Sunday, February 25, 2007

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

Chapter 9: Confronting The Marines, 1967 (vi)

May 1967 was a slow month politically, except for Columbia SDS people attending an Earl Hall forum in which a Columbia Administration official, Herbert Deane, who had been a Columbia Professor of Government, spoke to a small group of students. He repeated the Administration’s contention that “Columbia University must stay politically neutral and not make value-judgments.”

I then asked Deane the following question at the forum: “If Columbia University is `neutral,’ why is it an institutional member of the Institute for Defense Analyses, which performs weapons research for the war in Viet Nam?”

Other Columbia SDS people at the forum applauded and giggled, before Deane gave an evasive answer. A few days later, Deane was interviewed by a Spectator reporter and, when asked again about IDA, replied that Columbia University “wasn’t a democracy,” and that student opinion mattered as little as “strawberries” in determining Columbia University institutional policy.

Near the end of the school term in May, I can recall studying with Harvey, Mark and Teddy, at Teddy’s apartment, for Professor Kesselman’s final exam. We ended up getting bogged down in a discussion of Harvey’s latest theory about the rise of fascism and gossiping about Kesselman and summarizing why Professor Kesselman’s political ideology was actually “counter-revolutionary.” Harvey used to read every issue of Monthly Review at this time and much of his intellectual thought was heavily influenced by his Monthly Review reading.

During this collective studying session for Kesselman’s final exam, Teddy showed us one of the term papers he was going to hand in for one of his classes that he had “borrowed” from one of the other intellectuals in Columbia SDS. Within Columbia SDS, like within Columbia’s male fraternities, if you had “writer’s block” and/or didn’t feel like having to spend any time preparing another meaningless term paper, you could sometimes secure an old term paper from one of your comrades, which could then be given to your Columbia professor.

In the middle of May 1967, I recall hanging out with Mark around campus on the night before the military’s “Armed Forces Day” parade was to be held in Manhattan. Mark suggested that a small group of us run over to the Law School Library bridge which spans Amsterdam Avenue, between W. 116th St. and W. 117th St., and wave red flags and shout anti-war slogans as the caravan of military trucks passed. The idea didn’t appeal to me at that time, but Mark and another guy ran over to the Law School bridge and did chant at some of the military trucks.

Mark was beginning to seem more spirited, “crazy” and wild-eyed than most other Columbia SDS people. And his growing enthusiasm, even without a crowd around him, for New Left politics now started to personally appeal to me. After Mark’s two-person nighttime demonstration against the U.S. military caravan, I didn’t see him again until September 1967. Aside from the charisma and oratorical skill he had shown on April 20, 1967, there still hadn’t been much indication to most people around campus that he was to be Columbia SDS’s Savio figure.