for me to come down and make a speech and show the Newsreel film? I should be able to draw a crowd down there.”

The Newsreel film that Mark referred to was a 45-minute film about the Columbia Revolt that had been produced by a recently-formed small group of radical filmmakers in Manhattan.

Our SDS chapter set up a meeting for the film to be shown and for Mark to speak at Richmond College. Around 100 people watched the movie and listened to Mark speak. Yet most of the audience appeared to be more curious about seeing Mark in person than eager to become active in the New Left. After the meeting, Mark met with Neal, a good-natured Richmond College African-American student group leader named Earl and about 10 white SDS student supporters in the basement-student lounge of the college. An FBI student informant also attended the meeting, according to my de-classified FBI file.

But, although our discussion with Mark was lively, we could all not agree on how to best interest the mass of students at Richmond College in New Left politics. And after Mark’s visit to the school, it was still hard to persuade even sympathetic students that political organizing or collective action could actually accomplish anything that related to maximizing the freedom they enjoyed in their own lives. The students who most identified with SDS at Richmond College were also still really just anti-war and left-liberal in their politics, not anti-imperialist and revolutionary communist or Marxist-Leninist like their more affluent counterparts within Columbia SDS had been. If there had been no Viet Nam War draft in 1968, there would have been absolutely no interest at all in SDS or the New Left at Richmond College. Students at Richmond College, unlike students at Columbia and Barnard, did not appear to have been socialized to believe that they could make any impact on U.S. history in a positive way.

Despite our inability to really attract a mass New Left base quickly at Richmond College, Richmond College President Schueler was still paranoid about our small group. After being telephoned during his dinner by a paranoid school security guard about an evening meeting of some high school students that Neal and I had decided to hold at Richmond College, Schueler suddenly appeared at the school’s student government office, his breath smelling of alcohol, and begged me to cancel the meeting and not “cause trouble.” After I shrugged my shoulders and assured him that we were only planning to hold a small meeting and not to secretly attempt to take over his office that night, Schueler went back to his home, feeling somewhat embarrassed that he had behaved so paranoically.

Christmas 1968 approached and I spent some of the vacation back in Queens with my parents for five days, writing a paper on “The Logic of Genocide,” in which I attempted to explain the economic motives for the extermination of 6 million Jews by the Nazi German government. The continued mass murder of Vietnamese civilians in the 1960s appeared to be motivated by economic motives and I felt similar motives probably provided the logic for the genocidal crimes committed by the Nazis less than 30 years before.

January 1969 began and it now appeared that, despite the events at Columbia of Spring 1968, the New Left Movement around New York City was once again stagnating. Away from Columbia, there had been very little mass motion of students around New York City at colleges where most students still lived with their parents and commuted. Outside of New York City, student demonstrations still only occurred mostly at the elite universities or large state universities only. Mark drew big crowds whenever he spoke at state university campuses around the U.S. and more students were involved in SDS outside New York City than ever before. But within New York City, SDS was still not very mass-based at campuses other than at Columbia. One promising development, though, had been an increase in political activism among anti-war college-bound, elite intellectual NYC high school students in Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx, who managed to form some kind of high school union around this time, with some SDS Regional Office assistance.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 19: Spreading The Student Revolution, 1968

Chapter 19: Spreading The Student Revolution, 1968 (ii)

In Fall 1968, the Albert Shanker-led United Federation of Teachers [UFT] struck in order to try to sabotage any Board of Education plans to concede control of NYC public schools in the Black community to African-American community control boards. New Left SDS people supported the demand of African-American activists for community control of their neighborhood schools, seeing it as a just demand for Black self-determination, and defined the UFT strike as a reactionary, racist action. PL and Labor Committee members within SDS chapters, however, supported the UFT strike and argued that it represented a justified struggle of labor against Ford Foundation and white corporate establishment-sponsored “bourgeois black nationalism.”

PL and Labor Committee people within SDS chapters also opposed New Left SDS people on the issue of fighting for open admissions to places like Columbia and CUNY for African-American, Puerto Rican and white working-class people. New Left SDS people argued that it was democratic to demand that open admissions be established in the “bourgeois university.” PL and Labor Committee people, however, charged that it was reactionary to fight for open admissions to the “bourgeois university” because, once admitted, the African-American, Puerto Rican and white working-class students would “become bourgeoisfied.” Within Columbia SDS, the ideological division between the white New Left response to the UFT strike and the open admissions demand and the PL/Labor Committee response led to more demoralizing faction-fighting throughout the fall. But off-campus, Teachers for a Democratic Society [TDS] members, led by Ted, taught in African-American-controlled “freedom schools” during the UFT strike.

Although the New York Regional SDS office attempted to mobilize masses of anti-war youth in an Election Day 1968 “vote in the streets, vote with your feet” demo in Manhattan, less than 1,500 people showed up at Union Square to march to Rockefeller Center. The intention of the New York Regional SDS Office demo organizers had been to march to Rockefeller Center and attempt to create an Election Day evening street scene analogous to what had been created during the Democratic National Convention in August in Chicago. But the New York City cops outnumbered us and they surrounded us at Union Square before we could “take the streets” as a group, and block traffic. Consequently, by the time various small portions of our demonstration reached Rockefeller Center we were too dispersed to either effectively block traffic or attract TV cameras. And there was no need for the cops to even brutalize us on Election Day evening in order to keep the streets clear. Columbia SDS actions around Election Day at Columbia were also unsuccessful in attracting the kinds of crowds that Columbia SDS had attracted during the height of the spring revolt.

In early November, the UFT strike was finally settled in a way that was unfavorable for the African-American community, and all the white middle-class teachers went back to work. High school students, however, were ordered by the Board of Education to remain in school 45 minutes longer in order to “make up for the school time they had missed” as a result of the teachers’ strike; and thus insure that New York City school bureaucrats would be able to still receive the maximum amount of state government funding. Spontaneously, students at McKee High School and Curtis High School—which were both located a few blocks from Richmond College—walked out and refused to stay for the extra 45 minutes.

An African-American peace activist from Bedford-Stuyvesant who now lived and worked on Staten Island, named Neal, was asked by some of the white and Asian-American high school students (who he knew from his work as a Job Corps youth counselor) to help organize a student strike on Staten Island in early December. One of the Richmond College underground newspaper editors (who had been arrested for “disorderly conduct” while observing the high school student walk-out) arranged for me to meet Neal. We immediately hit it off. Neal had decided to start forming a Black Panther Party [BPP] chapter on Staten Island and we agreed that Richmond College SDS and the Staten Island Black Panther Party should work together in helping to organize the December 1968 high school student strike on Staten Island.

Neal was around 26 years-old and considered himself both a writer and an African-American revolutionary. He had enlisted in the U.S. Army after high school and had spent most of his stint in the Army fighting on one of its boxing teams, in the middle-weight division. Neal was soft-spoken and gentle in personal conversation and seemed very aware politically. When he spoke before a crowd about the question of Black Liberation and Revolution, Neal spoke as charismatically as Bill or Stokely Carmichael/Kwame Ture. He was a fiery orator who could rap as well or better than most African-American ministers. His theatrical skill as an orator seemed to rival Mark’s skill.

