Friday, May 11, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 22: At United Parcel Service and Queens College, 1969

Chapter 22: At United Parcel Service and Queens College, 1969 (ix)

Steve’s W.16th St. apartment had a bathtub in the kitchen. Howie and Jamie were the two High School Student Union activists who were going to move in with us. I had met Howie the previous spring, when I had picked up flyers and union newspapers from the High School Student Union’s communal apartment on the Upper West Side, for distribution at high schools on Staten Island.

Our only furniture in the W.16th St. apartment ended up being mattresses on the floor and a few pieces of furniture that we had each picked up from the garbage on the street. By the end of December 1969, Howie, Jamie, Steve and I had moved in; and by early January 1970 the place had become a Movement crash pad for about 20 former high school activists who had been repressed by high school authorities during the previous school year, but who were still members of Howie’s entourage. The telephone rang constantly, as the former high school activists kept telephoning from their parents’ apartments in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens to gossip with Howie or arrange to come into the City and stop by the W.16th St. apartment to trip, get stoned or drink.

It was somewhat sad to see how disillusioned with people most of the former high school activists of the previous year had become, as a result of their organizing attempts of the previous year. In 1968-69, they had sponsored political meetings, handed out leaflets in schools, put out underground newspapers, lived collectively, organized anti-war demos and strikes and been written about in the New York Times Magazine. By early 1970, however, most of their time was being spent tripping, drinking, getting high and trying to repair broken love relationships. Most of the disillusioned activists were being pressured by their parents to get back on the academic track and apply to college, yet they all already realized that the U.S. university system “sucked.” When demos and marches were held, they would all be there out on the street in a militant way and they identified strongly with Abbie and the other Chicago Conspiracy 8 Trial defendants. But they had become too discouraged by the previous year’s daily activism to attempt any day-to-day Movement organizing at the high schools they either still attended or had dropped out from.

The former High School Student Union activists (who were mostly from white middle-class backgrounds or had mostly been on the elite student track) realized U.S. society was rotten to the core, people in the U.S. weren’t really free and revolutionary change was needed. But they felt the approach of the SDS Regional Office staff of older activists to building the Movement (as exemplified by Nick) had been ageist in relation to high school students; and plagued by Marxist-Leninist sectarianism, “correct lineism” and “vanguarditis.” They also had nicknamed Mark in an unfavorable way (referring to him, irreverently, as “Mark Crudd"). Yet they were too discouraged and impatient to be able to collectively develop an alternative way of interesting the mass of New York City high school students in revolutionary politics, once their underground newspaper was not instantly successful in recruiting high school students to strike and shut down the public schools for more than a few days in 1968-69. But they also felt in early 1970 that the Weathermen were on a “crazy death-trip.”

Living at the W.16th St. apartment in January and February 1970, though, was like another constant pot party and it enabled me to meet many teenage activists and former teenage activists who were a few years younger than me, in a grass-smoking situation. The women high school activists were as intellectually interesting to converse with as the men high school activists; and there was always some disgust expressed by them at the ageist implications of statutory rape laws and birth control information dissemination practices.

Jamie was from a wealthy Manhattan prep-school background of divorced parents and had a cynical low-key personality. By early 1970, he was spending most of his time either reading underground newspapers, getting stoned or tripping to Grateful Dead music or hanging out with his woman friend, who still lived with her parents in Queens, but who would often spend the night at W.16th St. with Jamie.

Howie was an enthusiastic, jovial guy with an extremely comical personality. He wasn’t able, by this time, to accomplish much in the way of political organizing, because he was too busy having fun. But he was quite humorous and funny and had a charismatic personality. He lived his daily life in a spontaneous and adventurous way and always seemed to enjoy having an audience of people around him to entertain.

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