Thursday, March 22, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 13: Christmas Vacation With Mark Rudd, 1967

Chapter 13: Christmas Vacation With Mark Rudd, 1967 (ii)

My next recollection is standing inside the hall of Mark’s apartment in the evening, at the very moment his woman friend Sue was coming out of the bathroom shower with only a towel around her body and a second towel around her hair.

“Hi,” Sue said with a smile, as she quickly walked matter-of-factly in front of me towards Mark’s bedroom.

“Hello,” I replied, with a smile in return.

Later in the evening, Mark formally introduced Sue to me, after she had put on her nightgown. She was a senior at Barnard, majoring in English, who had not been as interested in New Left politics as had Mark. Although she was a friend of Linda, unlike Linda, she did not attend Columbia SDS steering committee meetings or do much chapter organizational work. She had evidently been Mark’s friend for awhile, although I had not noticed her around campus before, because she rarely accompanied Mark to political meetings and never spoke at SDS general assembly meetings.

Sue was very sweet and easy to talk with, and I liked her from the start. If you gossiped with Sue about Columbia SDS people, she would often characterize people in humorous ways. But she seemed interested in Columbia SDS and New Left organizing only insofar as Mark was interested in radical politics. She seemed in love with Mark and to be mainly devoted to him. But her love for Mark wasn’t a clinging one and she didn’t sleep over at Mark’s apartment every night. It was always uncertain whether Sue would be at the apartment on any evening I dropped by to visit Mark.

Mark, Sue and I became close during December 1967, mainly because we gossiped about other people together, discussed radical organizing strategies and talked about literature and each other’s life in personal, not just political, ways.

Mark felt that Ted was too pedantic and that Peter Schneider and Al were too coldly intellectual to turn on many people to New Left politics at Columbia. Mark also felt Teddy was no good as Columbia SDS chairman and that Nancy was “too bourgeois.”

“I don’t like Nancy,” Mark said one night. “She’s not a friendly person.”

At the time, I thought that Nancy was a friendly person who just hadn’t been friendly to Mark. But Mark may have been reacting negatively to the fact that Nancy—although not a conscious radical feminist at this time—tended to be less submissive interpersonally in relationship to men than most other Barnard women.

Mark had an entertaining way of talking about his English literature courses. He related a story about Tristan and Isolde in a very tender way to me and Sue. Often in the evening, WNEW-FM rock music would be playing on his stereo radio in the background, as we talked. Sometimes we talked as Mark cooked for himself or scrambled an egg in his frying pan.

I can’t recall much of what our December 1967 small talk consisted of. But the general result was that Mark and I all of a sudden were friends, as well as political comrades. By the time Columbia classes broke up for the Christmas 1967 break, I felt personally closer to Mark than to either Teddy or Ted.

A few days before the Christmas vacation break, Mark and I conducted a small group meeting of some Columbia SDS people in the lounge of Ferris Booth Hall, in the early evening. Only a few other students showed up at the meeting. One of them was a petite Barnard freshman who wore a dress and earrings, used make-up and lipstick, had short hair and looked culturally straight. Her name was Josie Duke. She was related to the Duke family that had made its billions from monopolizing the tobacco industry and exploiting tobacco workers. But at this time I didn’t realize that Josie came from super-wealth.

Despite looking straight and bourgeois, however, Josie took a position in the political discussion on the issue of why Columbia SDS couldn’t recruit more people that was similar to the position that Mark and I had come to share: 1) Unless Columbia SDS activists felt their organizing was going to lead to some Spring 1968 confrontation and/or sit-in or strike, they would tend to retreat from day-to-day political activism; and 2) Unless there was some kind of Spring 1968 confrontation/sit-in/strike, the mass of Columbia and Barnard students would remain apathetic, unpoliticized and unradicalized.

At the end of the small meeting, Josie, Mark and I agreed that Mark and I should try to write some political position paper during Christmas vacation for the Columbia SDS steering committee which would argue that only if the chapter consciously began working in January 1968 for a Spring 1968 confrontation/sit-in/strike would the mass radicalization of students at Columbia and Barnard be a possibility. As we walked home, Mark and I felt more energized by Josie’s apparent agreement with our analysis as to why Columbia SDS continued to be stagnating under Ted, Teddy and Peter Schneider’s leadership. We agreed to return early from our parents’ homes during the Christmas break, in order to write a position paper which argued in support of working towards a Spring 1968 confrontation—analogous to the 1967 confrontation with the Marine recruiters—in order to both win the demand for an end to Columbia’s ties to the IDA and to radicalize large numbers of students.

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 13: Christmas Vacation With Mark Rudd, 1967

Chapter 13: Christmas Vacation With Mark Rudd, 1967 (i)

In late November, I was walking uptown on the east side of Broadway, near W.114th St., when I noticed an index card posted in the local barbershop window. The index card advertised a vacant furnished room, in an apartment on W. 110th St. Because I wished to move as close to Columbia’s campus as possible, I telephoned the advertiser and arranged to look at the vacant room.