After getting out of the Army, Neal began working against the war in Viet Nam with Staten Island Peace Coalition people. Following his decision to form a Black Panther Party chapter on Staten Island, Neal set up a storefront on Jersey Street and began to sell Panther newspapers within Staten Island’s small Black community. Most of the people who lived on Staten Island were white working-class people of Italian-American or Irish-American background in the 1960s, but Neal managed to gain some support off-campus for the BPP from the white intellectual peace activists with whom he had worked.

Prior to the scheduled December high school student strike, Neal and I met with a committee of about 6 high school students in the home of a white pacifist woman artist-activist in her early 40s, whom Neal had met as a result of his Staten Island Peace Coalition work. From the SDS Regional Office, I was able to get some organizing help from Karen and Dionne in attempting to attract Staten Island high school students to the New Left. Along with Nick, Karen and Dionne hoped to stimulate the formation of high school chapters of SDS around the City. Dionne and Karen joined Neal and me on a few occasions in meeting with dissident high school student leaders on Staten Island.

As a result of working with Karen and Dionne on this organizing project, I got to know both of them better. We would all take the subway down from the Upper West Side to the ferry terminal, then get on the ferry, and finally take a 20-minute bus ride together from the Staten Island ferry terminal to the private house in which our meetings were held. Then, after the meeting, we would all make the long trip back to the Upper West Side. So there was plenty of time to talk with Karen and Dionne about politics and SDS.

Karen was taking some self-defense lessons at this time and she demonstrated a few of her karate moves, while we waited for the uptown Broadway local on the W.96th St. subway station platform. She seemed to be ahead of most other Movement women in questioning traditional definitions of gender roles. Karen also appeared to be totally committed to the Movement and very hardworking. During the summer, she had become friendly with Gus for a brief time, but now she seemed to be unattached. Our conversations, however, generally never moved beyond questions of Movement work or politics. After we both traveled down to Staten Island early in the morning to speak to the December 1968 student strike rally before about 300 high school students, we didn’t see much of each other anymore.

The Staten Island high school strike rally was only half-successful. Although the turn-out was respectable, a majority of the white high school students were too racist to accept Neal’s African-American leadership and too right-wing to continue working with SDS people. At the same time, they were too disorganized and politically inexperienced to create any alternative white leadership of their own for their high school student strike. So the strike lasted only 1 day on Staten Island in December 1968.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 19: Spreading The Student Revolution, 1968

Chapter 19: Spreading The Student Revolution, 1968 (i)

By the end of September 1968, Mark, Nick, Dionne and Josie were working, not at Columbia, but in SDS’s Prince Street regional office downtown, as full-time Movement organizers. I was starting to spend more time trying to get something radical going at Richmond College and classes at Columbia had resumed again. Lew, Juan, Stu and Robby continued to hold Columbia SDS’s hard-core together and hoped that they could use guerrilla theater and other educational tactics to build for both a campus protest action around the time of the November 1968 election and another seizure of buildings at Columbia in Spring 1969. Despite the September 1968 white New Left setback at Columbia, its Columbia SDS hard-core still remained the politically strongest chapter in the United States, even without Mark, Ted, Dave, Teddy, the Schneiders, Harvey, Josh, John, Nick, Josie, Dianne, Linda, JJ and me hanging around there much anymore.

Until early January 1969, I commuted from W.106th St. to Richmond College, which was located in Staten Island, only a few blocks walk from the ferry terminal. Brian had moved back into the apartment with Sokolow and me. And until he started to spend most nights at the apartment of his woman friend, later in the fall, we often would use his water pipe to smoke grass together in our apartment living room.

Brian remained an easygoing guy and we would mostly converse about politics and speculate about what future life in the U.S. would be like after the Revolution. Janis Joplin’s Cheap Thrills album was our favorite album to get stoned to at this time. Usually, however, we wouldn’t be turning on together until after 10 p.m., because during most Fall 1968 evenings there was generally some kind of political event or meeting up at Columbia. And when there wasn’t an evening political event, both Brian and I preferred to do the minimal amount of academic work we did elsewhere than in our apartment.

On Staten Island, classes were smaller at Richmond College than at Columbia and I was able to take every class on a pass-fail basis because the school was experimental. To begin training myself for teaching in the public schools, I took an ed course on adolescent psychology which ended up being a waste, except for the fact that I met a few other radicals and hippies as a result of taking the course. Frankie and Hugh were both from Brooklyn and both working-class in background; and both were instrumental in forming a Richmond College SDS chapter by late October. Another non-conformist I met in this class, Angela, had transferred from Temple University to Richmond College; and I became friendly with her and her roommate, Jane, for a few weeks.

Another course I took was taught by a follower of Herbert Marcuse, named Professor Nachman. Nachman had worked in Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaign earlier in the year. He was an entertaining lecturer who had graduated from Columbia before becoming a professor at Richmond College and he advocated the establishment of a leisure-oriented, sexually-oriented democratic society. Unlike full-time Movement activists, however, Nachman seemed too white middle-class and too academic in his life-style to be willing to either organize or actually fight for a revolutionary society. He was an academic radical who was more comfortable lecturing in class and donating money to bail out activists when they were arrested than in living on a subsistence level, organizing demonstrations and putting his body on the line for the Revolution. In addition, he had a traditional wife and a kid to support.

The most relevant course I took in Fall 1968 was an African-American history and culture course taught by a 32-year-old African-American communist named Professor Hicks. Professor Hicks had worked with LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka in the early 1960s to defend Robert Williams and Williams’ stance of advocating the right of armed self-defense against racists in Monroe, North Carolina. Professor Hicks had a beard and spoke in a hip way. He introduced me to the writings of DuBois, William Patterson, E. Franklin Frazier, Herbert Aptheker, Harold Cruse and Richard Wright. He was a fantastic lecturer, even though there were only 10 people enrolled in his class and, except for me, all of them were non-radical whites. I became intellectually and personally close to Professor Hicks for awhile because we seemed to share the same values and most of the same politics, and because we had drawn similar conclusions about the nature of U.S. society.

The revolt at Columbia had not influenced the predominantly white working-class students at community colleges like Richmond College very much. The students who were anti-war were more into pot, rock music, sexuality and being hippie than being into radical New Left politics. There was a broad sympathy for the Columbia student rebels and much interest in inviting me into off-campus pads to smoke hashish and grass with other anti-war students. But few of the anti-war students I turned on with were interested in doing anything more than attending radical events or meetings on campus sometimes and going on semi-annual anti-war marches. Few anti-war students at Richmond College could be persuaded that it was practical to become New Left activists or New Left Movement organizers, whereas at Columbia large numbers of anti-war students had felt that becoming a New Left activist or organizer was a viable life-option.

Still, by late October 1968, about 10 of us had formed a Richmond College SDS chapter. But we had to call off our plans for some kind of an anti-war protest event at Richmond College around the presidential election, because we felt too isolated. An underground newspaper was formed by two hippie-anarchist types, named Hart and Russ, who were sympathetic to SDS and the New Left. When their first issue was circulated on campus, it was condemned as being “obscene” by an open letter of Richmond College President Herbert Schueler. So I began to then contribute a column on New Left politics and culture for Hart and Russ’s underground newspaper.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 18: Summer In The Streets, 1968

Chapter 18: Summer In The Streets, 1968 (iii)

By September 1968, the Columbia Strike Committee’s sublet of the W.114th St. fraternity house for its Liberation School had expired and the headquarters of Columbia SDS and the Columbia Strike Committee was moved into an apartment a few more blocks south of the campus. It was there that I met with Mark and Lew prior to the day when we were planning to confront the Columbia Administration over its refusal to allow Mark to register.

