Sunday, February 11, 2007

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

Chapter 7: Into Columbia SDS, 1966 (xiii)

I wrote a song titled “The SDS Kids” around this time, which reflected my feeling that, prior to meeting “The SDS Kids,” all the men around me seemed cold emotionally and morally dead. As we built for a possible strike against class-ranking for the draft, life for me became one meeting after another, leafleting, bumping into other SDS people and chatting, and becoming part of a high-energy whirlwind. I had entered a world in which many people were activist and similar in value-structure to me. I wasn’t involved romantically with anyone. But I had started to forget about my love for Beth because she didn’t involve herself with Columbia SDS as an activist and didn’t even attend SDS rallies. All of a sudden I was meeting all these leftist people at once and was so busy that I almost didn’t feel lonely anymore.

One thing I liked about Columbia SDS people is that they evaluated students primarily on the basis of their politics and their level of political commitment. Columbia SDS men who were romantically involved with Barnard “chicks,” though, did have more status than unattached New Left men. Barnard leftist women who were sexually open or considered physically attractive also had higher status within Columbia SDS circles than leftist women who were unattached or not considered physically attractive. But Barnard leftist women who were politically active and energetic were still highly regarded, even if they lacked a boyfriend or were regarded as physically unattractive.

Barnard leftist women were expected to accept politically subordinate leadership roles within SDS. But neither male nor female New Leftists questioned the male supremacist pattern of political organization within Columbia SDS until 1969.

I continued to find myself being drawn towards Teddy in a brotherly, comradely sort of way. He seemed to have sorted out the important things in life from the clutter and always had time to talk with you about anything. I also was really growing fond of Nancy, who now lived with him in the W. 115th St. apartment.

A united front was formed with other campus organizations to end class-ranking for the Selective Service System by Columbia. As a result of this united front of students, Frank—the 1967 head of Citizenship Council—drew closer to Columbia SDS circles and became more radicalized.

I had first met Frank on Election Day in NYC in 1965. In exchange for us recording voting results at a particular city polling place for NBC News’ computers, to enable NBC to project an election winner faster than CBS or ABC, Citizenship Council received some donation from NBC for Citizenship Council’s community service programs. As we returned from the polling place where we had gathered figures for NBC’s computer, Frank said: “It’s a dirty war. A totally dirty war. We never had any business going into Viet Nam after the French left. And there’s no way I’m going to serve in the military as long as we’re still in Viet Nam.”

Frank was a beardless, thin guy of about 6 feet, who usually wore glasses. He had grown up in Douglaston Manor, on the other side of the tracks from the Beech Hills development where I had lived as a child. The son of an upper-middle-class white Catholic medical doctor, Frank was a good-natured, easygoing, non-materialistic, socially concerned, anti-racist liberal when I first met him.

Frank didn’t dress bohemian in February 1967, had short hair and did not consider himself a freak at that time. But he kept himself awake in his Furnald Hall single dorm room during his 1966-67 senior year at Columbia by taking Dexedrine. Frank used to get his Dexedrine from his father’s supply in Douglaston Manor. He shared some of the Dexedrine with me that spring one night, when I had to stay up all night to study for a final.

Because Frank more accurately reflected the pre-radicalized mass political mood at Columbia, he—not anyone from Columbia SDS—was the chief spokesperson at the mass united front vigil we held outside Low Library, prior to a trustees meeting which was to decide whether to continue sending class-ranking information to the U.S. draft boards. The Columbia Administration, on this occasion, conceded to our demand and class-rankings were no longer sent by Columbia to the draft boards.