Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 9: Confronting The Marines, 1967

Chapter 9: Confronting The Marines, 1967 (i)

The first few weeks of April 1967 flew by. And then Columbia SDS learned that the U.S. Marines were coming to recruit on Columbia’s campus. There was a meeting that lasted for two hours in Ferris Booth Hall’s Hewitt Lounge in which about twenty of us discussed how we would greet the Marine recruiters. As usual, there was division over whether to peacefully picket, hold an indoor demonstration, sit-in, ask embarrassing questions or physically throw the Marine recruiters out of the John Jay Hall dormitory lobby.

Harvey participated in this discussion and was the dominant ideological and strategic influence. The consensus was that, although the U.S. Marines did not have the moral and democratic right to recruit students from Columbia to participate in a Viet Nam War which denied the Vietnamese people their democratic right to national self-determination and freedom, and violated the Nuremberg Accords, most Columbia and Barnard students still didn’t understand this. The consensus was that, although most Columbia and Barnard students were against U.S. military intervention in Viet Nam, they still were not politically radical enough to support Columbia SDS denying the U.S. Marines their “free speech” and/or “their right to recruit” on Columbia’s campus. The consensus was that the left-liberal anti-war Columbia and Barnard students would still feel that Columbia SDS was anti-civil libertarian if we stopped the U.S. Marines from recruiting—even though the Undergraduate Dormitory Council had previously voted that student dorm space should not be used for military recruitment.

It was decided that every Columbia and Barnard leftist around would be telephoned and a sundial rally to protest U.S. Marine recruitment would be held. Columbia SDS would then march into the John Jay Hall lobby behind a huge picture of napalmed Vietnamese civilians, chant “Hell, No! We won’t go!” in front of the U.S. Marine recruitment table, ask the U.S. Marine recruiters about U.S. war crimes in a politically confrontational way and set up our own Columbia SDS draft resistance table to the side of the U.S. Marine recruiter table.

Unfortunately, our anti-Marine recruitment demonstration plan didn’t work out the way we had planned it. Or, perhaps I should say that fortunately the demonstration turned out differently than we expected. A brief anti-war rally was held at the sundial on Thursday, April 20, 1967, attended by about 300 anti-war students, who then marched to the John Jay Hall lobby to peacefully and non-violently confront the U.S. Marines, raise the issue of Columbia’s complicity with U.S. Marine war crimes in Viet Nam and build support for more draft resistance. I left early from my “American Foreign Policy” class in order to join the demo and I arrived as the 300 of us were marching into John Jay Hall lobby.

“Hell, No! We won’t go!”

“Hell, No! We won’t go!”

“Hell, No! We won’t go!”

This chant had first been yelled out by SNCC’s Stokely Carmichael, had been picked up by anti-war 60s youth and was now a quite popular chant.

Once inside the lobby, we suddenly faced not only the two Marine recruiters, but also twenty Columbia College white “jocks” from Columbia’s football team. They were under the direction of a Columbia Assistant Dean named DeKoff, who was also the coach of Columbia’s fencing team. Teddy shouted at the U.S. Marine recruiters: “Why are you napalming children in Viet Nam?”

One of the U.S. Marine recruiters smiled and gave an inadequate answer. Other Columbia SDS people then started to shout out some more questions, in-between more anti-war chanting. A few of the right-wing jocks surrounding the recruiters chanted back: “Pukes Must Go! Pukes Must Go!” in response to our “Marines Must Go!” chants, and then they started to individually shove and push the physically smaller Columbia SDS people and anti-war demonstrators. Then, as a group, the twenty right-wing jocks charged the anti-war demonstration, in order to violently push us, as a group, out of the lobby. Individual right-wing students then started to punch and beat the non-violent anti-war demonstrators, encouraged by the Columbia Assistant Dean who was present in the lobby.

Columbia SDS women started to scream, given the suddenness and brutality of the right-wing student attack on us. John’s glasses were knocked off when two husky right-wingers started to rough him up. Nancy stood in front of me screaming “Teddy! Teddy!” as the right-wingers went after him and one of them broke the nose of Teddy’s roommate. I was too far back in the crowd to try to calm the jocks down. I saw Harvey pushing back at some of them, just before Teddy and Ted urged SDS people to retreat from the lobby. Neither Teddy nor Ted allowed any neurotic macho tendencies to influence their leadership decisions. They always protected SDS people from injury when possible and they weren’t too macho to retreat when SDS people were not really prepared to fight.

As we retreated from John Jay Hall, I realized that there was no way U.S. right-wingers would allow the New Left to achieve its political goals through non-violent methods. Seeing how twenty right-wingers willing to use reactionary violence against 300 tactical pacifists, whose cause was righteous, could prevent us from exercising our free speech rights convinced me that white New Left pacifism, even if mass-based, could never accomplish radical political change in the U.S. Die-hard right-wingers would always be willing to beat on white radicals to stop radical political change. The dream of a pacifist white New Left mass of people non-violently changing power relations, dismantling the U.S. war machine and ending institutional racism and white corporate domination in alliance with the radical African-American masses was a great dream. But it now seemed unrealistic. White New Leftists, like the African-American Liberation Movement activists, were going to have to develop the capacity to defend the mass movement violently, in order to prevent right-wing whites who were opposed to creating a genuine radical democracy in the U.S. from beating us to the ground—no matter how many white people at Columbia, Barnard or anywhere else in the U.S. were intellectually convinced by us to support the New Left.

Columbia SDS people retreated to the sundial from John Jay Hall. The size of our anti-war demonstration had doubled. We had not wanted to fight with Columbia’s pro-war students. But the effect of their violence against us was to expand our numbers immediately and, almost immediately, politicize hundreds of other Columbia and Barnard students on campus who had, previously, never taken Columbia SDS seriously or even bothered to read our flyers.