As part of his effort to divide Columbia SDS’s mass base by developing a split between our newly-radicalized left-liberal supporters and our radical hard-core supporters, Columbia President Cordier agreed to drop charges against most of the arrested students and not take any disciplinary action against those arrested students who agreed to visit the dean’s office and acknowledge the legitimacy of the University’s disciplinary authority. And it turned out that--despite the summer events in Chicago increasing the sense of white student political alienation in relation to the Democratic and Republican parties—a summer away from Columbia and traveling in Europe or being at home with parents had caused many newly politicized student rebels of Spring 1968 to become more politically cautious by Fall 1968. As memories of the spring term busts at Columbia had receded somewhat and a summer of isolation from other enraged students had also helped defuse memories of the spring, a sizeable number of white participants in the revolt were inclined to accept the partial amnesty that Columbia was offering most Columbia and Barnard students.

In addition, the African-American students had quickly chosen to visit the deans and meekly return to class during the fall term, because they did not feel that the white New Left’s goal of continuing to keep Columbia shut down was either practical or relevant to their collective concerns. This fact encouraged many white left-liberal participants in the spring revolt to feel morally justified in also passively returning to class in Fall 1968 at Columbia.

True, we still had maybe 400 to 500 white activist students and non-students in early September around Columbia who appeared willing to keep the fight going in confrontation with the Columbia Administration, until Mark was let back in and until more of our radical New Left goals were achieved. But as long as the Columbia Administration did not call in the cops to invade the campus a third time, it began to appear unlikely that our mass support was going to expand rapidly enough in September to be able to prevent Columbia from returning to business as usual, despite the events of the previous spring.

In the early weeks of September, our afternoon and evening rallies and demonstrations were still well-attended and we were able to disrupt an Administration-sponsored meeting of Freshmen in Low Library. When Hayden spoke on campus, fresh from the war on the streets of Chicago, in early September, there was also a large crowd in attendance and the mass spirit was high. An international conference that included student rebel leaders from France, West Germany and Italy which Lew had organized also attracted a good crowd and kept mass spirit high (despite the fact that deep ideological divisions were revealed at this conference between the student leaders of each country). It started to again appear possible that we would be able to shut down registration at Columbia and prevent classes at Columbia from beginning--until everybody who was not being allowed back into Columbia because of their political activity in the spring—including Mark—was allowed to register.

But in mid-September, when the afternoon to disrupt registration came, we did not have enough militant anti-Columbia demonstrators in our march of 300 students who were willing to use physical force to push aside a few African-American security guards that Columbia had shrewdly hired—to keep us from sitting-in at the old on-campus gymnasium where Columbia had shrewdly decided to have its fall term registration. Although a picture of Mark and Gus unsuccessfully trying to push past Columbia security guards appeared on the cover of Newsweek magazine the following week, to symbolize a new wave of campus protest that was beginning again around the U.S., our failure to occupy en masse the site of Columbia’s fall registration meant that fall classes at Columbia were going to resume. We had naively expected the spontaneous, unorganized mass militancy of our supporters to be sufficient to enable us to get past the registration area security guards some way, in the same way that spontaneous, unorganized mass militancy had carried us into the Columbia buildings during the spring revolt.

Another reason why Columbia SDS people couldn’t prevent the Columbia Administration from reopening the University in Fall 1968 was that both the Labor Committee and PL each flooded the Columbia scene with at least 10 of their dogmatic members. The Labor Committee and PL sectarians were able to drag the chapter into lengthy sectarian debates and faction fights that demoralized and turned off many returning veterans of the spring revolt, as well as new members. Instead of being able to spend SDS mass meeting time figuring out ways to more effectively mobilize Barnard and Columbia students to confront the trustees, much of the mass meeting time had to be spent with Columbia New Left activists exposing the inadequacies of the politically sectarian proposals of the Labor Committee people—who were acting as external cadre for Lyndon LaRouche/”Lynn Marcus”’s cult group, within Columbia’s SDS chapter.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 18: Summer In The Streets, 1968

Chapter 18: Summer In The Streets, 1968 (ii)

Except for Lew, Mark and me, by Fall 1968 most of the people who had been active during the first year of Columbia SDS’s existence had either moved on to other arenas of activism or retreated from Columbia SDS politically. Ted, Teddy, Josh, Harvey and Peter Schneider had all enrolled in a NYC Board of Education teacher-training program during Summer 1968. Their plan was to protect their draft deferments by teaching in the public schools during the 1968-69 academic year while, at the same time, attempt to organize teachers into a “Teachers for a Democratic Society” (TDS) New Left post-graduate Movement group, around anti-imperialist politics.

Because the Columbia Administration withheld Ted’s diploma from him, he became ineligible to teach in the City public schools. But through a friend of his family, he was able to protect his draft deferment by landing a job in a private school for the emotionally disturbed. In the evenings and on weekends, however, he worked as a Movement regional organizer for TDS during the 1968-69 academic year, as did Teddy.

Within Columbia SDS leadership circles in early September 1968, Lew and Mark were still the most influential people. But there was some negative feeling developing towards Mark among other Columbia SDS activists who were somewhat jealous of his newly-acquired mass media celebrity. These activists felt that Mark had become too “egomaniacal” as a result of all the mass media publicity.

During the summer, a number of position papers had been written which recommended various possible September 1968 fall strategies. Sokolow and I had felt that, in addition to working to completely win amnesty and our other Spring 1968 demands, Columbia SDS should also demand that Columbia’s Graduate School of Business be shut down, because it trained managers for U.S. imperialism and for the efficient exploitation of the U.S. working-class. We showed our position paper to Lew, but he and Robby were wedded to a strategy of using exemplary action only to completely win the Spring 1968 demands and to shut down Columbia’s NROTC unit.

I was for mobilizing people to eliminate Columbia’s NROTC program as well. But, unlike Lew, I felt that without equally targeting Columbia’s School of Business we were failing to adequately generate sufficient anti-capitalist, pro-working-class consciousness. There was little Columbia SDS leadership inclination, however, to attempt to shut down Columbia’s Business School. But a consensus was reached by people like Lew, Robby, Stu, Mark, Sokolow, Josie, Juan, Dionne, myself and other New Left SDS people to focus on both winning the 6 demands and eliminating NROTC on campus in the fall.

Our Fall 1968 strategy of exemplary action was developed as a result of collectively analyzing both the French student revolt of May and the lessons of our own revolt of April and May. The fundamental idea was that New Left students at Columbia could most effectively win the support of both the mass of students on other campuses and the mass of U.S. working-class people, not by leafleting outside factories or on other campuses (as advocated by Lynn “Marcus” and Tony’s Labor Committee), but by engaging in disruptive exemplary action at Columbia which would, by its example, inspire students and workers elsewhere to occupy those institutions which most affected their lives.

