Saturday, January 27, 2007

Sundial:Columbia SDS Memories:Chap.6: Enter Ted Gold, 1966

Chapter 6: Enter Ted Gold, 1966 (i)

In early October, I attended the Independent Committee on Viet Nam’s first meeting of the year. The room was packed with anti-war Columbia and Barnard students. The ICV at this time was led by Mike Klare. Klare was a red diaper baby and graduate student in art who liked to do research on university complicity with the Pentagon. He also liked to speak at campus anti-war rallies and was a hard worker and dedicated activist in the 1960s. Young Socialist Alliance [YSA] members, like Peter Seidman and Carol Seidman, also held leadership posts in the ICV at this time.

To rank-and-file ICV members and sympathizers who attended the first meeting of the school year, all the leaders appeared to be equally dedicated radicals. We were generally unaware of the below-the-surface campus political rivalry that was already going on between YSA-Socialist Workers Party [SWP] people, Progressive Labor [PL] people and the three or four people around campus—other than Dave—who were sympathetic to SDS. At this first meeting, I signed up for the ICV’s dorm canvassing committee, indicating that I would be available to knock on doors and discuss the war in Viet Nam with students in Furnald Hall, a few nights each week.

One evening after dinner the next week, as I practiced my guitar, I heard a knock on the door. I put down my guitar, walked to the door and opened it. A short, stocky, white guy with thick glasses, short hair and no beard stood in front of me, with a clipboard in his hand.

“Are you Bob Feldman?” he asked shyly.

“Yeah,” I nodded.

“My name is Ted. I’m from the Independent Committee on Viet Nam’s dorm canvassing committee. You signed our list saying you’d be interested in doing dorm canvassing,” he said uneasily, but earnestly.

“Oh yeah! Come on in!”

Ted walked into my dorm room.

“I’m coordinating the dorm canvassing in Furnald Hall. I live up on the 8th floor. In room 801.”

We then exchanged views on how immoral we both felt the war in Viet Nam was. We agreed it was important to try to get more students in Furnald Hall talking about the war and involved in anti-war protest.

Ted then noticed my guitar and asked: “You play the guitar?”

“Yeah. I like folk music. I’m into folk music like Pete Seeger is into folk music.”

Ted smiled. “I like folk music, too. I have a lot of old Pete Seeger records. You can come up to my room sometime and listen to some of them, if you want.”

“That sounds like it would be fun,” I replied.

Ted then said goodbye, in order to speak to other people in the dorm who had signed the dorm canvassing list. We agreed to meet the next night to do some anti-war canvassing together on the 5th floor of Furnald. Ted seemed sincere and interesting to talk to. I liked him from the start.

Ted was a red diaper baby—the son of an Upper West Side medical doctor and a Mathematics instructor at Columbia who had both been part of the Old Left. Although Ted’s father spent his days practicing medicine—not political activism—he was to the left of the Communist Party, intellectually, in 1966. Ted’s father considered himself a Maoist, in the days when Maoism appeared to provide a left-wing revolutionary alternative to the CP’s non-revolutionary revisionism, domestically, and to the Soviet Union’s apparent abandonment of support for Third World guerrilla movements, internationally.

In the 1960s, Ted’s father still seemed to be a young, vigorous man in his 40s whom Ted was still quite fond of, despite Ted’s rejection of many Old Left cultural and lifestyle values which he had come to regard as too “bourgeois.” When I met Ted in 1966, he considered himself a Marxist and a communist who sought to establish “decentralized socialism” in the United States. He regarded his father’s brand of Maoism as well-meaning, but too dogmatic an ideology to be applicable to U.S. conditions.

“Marxism is a method and a tool, not a dogma,” Ted would reply if some other leftist would argue against a political position by stating that “Lenin wrote” or "Marx said” or “Mao says.”

Ted’s mother remained politically interested, despite having to use a wheelchair to move to and from her mathematics teaching job at Columbia. The other member of Ted’s immediate family was a brother, about four or five years younger than Ted, who wasn’t interested in radical politics in the 1960s.

In Fall 1966, Ted was a junior at Columbia College. His parents lived in an upper-middle-class high-rise apartment on West 93rd St. and Amsterdam Ave. While Ted’s father had gone to medical school, Ted’s parents had experienced economic hardship. But by 1966, Ted considered his parents affluent and upper-middle-class, although certainly not part of the Establishment or ruling-class. During his freshman year, Ted had lived at home with his parents. At the beginning of his sophomore year, however, he had moved into his 8th floor single dorm room in Furnald Hall.

In 1958, shortly before his 11th birthday, Ted had attended his first Civil Rights demonstration in Washington, D.C. As a boy, he had gone to summer camp with other red diaper babies at Camp Kinderland, in Upstate New York.

Ted had attended Stuyvesant High School, an elite public high school in Manhattan, where he had received high grades and had run cross-country. In high school he had kept up an interest in professional sports, college sports, the Civil Rights Movement, radical politics, folk music and dating. Because of his past attendance at high school red diaper baby social gatherings, Ted knew more women college students who attended schools other than Barnard than did the more typical Columbia student.

Ted was a good athlete, although he was too short to have a chance to make either the basketball or football team at Columbia. He didn’t have much of a jump shot, but he was good at driving towards the basket for a lay-up and he played basketball in an intense way.

Arriving at Columbia in Fall 1964, Ted immediately became involved in campus Civil Rights activity. He worked with a sweet, hard-working white Barnard student named Barbara as one of the campus Friends of SNCC coordinators, organizing fund-raising activities for SNCC at Columbia. Ted identified more with SNCC activists than with the activists of any other 60s political group.

Initially, Ted had planned to major in Mathematics at Columbia. But by his junior year, Ted had decided that sociology was a more relevant field for him. He was emotionally involved with a college student named Judith, who was attending a school outside of New York City.