Monday, December 31, 2012

Columbia SDS Memories Revisited: Freshman At Columbia, 1965--Part 6

Around the time I was still being radicalized in relationship to U.S. policy in Viet Nam, I attended my first off-campus anti-war rally.

It was a Saturday morning in late October. I was strolling up Broadway, past the 116th St. entrance to Columbia’s campus, when I noticed about 100 leftists lined up against the wall of Dodge Hall, facing towards Harlem. Some of these leftists I recognized from having hung around the ICV table in Low Plaza.

I was now against the war, but I was hesitant about joining a demonstration which a civil rights group wasn’t sponsoring. I was still anti-communist enough in my conditioning to fear being manipulated by communists, if I went on a demonstration which was organized only by leftists. I was ready to revolt. But I distinguished between “authentic” youth revolt a la Berkeley or led by African-American activists and “inauthentic” or CP-led “left sect” revolt. After walking about five yards past the demonstration, however, I turned around and joined the line of marchers. This was the first time I chose to express my alienation, political discontent and anti-militarist sentiments by joining a collective protest.

While we waited to begin marching, I got into a discussion with a hard-core pacifist woman who argued that “immediate withdrawal from Viet Nam” was a more moral and democratic position than the “stop the bombing and negotiate, but no withdrawal yet” position which I was still halfheartedly clinging to in October 1965. This was probably the last time that I argued against an “immediate withdrawal from Viet Nam” position.

After a long wait, our march finally began. At first, I felt embarrassed and uncomfortable chanting the slogans in unison with other anti-war marchers. But, after awhile, I got used to shouting along with everybody else. I began to lose my feeling that marching and chanting slogans was too simplistic a way of summarizing complex issues like the war in Viet Nam.

We marched down Amsterdam Ave. and then across 110th St. to Fifth Ave. We then marched down Fifth Ave. Along Fifth Ave., people were supportive. From windows in the high-rise apartments, white liberal upper-middle-class people stuck their heads out and clapped their hands in support of us. In New York City--even among Manhattan’s wealthy--the U.S. military intervention in Viet Nam didn’t have much support. As we marched downtown, I accumulated many leaflets and free leftist and pacifist newspapers from different young people, who kept shoving their interpretations of the war into my hands.

We met the other anti-war demonstrators at the Upper East Side meeting point and I was surprised to see how many other people were also against the war in Viet Nam. There was another boring long wait, and more leaflets and free newspapers were shoved into my hands. Finally, the main march went down Fifth Ave. to another closed-off street in the lower 60s on the East Side.

As we marched down Fifth Ave. people chanted “End the war in Viet Nam! Bring the troops home!” over and over again. Socialist Workers Party people always added “now” to the chant “Bring the troops home!” There evidently had been much Fifth Ave. Peace Parade Coalition faction-fighting prior to the march as to whether the politically correct slogan to be chanted was “Bring the troops home!” or “Bring the troops home, now!” The latter position implied the more radical demand for immediate U.S. withdrawal from Viet Nam, instead of the less radical demand of just stop the bombing, negotiate and withdraw only after a negotiated settlement.

At the rally site at the end of the march I was surprised, again, at how many people were actually so against the war that they were willing to rally. Dave Dellinger spoke at length with enthusiasm and moral passion and moderated the street rally. The elderly War Resisters League head, A. J. Muste, also spoke. This October rally marked the first time I heard pacifist speakers like Dellinger and Muste, as well as other anti-imperialist leftist speakers, in an off-campus situation. I felt that these left activists all made more sense than the Democratic and Republican Party politicians I had seen on TV when I was growing up. Dellinger’s enthusiasm and moral passion especially appealed to me, immediately.

After the rally broke up, I took the subway alone back to the Columbia dorms and, in my dorm room, I read through all the free anti-war literature I had accumulated during the day. With so many people opposed to U.S. policy in Viet Nam, I thought the war would soon end. I also felt that what was written in the anti-war literature made more sense than what the New York Times was printing about the war in Viet Nam.

