Saturday, March 17, 2007

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

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

Sunday afternoon was spent at a brief National SDS Council closing session and, since Ted wanted to stay an extra day in Madison while I had to get back to class and my Journal of Philosophy job the following day, I decided to take a spot in a car going east that was leaving late Sunday afternoon, which was being driven by John. Also in the car were JJ, Ben, Ben’s woman friend—who had been driven to Madison in a different car than Ben a few days before—and the Japanese student who had come to demonstrate the snake dancing techniques to SDS people. Ben’s woman friend was in her mid-to-late 20s, was dressed in blue jeans, had long brown hair, and didn’t seem as intellectual as most of the other SDS women who had attended the National Council meeting.

John was a good driver, but less cautious than either Ted or Brian had been while driving on the turnpike. He tended to overtake and pass more cars while driving on the highway, in a much more impatient way than Ted or Brian had.

John spent much of the time talking radical politics with JJ and me and recounting earlier Movement history and early 1960s Movement gossip. John, like Harvey and Josh, had found graduate school study at the University of Wisconsin to be worthless and less relevant than his work on organizing a Madison Draft Resistance Union. Unlike JJ, John felt SDS was making real progress organizing students around draft resistance in accordance with New Working-Class ideology, in opposition to the use of student deferments as an Establishment instrument of “channeling” and around the slogan “not with my life, you don’t,” which spoke to students’ sense of powerlessness. Around this time, John was considering giving up his 2-S deferment because he felt it undercut attempts to organize non-students in campus-based draft resistance organizations. John also was beginning to question whether SDS chapters should continue to try to prevent on-campus recruitment by the U.S. military or Dow Chemical—from a left position.

“You know, Dow Chemical actually does belong on the corporate university’s campus. The corporate university trains manpower for the corporations, and Dow Chemical being on the campus to recruit emphasizes the real nature and the real function of the corporate university. Why should we try to purify the corporate university, by acting as if recruitment by Dow Chemical on campus is some kind of an aberration and something extraordinarily different than what `business is usual’ at the corporate university is all about?” said John.

JJ pointed out the political limitations of this position: i.e., even though Dow Chemical or the military on campus represented the logical extension of the corporate university’s politics, students still should stop such recruitment, in order to resist the war on any terrain where students could materially hurt the U.S. military or U.S. war machine, concretely.

As John drove past the oil refineries around Cleveland’s outskirts, Ben, the Japanese student and Ben’s woman friend were fast asleep. John, JJ and I were still awake and discussing what North American society would look like after it radically changed. We all assumed this change would happen by the end of the 1970s.

“I think those oil refineries represent ugliness,” I commented.

“They’re only ugly because the workers don’t control them, Bob,” John replied. “We shouldn’t be like the Luddites, even though we want to de-emphasize mindless industrial production and reduce the time people have to spend at factory work.”

“To me, those refineries symbolize exploitation and immoral materialism,” I said.

“There’s another side. They also symbolize what workers have been able to build. To me, those refineries have a certain beauty,” John said.

Then we got into a discussion about what place technology should play in the ideal society and to what degree technology had led to the anti-humanistic monstrosity that U.S. society in the 1960s had become. JJ joined the discussion, but nothing was resolved before we began to talk about another topic.

In Western Pennsylvania, in the early morning hours, John became sleepy and JJ took over the wheel. John took my seat in the backseat in order to try to get more sleeping room for his legs. I sat in the front seat next to JJ and had to fight against falling asleep myself, while JJ drove next to me.

JJ was a good driver. He did not drive as fast or as impatiently as John. But in the hours before dawn JJ started to get sleepier, as he drove through central Pennsylvania. I recall having to shove the steering wheel back to the left once, after JJ started to fall asleep at the wheel, and the car started to swerve to the right and onto the shoulder of the Turnpike. JJ opened his eyes again and decided that we should pull over, wake up John, and let John take over the driving again.

We shifted people in the car again and, somehow, John ended up at the wheel, JJ ended up sprawled in the back seat asleep, next to the sleeping Japanese student and Ben; and Ben’s awakened woman friend ended up in the middle of the front seat leaning against me, as she tried to fall asleep again. By this time, even those of us who were awake were too tired to talk anymore. So John just turned on the car radio, and he started to drive as quickly as he could towards New York City.

By the time we reached the outskirts of Harrisburg, the sun was up. We drove off the Turnpike and stopped at a gas station, where John purchased a pack of cigarettes and some coffee from a local highway restaurant. Then he headed toward Route 22, which was a toll-free alternative route to New York City. About ten minutes later, as John drove at 80 mph, we heard a siren behind us.

“Shit!” John said as he looked in his rearview mirror and started to slow down.

A Pennsylvania state trooper then pulled up in his car, alongside John’s car, and told him to pull over to the side of the highway.

“Let me see your license and registration,” the trooper said, as he stood next to the car.

John fumbled around his wallet—and in the glove compartment for awhile—and then handed over his license and registration form to the state trooper. The state trooper looked over the documents and then wrote out a speeding ticket for John.

“Don’t let me find you speeding again like that further down the road. Our radar picked you up at 78 miles per hour,” the state trooper warned John, as he handed him the ticket.

“I’m sorry, sir,” John replied in a quiet, respectful, earnest tone of voice. Then the state trooper got back in his car and drove in front of us--at 80 mph for a few miles—before turning around to the other side of the highway.

As he continued driving, John laughed and said: “Shit. I was afraid the cop was going to look for dope in the trunk and notice all my bundles of SDS literature and draft resistance pamphlets. We were lucky.”

JJ had awakened during the stop and he and John joked about what might have happened if John’s SDS literature had been discovered. Then JJ went back to sleep again, as John continued to drive at a slower speed to New York City.

We finally arrived in midtown Manhattan in the late morning. Ben, Ben’s woman friend, the Japanese student, JJ and I all went our separate ways home on the subway, while John drove to the SDS Regional Office to drop off some of his SDS literature there.