Monday, April 16, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 16: We Shut Down Columbia University, 1968

Chapter 16: We Shut Down Columbia University, 1968 (xii)

After the first bust, I had no desire to ever become a Columbia student again. Like many other Columbia SDS people, I felt now that being a full-time New Left activist was the most meaningful and politically productive direction to move work-wise. At the same time, though, I still felt personally lonely on a romantic level.

A political vacuum existed at Columbia after the bust. We now had the numbers to shut down Columbia until the end of May and prevent classes from starting up again. But they had the clubs and guns to keep us from re-occupying the campus.

There was a rally on Amsterdam Ave. on the afternoon following the early morning bust, when the hundreds of people who had been driven away in police vans to 100 Centre St. had filtered back to the Upper West Side, after being arraigned for “criminal trespassing.” In an angry mood, over a thousand people—including many anti-war people from around the City who had not previously been active on Columbia’s campus—came to demonstrate their support of us.

On the Law School Library bridge over Amsterdam Ave., from where the speakers were addressing the crowd, somebody, without warning, suddenly asked me to speak to the crowd. Not used to speaking before such a large group, all I could quickly think of saying was “They came at us like wild animals inside the buildings. But we will continue to fight for the six demands.” Then I quickly passed the bullhorn to somebody else.

I was still uneasy about speaking spontaneously before such a large crowd and still uncertain of what the next appropriate political move in this totally new post-bust campus situation should be. In this new situation, new leaders seemed to speak with more passion and speak more effectively. So I continued to retreat somewhat from visible New Left leadership at Columbia, for awhile.

After the April 30th bust, many students at Columbia who had been going to school all their lives were at a lost about what to do, now that most classes were not in session. During May, the alliance between white radical student activists and revolutionary Black nationalist student activists, on a day-to-day level, pretty much fell apart. The white students who had been in the occupied buildings met a few times on the lawns outside the buildings they had previously occupied to debate the best ways to continue the strike and to keep the spirit of resistance going. People from outside the Columbia left scene were invited to speak at strike committee-sponsored alternative classes. For a few weeks, PL people and JJ pushed for a heavy presence on the picket lines. But most of the politically radicalized people did not appear willing to picket academic buildings since, even in the absence of much picketing, no classes were being held because of the post-bust strike’s mass support.

In order to make the strike more mass-based, SDS people like Mark made certain ideological concessions to the “moderate” students—who were more anti-Kirk than pro-6 demands—at a big post-bust meeting of students in Wollman Auditorium. At the time, Mark’s concessions seemed like a wise way to move. During the summer, however, some of these less radical strike committee students ended up splitting off from the Columbia Strike Committee, accepting Ford Foundation money and (according to de-classified documents) even apparently acting as FBI informants, at the same time they formed the “Students For A Restructured University.”

Columbia’s campus remained crawling with undercover plainclothes cops, who would shove into students occasionally at the various spontaneous rallies that developed on campus. The plainclothes cops usually were heavier, taller and older-looking than students and they usually looked like cops--even without their uniforms on. They usually carried blackjacks or small clubs in their pockets, as well as guns, and were noticed by most students. Few had long-hair in those days.

Tony suddenly had great prestige in Columbia SDS circles, despite his PL background and left-sectarian record of the previous 2 years, because he had helped hold the Low Library student rebels together and had won the respect of newly-politicized hippie-type undergraduates, for awhile.

As a result of Tony’s influence, Labor Committee head “Lynn Marcus” and his cult members were invited to speak to Strike Committee-sponsored workshops on the South Lawn of the campus. “Lynn Marcus” was apparently a former SWP member of the 1950s who apparently worked for some Wall Street firm in the 1960s. In Spring 1968, he projected himself as a Marxist revolutionary socialist in the Rosa Luxemburg tradition. He pushed the line that the student strike at Columbia should quickly be expanded into a mass strike in New York City. When the French Student Revolt of May 1968 began to spread rapidly and attract the support of young French industrial workers, after the students battled with French cops in Paris’s Latin Quarter a few days after the Columbia bust, “Marcus”’s proposed political strategy did not seem unrealistic.

Most of “Marcus”’s followers were ex-PL people (like Tony) who had followed Tony out of PL and had apparently been meeting with “Marcus” for at least 6 months before the April 1968 Columbia Revolt. “Marcus”’s SDS Labor Committee—like PL—saw the New Left SDS as a mass-based umbrella, within which they could operate as an external cadre and from which they could recruit new organizers to hand out leaflets to a U.S. industrial working class which, they argued, was ripe for revolution. No one realized in May 1968 that “Lynn Marcus”’s real name was Lyndon LaRouche and that his “socialism” was apparently just a mask for his lust for individual dictatorial political power.

In May 1968, Dave remained a prominent SDS and Columbia Strike Committee spokesperson, along with Mark, Juan, Lew, Robby, Stu, Ted and Josie. Josie had been radicalized more, as a result of her participation in the Low Library occupation and being roughed up by the cops. But Teddy seemed to retreat into the background politically (along with the Schneiders), now that he wasn’t the Columbia SDS chairman anymore. And Teddy was now no longer very prominent on campus.

But I was still surprised one day to notice Dave and Nancy walking across Campus Walk, as if they were now lovers. Between October 1966 and April 1968, Nancy and Teddy had seemed inseparable and had seemed to be living out one of the great romances of the decade. And Nancy had seemed to be pushing for a marriage to Teddy for a long time. Consequently, it was quite a surprise for me to observe that Nancy was now apparently in love with Dave—not Teddy. And Teddy, all of a sudden, looked emotionally lost, as he walked around campus during May and June 1968, without Nancy by his side. But Nancy’s romantic involvement with Dave did not last too long.

Another relationship that seemed to start falling apart after the April revolt was Mark’s friendship with Sue. Large numbers of trendy and New Leftist women, and newly politicized Barnard women, seemed to start throwing themselves at Mark, once he became a media object and a celebrity. At the same time, a sweet Japanese-American woman from California, named Jean (who had hung around on the outskirts of Columbia New Left circles for a few years prior to the revolt), seemed to replace Sue as Mark’s most steady female companion and lover. Jean seemed more bohemian in dress and lifestyle than Sue, but I felt sad that Mark and Sue seemed to have drifted apart.

As a result of the student revolt, the police bust and the U.S. mass media publicity, the status of Columbia SDS hard-core activist men appeared to rise greatly among large numbers of newly-radicalized or trendy Barnard women. For a few months after the police bust, SDS political strategy meetings were attended by newly-involved Barnard women, who now appeared much more eager to become romantically involved with New Left men than they had been before April 1968. My dorm roommate, Stu, for instance, became romantically involved in a brief love affair with one of the trendy Barnard women, during the month following the police bust. Unattached Barnard women who had walked by the Columbia SDS table without noticing me a few months before, but who had helped occupy the buildings during the revolt, suddenly became interested in flirting with me and dating me. In the eyes of some trendy Barnard women, Columbia SDS men were now the “Big Men On Campus” and “success-objects.”