Monday, May 14, 2007

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

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

Our high school organizing caucus’s attempt to recruit working-class high school students by leafleting and hanging out near Brooklyn high schools in January, February and March of 1970 also proved to be an impractical strategy. Florrie and I went out together late one weekday morning and, after handing out underground newspapers in front of a high school to students who were leaving the morning session, we spent an hour hanging out in a White Castle Hamburger restaurant. We weren’t able to recruit any high school students to the Movement, but we did end up feeling closer as a result of organizing unsuccessfully together.

Most of the white working-class high school students who hung out in White Castles were just interested in securing boyfriends or girlfriends, pot, ups, downs or acid and listening to rock music. Although they all hated high school and were anti-authoritarian, they could not see how revolutionary politics or books related to their desire for freedom and love. They were still too young to feel either affected by the draft, racism or the work-world.

It seemed utopian to have believed that small groups of post-college-age revolutionaries could recruit working-class high school students to the Revolution. Only revolutionaries who were also high school students seemed to have a chance to recruit their white working-class peers to the cause. White working-class high school students tended to view us as “outside agitators” because we weren’t inside their schools as either radical teacher-allies or high school student activists. It seemed that unless post-college-age Movement people were willing to march in front of public high schools by the hundreds in order to recruit high school students and, by their mass march example, prove that the Movement was more real than two or three “outside agitators” handing out flyers or hanging out in White Castles, white working-class high school students could not be recruited by us.

On another weekday, Sara and I took the subway early in the morning to New Utrecht High School to leaflet students who were entering the school for their first period class; and to hang out in Seymour’s Coffeehouse with students who began classes at 9 a.m. or at 9:45 a.m., who were also hanging out there. Again, we had negative results as far as recruiting high school students to the Movement. But—as had happened with Florrie—Sara and I felt closer as a result of our unsuccessful organizing together.

Sara had joined the high school organizing caucus in January 1970, a few weeks after I had attended my first meeting of the caucus. She was taller than me and had been more into modern dance than radical politics before 1970. After graduating from college a few years before, Sara had lived on a kibbutz in Israel/Palestine for awhile but had been turned off by the inter-personal selfishness and anti-Arab feeling she discovered on the kibbutz. She was in her early 20s and worked part-time as a secretary, in a job which she found deadening. I had first met her in my W.16th St. apartment, after she spent a night sleeping with Steve, who had been a boyfriend of hers for a brief period. Her friendship with Steve led her to become interested in joining Newsreel.

Compared to Lynn, Florrie, Andrea, Karen and most of the other Newsreel women, Sara was less politically aware and more traditionally feminine. Although she was very sweet, she was still more into wearing expensive chic dresses than most of the other Newsreel women (who generally all wore blue-jeans). Emotionally, though, Sara was much warmer and affectionate than the other Newsreel women. She was quicker to put her arm around you and hug you affectionately than the other Newsreel women, except for Florrie; for Florrie also found it easy to hug her comrades in a friendly way.

In early January 1970, Sara still lived alone in a bourgeois West Village apartment, where she spent a few hours each day practicing her dancing. By February, however, Sara had moved into a less bourgeois apartment in the East 30’s and seemed to be becoming a lot more politically sophisticated, as a result of being involved in Newsreel’s internal political discussion.

On at least two occasions, I was detained with Andrea and other members of the high school organizing caucus. Once, after meeting Richard, Andrea and Florrie in Andrea and Richard’s W.92nd St. apartment, all of us were picked up by cops who spotted us attempting to paste posters, which advertised a “Free The Panther 21” demo, on Upper West Side poles. The cops brought us into the local precinct house, held us for a half hour and then let us leave, after warning us not to do it again. Another time, Andrea, Jim and I were detained inside a Brooklyn high school by a cop for a half hour, after handing out underground newspapers in front of the school. We were released after the principal argued with us in his office and warned us not to return to the high school entrance again.

At this time, Andrea considered herself both a Maoist and a radical feminist, but not a feminist separatist. She seemed more committed to making a revolution and building the Movement than to any kind of literary careerism. She expressed no desire to become a professional writer within an imperialist and sexist society; and she appeared totally committed to the cause of white working-class liberation, as well as to women’s liberation and African-American liberation.