Wednesday, February 21, 2007

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

Chapter 9: Confronting The Marines, 1967 (ii)

At the post-attack sundial rally, Columbia SDS leaders took turns, in an emotional way, analyzing what had just happened inside John Jay Hall and venting their rage at the Columbia Administration for its complicity with the U.S. military and its responsibility for encouraging the right-wing student attack. I stood with a picket sign in my hands behind the SDS sundial speakers for awhile. Peter Schneider spoke and gave the most emotional speech he was ever to make at Columbia.

Mark, who had a beard at this time, eagerly decided to take a turn speaking on the sundial. He spoke spontaneously for about eight minutes in an easygoing, humorous, theatrical, clear, emotionally open, non-rhetorical, non-academic, non-pedantic, charismatic way; and he used sexual imagery in a politically clever way. He had not been that impressive a speaker in my government class or especially articulate in personal conversation. But now he appeared to be a better orator than either Ted or Teddy when he spoke in front of a large leftist crowd, and let go emotionally. Mark, not Lew, appeared to be the Mario Savio figure we apparently needed to repeat the Berkeley Student Revolt within New York City; although Lew’s physical resemblance to Savio, initially, had caused me to think he was to be Columbia’s Savio.

The second rally started to break up and, for the rest of the afternoon, people on Columbia’s campus were talking about radical politics in small groups. After a few hours of discussing on the campus the day’s events, Columbia SDS steering committee people and Columbia Professor of Sociology Dibble, who was Columbia SDS’s strongest faculty supporter, retreated to the back of the West End Bar on Broadway and W. 114th St. to plan what to do next.

“You let them push you out of John Jay Hall today. You have to go back there again tomorrow to keep your credibility as a radical student group,” Professor Dibble insisted.

Harvey, Teddy, Ted, Peter Schneider, John, Josh and others all got into the debate. Everyone agreed we had to go back to confront the Marine recruiters the next day. The major point of debate was whether we would gain more politically and win more mass support by stopping campus Marine recruitment and possibly fighting it out with other students—the right-wing protectors of the U.S. Marines—or by having a more mass-based, non-violent anti-war demonstration directed at protesting the policies of our main enemy, the Columbia Administration.

“The Administration likes nothing better than to have students fighting other students. Then it can portray itself as `above politics’ and as `a neutral.’ We shouldn’t fall into the Administration’s trap and alienate all our new mass student support by leading students into a violent confrontation…Which is what the Administration now wants us to do,” Ted argued.

Ted’s views were pretty much supported by the rest of the Columbia SDS leadership. Our April 21, 1967 demonstration of the next day was going to be non-violent, disciplined, and focused more on protesting against the Columbia Administration’s policies than on the jocks. Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Council [SCLC] aide, James Bevel, would be invited to address the campus rally.

That evening, my dorm counselor Bill—a leader of the Student Afro-American Society—called me into his dorm room, closed the door and started to bawl me out.

“How could SDS let itself get pushed out of the John Jay lobby when you outnumbered them 300 to 30?” Bill asked sharply, with a tone of disdain in his voice.

“We weren’t ready. But we win politically by being seen as the victims of right-wing violence in the eyes of all the white liberal anti-war students,” I answered half-heartedly.

Bill thought for a second and then replied: “Well, maybe you can turn it to your advantage.” Then he smiled and added: “But if SDS actually wants to fight those jocks and needs some help, the Black student karate club might be willing to stand by your side.”

I smiled in return and said: “Thanks a lot.” Then, as Bill escorted me to his dorm room door, I added: “If they attack us again tomorrow, SDS may take you up on your offer.” For the first time, Bill appeared to be now taking Columbia SDS’s campus organizing efforts more seriously.