Between early May and September, the trustees of Columbia University attempted to defuse the situation at Columbia by appointing a commission headed by a Harvard professor named Archibald Cox, by setting up a new campus disciplinary process according to rules drawn up by a Columbia Law School professor named Sovern and by appointing a former UN official named Cordier (who had previously headed Columbia’s School of International Affairs) to replace Grayson Kirk as Columbia University President. In the course of doing a background check on Cordier, I discovered that he had played a key role in creating the conditions that enabled the CIA to eliminate Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba in the Congo in the early 1960s.

As my last Columbia SDS research project before enrolling at the low-tuition Richmond College, I put together a research paper on Cordier’s connection to the Mobutu overthrow and assassination of Lumumba, which described how Cordier used UN funds to pay anti-Lumumba soldiers and authorized UN forces to prevent Lumumba from speaking on the radio and rallying his supporters. As a sourcebook, I used Kwame Nkrumah’s book, Challenge of the Congo. Dionne liked the pamphlet and arranged to mimeograph a few hundred copies to pass around campus as a first step towards revealing whose special interests Columbia’s new president served.

In preparation for the New Left’s recruiting drive during Freshman Week, Mark put together an updated pamphlet, entitled Why We Strike, which used material I had written in the spring and summer describing Columbia SDS’s pre-revolt attempts to change Columbia’s institutional policies using the so-called legitimate channels and documenting which apartment buildings and SRO buildings Columbia had emptied, converted or knocked down during the 1950s and early 1960s. Around this time I was also invited by Klare to join a NACLA research project on the mass media. On the day of the June 1968 “counter-commencement,” NACLA people had sold a magazine-like pamphlet, titled Who Rules Columbia?, which contained dirt on Columbia that even Columbia SDS had not previously known about.

I chose not to join NACLA’s mass media project after attending one meeting of the group in an Upper West Side apartment. Following the relatively sympathetic mass media coverage of the Chicago Democratic National Convention anti-war protests (perhaps because more journalists got beaten by cops there than at Columbia), I—perhaps mistakenly—felt that Movement people should focus on finding dirt on the police—and not on the mass media—at this time. I also felt that the NACLA people were still more into research in an intellectually elitist way than into activism, but that I was more of an activist than either a researcher or an intellectual elitist, myself.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 18: Summer In The Streets, 1968

Chapter 18: Summer In The Streets, 1968 (i)

July 1968 is pretty much of a blur in my memory. My de-classified FBI files indicate that I was under intensified FBI surveillance, along with at least 59 other Columbia SDS activists, around this time. And FBI people even went out to Queens to interview neighbors of my parents, in an attempt to find out more about me. It also was around this time that I attended my first Black Panther Party rally, which took place at W.116th St. and Amsterdam Ave. The Harlem branch of the Black Panthers, although infiltrated by police and FBI informants, was led by a guy who sounded like a solid African-American revolutionary and who appeared to be in his late 20s.

There were also a number of spirited, spontaneous marches in the street around this time. One night, a few hundred radicals marched in front of Manhattan District Attorney and Columbia Trustee Hogan’s apartment and, another night, we marched through Harlem, where crowds appeared quite sympathetic to us. There was also a demonstration outside the 100 Centre St. courthouse around this time.

During July 1968, I also read Martin Luther King’s Why We Can’t Wait and re-read Malcolm X’s Autobiography. Then, as a tribute to Martin Luther King, I wrote the song “He Walked Up The Hill,” which contained the following lyrics:

He walked up the hill
And he knew it was willed
That the white racists they would slay
All the good men who crossed their way
And what else is there left to say?
Look! The Black Prince of Peace now lays.

And all go and pray
Though they kill people everyday
Their soldiers kill ‘cross the sea
Their cops shoot up the city
Their managers steal our bread
Their teachers, they ruin our heads.

“Be non-violent!” they scream
For they fear what the Blacks will dream
Now that Moses is dead
Shot in the back of the head
“Love them” is what he said
Yet look how they treated him.

The hearts now are red
As they rise up from their beds
To say to the Man with hate:
“We’re sorry but it’s now too late
We want to control our fate
The Panther will kill your snake.”



As the August 1968 Democratic Party National Convention neared, there was increasing excitement among Columbia SDS activists. Both Ramparts magazine and the underground newspaper Rat started to hype-up the demonstrations that were being organized by people like Hayden, Rennie Davis, Dave Dellinger, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. National SDS people in Chicago like Klonsky also started to get enthusiastic about the planned anti-war demonstrations in Chicago. SDS people hoped to win over disgruntled Eugene McCarthy supporters to the New Left Revolution during the week of demonstrations.

A few weeks before the Chicago Democratic National Convention demonstrations, rumors hit New York City that, since no permit was going to be issued, the Chicago police were going to mercilessly repress anybody who showed up. And that Hayden and Dellinger were receiving death threats. The effect of these rumors and the denial of demonstration permits by Chicago authorities was to discourage large numbers of anti-war people in New York from going out to Chicago into what appeared to be a police-state environment, on unfamiliar terrain.

Mark and JJ, however, were eager to go out to Chicago. I considered going out to Chicago myself but, mistakenly, decided to just concentrate on helping to finish the Columbia and the Community pamphlet I was helping to produce for Citizenship Council. Prior to the nationally-televised 1968 “Battle of Chicago,” I assumed that there were enough local Chicago and other Midwestern anti-war people there to mount an effective mass protest, without having to bus in people from the East. After the police rioted in Chicago, my sister—who had traveled there from Bloomington, Indiana to protest the Democratic Convention—vividly and excitedly described the scene in Chicago. I was surprised to hear that she had even spent some time with JJ, in the middle of all the tear gas.

In New York City, I watched some of the police brutality on TV with a few other people in Dionne’s apartment, because she was the only one around in the Upper West Side neighborhood that we knew who had a TV set. And, later in the night, some of us tried to get an emergency demonstration in solidarity with protesters in Chicago going. Because of her concern for Mark in Chicago, Sue took part in this small New York City demonstration in Midtown Manhattan that protested the Chicago police brutality. She ended up spending the night in an extra bedroom in my W. 106th St. apartment, since she was moving to England in a few days and no longer had the key to Mark’s apartment.

After the police riot in Chicago, the degree of white youth alienation from the U.S. Establishment’s political system appeared to increase. Columbia SDS people eagerly looked forward to a renewed period of confrontation with the Columbia Administration in September 1968.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 17: Enter Bernardine Dohrn, 1968

Chapter 17: Enter Bernardine Dohrn, 1968 (iv)

Sokolow, Brian and I had found a rent-controlled apartment on W.106th St. and Amsterdam Ave. in May and--after being forced to pay our new Midtown Manhattan landlord a $600 bribe in order to get him to agree to give us a lease—we moved there in June. Brian immediately sublet his room for the summer to a Columbia student from Great Neck who was anti-war and had been arrested during the first bust, but who was no longer interested in political activism. Brian then went up to his parents’ home in Hartford, Connecticut, where he had lined up a summer job. A few days after Sokolow and I moved into the 106th St. apartment, Robert Kennedy was assassinated in California, and I ended up watching the funeral on TV with Sokolow in the Upper East Side high-rise apartment of his parents.