My opposition to U.S. military intervention in Viet Nam intensified as the school year progressed. I planned to attend a November anti-war march in Washington, D.C. But F.B.I. pressure on the bus company that had agreed to take us down to D.C. in chartered buses to demonstrate caused the bus company and its union to refuse, at the last minute, to provide enough buses to transport us. After awakening at 5 a.m., I was one of the people who was stranded in New York and couldn’t go to D.C. to demonstrate. The informal limitations on the right of dissent in the U.S. were being revealed to me.

I wrote a letter to Vice President Hubert Humphrey and used quotations from the then-recently-deceased former liberal Democratic presidential candidate, Adlai Stevenson, to argue against LBJ’s policy of war in Viet Nam. I urged Humphrey to speak out in opposition to LBJ. But Humphrey’s office sent back a form letter which stated that Humphrey had carefully considered the issue and believed LBJ was doing all that he could to secure a just and honorable peace.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Columbia SDS Memories Revisited: Freshman At Columbia, 1965--Part 5

I discovered a bookstore on West 114th St. and Broadway. It was owned and operated by this tall, quiet, solitary white man in his late ‘50s who had been politically active in the 1930s. In the 1960s, the old leftist stocked many leftist magazines, newspapers and paperback books that couldn’t be obtained at many other bookstores.

At the 114th St. and Broadway bookstore, I picked up anti-war magazines like Viet Report and Liberation, discovered social-democratic magazines like Dissent and purchased even more politically radical magazines such as Ramparts, A Minority of One and Monthly Review. I also purchased paperbacks which described and analyzed the Berkeley Student Revolt of 1964 in great detail, works by C. Wright Mills such as The Power Elite and White Collar and a paperback anthology about Viet Nam which Marvin Gettleman had edited.

Instead of reading most of my assigned course readings, I spent much of my early freshman year study-time reading the Berkeley Student Revolt books and the works of C. Wright Mills. I read the Gettleman book about Viet Nam during Christmas vacation in December 1965. It provided me with the information which, when combined with what I had picked up from listening to Mel and reading ICV literature and many leftist magazines, enabled me to now convincingly argue against the morality of the U.S. government’s Viet Nam war policy.

On Friday mornings for about one month I went to Charles Evans Hughes High School to tutor history as part of the Citizenship Council program. The teacher in charge of the tutoring program was a personally pleasant guidance counselor, and the student I tutored showed up for the first two 45-minute tutoring sessions. But when the student chose not to appear for the next two scheduled sessions, the teacher in charge of the tutoring program decided it didn’t pay to have me come to Hughes H.S. to tutor anymore. I concluded that it was unrealistic to expect a high school student to give up a free period for a tutoring session, in the absence of some immediate benefit.

On Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, from 3:30 to 6 p.m., I went to the Grace Methodist Church on 104th St. and worked with other Columbia Citizenship Council student volunteers, as a group leader of 8-year-old boys in an after-school daycare center. The program later became known as P.A.C.T.: The Program to Activate Community Talent.

Bob Stein was the originator of the idea of having Citizenship Council set up a daycare center at Grace Methodist Church. He had spoken to the minister at Grace Methodist, Rev. Tatum, and had asked Rev. Tatum what people in the community most needed. Rev. Tatum had told Stein that all the working mothers most felt a need for a center to care for their children after school. Stein then began to organize a day care project to fill this neighborhood need.

Stein was a friendly left-liberal junior from the Boston area who majored in psychology at Columbia. He was a great believer in the value of group therapy and group discussion methods as a method of solving personal problems and work problems.

Around ten of us from Barnard and Columbia were initially involved in Stein’s project. The first few weeks of the fall term we spent cleaning up and repairing those rooms of the church which were to be used as day care facilities. Grace Methodist Church had a small gym and a large recreation room. There was also a small library and a few side rooms. After we had fixed things up, we opened up for recreational business.

I also continued to read as much as I could about Dylan and Woody Guthrie. By the second month of my freshman year, I was considering dropping out of Columbia in order to just write and go out to Berkeley and bum around. Dylan had dropped out of the University of Minnesota during his freshman year and it had not hurt his artistic career.

