Thursday, March 1, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 10: The Viet Nam Summer of Love, 1967

Chapter 10: The Viet Nam Summer of Love, 1967 (iii)

I tried to link up with anti-war people in Queens on the weekends. But in July and August 1967 there still wasn’t that much of a peace movement out there. PL people in Queens were collecting signatures on Roosevelt Ave. in Flushing for a petition which called for an anti-war referendum to be placed on the New York City election ballot in November. After I signed their anti-war petition, they invited me to a meeting at their anti-war committee’s office in Jamaica, near Sutphin Blvd. and Hillside Ave. Because I still felt a moral and political responsibility, and a personal urgency, to continue doing New Left political work during the “summer of love” in 1967, I showed up at their meeting in the evening.

The meeting was chaired by an intellectual woman who seemed to be in her early 30s and who wore a dress and used lipstick. Her last name was Silberman. She had run unsuccessfully as an independent anti-war Congressional candidate in Queens. Her husband was a radical professor at Queensborough Community College.

Three younger PL men activists and one younger woman activist, who also seemed to be college students, attended the meeting in Jamaica with me. All of us were white. For about 1 ½ hours we discussed possible strategies for increasing anti-war feeling in Queens that summer and raising consciousness about the Viet Nam War. But whenever I suggested doing anything other than working on the PL-conceived anti-war referendum petition campaign—like demonstrating in a creative way outside a draft board or trying to hold a big anti-war rally—all the others at the meeting would take turns speaking for 5 minutes and repeating almost identical arguments as to why a Summer 1967 petition campaign was the best way to reach the working-class in Queens with anti-war ideas. I decided not to attend the meeting the following week.

I also spent an evening during the summer attending a meeting in Queens which was addressed by two National Guardian editors, including Jane McManus, at some peace group meeting place near Jamaica. About fifteen other National Guardian readers attended the meeting. Most of them were Old Left, CP drop-outs in their late 40s, 50s or 60s. I can’t recall much about what was said at the meeting, except that it stressed how criminal was the U.S. involvement in Viet Nam, that the problem of U.S. imperialism was deeper than the war and could only be eliminated by establishing socialism, and that there was a continued need for an independent radical newsweekly like the National Guardian [which later changed its name to the Guardian]. I received a lift to my parents’ apartment from a man and woman couple in their late 40s or early 50s, who both talked politics with me in the car. They both seemed to feel quite politically isolated in Queens, despite their National Guardian subscription, and they both seemed much less optimistic about the prospects for a New Left-led revolution than I was.

On an emotional level, I started to feel overwhelmed, myself, by feelings of alienation, misery and loneliness by July 1967. On most summer evenings and on weekends, I began to feel completely loveless and emotionally hung-up.

Out in Queens, I had lost contact with everyone I had grown up with or had known at Flushing High School. Aside from Llewellyn, no one interested me enough at the clinic for me to consider going out with socially. Meeting people on the street in a spontaneous way seemed impossible and none of the bars around Queens seemed to attract my type of people. I felt completely isolated.

My parents both felt I was too deeply into New Left politics. My mother thought that SDS activism was nothing more than a poor substitute for not finding myself a steady Barnard woman friend, preferably of Jewish background. I ate with my parents after work, but either went outside after dinner or kept to myself in my room, while they watched TV in the living room.

I felt desperate for love and for companionship and for community. I felt personally fucked-up because I couldn’t seem to develop a sustained love relationship with any woman. I missed talking with and seeing Teddy and Nancy every few days. I missed the upper-middle-class intellectual leftist youth/student community scene on the Upper West Side, which seemed more emotionally, morally and politically alive than the dead suburban-type affluent working-class neighborhood in which my parents lived. I had risen out of my class somewhat and become part of an upper-middle-class left community. Now I found it impossible to fit back emotionally into the affluent working-class family scene I was now compelled by economic circumstances to drop back down into.

I nearly fell apart emotionally. I was almost paralyzed by loneliness and emotional depression. I now found my songwriting and writing to be as emotionally empty and meaningless as my academic work had been. I the absence of a sustained love relationship with a woman, life on earth seemed totally meaningless when I was unable to engage in daily radical political activism. I felt I needed somebody to talk to about my emotional turmoil.

I also found it difficult adjusting to life in Queens that summer because I suddenly didn’t have ready access to pot when living in my parents’ apartment.