Because I was working during June, I did not go to the June 1968 SDS National Convention which, surprisingly, elected Bernardine as SDS Inter-organizational Secretary, after she declared that she was a “revolutionary communist” in her politics. But much of my summer spare-time was spent hanging around the Columbia Strike Committee’s “Liberation School.”

The Liberation School was located between Broadway and Amsterdam Ave. in a Columbia fraternity house on W.114th St. The Columbia Strike Committee had sublet the frat house for the summer. Initially, many people attended Liberation School classes in the afternoon and in the evening. But by the middle of July, only a small number of people were hanging out around there, or attending classes there, on a regular basis.

Much of the work in running the Liberation School was done by Josie and Dionne, although JJ and Lew also could be seen hanging out there often during Summer 1968. Josie remained very energetic and militant and spirited during Summer 1968, dropped out of Barnard, cut herself off from the Duke family and its fortune, spoke to the press often, became a full-time Movement activist and, for awhile, seemed to become emotionally close to Lew.

Dionne had worked at Citizenship Council prior to the Columbia Revolt, but after the revolt she also dropped out of Barnard and became a full-time SDS Movement activist. She was from Westchester, had long blonde hair and wore both mini-skirts and blue jeans. A few runaways and a few FBI informants also seemed to hang out around the Liberation School during Summer 1968.

An older guy in his early 30s, who was dressed in a suit and tie and was named Bruce, first appeared around the Movement at this time. He attended a class on Columbia’s housing polices and started to participate in SDS strategic debate at the Liberation School. Bruce helped start the Columbia Tenants Union around this time and, as the head of the Columbia Tenants Union he became a thorn in Columbia University’s side for many years, before he was found murdered over 20 years later.

Among the favorite books discussed at the Liberation School during Summer 1968 was Carl Oglesby’s Containment and Change paperback, which described the history of U.S. imperialism in the world in a concise, clear way that didn’t rely on vulgar Marxist jargon.

During mid-June, I ended up being chosen as the spokesperson for the 70 or so suspended students. We held a press conference in which we vowed to register at Columbia in the fall, and I was interviewed for a local TV news show. In mid-June 1968, it still seemed possible that Columbia could be forced to rescind all of its suspensions. But—just in case Columbia didn’t take me back—I visited an experimental college of CUNY in Staten Island—Richmond College—and applied for admission there, in order to protect my 2-S status and continue to avoid the Viet Nam war draft.

To attend Richmond College in those days only cost $120 per year in tuition, as compared to Columbia’s tuition of $1,900 per year. So it seemed like purchasing my draft deferment at Richmond College was a better bargain than purchasing it at Columbia. Richmond College’s young faculty, led by a Columbia College graduate named Professor Nachman, had been sympathetic towards our student revolt and had passed a resolution which urged Richmond College to admit any students that Columbia had suspended for political reasons.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 17: Enter Bernardine Dohrn, 1968

Chapter 17: Enter Bernardine Dohrn, 1968 (iii)

The cops entered Hamilton Hall, wearing helmets, in the early morning hours of May 22, 1968, put handcuffs on Mark and, in a non-brutal way, escorted us all through tunnels out of Hamilton Hall, into waiting police vans and down to the 100 Centre St. Tombs jail. Before being arraigned, we spent most of the morning hours in crowded, uncomfortable jail cells. As we were led into the City cells, I heard one official of the liberal Lindsay Administration self-righteously say to some arrested student: “You students are the ones responsible for the right-wing backlash!”

The student smirked and replied: “Bull-shit!”

At the morning court arraignment, people arrested in Hamilton Hall were charged solely with “criminal trespassing,” with the exception of Mark. Mark had not been beaten, but he was now being charged with crimes like “inciting to riot” and “criminal solicitation,” in addition to his “criminal trespassing” charge. If ever convicted of these crimes, he faced a few years in jail. Some activists who had attempted to mobilize students outside Hamilton Hall to resist a second police invasion of Columbia’s campus were being charged with crimes such as “conspiracy to commit murder.”

What had happened was that while we were being non-brutally escorted from Hamilton Hall in the early morning hours of May 22nd, hundreds of Columbia and Barnard students on campus, in imitation of the students in Paris, had begun to spontaneously construct barricades by the 116th St. entrances to the campus, to try to prevent a second police invasion and occupation of their campus. Columbia President Kirk and Mayor Lindsay, however, ordered their cops to clear the campus and a police riot, even more brutal than the police riot of April 30th, occurred.

Hundreds of Columbia students were beaten, shoved or chased into dormitories by cops. SDS people who were seen speaking through bullhorns were singled out by plainclothes cops for special battering with blackjacks. Robby and Ron were sent to the hospital with quite serious head wounds. African-American student leaders like Ray were roughed up brutally. Columbia and Barnard students fought back more militantly than they had on April 30th but, since the students were unarmed, disorganized and possessed no clubs, the cops were able to seize the campus within a few hours. A few bricks had been thrown at some cops, but nearly all the people who ended up in the hospital were again unarmed students.

Around this same time, Mark, Lew, Bill and Ray appeared on David Susskind’s TV talk-show. On the talk-show, Susskind was very hostile towards the student leaders and appeared to act as an apologist for both the Columbia Administration and the NYC Police Department. What Susskind didn’t reveal on his show was that during the previous year he had signed a lucrative contract with the NYC Police Department which gave him free access to NYPD files for use by the scriptwriters of his NYPD television series on ABC—in exchange for New York City Police Department veto power over all the shows produced by Susskind for his cop-adventure series.

Following the May 22nd bust, more students were radicalized and many Columbia College seniors walked out of Columbia’s official commencement ceremony (which was being held in St. John’s the Divine Church for security reasons) in early June to attend the Columbia Strike Committee-sponsored “counter-commencement.” This “counter-commencement” was held in front of Low Library and was addressed by both Eric Fromm (the author of The Sane Society) and Dave.

“We don’t want to fill the corporate slots we’re supposed to fill. And the reason why we were treated seriously by the Columbia Administration this spring is that, for the first time, we took ourselves seriously,” Dave said.

The Spring 1968 term had ended at Columbia and, although I was now suspended, I did not think that Columbia would be able to open up again in Fall 1968 if we were able to mobilize and organize our mass New Left white base of students effectively prior to September.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 17: Enter Bernardine Dohrn, 1968

Chapter 17: Enter Bernardine Dohrn, 1968 (ii)

In order to finance a June move from Furnald Hall to an off-campus apartment on W.106th St., I had to start working 9-to-5 again in mid-May. Despite the mood of Revolution throughout the world, landlords in New York City were still able to force their tenants to pay rent for their housing. I landed a job on W.125th St. as a clerk in Columbia’s Alumni Office, but was fired within a week—after I began talking with the most disgruntled African-American worker at the place about the need for unionizing Columbia clerical workers.

I soon found another job, however, by being in the Columbia Citizenship Council office one afternoon. Citizenship Council was using work-study money to finance a research pamphlet, which would describe Columbia’s relationship to the West Harlem/Morningside Heights community in which it was located, and it needed to hire an additional researcher/writer. Because I had discovered Columbia’s connection to IDA, Cit Council head Zift quickly hired me as one of his pamphlet’s researchers, when he noticed me in the Cit Council office.