But I did not yield to my restlessness and immediately drop out. I had rapidly concluded that life in the classrooms of Columbia was not intellectually, emotionally, morally or politically stimulating. Yet living in Manhattan and exploring Manhattan on weekends was still a novelty in Fall 1965, so I stuck it out at Columbia for the time being.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Columbia SDS Memories Revisited: Freshman At Columbia, 1965--Part 4

Mel had black hair and was of medium height. He was in his mid-to-late 20s. He seemed to know Vietnamese history and the history of U.S. military intervention in Viet Nam better than anyone else at Columbia. Mel had been a Peace Corps volunteer in Algeria, and his Peace Corps experience had caused him to first become disillusioned with the reality of U.S. foreign policy.

I had started to get disillusioned with Lyndon Johnson in early 1965, when he started bombing North Viet Nam on a regular basis. I was against militarism, but I was also a left-liberal anti-communist in my politics. I thought that LBJ’s policy of an escalated bombing campaign was motivated by democratic goals. I still believed the U.S. government’s line that communist North Vietnamese leaders were seeking to enslave the South Vietnamese by unjustified force. But I felt LBJ’s decision to bomb North Viet Nam daily was morally questionable.

The first anti-Viet Nam War teach-ins had been organized at colleges like the University of Michigan, shortly after the sustained bombing of North Viet Nam began. The educational TV station in New York City, Channel 13, had televised these early teach-ins. I had watched the teach-ins and had generally agreed with the left-liberal anti-war professors, when they had condemned the U.S. military escalation and had called for a negotiated peace settlement with the North Vietnamese.

But in April 1965 I had not gone to the first anti-Viet Nam War mass march on Washington, D.C. which National Students for a Democratic Society [SDS] had organized. My older sister had been at the demonstration, after having done Civil Rights Movement volunteer work in North Carolina during a college spring break. She was much more anti-war than I was at that time because she had talked to Movement radicals who knew what was actually happening in Viet Nam. I was still dependent on the Establishment mass media for my information about Viet Nam at that time.

My sister had stopped by my parents’ apartment, the day after the April 1965 anti-war march. And she and I had spent much time debating U.S. foreign policy.

“I don’t like the bombing of North Viet Nam, either. But the North Vietnamese don’t want to negotiate. And Johnson has called for unconditional discussions. He really does want peace,” I had argued.

“The North Vietnamese want to negotiate. But as long as Johnson keeps bombing North Viet Nam, there can’t be negotiations. If Johnson really wanted to negotiate, he would stop bombing North Viet Nam. Or work through the United Nations,” my sister had replied. “The U.S. doesn’t have any right to be in Viet Nam, anyway.”

“We can’t just get out and let the Communists take over,” I had said.

My sister had shrugged. “Anything’s better than war.”

I had thought for a moment to myself that maybe she was right. And by the time LBJ had started sending more U.S. troops to South Viet Nam in the summer, I knew that I wasn’t going to let myself get used as cannon fodder, unless I believed the war could be justified morally. In the ‘60s, my sister was bohemian and politically radical, most of the time. Periodically, our paths would cross for a few weeks at our parents’ apartment in Whitestone and we would talk in a deep way about the world and our personal lives.

So Mel’s presence at the Independent Committee on Viet Nam table at Columbia, as the war continued to escalate, reinforced, hardened and deepened my opposition to U.S. government policy in Viet Nam. Students would stop by the table and debate with Mel the morality of U.S. policy. I kept stopping by to listen to Mel discuss the Viet Nam issue whenever I saw a crowd around the table. Mel’s talk seemed more relevant and interesting than any of the classroom discussion that went on inside Columbia’s classrooms.

“We’re committing genocide in Viet Nam. Napalm bombings and carpet bombings are designed to kill civilians. The Geneva Accords of 1954 required an election to unify Viet Nam in 1956. Even Eisenhower admitted Ho Chi Minh would have won the 1956 elections if the U.S. and the Diem dictatorship hadn’t violated the Geneva Accords,” Mel argued passionately, day-after-day.

