Friday, April 20, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 17: Enter Bernardine Dohrn, 1968

Chapter 17: Enter Bernardine Dohrn, 1968 (iv)

Sokolow, Brian and I had found a rent-controlled apartment on W.106th St. and Amsterdam Ave. in May and--after being forced to pay our new Midtown Manhattan landlord a $600 bribe in order to get him to agree to give us a lease—we moved there in June. Brian immediately sublet his room for the summer to a Columbia student from Great Neck who was anti-war and had been arrested during the first bust, but who was no longer interested in political activism. Brian then went up to his parents’ home in Hartford, Connecticut, where he had lined up a summer job. A few days after Sokolow and I moved into the 106th St. apartment, Robert Kennedy was assassinated in California, and I ended up watching the funeral on TV with Sokolow in the Upper East Side high-rise apartment of his parents.

Because I was working during June, I did not go to the June 1968 SDS National Convention which, surprisingly, elected Bernardine as SDS Inter-organizational Secretary, after she declared that she was a “revolutionary communist” in her politics. But much of my summer spare-time was spent hanging around the Columbia Strike Committee’s “Liberation School.”

The Liberation School was located between Broadway and Amsterdam Ave. in a Columbia fraternity house on W.114th St. The Columbia Strike Committee had sublet the frat house for the summer. Initially, many people attended Liberation School classes in the afternoon and in the evening. But by the middle of July, only a small number of people were hanging out around there, or attending classes there, on a regular basis.

Much of the work in running the Liberation School was done by Josie and Dionne, although JJ and Lew also could be seen hanging out there often during Summer 1968. Josie remained very energetic and militant and spirited during Summer 1968, dropped out of Barnard, cut herself off from the Duke family and its fortune, spoke to the press often, became a full-time Movement activist and, for awhile, seemed to become emotionally close to Lew.

Dionne had worked at Citizenship Council prior to the Columbia Revolt, but after the revolt she also dropped out of Barnard and became a full-time SDS Movement activist. She was from Westchester, had long blonde hair and wore both mini-skirts and blue jeans. A few runaways and a few FBI informants also seemed to hang out around the Liberation School during Summer 1968.

An older guy in his early 30s, who was dressed in a suit and tie and was named Bruce, first appeared around the Movement at this time. He attended a class on Columbia’s housing polices and started to participate in SDS strategic debate at the Liberation School. Bruce helped start the Columbia Tenants Union around this time and, as the head of the Columbia Tenants Union he became a thorn in Columbia University’s side for many years, before he was found murdered over 20 years later.

Among the favorite books discussed at the Liberation School during Summer 1968 was Carl Oglesby’s Containment and Change paperback, which described the history of U.S. imperialism in the world in a concise, clear way that didn’t rely on vulgar Marxist jargon.

During mid-June, I ended up being chosen as the spokesperson for the 70 or so suspended students. We held a press conference in which we vowed to register at Columbia in the fall, and I was interviewed for a local TV news show. In mid-June 1968, it still seemed possible that Columbia could be forced to rescind all of its suspensions. But—just in case Columbia didn’t take me back—I visited an experimental college of CUNY in Staten Island—Richmond College—and applied for admission there, in order to protect my 2-S status and continue to avoid the Viet Nam war draft.

To attend Richmond College in those days only cost $120 per year in tuition, as compared to Columbia’s tuition of $1,900 per year. So it seemed like purchasing my draft deferment at Richmond College was a better bargain than purchasing it at Columbia. Richmond College’s young faculty, led by a Columbia College graduate named Professor Nachman, had been sympathetic towards our student revolt and had passed a resolution which urged Richmond College to admit any students that Columbia had suspended for political reasons.