The job only paid $90 per week. But it enabled me to spend my days during June, July and August of 1968 interviewing both Columbia administrators responsible for its real estate policies and community tenant leaders like McKay and Hickerson. It also enabled me to do library research for money, under the supervision of a left-liberal Columbia student from Scarsdale named Rauch. Although I was able to document in concrete ways the number of tenants evicted and housing units destroyed during the 1950s and 1960s as a result of Columbia’s neighborhood gentrification and institutional expansion policies, Rauch—not me—had control of the overall writing of the pamphlet. So the final draft of the pamphlet was not radical in either its content or its conclusions. But working as a researcher-writer in Summer 1968 felt less oppressive than working all day at the Mental Health Clinic in Queens General Hospital had seemed, the previous summer.

Despite all that had happened in April 1968, the Columbia Administration still insisted on disciplining members of the IDA 6 during May 1968. Consequently, when the suspension of members of the IDA 6 on May 21, 1968 was announced, New Left white students marched from a sundial rally in the afternoon into Hamilton Hall again. This time, however, Columbia’s African-American student leaders did not choose to join SDS people in organizing an occupation of Hamilton Hall.

Believing that their biggest mistake during April had been not calling in police quickly enough after Hamilton Hall had been first occupied and before other buildings had been seized by students, Columbia President Kirk and Vice President Truman decided to clear out Hamilton Hall of New Left students as quickly as possible and with as little police brutality as possible. Within Hamilton Hall on the evening of May 21st, New Left students were quickly threatened with suspension by the Columbia Administration if they did not leave before police came in to arrest them. The atmosphere inside Hamilton Hall on the night of May 21st thus quickly became less frivolous than it had been prior to SDS people being asked to leave by SAS leaders on the night of April 23rd.

Despite the events of the previous month, many of the students who initially occupied Hamilton Hall were uneasy about staying to get arrested there, once it became clear that the Columbia Administration was going to take an uncompromising line, call cops again and suspend more students. This reluctance was reflected in the debate inside the building and Columbia SDS leaders like Mark and Ted were later accused of manipulating people to stay inside Hamilton Hall and ignoring certain votes that reflected the uneasiness some students had about prolonging the occupation.

Although over 200 people had originally marched into Hamilton Hall, by the time the cops were to arrive less than 150 people were willing to get arrested. Most of the people who had been arrested during the April 30th campus bust or the off-campus bust in front of the W.114th St. apartment building chose to avoid a second arrest, not only because of the threat of suspension, but also because a second arrest was likely to tie them up in much deeper court difficulties. Because I had only been beaten, not arrested, on April 30, 1968, I felt obligated to risk an arrest on May 21st, 1968. The threat of suspension did not worry me too much because I felt we were justified in occupying Hamilton Hall again and I felt the only value of retaining my student status at Columbia was that it was the most convenient way to protect my 2-S deferment from the draft.

Right before the cops came into Hamilton through underground tunnels, the 130 of us who had remained there sat peacefully and sang Freedom Songs. Both action-faction people and praxis-axis SDS people were sitting in with me, as well as more newly politicized students and non-students. I noticed both Ted and Mark there, and I was happy that even the threat of suspension and more arrests could not discourage us all from refusing to compromise with our class and generational enemies. The Columbia trustees still had the cops. But we still felt we had the just cause and the U.S. Establishment had no moral right to punish us for resisting its institutional policies.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 17: Enter Bernardine Dohrn, 1968

Chapter 17: Enter Bernardine Dohrn, 1968 (i)

I first heard Bernardine speak in a room on the second or third floor of Ferris Booth Hall in May 1968. She was in her mid-20s and was dressed like a straight, middle-class radical lawyer. She wore a tight skirt, not jeans, and was representing the National Lawyers Guild. The Lawyers Guild had agreed to represent all the students who had been arrested following the April 30th police invasion, and Bernardine’s speech explained in a coherent way what was the current legal situation of arrested people, in the eyes of the Guild. Bernardine spoke in an efficient, unemotional way and she seemed to be more of a radical lawyer than a New Left political activist. She seemed smart. But she also seemed more middle-class fashion-oriented than bohemian or hippie-oriented in lifestyle.

Bernardine had grown up in the Chicago area, studied at the University of Chicago and worked with Martin Luther King during his 1966 open housing campaign in Chicago and Cicero, Illinois. She had moved to New York City during the year before the Columbia Student Revolt in order to work as the National Lawyers Guild’s campus organizer. Although she had traveled to many U.S. campuses on behalf of the Lawyers Guild and spoken on topics such as draft resistance law, few people within Columbia SDS steering committee circles had heard of Bernardine prior to her May 1968 appearance in Ferris Booth Hall.

As May 1968 unfolded, the student revolt in Paris’s Latin Quarter, that attracted the support of French industrial workers and nearly brought down the French government, reinforced Columbia SDS’s notion that revolution in an advanced capitalist country like France or the United States was, indeed, possible.

Michael and his community activist allies secretly planned to take over an apartment building on W. 114th St. that Columbia was in the process of emptying in order to use the apartment building space for Columbia’s School of Social Work. A rally was held in mid-May, our mass base of students marched off campus from the sundial to the site of the community’s occupation of Columbia’s apartment building and a number of students who hadn’t been arrested or clubbed during the April 30th campus bust sat down in front of the W. 114th St. building. Columbia called in City cops to reclaim its apartment building and arrest those Columbia and Barnard students or community activists who were either sitting in the street or occupying the apartment building. The cops made over a hundred arrests but were not brutal when they arrested people this time.

Mark was among the students arrested outside the W. 114th St. apartment building. At the time of the April 30th campus bust, Columbia SDS people felt that there was no need for Mark, himself, to get arrested inside one of the liberated buildings, because he could best serve the cause by continuing to speak to the U.S. mass media after the mass arrests were made. Following the April 30th police invasion, however, the Establishment’s media tried to make political hay out of the fact that, despite his militant leadership, Mark had “not even been willing to get arrested with his followers” on April 30th. To disprove this Establishment propaganda ploy, Mark felt it was necessary to submit to arrest when the mid-May seizure of a Columbia apartment building occurred.

As the cops made their arrests on W. 114th St. and pushed onlookers back towards the campus while the off-campus arrests were made, I felt that, despite our sense that revolution was possible, given what was happening in France, we really were going to get nowhere—unless we could figure out a way to overcome the Columbia Administration’s ability to keep calling in police.

Among the community activists arrested with Michael in the W. 114th St. building was an old CP activist of the 1930s named Hickerson, who appeared to be in his late 60s or early 70s. Hickerson had fought against Columbia’s real estate policies for many years and during 1968 was a popular speaker at Columbia SDS rallies because he combined a militant verbal attack on Columbia’s gentrification and expansion policies with a strong opposition to the “crimes of monopoly capitalism,” whose interests Columbia served.

Columbia SDS people (who now worked under the banner of the Columbia Strike Committee) continued to produce a lot of political literature during May 1968, in order to consolidate the New Left’s mass base; and debate continued as to what the next political goal was to be. We rejected the notion that our goal was to simply establish student power at Columbia or student control of Columbia at this time. We argued that until the whole society was changed by revolution, it was utopian to expect that Columbia could become an oasis of democracy within an imperialist society. We also argued that Columbia should serve the interests of community residents and humanity, not just the interests of students.