Sometimes he would be joined by other anti-war students around the table. Every three or four weeks the ICV would hold an anti-war rally around Columbia’s sundial at which Mel and a Columbia College senior with a Boston accent, named Dave, would stand up on the sundial, and patiently explain to other students who gathered there why U.S. military intervention in Viet Nam was an immoral crime against humanity, in violation of the Nuremberg Accords.

Supporters of the war in Viet Nam who came to the ICV table could not justify U.S. policy on moral grounds when confronted with Mel’s knowledge of the facts. Mel influenced me intellectually more than any Columbia professor did in 1965. His moral passion and detailed critique of U.S. foreign policy convinced me that the U.S. military’s role in the Third World was always anti-democratic and always violated the self-determination rights of Third World nations. Mel’s teaching at the ICV table and his personal dedication, at the expense of his career preparation and studying time, to raising consciousness about the war in Viet Nam caused me to completely question the U.S. mass media version of contemporary history. His teaching stimulated me to read more on my own, in order to find out the truth about the nature of U.S. foreign policy between 1945 and 1965

Friday, December 28, 2012

Columbia SDS Memories Revisited: Freshman At Columbia, 1965--Part 3

After Freshman Week ended, the rest of the student body returned to the campus for the fall term. I had to move out of my Freshman Week dorm room and back to my parents’ apartment, temporarily, until dorm room space became available. For about a week, I commuted from Whitestone to Columbia by bus and subway. A few times I commuted from Whitestone by taking a bus over the Whitestone Bridge to the West Farms Square IRT subway station.

Going to Columbia as a commuter made you feel isolated from campus life. It made you feel that you were attending CCNY, not Columbia, and that you were just going to an extension of high school. A single room on the second floor of Livingston Hall, however, became available. So, by the second week of classes, I was living on campus in a room of my own. I again felt that, yes, I was really in college.

It was a novelty and exciting, but also costly, to buy my textbooks at the Columbia University bookstore, which was then located in the basement of the School of Journalism building. I spent money to also buy a Columbia sweatshirt. In Fall 1965 I also used my student pass to travel up to Baker Field on Saturday when Columbia’s football team was playing there, to watch “my team” usually lose. But I didn’t join Columbia’s marching band. I had lost interest in just being a cog in a school marching band. It involved too large a commitment of rehearsal time. I was much more interested in writing, activism, exploring Manhattan and working in the community in support of African-American people and the Civil Rights Movement. I didn’t want to be tied down to a band practice routine like I had been in high school. Too many other things were going on around campus.

On the second floor of Livingston Hall, I didn’t have much more than a nodding contact with the other guys who lived there. None of the other guys on the floor were in any of my classes or turned out to be politically involved or active in Columbia Citizenship Council. A few of my floor mates were eager to get into fraternities. A few others were on the football team and didn’t seem too intellectual. I disliked the “no women in the dorms, except during special hours, with the door open, and after signing-in” policy of the Columbia Administration. It seemed discriminatory, repressive and unnatural.

Yet once I had settled into my Livingston Hall room I still felt more personally free than I had ever been. I was on my own, with my only specific obligations being to make appearances in those classes I was taking and not to exceed the maximum limit of allowable cuts.

Initially, I was a major in government because the courses listed in Columbia’s government department course offerings list appeared more interesting than the history department’s course offerings. I scheduled early morning classes so that my school day would be over by 2 o’clock on most days of the week. I would then have most afternoons free to do whatever I felt like doing.

At first, I awoke early enough to make my 8:10 or 9 o’clock classes. But by the middle of the semester, I usually preferred to sleep late, instead of attending class. I would cut early morning classes as often as possible and often end up reading what I felt like reading, or browsing around in the local public library or in Columbia’s Butler Library.

