Saturday, May 5, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 22: At United Parcel Service and Queens College, 1969

Chapter 22: At United Parcel Service and Queens College, 1969 (iii)

In early September 1969, I decided that I wanted to participate in the Weatherman Chicago action the next month and possibly join Weatherman. Although I had read in the (now-defunct) U.S. radical newsweekly Guardian that Mark, JJ and others had been involved in some physical fights with PL people (during the summer and at the Black Panther Party-called anti-fascist conference on the West Coast) that seemed politically counter-productive, I still felt politically close to the Weatherman tendency; and thought that many anti-war youths would turn up for the October 1969 “Days of Rage” demonstration in support of the Chicago Conspiracy 8. From my previous year’s organizing work on Staten Island, from living out in Queens again, from attending Queens College and from working at UPS, I realized that the political consciousness gap between the elite university campuses and the rest of white Amerika was quite great. But I still felt that the Weathermen could quickly eliminate this gap by an intensive organizing campaign in white working-class neighborhoods.

I had Nick’s telephone number in Queens, as a result of doing some work with him earlier in the summer at Frank’s White Suburbs Organizing Project Movement office in Douglaston. So I telephoned him in the morning one weekday and he gave me the address of the Richmond Hill house where he and the other Weathermen were living in Queens. It was agreed that I would stop by there later that day.

The Weathercollective’s apartment was located in a house, a block south of Jamaica Ave. After I walked up the stairs and entered the apartment I was greeted by Nick. In an adjacent room were other people from Columbia SDS: Josh and Linda, Ted, Dave and Dionne. All said hello to me in a friendly way. Naomi, from the New York SDS Regional Office, was also in the adjacent room and she walked over to me and touched me on the back in an affectionate way. The Weather apartment was furnished in a sparse way, with little furniture except for the mattresses which were on the floor. The apartment looked as sloppy as a typical Movement office: political literature was scattered around the floor and on a table.

Nick then escorted me into the front room to speak to me alone about what was being planned with regard to the next month’s Chicago anti-war action.

“This demonstration is going to be different than previous demos,” Nick warned me in a somber tone. “It’s going to be heavy. And some of us may have to die.”

Nick then explained that since the purpose of the October 1969 demonstration was to bring the war home, Weathermen were not going to wait to be attacked and brutalized by the cops before starting to fight or engaging in property destruction. Instead, the Weathermen were going to Chicago with the intention of materially supporting the Vietnamese people and the National Liberation Front by engaging in property destruction and, in an aggressive way, fighting off the Chicago cops if they attempted to make any arrests of anti-war demonstrators.

“The Movement has to fight more militantly against the War and against the pigs than it has in the past. And not meekly submit to arrest. It’s national chauvinist for us not to risk our lives to stop the War when our Vietnamese sisters and brothers are risking their lives each day against our common oppressors,” Nick said.

I then asked Nick how many people were expected to participate in the Weatherman’s October “Days of Rage.”

“We’re expecting 50,000,” Nick answered.

I felt skeptical that 50,000 white working-class anti-war youth or anti-war student youth were actually going to come to Chicago if it was being advertised as a “heavy,” “kick ass” demo. I then asked Nick what people were going to do if the Chicago cops responded to our increased militancy and increased willingness to fight back, by using tear gas or their guns.

“We’ll be prepared to keep fighting back,” Nick replied.

“This demo sounds different than what people are used to. It’s one thing for people to spontaneously defend themselves against police brutality, like at Columbia or at the Chicago Convention protests. But it’s another thing to announce in advance to people that the demo is going to be a street fight with better-armed cops,” I said.

“We have to prove that we’re not chicken-shit in order to make a revolution here. We have to show that white revolutionaries are prepared to fight as hard as Black revolutionaries and Vietnamese revolutionaries, and not hide behind our white skin privilege,” Nick retorted. (Ironically, by the 1980s Nick had become a white upper-middle-class professor on one of the campuses of the City University of New York).

I told Nick that I would think about going to the Chicago demo and would call him if I decided to go out there with Weatherman. I then smiled at Ted and Dave, as I waved goodbye to them, and left the apartment.

As I left the Richmond Hill house and walked back towards the subway station, I began to consider the prospects for success of the “Days of Rage” in Chicago. I respected the apparent willingness of the Weathermen to risk their lives at this demo, but I doubted that enough people would follow them out to Chicago to risk their lives against the better-armed Chicago police for the action to be effective. I felt the Weathermen were quite justified, morally, in attempting to bring the war home in solidarity with the Vietnamese and the Black Panther Party—especially since the Chicago 8 trial seemed to indicate that the right of free assembly was no longer going to be allowed for the New Left.

Yet I was not confident that the Weathermen could pull off the kind of militant action they were proposing with any degree of effectiveness unless the Chicago Black Panther Party was willing to work closely with them in organizing the “Days of Rage.” When word came down from Chicago that Fred Hampton and other Black Panther Party people were not fully supporting Weatherman’s “Days of Rage” plan because they considered the proposed action too suicidal and “Custeristic,” I felt more strongly that it was doomed to fail. So I was not prepared to risk my life with the Weathermen in October 1969, despite my past political ties and personal friendships with many of them, by following them to Chicago to fight cops and break windows--without Black Panther Party support in Chicago for such militancy.