Sunday, February 4, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 7: Into Columbia SDS, 1966

Chapter 7: Into Columbia SDS, 1966 (vi)

In January 1967, Columbia SDS people learned that the CIA was returning to Columbia’s campus to once again recruit students during the first week of the Spring 1967 term. A meeting was held in Professor of History Kaplow’s high-rise apartment which his wife, Susan Kaplow (who was in both PL and SDS), John, Lew, Ted, Teddy, Harvey, Josh, myself, Tony of PL and a few others attended. In Professor Kaplow’s apartment, we discussed whether or not Columbia SDS should stop CIA recruitment. We also discussed possible tactics we could use to mobilize students to attend the anti-CIA protest demonstration.

Led by Tony, the PL faction at the meeting pushed for the political position that “The CIA should be kicked off the campus by students” and not just peacefully picketed by Columbia SDS. The non-PL New Leftists, however, collectively felt that our politically liberal mass base at Columbia and Barnard was still not radicalized enough to understand why the CIA should be driven off campus. Consequently, we decided to just call for a peaceful picket of CIA recruitment, in order not to turn-off the mass of potentially radical left-liberal students whom we wished to eventually recruit.

At the meeting we discussed possible ways of radicalizing more students at Columbia and Barnard.

“If we show students the gap between social potentiality and social actuality, they’ll get involved in Columbia SDS,” John asserted.

“I think the key thing to do to radicalize Columbia students is to show them that their liberal goals actually can be achieved only through political radicalism. And not through liberal politics,” I stated.

When we discussed possible ways to mobilize students to confront the CIA recruiter, I suggested we hold SDS dorm lobby meetings at which individual Columbia professors would be featured as guest speakers.

“Many more students might come to an SDS dorm lobby meeting if we have a Columbia professor there as a drawing card, than if it’s just SDS people speaking,” I said with a twinkle in my eye.

Lew immediately saw the virtue of this idea. It was agreed that I would spend part of January telephoning professors and setting up these SDS dormitory lobby meetings.

The first time I noticed Lew, when I was a freshman, he reminded me of Mario Savio in his physical appearance. Lew was probably the tallest white leftist intellectual around the Columbia campus in the 1960s. His 6’3”-plus height always made him quite noticeable at campus demonstrations. His hair was generally more longish than short. He was always clean-shaven, even when most other Columbia SDS men were growing mustaches and beards.

Lew’s mother was apparently an Old Leftist of some sort who became a literary editor of The Nation magazine and who lived in an Upper West Side apartment. She had remarried a published leftist novelist and then apparently given birth to Lew’s younger half-brother, who was to become a published novelist at a very young age.

After attending college for a time in Canada, Lew had moved back to the Upper West Side and enrolled at Columbia. He was a junior at Columbia College during the 1966-67 academic year. He was open about wanting to be a writer and he seemed to know more than anybody else, except Harvey, about the literary left and small intellectual magazine publishing scene. But he didn’t reveal to most other leftist students at Columbia either his mother’s Nation magazine connection or his stepfather’s prominence in U.S. left literary circles. In the academic year before Columbia SDS was re-organized as a mass-based group, Lew had coordinated a faculty read-in against the war in Viet Nam.

I reserved Furnald Hall dorm lobby space for the first meeting and “booked” a Columbia professor for this meeting and other professors for meetings in other dormitory lobbies. Most of the professors I telephoned were paranoid about SDS, but were flattered to hear that I felt dormitory residents would be interested in hearing them speak about U.S. foreign policy. Among the professors who were unwilling to speak against the war in the dormitory lobbies was Columbia Professor of Sociology Silver.

Professor Melman had an answering machine, which few other people possessed in the 1960s. He soon called me back and enthusiastically agreed to speak at an SDS dorm lobby meeting. Professor of Sociology Dibble also quickly agreed to speak out. Professor of Sociology Martin, who was a dogmatic social democrat, only reluctantly agreed to speak out against the war. Another social democrat, Professor Kesselman, was unwilling to speak out against the war in an SDS dorm lobby meeting, even though I was enrolled in one of his classes.

I also attempted to book an English professor named Hovde. Hovde initially refused to appear because “Lewis told me he was a communist” and “Lewis is a Columbia SDS leader.” But after I managed to reassure Hovde that speaking to Columbia students about the war in their dormitory didn’t mean he was supporting communism, he, too, agreed to be featured in a Columbia SDS dormitory lobby meeting.

In figuring out which professors to call and figuring out how to respond to professor questions about SDS’s goals, I consulted Harvey by phone a number of times. On the telephone, Harvey’s voice always sounded very earnest, intellectually confident, strong and seductive. With an affectionate giggle after he hung his dorm room phone up, following a conversation with Harvey, Ted once said the following to me: “He always sounds like he’s trying to seduce me.” The attraction of Harvey’s voice to me was based on the emotionally intense way he spoke about his politics. His personality had no effeminate qualities. The emotional intensity of Harvey’s voice was the quality that probably caused Ted to feel it was seductive.

A second meeting was held in the W. 115th St. office of the Columbia University Student Council [CUSC], a week before the CIA recruiter was to return to the campus. The head of the CUSC was some kind of a leftist, so John always had the key to the CUSC office. John was always able to use the student government’s stencils, reams of paper, phones and mimeograph machine for Columbia SDS purposes and as a meeting place whenever required.