I started to listen to WQXR radio, after waking up in the morning or before going to sleep each night. I also began to listen to top 40 hit AM radio on WABC and WMCA. I read the New York Times frequently and bought the Sunday Times each weekend. I went to sleep by midnight, except on Friday and Saturday night. I ate my meals often in the John Jay Hall dormitory cafeteria, but I also ate dinners in restaurants on Broadway and purchased sandwiches from the deli on Broadway, which was called “Take-Home.” I remained thin because I preferred to spend my money on books and magazines, instead of on food. I didn’t have enough money for both books and food.

All my Fall 1965 courses were required. The course which most interested me was my required English Composition course which was taught by Professor Stade. Stade related to his students in a friendly, egalitarian way. He was the only Columbia professor whose office I would bother to visit when classes were not in session, in order to engage in intellectual discussion.

Stade was in his early 30s when I first met him. He had once been a roommate of Amiri Baraka’s in the late 1950s, when Baraka still called himself “Leroi Jones” and hung around with the white upper-middle-class liberal beatniks. As a result of his past friendship with Baraka, perhaps, Stade seemed to be more anti-racist in his consciousness than the other white English Department professors at Columbia.

As Stade aged and his hair became white in the 1970s and 1980s, he became more politically conservative in his ideological views, although he always remained a very friendly person. In the 1960s, however, he was anti-war and anti-racist in both his lecturing and writing. Stade was also one of the earliest Columbia professors who didn’t feel obligated to wear a suit and tie when he came to class. He participated in an anti-Viet Nam War read-in and used his class time to criticize, sarcastically and satirically, LBJ’s foreign policy.

Around lunchtime and in the early afternoon, I found myself habitually hanging around the anti-war Independent Committee on Viet Nam [ICV] table on the plaza in front of Low Library. A Columbia Teachers College graduate student named Mel would generally set up this anti-war table and be there from about 11:30 a.m. until sunset.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Columbia SDS Memories Revisited: Freshman At Columbia, 1965--Part 2

During Freshman Week, there was a big meeting in the Low Library administration building rotunda, where a professor told us that we were a “special group of people” and “the nation’s future elite.” A well-dressed “tweed”/preppie, in a suit and tie, who was the student coordinator of Freshman Week, told us to “use New York City as your campus” and he urged us to “look into the faces of people on the subway.” At a student union building reception for freshmen in Ferris Booth Hall’s Hewitt Lounge, punch was served and the friendly Dean of Columbia College, David B. Truman, shook our hands, individually.

A mini-tour of Greenwich Village was offered one evening. A group of us freshmen were escorted on the Broadway IRT local from 116th Street to the Christopher Street station. And after leaving the Christopher Street station, we were led around the West Village for a few hours. But we were not shown any of the gay bars.

Our meals during Freshman Week were eaten together in John Jay Hall cafeteria. And I would often find myself spontaneously involved in a conversation with a freshman from some place like Tyler, Texas.

I was interested in getting to know African-American students at Columbia. So I spent some time during Freshman Week looking through my Freshman Directory book, which pictured all the freshmen, and noticed where the small number of African-American students in the class had gone to high school. I hoped that Columbia College would be a place where I could form inter-racial friendships. In 1965 Black nationalism was still not dominant in liberal and left Civil Rights Movement circles. Inter-racial friendships and love relationships were not yet discouraged for political organizing reasons.

The white student left at Columbia was nearly invisible during most of Freshman Week. Prior to one of the Freshman Week events, George tried to sell the freshmen who were lined up to go inside Ferris Booth Hall some kind of leftist newspaper. The newspaper claimed that Columbia University was controlled by Wall Street corporation directors, was nothing more than an instrument of these corporations and was not really an institution concerned about the pursuit of knowledge.

George wasn’t able to interest any of us in buying his newspaper. From the freshmen on the line who bothered to notice him, there was much snickering and some taunting of him for being a “commie.” After glancing at his newspaper’s headlines and listening to his sales pitch, I thought to myself that George’s view of Columbia was intellectually simplistic and inaccurate, and that it was ridiculous to argue that Columbia University was “just another U.S. multiversity like Berkeley.” But the longer I attended Columbia, the more my own views about Columbia began to change.

