Saturday, March 24, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 14: Back In Furnald Hall, 1968

Chapter 14: Back In Furnald Hall, 1968 (ii)

The New York SDS Regional Office was organizing a trip to Havana, Cuba at this time. Mark decided that he wished to visit Cuba on this trip. To raise money for the trip, Mark began to deal grass to Columbia students. We ate together one night at Duke’s all-night diner on Broadway and W. 112th St. a week or two before he was to leave. He told me that his dealing had been successful in raising money for his travel expenses. At this time, he still had a beard and long-hair.

Another SDS person who was going on the Cuban trip was Karen. Karen had dropped out of Antioch College and was crashing in Mark’s apartment for a few days before she, Mark and others were to leave for Cuba. I first met Karen when she was crashing in Mark’s apartment. She was from white suburban Roslyn, New York—in Nassau County—and she was short, had dark hair and was wearing a skirt and blouse when I first met her. She seemed earnest and pleasant, and she was excited about the Cuban tour that she was coordinating. But aside from some vague discussion about the logistics of how people were to fly to Havana by way of Canada, I can’t recall talking with her in any significant way at this time. Like most full-time Movement women, she seemed very committed and very intelligent. But Mark later mentioned that an article on SDS and New Left women in the liberal New York Times Magazine had, in a male chauvinist way, recently portrayed her and other SDS women activists as “just Movement cunts.”

In late February, Mark left for Cuba and vanished from the Columbia scene for about three weeks. Right before he left, rank-and-file Columbia SDS people were becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the non-confrontational, over-academic, frivolous, praxis-axis approach of the Ted-Teddy-Peter Schneider-Al chapter leadership. The majority of students at Columbia College who had voted in a non-binding referendum were opposed to Columbia’s ties to IDA and the War—but still felt that freedom of speech included the right of organizations like the CIA and Dow Chemical to recruit on campus. So Ted and Teddy were unwilling to prevent Dow Chemical recruitment on campus on February 23, 1968, to avoid “alienating” the majority of liberal students on campus that SDS was still trying to “organize” and “radicalize.”

On other campuses around the U.S., however, anti-war students had sat-in to stop Dow Chemical recruiting, regardless of what the majority opinion of students on their campus was, on the grounds that it was morally wrong to permit Dow Chemical to recruit on campus. Thus, when Ted and Teddy tried to persuade Columbia SDS’s rank-and-file to—“on tactical grounds”—limit the anti-Dow protest to just picketing Low Library, everybody ignored them and marched up to Dodge Hall to sit-in and stop the campus recruitment process of Dow Chemical. Most Columbia and Barnard New Leftists now felt it made no moral and political sense to passively let Dow Chemical recruit at “radical” Columbia University, when it was being stopped at every other less radical university in the U.S.A.

After seeing their leadership being ignored, Ted and Teddy followed the rest of the chapter up to Dodge Hall to join in the sit-in in a half-hearted way. Dow Chemical recruitment was cancelled, the Columbia Administration took no disciplinary action against SDS people and there wasn’t much of a liberal student campus backlash in response to our “violating” Dow Chemical’s “free speech rights” in order to stop them from recruiting people to help produce napalm to drop on Vietnamese civilians. An undercover “Red Squad” detective, however, also attended the demonstration and filed a report on the demonstration which listed some of the people “observed by the assigned taking part in the rally, picketing and sit-in that SDS sponsored that day.”

Mass student interest in Columbia SDS around this time was further stimulated by the U.S. government’s decision to eliminate the student deferment of graduate students in the U.S. Those Columbia students whose personal strategy for avoiding the Viet Nam War draft was to enroll in graduate school were now personally threatened by the War and more likely to feel a self-interest in mobilizing behind the leadership of an anti-draft organization like Columbia SDS. Columbia SDS had both a draft counseling committee and an off-campus anti-draft organizing project, coordinated by Will, who was a student in Columbia’s School of General Studies. Very few Columbia School of General Studies students became involved in Columbia SDS but, single-handedly, Will’s organizing project did manage to spread some anti-draft consciousness off-campus to some African-American high school students.

