Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 19: Spreading The Student Revolution, 1968

Chapter 19: Spreading The Student Revolution, 1968 (i)

By the end of September 1968, Mark, Nick, Dionne and Josie were working, not at Columbia, but in SDS’s Prince Street regional office downtown, as full-time Movement organizers. I was starting to spend more time trying to get something radical going at Richmond College and classes at Columbia had resumed again. Lew, Juan, Stu and Robby continued to hold Columbia SDS’s hard-core together and hoped that they could use guerrilla theater and other educational tactics to build for both a campus protest action around the time of the November 1968 election and another seizure of buildings at Columbia in Spring 1969. Despite the September 1968 white New Left setback at Columbia, its Columbia SDS hard-core still remained the politically strongest chapter in the United States, even without Mark, Ted, Dave, Teddy, the Schneiders, Harvey, Josh, John, Nick, Josie, Dianne, Linda, JJ and me hanging around there much anymore.

Until early January 1969, I commuted from W.106th St. to Richmond College, which was located in Staten Island, only a few blocks walk from the ferry terminal. Brian had moved back into the apartment with Sokolow and me. And until he started to spend most nights at the apartment of his woman friend, later in the fall, we often would use his water pipe to smoke grass together in our apartment living room.

Brian remained an easygoing guy and we would mostly converse about politics and speculate about what future life in the U.S. would be like after the Revolution. Janis Joplin’s Cheap Thrills album was our favorite album to get stoned to at this time. Usually, however, we wouldn’t be turning on together until after 10 p.m., because during most Fall 1968 evenings there was generally some kind of political event or meeting up at Columbia. And when there wasn’t an evening political event, both Brian and I preferred to do the minimal amount of academic work we did elsewhere than in our apartment.

On Staten Island, classes were smaller at Richmond College than at Columbia and I was able to take every class on a pass-fail basis because the school was experimental. To begin training myself for teaching in the public schools, I took an ed course on adolescent psychology which ended up being a waste, except for the fact that I met a few other radicals and hippies as a result of taking the course. Frankie and Hugh were both from Brooklyn and both working-class in background; and both were instrumental in forming a Richmond College SDS chapter by late October. Another non-conformist I met in this class, Angela, had transferred from Temple University to Richmond College; and I became friendly with her and her roommate, Jane, for a few weeks.

Another course I took was taught by a follower of Herbert Marcuse, named Professor Nachman. Nachman had worked in Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaign earlier in the year. He was an entertaining lecturer who had graduated from Columbia before becoming a professor at Richmond College and he advocated the establishment of a leisure-oriented, sexually-oriented democratic society. Unlike full-time Movement activists, however, Nachman seemed too white middle-class and too academic in his life-style to be willing to either organize or actually fight for a revolutionary society. He was an academic radical who was more comfortable lecturing in class and donating money to bail out activists when they were arrested than in living on a subsistence level, organizing demonstrations and putting his body on the line for the Revolution. In addition, he had a traditional wife and a kid to support.

The most relevant course I took in Fall 1968 was an African-American history and culture course taught by a 32-year-old African-American communist named Professor Hicks. Professor Hicks had worked with LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka in the early 1960s to defend Robert Williams and Williams’ stance of advocating the right of armed self-defense against racists in Monroe, North Carolina. Professor Hicks had a beard and spoke in a hip way. He introduced me to the writings of DuBois, William Patterson, E. Franklin Frazier, Herbert Aptheker, Harold Cruse and Richard Wright. He was a fantastic lecturer, even though there were only 10 people enrolled in his class and, except for me, all of them were non-radical whites. I became intellectually and personally close to Professor Hicks for awhile because we seemed to share the same values and most of the same politics, and because we had drawn similar conclusions about the nature of U.S. society.

The revolt at Columbia had not influenced the predominantly white working-class students at community colleges like Richmond College very much. The students who were anti-war were more into pot, rock music, sexuality and being hippie than being into radical New Left politics. There was a broad sympathy for the Columbia student rebels and much interest in inviting me into off-campus pads to smoke hashish and grass with other anti-war students. But few of the anti-war students I turned on with were interested in doing anything more than attending radical events or meetings on campus sometimes and going on semi-annual anti-war marches. Few anti-war students at Richmond College could be persuaded that it was practical to become New Left activists or New Left Movement organizers, whereas at Columbia large numbers of anti-war students had felt that becoming a New Left activist or organizer was a viable life-option.

Still, by late October 1968, about 10 of us had formed a Richmond College SDS chapter. But we had to call off our plans for some kind of an anti-war protest event at Richmond College around the presidential election, because we felt too isolated. An underground newspaper was formed by two hippie-anarchist types, named Hart and Russ, who were sympathetic to SDS and the New Left. When their first issue was circulated on campus, it was condemned as being “obscene” by an open letter of Richmond College President Herbert Schueler. So I began to then contribute a column on New Left politics and culture for Hart and Russ’s underground newspaper.