The highlight of Freshman Week came near the end of the week, when representatives of various student clubs spoke to us in Wollman Auditorium and tried to use sexist humor and sexual innuendo to interest us in joining their clubs. Most of the freshmen cheered and laughed all night, as the junior and senior Columbia College tweed-preppie-types tried to demonstrate how hedonistic and sexually virile and sophisticated they and their clubs were.

But these Columbia student leaders didn’t strike me as being the kind of men I wished to emulate. If they were “Columbia Men,” I was not interested in being a “Columbia Man.” The anti-intellectualism of this student club recruitment night, which was called “King’s Crown Activities Night,” undercut the credibility of the pious words which Columbia administrators and professors had thrown at us during the more solemn previously-held Freshman Week events. Club night seemed to indicate that what the all-male Columbia College student body found most important was the sexual conquest of Barnard women, not the pursuit of knowledge and truth, or the love of other people. Columbia students seemed no more intellectual in their personal priorities than their male counterparts at less selective universities, like Indiana University or the University of Miami in Florida.

The one student speaker at this “King’s Crown Activities Night” who impressed me was the representative of Columbia’s ACTION group. ACTION had  helped organize an anti-war, anti-NROTC demonstration  on campus in the spring of 1965, which the Columbia Administration had broken up by calling in New York City cops to arrest the less than 150 demonstrators. The ACTION speaker was the only student who mentioned the need to oppose the war in Viet Nam on campus at this club night. His presentation was interrupted by jeers from right-wing Columbia freshmen and by much heckling.

When it came time to sign up for campus activities, I signed ACTION’s mailing list. ACTION, however, became defunct early in Fall 1965 because most hard-core Columbia and Barnard activists joined the Independent Committee on Viet Nam (ICV).

I also signed up to be a Columbia Citizenship Council volunteer. I volunteered to tutor every week at Charles Evans Hughes High School at West 18th St. and 7th Ave., and to work as a group counselor in an African-American church on 104th St., between Amsterdam Ave. and Columbus Ave. Citizenship Council provided me with a way to make contact with people who lived in the neighborhoods around Harlem.

Because I saw myself as a writer-activist, I went to the freshmen recruiting meeting of Columbia’s literary magazine, The Columbia Review. During the previous academic year, the Columbia Administration had tried to curtail the campus distribution of the magazine because too many of the literary articles contained too many explicit references to sex. But The Columbia Review people seemed more snobbish, less dynamic, more self-centered, less socially concerned and less warm than either the Citizenship Council people or the ACTION recruiters. So I didn’t get involved with The Columbia Review crowd.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Columbia SDS Memories Revisited: Freshman At Columbia, 1965--Part 1

The Columbia scene in September 1965 had little connection to the people I had known at Flushing High School. Columbia was a college-level, glorified prep school for upper-middle-class whites. In entering Columbia, I was, temporarily, escaping from my social class and linking up with the left-wing intellectual youth of the U.S. white upper-middle-class, on a political and personal level.

I was assigned a dorm room in Furnald Hall during Freshman Week. My mother and father drove me and my suitcase to the campus and went with me to open a bank account at Chemical Bank's branch office at 113th St. and Broadway. I did not like having to wear a Freshman beanie, and I felt uncomfortable being required to wear a suit and tie to many of the Freshman Week orientation events.

My father and mother were proud of me because I was attending a high-status school like Columbia. They assumed that admission to Columbia meant I was going to become a teacher, a professor, a lawyer, a conventional writer or some other kind of middle-class professional, eventually marry some upper-middle-class Jewish Barnard College woman, settle down after graduating from Columbia, buy an automobile and provide them with two grandchildren. Little did my parents realize, at the time I entered Columbia, how alienated from conventional middle-class values and U.S. society I already was, and how rebellious, non-conformist and artistic were my aspirations.

