Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 11: Ted Gold and Dave Gilbert: Roommates, 1967

Chapter 11: Ted Gold and Dave Gilbert: Roommates, 1967 (iii)

As September 1967 passed by, other Columbia and Barnard leftist students began returning to the Upper West Side from around the U.S. and from summers in Europe—just in time for Freshman Week at Columbia College. There was new school year excitement in the air. Everybody at Columbia and Barnard seemed to be against U.S. military intervention in Viet Nam. Everybody with whom you talked seemed to be either a hippie or some kind of political leftist, left-liberal or anarchist. There was a sense of campus leftist momentum as we planned for Freshman Week.

Walking down Broadway on a summer-like September afternoon, I saw a student wearing sunglasses and sandals, who looked vaguely familiar. It was Mark. He had just come back from Berkeley. Although we exchanged some friendly conversation briefly, and I was amused to bump into him again by accident, I still didn’t feel that personally close to him. He still seemed hard to get to know and too impatient to really listen to you, if you spoke too long to him. I respected Mark as an orator and still thought he was a pleasant, interesting and funny guy. But I felt closer politically and personally to Teddy, Ted and Dave, at this time.

The final planning meeting for Columbia SDS’s countercultural Freshman Week was held in Mark’s apartment. Mark’s living room was crowded with Barnard and Columbia student activists, sitting close together on chairs or sprawled out on the floor. For about three hours that evening, we discussed how we could best “turn on the incoming Columbia freshmen” to New Left radical politics and a New Left activist lifestyle. It was suggested that we set up tables outside official Freshman Week events, leaflet the dormitories and hold dorm lobby meetings. Mark suggested, facetiously, that “We should go up to freshmen and offer them joints.”

We eventually held a mass introductory meeting for freshmen in Earl Hall, which was attended by about 100 freshmen. At this meeting, National SDS Secretary Greg Calvert gave the principal speech. Calvert was dressed in proletarian jeans and a blue denim jacket, and had a mustache and medium-length hair.

“I’m not going to congratulate you for getting admitted into Columbia University. Because it’s just a question of luck that you had the right class background to get into the Ivy League,” Calvert said at the beginning of his speech, in a sarcastic tone, as he stood in front of the auditorium. “The difference between a liberal and a radical is that a liberal doesn’t feel himself personally oppressed. He just fights for the freedom of others. A radical does feel himself personally oppressed. He fights for his own freedom, as well as for the freedom of others. SDS people are white radicals, not white liberals.”

Calvert had been on an academic careerist grad student/teaching assistant track in the early 1960s, and had studied in Paris before becoming radicalized and shifting his orientation from academic study to radical activism. In 1967, he was around 30-years-old and, because of the 1960s New Left’s homophobic nature, he hid his gay sexual orientation. He had apparently had his first gay love affairs in Europe. In his public role as a New Left male leader, however, Calvert seemed no different from any comparable heterosexual male activist, and he adopted no stereotyped gay male mannerisms.

In the W. 94th St. apartment, I started to get closer to Dave. By early October 1967, Ted was pretty much spending most of his nights sleeping with Trude in her W. 108th St. apartment. So it was pretty much just Dave and I who lived in the 94th St. apartment.

I would spend most of the day and evening around Columbia’s campus, attending some classes, browsing in the library and bookstore, attending Columbia SDS meetings, doing SDS political work, hanging out in the Lion’s Den cafeteria of Ferris Booth Hall, constantly talking with other SDS people or bringing SDS politics to lectures and meetings that were being addressed by speakers from off-campus. I also started to work at a part-time job from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, at the Journal of Philosophy office, as a shipping clerk at minimum wage, to help pay my off-campus living expenses.

Dave would spend most of his days and evenings downtown attending grad school at the New School, building an SDS chapter there or attending meetings at the SDS Regional Office. He and other Regional SDS people were both working to build SDS and attempting to build an “adult,” non-student Movement for a Democratic Society [MDS] of ex-student radical professionals who had left the campus scene for meaningless off-campus 9-to-5 jobs. In addition, Dave spent his spare-time studying Marx’s Das Kapital book and writing more New Left theoretical papers on imperialism and U.S. domestic consumption, consumerism and “the new working-class.” In October 1967, Dave had begun to look somewhat like Marx, himself, and had grown a long black beard.

In the late evening, Dave and I would each finally return to the apartment. And most evenings—in-between answering the constantly ringing telephone—Dave and I would usually use his water pipe to constantly get smashed to the music of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club and Revolver albums, Rolling Stones albums and early Dylan albums. Most of Dave’s phone calls came from various Movement women with whom he worked at the SDS Regional Office.