Yet despite these developments, it still appeared in early March 1968 that people around Columbia were more interested in its basketball team than in its SDS chapter. Even I attended a few basketball games at Columbia’s old gymnasium around this time and cheered for Columbia’s team, as it reached the top 16 in the NCAA’s basketball championship finals.

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 14: Back In Furnald Hall, 1968

Chapter 14: Back In Furnald Hall, 1968 (i)

A few weeks into February 1968, I was assigned a share of a dorm room on an upper floor of Furnald Hall. Coincidentally, my roommate turned out to be another Columbia SDS hard-core activist who was from my childhood neighborhood in Queens. His name was Stu.

Stu had grown up in an affluent working-class garden apartment development in Glen Oaks—just a few miles from the Beech Hills development where I had lived. Like Robby, Stu had entered Columbia a year after me. His father was neither rich nor a professional, but Stu had been a socially-concerned student leader at Bayside High School, with a strong interest in civil rights and war and peace issues. During his 1965-66 senior year at Bayside, Stu had been mobbed by hostile right-wing students, after he organized the screening of an anti-war film at the high school. During his high school years, Stu had been somewhat active in the United Synagogue Youth movement. But by the time I first noticed him during my sophomore year, when Stu was a freshman, he seemed to be pretty much of an atheist or an agnostic, despite still identifying himself as ethnically Jewish.

During his freshman year at Columbia, Stu—like Robby—appeared to devote more time to his academic work than to political anti-war activism. In Spring 1967, however, when we both lived in Furnald Hall in different rooms, I recall noticing him in the dorm lobby more frequently, arguing with students about the morality of the U.S. war effort in Viet Nam and lecturing them in a stern way if they opposed his anti-war views. Stu seemed more easy-going when not talking about politics and more concerned about his academic career than in getting involved in day-to-day Columbia SDS chapter politics overall though, at this time. At best, he could be counted on to circulate a petition on his dormitory floor and do some dormitory floor canvassing from time to time.

In Summer 1967, however, Stu worked in Columbia’s “Double Discovery” program as a counselor and became more radicalized. By Fall 1967, Stu had become much more active in Columbia SDS organizing and was taking the initiative in setting up floor meetings and lobby meetings in Furnald Hall, under Columbia SDS auspices. By early 1968, he seemed to have lost much of his interest in Columbia’s institutional academic life and was spending most of his time either reading leftist and old CP-published books on his own, setting up floor meetings, dorm lobby meetings or teach-ins, arguing with Columbia students who weren’t yet leftist about racism and the war, or attending Columbia SDS strategy meetings.

What struck me most about Stu before I moved into Furnald Hall to share a dorm room with him was his restless energy and the degree to which, like me and the other hard-core Columbia SDS people, he had become obsessed with the need to resist the immorality of U.S. intervention in Viet Nam and Columbia’s ties to the U.S. war machine. Although we shared radical political beliefs, Stu and I didn’t become that personally close as a result of sharing a dorm room. We both generally spent most of the time out of the dorm room and used it only as a place to sleep.

Stu didn’t respect Teddy politically and he didn’t like Ted too much. He did, however, feel that Nancy was quite beautiful and he seemed to respect Teddy for being able to sustain a love relationship with a beauty such as Nancy. In addition to regarding Nancy as beautiful, though, Stu also regarded her, in this pre-feminist era, as too domineering a woman.

Around this time, Mark split up with Sue. He appeared to spend a few weeks wandering around campus to search for other possible female companions. I recall seeing him walking around with his English-accented old friend, with whom I had seen him occasionally during the previous year. When I visited him in his apartment one night, Mark said to me after I entered the apartment: “I have a new girlfriend.”

“That’s good,” I replied.

Then Mark went into the kitchen and, as he affectionately escorted Sue into the apartment hallway, he smiled and said: “Here she is.”

I started to laugh and Sue and Mark started to laugh with me.

Around this time, Sue seemed to wish to match me up with one of her unattached friends. She invited me to her own apartment for dinner with Mark’s unattached roommate, Neumann, and two of her unattached women friends. But since I was the only one who was heavily into Columbia SDS activism, and the other people had different interests from each other, the dinner conversation soon became boring. So we all left early from Sue’s dinner party.