Sunday, May 13, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 23: With Andrea Eagan and Newsreel, 1970

Chapter 23: With Andrea Eagan and Newsreel, 1970 (ii)

In early January 1970, we held a high school organizing caucus meeting in Kramer’s Lower East Side apartment. Kramer—a talented documentary filmmaker—had attended Weatherman’s “War Council” in Flint, Michigan in late December 1969 as an observer; and he gave a summary of what he had observed. He noted how Bernardine had given a flamboyant critique of white oppressor nation “honky culture” that appeared to gloat over the Sharon Tate murder. From listening to Kramer’s description of the Flint, Michigan meeting, it seemed to me that the Weathermen were still serious about attempting to “bring the war home” and were preparing to wage armed struggle in support of the Black Panther Party. But I did not yet realize that the Weathermen were apparently contemplating the start of a bombing campaign analogous to what an activist from the Columbia Community Action Committee, Sam Melville, had been accused of doing in November 1969—and apparently were even considering the start of some even “heavier” kind of bombing campaign.

I only bumped into Weathermen on three different occasions around the time I worked with Newsreel. One afternoon, while visiting Frank out in Bayside, I bumped into Stu, who was crashing there. When I said “Hi, Stu” in the presence of a third friend who was visiting Frank, Stu looked irritated and motioned for me to go into another room in the apartment with him.

“I’m going by the name `Tom,’ now,” Stu said in a conspiratorial tone.

“Oh. I didn’t realize that,” I replied.

On another occasion, I happened to stop inside Columbia’s Ferris Booth Hall one evening and accidentally bumped into Josh and Linda, who were sitting together in the lounge of Ferris Booth Hall.

“Hi! I haven’t seen you for awhile,” I said with a smile. “How is it being in Weather?”

Josh replied in a scornful, sarcastic tone: “It’s a great, meaningful job…Why aren’t you in Weather?”

“I’m working with Newsreel now.”

Josh sneered. “With the cameras? What good does that do?”

“It helps raise the consciousness of white working-class youth.”

“White working-class people are hopelessly brainwashed and hopelessly racist, Bob,” Josh replied. “The only place to be now in the Movement is with Weather. And it’s a better option than hanging out in some sterile, plastic university like Columbia.”

Josh and Linda appeared in a hurry to leave. So we didn’t spend much more time talking before they left Ferris Booth Hall—after giving me a farewell look that seemed scornful and disapproving.

“Take care of yourself, Josh. Bye, Linda,” I called after them.

The final occasion when I bumped into the Weathermen around this time was at a meeting in the parents’ apartment of a high school student who attended Fort Hamilton High School in Brooklyn. The meeting occurred when the high school student’s parents were down in Florida on vacation. Steve and I—representing Newsreel—and Lew—representing the December 4th Panther Support Movement (which had been formed by some ex-Columbia SDS people after Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were killed)—were there to discuss ways Fort Hamilton High School student activists could support the “Free The Panther 21” campaign. Judy and another Weatherwoman also showed up with a woman high school activist recruit. Judy urged the students to run through the high school shouting “jailbreak”, no matter how few they were in numbers, instead of just handing out leaflets about the planned Panther support march to other students.

“There’s a war going on and you have to choose which side you’re on. It’s not enough to just leaflet. Leafleting is bull-shit. You’re either part of the problem or you’re part of the solution. And if you’re too chicken-shit to do anything more than leaflet at your high school, then you’re part of the problem,” Judy argued in an emotional way.

Judy’s intensity and fanaticism appealed to me on an emotional level. But I felt that, despite her beauty and her bravery and her selfless devotion to the Movement, Judy’s strategic recommendation that the 10 activists in the high school immediately risk suspension, by running through the halls without having any mass base of students behind them, wasn’t practical at this time.