Influenced by the establishment of “Critical Universities” by student radicals in France and West Germany, Columbia Strike Committee people made plans to establish a “Liberation School” with “liberated classes” during the summer. In this “Liberation School” students would be offered tuition-free courses by Movement people on subjects that were relevant to the cause of Revolution. By attending our Liberation School, students would learn what education at Columbia should really be like and would come to realize why the “bourgeois education” that Columbia provided before the April 1968 revolt was nothing more than pro-capitalist indoctrination.

During May 1968, classes were cancelled by Columbia because of the student strike’s success and students were marked on a pass-fail basis for the courses they were enrolled in prior to April 23, 1968. Yet, given the magnitude of the revolt’s impact, the marks and classes of the pre-April 23rd era at Columbia seemed irrelevant to most Columbia and Barnard students.

Within the New Left, JJ’s political prestige rose dramatically as a result of the Columbia revolt because the revolt proved that--despite JJ’s pre-revolt inability to convince anyone else that immediate campus disruption, not educational forums, was the quickest way to radicalize students--JJ had been strategically correct all along.

Wearing a headband and looking like a hippie for the first time, at a meeting of the Mathematics Hall “commune” (students within each building had begun to identify themselves collectively as “communes” in the days prior to the April 30th bust) in May 1968, a former ideologue of the Praxis-Axis, Evansohn, smiled sheepishly at me one afternoon and said: “You know, JJ was right all along.”

As a result of the Columbia revolt, people now took JJ seriously as a New Left political thinker and strategist and, when he rambled on in his usual way in political debate, he now seemed to make sense and people now paid attention to him. Mark, in particular, began to follow JJ’s political and strategic lead; and he was able to then articulate JJ’s politics in a more persuasive way than JJ, because Mark’s oratorical skills were greater than JJ’s, and he possessed more charisma than JJ.

Phil Ochs visited Columbia again after the April 30th bust and gave a free concert one evening inside Wollman Auditorium, as a tribute to participants in Columbia’s student revolt. His biggest cheers came after he sang “I’m Gonna Say It Now.” The Grateful Dead and Allen Ginsberg also showed up at Columbia, following the revolt.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 16: We Shut Down Columbia University, 1968

Chapter 16: We Shut Down Columbia University, 1968 (xii)

After the first bust, I had no desire to ever become a Columbia student again. Like many other Columbia SDS people, I felt now that being a full-time New Left activist was the most meaningful and politically productive direction to move work-wise. At the same time, though, I still felt personally lonely on a romantic level.

A political vacuum existed at Columbia after the bust. We now had the numbers to shut down Columbia until the end of May and prevent classes from starting up again. But they had the clubs and guns to keep us from re-occupying the campus.

There was a rally on Amsterdam Ave. on the afternoon following the early morning bust, when the hundreds of people who had been driven away in police vans to 100 Centre St. had filtered back to the Upper West Side, after being arraigned for “criminal trespassing.” In an angry mood, over a thousand people—including many anti-war people from around the City who had not previously been active on Columbia’s campus—came to demonstrate their support of us.

On the Law School Library bridge over Amsterdam Ave., from where the speakers were addressing the crowd, somebody, without warning, suddenly asked me to speak to the crowd. Not used to speaking before such a large group, all I could quickly think of saying was “They came at us like wild animals inside the buildings. But we will continue to fight for the six demands.” Then I quickly passed the bullhorn to somebody else.

I was still uneasy about speaking spontaneously before such a large crowd and still uncertain of what the next appropriate political move in this totally new post-bust campus situation should be. In this new situation, new leaders seemed to speak with more passion and speak more effectively. So I continued to retreat somewhat from visible New Left leadership at Columbia, for awhile.

After the April 30th bust, many students at Columbia who had been going to school all their lives were at a lost about what to do, now that most classes were not in session. During May, the alliance between white radical student activists and revolutionary Black nationalist student activists, on a day-to-day level, pretty much fell apart. The white students who had been in the occupied buildings met a few times on the lawns outside the buildings they had previously occupied to debate the best ways to continue the strike and to keep the spirit of resistance going. People from outside the Columbia left scene were invited to speak at strike committee-sponsored alternative classes. For a few weeks, PL people and JJ pushed for a heavy presence on the picket lines. But most of the politically radicalized people did not appear willing to picket academic buildings since, even in the absence of much picketing, no classes were being held because of the post-bust strike’s mass support.

In order to make the strike more mass-based, SDS people like Mark made certain ideological concessions to the “moderate” students—who were more anti-Kirk than pro-6 demands—at a big post-bust meeting of students in Wollman Auditorium. At the time, Mark’s concessions seemed like a wise way to move. During the summer, however, some of these less radical strike committee students ended up splitting off from the Columbia Strike Committee, accepting Ford Foundation money and (according to de-classified documents) even apparently acting as FBI informants, at the same time they formed the “Students For A Restructured University.”

Columbia’s campus remained crawling with undercover plainclothes cops, who would shove into students occasionally at the various spontaneous rallies that developed on campus. The plainclothes cops usually were heavier, taller and older-looking than students and they usually looked like cops--even without their uniforms on. They usually carried blackjacks or small clubs in their pockets, as well as guns, and were noticed by most students. Few had long-hair in those days.

Tony suddenly had great prestige in Columbia SDS circles, despite his PL background and left-sectarian record of the previous 2 years, because he had helped hold the Low Library student rebels together and had won the respect of newly-politicized hippie-type undergraduates, for awhile.

As a result of Tony’s influence, Labor Committee head “Lynn Marcus” and his cult members were invited to speak to Strike Committee-sponsored workshops on the South Lawn of the campus. “Lynn Marcus” was apparently a former SWP member of the 1950s who apparently worked for some Wall Street firm in the 1960s. In Spring 1968, he projected himself as a Marxist revolutionary socialist in the Rosa Luxemburg tradition. He pushed the line that the student strike at Columbia should quickly be expanded into a mass strike in New York City. When the French Student Revolt of May 1968 began to spread rapidly and attract the support of young French industrial workers, after the students battled with French cops in Paris’s Latin Quarter a few days after the Columbia bust, “Marcus”’s proposed political strategy did not seem unrealistic.

Most of “Marcus”’s followers were ex-PL people (like Tony) who had followed Tony out of PL and had apparently been meeting with “Marcus” for at least 6 months before the April 1968 Columbia Revolt. “Marcus”’s SDS Labor Committee—like PL—saw the New Left SDS as a mass-based umbrella, within which they could operate as an external cadre and from which they could recruit new organizers to hand out leaflets to a U.S. industrial working class which, they argued, was ripe for revolution. No one realized in May 1968 that “Lynn Marcus”’s real name was Lyndon LaRouche and that his “socialism” was apparently just a mask for his lust for individual dictatorial political power.

In May 1968, Dave remained a prominent SDS and Columbia Strike Committee spokesperson, along with Mark, Juan, Lew, Robby, Stu, Ted and Josie. Josie had been radicalized more, as a result of her participation in the Low Library occupation and being roughed up by the cops. But Teddy seemed to retreat into the background politically (along with the Schneiders), now that he wasn’t the Columbia SDS chairman anymore. And Teddy was now no longer very prominent on campus.