The vacant room was located in a unit of a large elevator apartment building at 501 W. 110th St., on the corner of Amsterdam Ave. and W. 110th St. This was the same apartment building in which Mark lived.

The tenant who was seeking to rent the vacant room was a woman named Mrs. Rodriguez. Mrs. Rodriguez spoke English with a Spanish accent and seemed to be in her 40s. Her apartment was a well-furnished one. Within her apartment, she had had constructed a small, cell-like furnished room, no more than 15 feet by 6 feet in size. The room contained a small bed, a small drawer, a small desk, a small sink and a small toilet.

After speaking with me for a few minutes, Mrs. Rodriguez agreed to rent me the vacant room. I was not given any access to the apartment kitchen, but this did not bother me because I rarely cooked and I ate most of my meals on campus or in restaurants. I was given the right to use the shower in her large bathroom. I was not allowed to entertain any guests in either her apartment or in my tiny room. And I had no access to the apartment telephone and could receive no telephone calls.

In December, I moved in a few suitcases of clothes and books, plus my portable manual typewriter, to this tiny room on the 8th floor of 501 W. 110th St. I planned to just rent the room until I found myself a regular apartment of my own.

Living at the W. 94th St. apartment had further alienated me from Columbia’s institutional life. It had been much more fun turning on most nights with Dave to the beat of “With A Little Help From My Friends” and talking New Left politics with different Movement people than spending the evening doing assigned reading in one of Columbia’s dormitories.

Because Ted was now spending most of his leisure time with Trude and the Schneiders, I had started to see less of him outside of SDS political meetings. It now appeared that we would not get any closer on a personal level than we had become during the previous 14 months. I was also not getting that much closer to Nancy and Teddy than I had been during the previous 14 months; although I was still close enough to Nancy and Teddy to take a subway down to Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn early one morning and help hand out anti-war leaflets at the fort, when Teddy reported for his pre-induction draft physical, at the same time he was also applying for C.O. status.

As I spent my first night in my room at W. 110th St., I felt politically involved in a radical community in a vocationally meaningful way, but romantically unfulfilled on a personal level. There were still moments when feelings of emotional emptiness would paralyze me, in-between the rounds of Movement meetings and all the random reading and term paper research that I engaged in each week.

By early December, the Resist! Movement people around the United States were collectively frustrated enough to want to do more to resist the draft than just mail in their draft cards to their local draft boards. Hence, a “Stop The Draft Week” in New York City was planned for December 5, 1967, with the goal of using non-violent civil disobedience to shut down the induction center at Whitehall St., a few blocks south of Wall Street.

Like most other Columbia SDS steering committee people, I felt the idea of going down to the Whitehall Induction Center at 5 a.m. and sitting down in the street until the cops carried you away represented the politics of moral witness, and not the politics of New Left democratic radicalism. Our strategic alternative to “Stop The Draft Week” was for Resist! people and their followers to work to build SDS at Columbia, engage in the mass organizing on campus necessary to raise anti-imperialist consciousness and develop institutional resistance to the war machine’s manifestations at Columbia. It seemed obvious to us that there were not enough people willing to get arrested outside the Whitehall Street Induction Center to really shut it down. So it seemed more logical to continue to engage in mass consciousness-raising on campus rather than get SDS people tied-up downtown in court cases, for engaging in purely symbolic resistance. In retrospect, Columbia SDS probably underestimated the political and strategic value of protests like the civil disobedience outside the Whitehall Induction Center in encouraging the spread of anti-war sentiment.

As it turned out, the cops broke up the “Stop The Draft Week” demonstrations each day with an unnecessary amount of brutality, which was not reported by the Establishment’s mass media. Spectators and demonstrators who weren’t planning to get arrested were shoved around and pushed into side streets by cops, along with the anti-draft protesters who had been sitting down. One of the anti-draft demonstrators at the Whitehall Street Induction Center was the Columbia Daily Spectator’s soon-to-be-named editor-in-chief, Robert. A few days after the last early morning anti-draft protests, Ted said the following to me: “Robert’s evidently got radicalized by the police at Whitehall Street. Maybe Spectator’s coverage of SDS will get better.”

Some of the hard-core Resist! group people, although brutalized at Whitehall Street, still felt turned-off by Columbia SDS people. They felt we “were on a power-trip” and were not willing to really resist the war in a “morally pure” way or “put our bodies on the line” by going to jail for the cause of draft resistance.

Although I knew that I was now living one flight above Mark, I did not immediately ring his bell, once I had moved into the room at 501 W. 110th St. I had begun to like Mark more than during the previous spring, but I still didn’t feel close enough to him to be able to just drop by spontaneously at his apartment.

A few days after I moved into the apartment building, however, Mark bumped into me by the front door of the building. He was exiting from the building, as I was entering.

“Bob! What are you doing here?” Mark said in a surprised tone.

“I’m living in a furnished room here now, on the 8th floor.”

We then talked for a few minutes and Mark invited me to stop by his apartment either later that evening or later during the week. We both were wearing ski stocking caps and Mark seemed genuinely interested in having me stop by his apartment.