(The following 1998 interview first appeared in the May 1998 issue of Z magazine. See parts 1-6 below. To see the current issue of Z magazine, you can check out its web site at
We’ve seen a revival of the anti-war movement on campuses like Ohio State [in 1998]. What’s behind this?
Bernardine Dohrn [BD]: The protest at Ohio State [in 1998] was startling, because the campuses were again denied to the warmakers. It’s extraordinary that the [Democratic Clinton] Administration thought that they could go to the campus to make war. I think they were lulled into it because they somehow thought that the Gulf War put Vietnam finally behind them.
Vietnam will never be behind the U.S. So the fact that students spoke out, disrupted, and asked demanding, probing questions: “Why? Why does it make sense? How can you bomb somebody into agreement with you? Why should a civilian population pay the price for its despicable leaders? How can the United States act alone against the rest of the world? Shouldn’t the United Nations and international law bodies be in play here?”
Those questions about American policy toward Iraq were not fully shaped into a whole analysis. But they were the right questions, the moral questions, the ethical questions. We will not allow immoral, unjust and illegal policy to be conducted in our name. That’s the heart of democracy. And the everlasting legacy of Columbia.
If the immorality of U.S. foreign policy is not altered, could the Columbia Student Revolt happen again?
BD: You know the plight that we have today [in 1998] is the plight that we started with in 1968, too. The notion that “people can’t make a difference.” The students who occupied the buildings at Columbia began as a small minority. It was not a majority. Remember that people who occupied the buildings were immediately surrounded by thousands of opposing “jocks” and right-wing students jeering at them. But the forces they unleashed there by being on the right track—not right about everything, but mainly on the right track about the oppressive U.S. role in the world, and in the Black community nearby, meant that the Cox Commission Report on Columbia University—by the final days of the Columbia Revolt—found that: “the revolt enjoyed wide and deep support among the students and junior faculty; and, in lesser degree, among the senior professors. The grievances the rebels felt were felt equally by a still larger number, probably a majority of the students.”
That’s what happens. A small group of people acting in concert for justice and peace throw into motion invisible questions held by a lot of people. They challenge that notion that “we can’t make a difference.”
We all have a drive to be free, to be connected to others, to recognize and reject the fact that many of us are non-poor because someone else is poor. Today [in 1998] enormous effort goes into convincing the American public that we’re just consumers of media manipulation and sound-bites and spin doctors. That we care only about ourselves, money, and “stuff.” That acting out of passion and conviction “doesn’t make a difference.” But all of history shows that it does. (end of article)
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