Thursday, June 11, 2009

Christmas Vacation With Mark Rudd, 1967 Revisited--Part 2

(from chapter 13 of public domain Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories manuscript. See part 1 below.)

My next recollection is standing inside the hall of Mark’s apartment in the evening, at the very moment his woman friend Sue was coming out of the bathroom shower with only a towel around her body and a second towel around her hair.

“Hi,” Sue said with a smile, as she quickly walked matter-of-factly in front of me towards Mark’s bedroom.

“Hello,” I replied, with a smile in return.

Later in the evening, Mark formally introduced Sue to me, after she had put on her nightgown. She was a senior at Barnard, majoring in English, who had not been as interested in New Left politics as had Mark. Although she was a friend of Linda, unlike Linda, she did not attend Columbia SDS steering committee meetings or do much chapter organizational work. She had evidently been Mark’s friend for awhile, although I had not noticed her around campus before, because she rarely accompanied Mark to political meetings and never spoke at SDS general assembly meetings.

Sue was very sweet and easy to talk with, and I liked her from the start. If you gossiped with Sue about Columbia SDS people, she would often characterize people in humorous ways. But she seemed interested in Columbia SDS and New Left organizing only insofar as Mark was interested in radical politics. She seemed in love with Mark and to be mainly devoted to him. But her love for Mark wasn’t a clinging one and she didn’t sleep over at Mark’s apartment every night. It was always uncertain whether Sue would be at the apartment on any evening I dropped by to visit Mark.

Mark, Sue and I became close during December 1967, mainly because we gossiped about other people together, discussed radical organizing strategies and talked about literature and each other’s life in personal, not just political, ways.

Mark felt that Ted was too pedantic and that Peter Schneider and Al were too coldly intellectual to turn on many people to New Left politics at Columbia. Mark also felt Teddy was no good as Columbia SDS chairman and that Nancy was “too bourgeois.”

“I don’t like Nancy,” Mark said one night. “She’s not a friendly person.”

At the time, I thought that Nancy was a friendly person who just hadn’t been friendly to Mark. But Mark may have been reacting negatively to the fact that Nancy—although not a conscious radical feminist at this time—tended to be less submissive interpersonally in relationship to men than most other Barnard women.

Mark had an entertaining way of talking about his English literature courses. He related a story about Tristan and Isolde in a very tender way to me and Sue. Often in the evening, WNEW-FM rock music would be playing on his stereo radio in the background, as we talked. Sometimes we talked as Mark cooked for himself or scrambled an egg in his frying pan.

I can’t recall much of what our December 1967 small talk consisted of. But the general result was that Mark and I all of a sudden were friends, as well as political comrades. By the time Columbia classes broke up for the Christmas 1967 break, I felt personally closer to Mark than to either Teddy or Ted.

A few days before the Christmas vacation break, Mark and I conducted a small group meeting of some Columbia SDS people in the lounge of Ferris Booth Hall, in the early evening. Only a few other students showed up at the meeting. One of them was a petite Barnard freshman who wore a dress and earrings, used make-up and lipstick, had short hair and looked culturally straight. Her name was Josie Duke. She was related to the Duke family that had made its billions from monopolizing the tobacco industry and exploiting tobacco workers. But at this time I didn’t realize that Josie came from super-wealth.

Despite looking straight and bourgeois, however, Josie took a position in the political discussion on the issue of why Columbia SDS couldn’t recruit more people that was similar to the position that Mark and I had come to share: 1) Unless Columbia SDS activists felt their organizing was going to lead to some Spring 1968 confrontation and/or sit-in or strike, they would tend to retreat from day-to-day political activism; and 2) Unless there was some kind of Spring 1968 confrontation/sit-in/strike, the mass of Columbia and Barnard students would remain apathetic, unpoliticized and unradicalized.

At the end of the small meeting, Josie, Mark and I agreed that Mark and I should try to write some political position paper during Christmas vacation for the Columbia SDS steering committee which would argue that only if the chapter consciously began working in January 1968 for a Spring 1968 confrontation/sit-in/strike would the mass radicalization of students at Columbia and Barnard be a possibility. As we walked home, Mark and I felt more energized by Josie’s apparent agreement with our analysis as to why Columbia SDS continued to be stagnating under Ted, Teddy and Peter Schneider’s leadership. We agreed to return early from our parents’ homes during the Christmas break, in order to write a position paper which argued in support of working towards a Spring 1968 confrontation—analogous to the 1967 confrontation with the Marine recruiters—in order to both win the demand for an end to Columbia’s ties to the IDA and to radicalize large numbers of students. (end of part 2)

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