But I was still surprised one day to notice Dave and Nancy walking across Campus Walk, as if they were now lovers. Between October 1966 and April 1968, Nancy and Teddy had seemed inseparable and had seemed to be living out one of the great romances of the decade. And Nancy had seemed to be pushing for a marriage to Teddy for a long time. Consequently, it was quite a surprise for me to observe that Nancy was now apparently in love with Dave—not Teddy. And Teddy, all of a sudden, looked emotionally lost, as he walked around campus during May and June 1968, without Nancy by his side. But Nancy’s romantic involvement with Dave did not last too long.

Another relationship that seemed to start falling apart after the April revolt was Mark’s friendship with Sue. Large numbers of trendy and New Leftist women, and newly politicized Barnard women, seemed to start throwing themselves at Mark, once he became a media object and a celebrity. At the same time, a sweet Japanese-American woman from California, named Jean (who had hung around on the outskirts of Columbia New Left circles for a few years prior to the revolt), seemed to replace Sue as Mark’s most steady female companion and lover. Jean seemed more bohemian in dress and lifestyle than Sue, but I felt sad that Mark and Sue seemed to have drifted apart.

As a result of the student revolt, the police bust and the U.S. mass media publicity, the status of Columbia SDS hard-core activist men appeared to rise greatly among large numbers of newly-radicalized or trendy Barnard women. For a few months after the police bust, SDS political strategy meetings were attended by newly-involved Barnard women, who now appeared much more eager to become romantically involved with New Left men than they had been before April 1968. My dorm roommate, Stu, for instance, became romantically involved in a brief love affair with one of the trendy Barnard women, during the month following the police bust. Unattached Barnard women who had walked by the Columbia SDS table without noticing me a few months before, but who had helped occupy the buildings during the revolt, suddenly became interested in flirting with me and dating me. In the eyes of some trendy Barnard women, Columbia SDS men were now the “Big Men On Campus” and “success-objects.”

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 16: We Shut Down Columbia University, 1968

Chapter 16: We Shut Down Columbia University, 1968 (xi)

After coming home from the hospital, returning to the campus, going to sleep, and awakening and realizing that people were, spontaneously, not going to return to class until Kirk was replaced, I was still somewhat dazed. Everybody seemed to be talking Revolution. Everybody around seemed to be a New Left activist. I, personally, didn’t need to do much activist work anymore. Many new recruits were now involved with SDS. Students wanted to strike. New student leaders had emerged as mass leaders and mass orators during the student revolt who seemed better able to move a crowd than I could.

I started to read Lady Chatterly’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence and spent the next few weeks writing a brief history of Columbia SDS activity at Columbia between 1967 and 1968, which attempted to analyze why we had been so successful in confronting the Establishment. Other Columbia SDS people who were newly energized by the events of late April and early May seemed to think I was retreating from New Left politics, because I wasn’t as visibly active as before the revolt, and because I was spending time writing down my thoughts on the revolt.

Yet, personally, I felt like a rock singer who had helped produce a hit record before he was 20. I also felt that people at Columbia should never let the Administration reopen the corporate university again, now that it had used its cops so brutally against its own students.

As to the next step for the New Left at Columbia, now that we had created another Berkeley Student Revolt on the East Coast, I was confused—as were most of the other Columbia SDS steering committee people. We now had the numbers to mount an effective strike. But the U.S. Establishment still had the clubs and the guns of the cops. Thousands of students had been politicized and radicalized. But once you’ve created another Berkeley, what are you supposed to do for an encore, in order to build more quickly a New Left white revolutionary movement?

Why did the use of 1,000 NYC cops to bust up the occupation by about 950 students and maybe 50 non-students at Columbia have such a radicalizing effect at both Columbia and on other campuses?

First of all, the brutality of the police invasion shocked a predominantly upper-middle-class, white academic U.S. setting that had never experienced that kind of indiscriminate police repression before. To get into the buildings occupied by white anti-war students and some non-students, the helmeted TPF had to pass through crowds of curious, sympathetic white liberal youth who might not have been committed enough to sit inside the buildings, but did not wish to see other students of their generation beaten, or feel themselves being pushed around by the burly cops. Some of these sympathetic white liberal students were peacefully sitting in front of the entrances to the buildings we were occupying, acting to both shield us from police brutality and to demonstrate their commitment to a non-violent resolution of the campus confrontation.

Many more sympathetic liberal white students, having never seen so many cops in action before on a college campus, felt the need to observe the cops closely and start chanting in protest, once the cops started to brutally do their thing. And when the cops started shoving some of the sympathetic liberal student onlookers, some of the white liberal students shoved back a little which, in turn, stimulated more police brutality.

In clearing out Hamilton Hall, the cops shrewdly avoided using the kind of brutality that might have provoked a Black mass rebellion in Harlem or an angry march from Harlem to Columbia. Fearing, perhaps, that any militant Black student resistance to white cops inside Hamilton Hall prior to their arrest might provide the cops with a pretext for seriously brutalizing or even killing SAS-led students in Hamilton, the African-American student leadership chose to accept a dignified arrest without further non-violent resistance, on tactical grounds. Hence, there was no need for police brutality against the Black students to insure that Hamilton Hall would be quickly cleared.

With regard to the white anti-war students, who did not have the kind of off-campus militant community backing that the African-American students had, there was no apparent tactical need for the cops to restrain themselves. If they had to wade through sympathetic white liberal students with clubs to clear out the buildings, so be it. If they had to beat some students inside to overcome any white student slowness about obeying their commands to stop “trespassing,” so be it.

By sending around 150 predominantly white upper-middle-class students to the hospitals with head wounds, arresting over 600 other white students and shoving or clubbing, indiscriminately, bystanders who hadn’t been politically radical before the bust, the cops blundered. You can’t inflict that kind of mass police brutality on an Ivy League campus in the U.S. and not expect large numbers of the politically impressionable youth hanging out there to respond by being radicalized for many months afterwards.

But when 1,000 cops are sent onto a campus to put down a political protest, it seems likely that—even if the cops don’t intend to be especially brutal—you’re always going to end up with some kind of bloodbath, of cops beating on students and some students fighting back. That kind of police invasion can never be done without some kind of brutality.

Once the cops were used by the Columbia Administration, the Establishment’s argument that the New Left relied on force, not reason, to achieve its political goals was no longer credible to the bulk of upper-middle-class white youths who hung out around Columbia and who were already radicalized somewhat by the failure to quickly end the war in Viet Nam and the draft.

All the old liberal ideological myths about how the U.S. operated politically no longer seemed to explain how political decisions were actually made, once Kirk and Truman called in the cops. Columbia SDS people had been arguing for a few years that Columbia was run in an undemocratic fashion to serve corporate and government interests, not student interests, and Columbia’s use of police seemed to validate the argument for many people. Neither Columbia nor the United States, as a whole, seemed to be run in a genuinely democratic fashion.

A second reason why the bust at Columbia had such a radicalizing effect was because it took place in the context of a big media fishbowl event. Everybody around the country heard about the event or watched some of the event on TV or read about the event in newspapers or magazines.