Tuesday, March 13, 2007

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

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

A National Council of SDS meeting was going to be held in Madison, Wisconsin during a weekend in October 1967. When Ted suggested that I ride out there with him and Brian, I agreed to attend. I had never been to any kind of National SDS meeting before and had never been to Madison, Wisconsin, so the prospect of attending the meeting appeared interesting. Ted borrowed his father’s car and on Friday afternoon we left the W. 94th St. apartment, picked up Brian at his apartment near the campus and then drove downtown to pick up two other people who needed a ride to Wisconsin.

One of the people we picked up downtown was a Japanese student in a white shirt and tie who appeared to be in his mid-twenties and who spoke little English. The other person we picked up was a short, thin man who had a heavy beard and black long hair, and who appeared to be in his late 20s or early 30s. In the car, he described himself as a revolutionary artist from the Lower East Side. His name was Ben. And he was one of the leaders of SDS’s “Up Against The Wall, Motherfuckers” chapter of hippie anarchists that Tom Neumann had also helped to build.

The trip began with Ted in the driver’s seat, Brian in the front passenger seat and the Japanese student, Ben and I in the back seat. After Ted had driven the car through the Lincoln Tunnel into New Jersey, we all started to talk politics with each other. Most of the talking was done by Ben and Ted. And Ted would often turn his head for a second to the back seat while driving, to reply to a point made by Ben, during the times Ted became passionately involved in the discussion.

After I asked Ben why his Japanese student friend had decided to attend the SDS National Council meeting, Ben replied:

“He’s an expert in teaching the street demonstration tactics of snake dancing that they use in Japan. He thinks SDS should organize students to snake dance at anti-war demonstrations in Washington. If SDS learns how to snake dance at anti-war demonstrations, there’s no way the cops will be able to control demonstrations in Washington. And we’ll really be able to start an anti-war riot and get more of a revolution going.”

Ted started to laugh and I asked Ben: “What do you mean by `snake dancing’?”

Ben smiled and started to talk on and on about the need of the anti-war movement and SDS to start preparing for urban guerrilla warfare in the United States. Ted, Brian and I all seemed to feel that Ben was well-intentioned, but somewhat crazy and fanatical. However, his verbal style of getting out his revolutionary anarchist, “crazy” politics was quite entertaining; and the good-natured debate between Ted and Ben, as we drove out to the Midwest, made time pass by rapidly, as afternoon turned into night.

In the backseat at one point, Ben showed me a copy of the underground magazine he put out, which was called Black Mask. The issue contained some great revolutionary poetry and great revolutionary visual artwork, as well as instructions on how to make Molotov cocktails. In Fall 1967, Ben and the other members of his “Up Against The Wall, Motherfuckers” group—which was usually called “The Motherfuckers” by everyone in the City—openly argued that the time was ripe for New York City white radicals to just drop out of schools or quit their white-collar jobs and start heaving Molotov cocktails at cops, U.S. corporate offices, university buildings and U.S. military targets, whenever possible. Ben and the other Motherfuckers considered most student leftists as nothing more than bourgeois “white collar radicals,” and felt, like JJ, that 95 percent of all SDS national meeting debate was irrelevant, verbal bull-shit.

Although Ben struck me as both loveless and somewhat flipped-out politically (after I had heard him talk in the car for a few hours), I did share his contempt for what he called “bourgeois white honky culture.” But I also thought to myself that “if Ben were the revolution in the U.S., the revolution won’t be too humanistic or liberating;” because Ben seemed too macho, too hard, too authoritarian, too intolerant and too domineering in his personality structure. He didn’t seem to give off enough gentle vibes.