Monday, May 7, 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 (v)

As a Movement alternative to Weather, I had begun to consider working more closely with Newsreel. Newsreel’s strategy of focusing on using its films to raise off-campus mass consciousness rapidly and combat corporate mass media manipulation in order to speedily create the prerequisite mass off-campus consciousness necessary to make revolution, appeared to be more realistic than Weather’s off-campus exemplary action strategy. I visited Newsreel’s new office at 922 Seventh Ave. one late September morning on a weekday. The new office was a much larger loft than the previous W. 31st St. Newsreel office that I had visited during the summer, when I had arranged for Lynn to speak at Queens College. Florrie was still staffing the office as Newsreel’s office manager in late September 1969. And she still was friendly.

“I’d like a few film catalogues in order to distribute them among community organizations in Queens and perhaps interest some of them in setting up screenings of your films,” I said.

Florrie agreed to give me some Newsreel film catalogues. And after she gave them to me, she suddenly gave me a glance of curiosity and asked: “What do you do with your life?”

I gazed into her eyes and replied: “I work part-time at United Parcel Service in the evening. The rest of the time I do Movement organizing at Queens College and around the City.”

I wasn’t too successful in interesting community groups in screening Newsreel films out in Queens during October 1969. When I showed the catalogue of films to the Cantor of the synagogue where I had been bar-mitzvahed (which had an anti-war rabbi), for instance, the Cantor’s only comment was: “Why is there a picture of Fidel Castro on the cover? I don’t think we could show these films here.”

As the “Days of Rage” approached, I became apprehensive about what might happen to my old friends from Columbia SDS and I also began to feel that I should be out there in Chicago, after all, in some way. So I telephoned Scott, who was still living on the Upper West Side with his woman friend Carol.

Scott was planning to drive out to Chicago to observe the “Days of Rage” demo. But since he wasn’t compelled to work 9-to-5 yet at this time, he was planning to leave too early in the week to make it possible for me to drive out with him, without me having to sacrifice my UPS night job, at a time when I had no money saved. So, over the phone, both Scott and I agreed that, while it would be good for me to go out to Chicago, it was self-defeating for me to sacrifice my only source of income just to be there as an observer, unless I could get a ride later in the week. But I couldn’t find any other non-Weather Movement person who was driving out there later in the week. So I wasn’t able to show up in Chicago between October 8th and October 11th, 1969.

In New York City, during the ‘Days of Rage,” the news from Chicago was that the only people who had showed up for the Weather demo were the few hundred hard-core Movement people who had joined Weather; and that the Chicago cops had wounded some Weathermen with gunshots and brutalized or arrested many Weathermen, after windows were broken by Weatherdemonstrators. I was not surprised that few people ended up showing up for the Weather demo, but I was relieved when I heard that none of the Weathermen had been killed.

As an alternative for those Movement people who hadn’t gone to Chicago, Movement white radicals who weren’t Weathermen had planned a march in support of anti-war GI's at Fort Dix in New Jersey. Josie, the former Columbia SDS and New York Regional SDS organizer, had set up an anti-war coffeehouse near the army base and 38 GI's had been placed in the stockade at Fort Dix for protesting the War in Viet Nam. Around the time that the Weathermen were completing their Chicago protest, about 3,000 anti-war protesters took buses from New York City to Fort Dix.

To express our support for the jailed anti-war GI's, we started to march onto the grounds of the army base, after a rally in which folksinger Barbara Dane sang a number of anti-war songs in a spirited way. But a few minutes after we entered the army base, about 20 MPs fired tear gas at us. So, coughing and choking, the 3,000 of us quickly retreated from the Fort Dix army base grounds and marched back in a disorderly fashion to the waiting buses which would drive us back to New York City. The tear gas attack on us, which effectively denied us our first amendment right to assemble in an anti-war protest on the military base, reminded me, once again, that unless the Movement developed an effective way to resist the State’s violence against us, it would continue to be repressed whenever it sought to dissent beyond the Establishment’s legal limits and attempted to non-violently disrupt the System’s war machine.