Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 12: Marge Piercy and the Anti-Rusk Demo, 1967

Chapter 12: Marge Piercy and the Anti-Rusk Demo, 1967 (ii)

On the Saturday before the anti-Rusk demo, Gottlieb, Sutheim and Marge came to the apartment with Dave, after having held an afternoon meeting and eaten dinner out together. They had been smoking a lot of grass and dancing to Rolling Stones’ music for awhile, when I went into the living room to join them in their little party. I smoked some grass myself and was content to sit on a couch and just listen to the music while Sutheim and Marge took turns dancing with Gottlieb and Dave—in-between continuing to talk SDS Regional Office shop.

Near the end of the party, Marge—who appeared to be in high spirits from the pot—insisted that I dance with her, in a friendly tone. We danced to a few long songs on the Rolling Stones album that contained the tune “Something Happened To Me Yesterday.”

It was during the two weeks before the anti-Rusk demo that Mark and I started to gossip with each other. In early November, Mark telephoned Dave at the apartment when Dave wasn’t home. Somehow Mark and I began to talk about Trude, Ted and Dave. Mark mentioned that he and Trude had once been close. We gossiped for awhile. And we each discovered that we could make each other laugh.

After gossiping about New Left politics and New Left people with him, I began to feel that Mark was getting more serious about being a New Left activist. When he said “Ciao” at the end of the phone conversation, I felt more warmth from him than I had previously felt. He seemed more fun to talk with now.

On the day of the anti-Rusk demo, about 100 hard-core Columbia SDS people met at the sundial in the late afternoon. Teddy gave a brief speech from the sundial in an easygoing tone and, halfheartedly, urged everybody to head downtown towards the Hilton Hotel. We all entered the 116th Street subway station through the kiosk and, when a Broadway downtown local arrived, we all got on the train simultaneously.

“Maybe we should take over the whole subway train like they used to do in France during the Algerian War,” Teddy joked, as the train moved towards 50th Street and Broadway. Most of the hard-core SDS radicals heading downtown weren’t too enthusiastic about spending the night in front of the Hilton, because our numbers from Columbia were sparse. And we didn’t expect many other people to be at the demonstration. But since the demo against Rusk had been planned, we all figured we might as well follow-through on it, the best way we could. I didn’t expect to get arrested outside the Hilton. I assumed that even if we were blocking traffic for awhile, we would be able to get back on the sidewalks if we saw any cops coming towards us.

Around the beginning of the midtown rush-hour, Columbia SDS people stepped out of the subway station at 50th Street and Broadway, feeling in more of a party-like than a warlike mood, as we noticed all the 9-to-5 people mechanically rushing home from the skyscrapers. The 9-to-5 people all seemed unaware that an anti-Rusk demo was about to take place.

The hundred of us, three-quarters of whom were Columbia men, walked towards the Hilton in a conspiratorial, smiling way. I noticed that the streets and sidewalks were crawling with NYC cops, and that police barricades were in front of the Hilton on 6th Ave. and W. 53rd St. When we got as close as we could to the Hilton, I noticed that Mark and Ted were each chanting through bullhorns and encouraging people to go “block the limousines” in the streets and “block the rush-hour” traffic. Some of us went into the street to confront the honking, disgruntled rush-hour drivers and any limousines we were able to pick out in traffic. Within a few minutes, however, police on horses and police on foot, with their clubs swinging, were rushing into our group of demonstrators. And within a few seconds, most of the Columbia SDS-led contingent of white demonstrators that escaped contact with the clubs—including me—was back on the sidewalk, trying to blend in with the now-curious rush-hour crowd of spectators. Prior to escaping to the sidewalk, I noticed that—about 25 yards away from me—Mark and his bullhorn were being grabbed by a group of burly cops. During the next hour or so, groups of demonstrators from both the Upper West Side and the Lower East Side periodically staged “guerrilla” traffic-blocking actions on the street. And, in an indiscriminate way, the cops “retaliated” with horse charges or foot charges on all the remaining demonstrators.

While this was going on, I was thinking that “boy, the cops really are brutal” and “boy, what a futile way to confront Rusk this proved to be.” I heard later that a few limousines did actually get blocked. But most ruling-class limousines were unaffected by the demo.

I bumped into Marge again, in the middle of a crowd of some anti-war demonstrators who were standing across the street from the Hilton Hotel, near the end of the demonstration. She still seemed friendly.

“What do you do when you’re not doing political work?” I asked her.

“I write poetry,” she answered.

“I used to write poetry. But now my poetry seems irrelevant compared to politics,” I replied.

“I have to write poetry in order to be able to be political,” Marge said. She then started to talk to somebody else.

During the demo, I had heard that Ted and his bullhorn were also seized by cops around the time Mark was grabbed. So after bumping into Marge and, subsequently, Teddy and Nancy and the Schneiders—and listening to a few boring speeches by the Fifth Avenue Peace Parade pacifists and moderates until Rusk finally left the Hilton—I headed downtown to 100 Centre Street. I wanted to find out what had happened to Ted and Mark. As I rode downtown on the subway, I thought to myself: “How sick America is. Now they’ve trapped Ted and Mark in their jail.”

When I arrived at 100 Centre Street for the first time, I took the elevator up to the floor where arrested people were being arraigned. I then went into the night arraignment courtroom. Except for the judge, some cops and court officers, and a few prosecuting or defense attorneys, it was nearly empty of people. But I then noticed Dave walking down the center aisle of the courtroom.

“Ted and Mark are being charged with `inciting to riot.’ But we should be able to get them released soon,” Dave said earnestly. He had spent the previous few hours calling Movement legal people from the courtroom building, and he seemed to have everything under control.

“Inciting to riot? Are they kidding?” I replied in a surprised tone.

Dave smiled. “The cops want to say that their police brutality was just a necessary response to an SDS-incited riot.”

“Is there anything that I can do?”

“Not really. The lawyers are pretty much taking care of everything now.”

Dave had to hang around the courthouse a while longer to make more phone calls and discuss details with lawyers. So I headed back uptown to the apartment, alone. When I got there, I turned on the radio and listened to some radio news descriptions of the events around the Hilton. As usual, I found the news reports bore little relationship to what had actually happened on the street during the demonstration.

Ted and Mark were released without much delay and were back around campus the following afternoon. Neither Ted nor Mark had been roughed up while in police custody. Everybody within Columbia SDS leadership circles treated the “incitement to riot” charges against Mark and Ted as some kind of Establishment and cop joke. The consensus around Columbia SDS was that the anti-Rusk demo had, indeed, been a fiasco. We explained its failure as being a result of the New York Regional SDS Office’s isolation from a grassroots campus base, which tended to lead its staff members to plan unrealistic, left-adventuristic actions.