To my parents, my admission to Columbia was proof that the U.S.A. was an open society for people from my class background. But Columbia wasn’t paying me to sit in their elite Ivy League classrooms. I was taking out loans, using my New York Regents scholarship and my $50 Knights of Pythias scholarship, my summer job earnings and a portion of my father’s hard-earned money to pay Columbia for the right to secure a Columbia BA and interact with upper-middle-class people. After my freshman year, I no longer asked my father to help pay for my Columbia student status.

My memories of Freshman Week are vague. I met Tom by the elevator in the lobby of Furnald Hall dormitory. Tom was from Utica and was friendly. His political views were close to Barry Goldwater’s and William Buckley’s views in 1965. But he was interested in seriously debating intellectual issues.

I enjoyed the view of the Columbia campus from my Furnald Hall window during Freshman Week. I quickly became used to living in a room alone, without the presence of any family to exchange conversation with, and without the presence of a television set. But the sound of radios playing the top hit record of the moment—“Eve of Destruction”—could be heard through the open dorm windows of some other freshmen during Freshman Week.

The other freshmen at Columbia were a varied group of people. The students from the prep schools and from the wealthy backgrounds seemed more sophisticated and self-assured than the small number of students from the working-class schools and proletarian backgrounds. Barnard women were always characterized in sexist and anti-feminist ways when they were discussed by the juniors and seniors who served as Freshman Week hosts. Freshman Week indoctrinated Columbia College freshmen with the notion that being a “Columbia whole man” meant screwing without love as many women on weekends as you could, during your four years of college. You were then supposed to marry the prettiest showpiece you could seduce, and go on to either graduate school, professional school, the officer corps of the military, or some high-paying corporate manager or free professional job.

The only senior I met during Freshman Week inside Furnald Hall who seemed like a serious intellectual was a philosophy major named Barney, who urged me to “get involved in some form of activism.” Barney had moved back into his dorm room before most of the other juniors and seniors who were not Freshman Week hosts arrived back on campus. He was active in the Ethical Culture Society in Manhattan but wasn’t a member of the New Left.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Columbia SDS Memories Revisited: Clubbed At Columbia, 1968

We sat on the floor of Fayerweather Lounge, our arms linked, singing a freedom song defiantly. We heard our barricade of chairs and desks being torn apart and tossed to the floor. We saw helmeted Tactical Patrol Force [TPF] cops entering the lounge.

I watched four TPF cops grab, rough up and drag the student in front of me out of the Columbia University building. It all seemed unreal. It seemed like a bad dream or some scene from a Hollywood movie. The cops were intent on getting us out of the building as quickly as possible. Students who refused to unlink their arms were roughed up and clubbed by the cops more than students who quickly unlinked their arms.

More helmeted cops poured into the lounge. I realized my turn to be brutalized was coming. I noticed a husky, tall, helmeted African-American cop. We looked into each other’s eyes and I noticed no sign of empathy in his eyes. I thought to myself: “Yes, some Black men will even fight for Columbia, if you pay them enough.” He then grabbed me and started to rough me up as efficiently as any white cop. I felt a club come down on my head during the one minute it took for the TPF cops to shove me from the lounge to the front steps of Fayerweather Hall and throw me onto the campus grass. My head was bleeding. I lay dazed, until I was approached by a medical student who gave me first aid.

It happened fast. One moment we were singing and watching them come at us. Then, while they were brutalizing me, I was wondering whether I was going to survive. And I thought: “Is this really happening to me?” as they passed me from cop-to-cop and out of the building. I felt completely powerless, because they had all the clubs. And I was not clear about what was happening until I was on the grass of Columbia’s campus and realized that I was still alive.

Dino was lying on the grass next to me. He was also bleeding from the head. He was crying and cursing the cops. Spontaneously, we grabbed each other’s hand.

Dino was a tall African-American non-student. A street-hustler, a grass dealer, and a street revolutionary. He looked like a SNCC person, although he never had been into Movement organizing.

A medical student helped Dino and me stand up. Other medical students escorted us into an ambulance. We were taken with other bleeding protesters to Knickerbocker Hospital further uptown in Manhattan. In the emergency room, a doctor sewed up our head wounds and put bandages on our heads, using about 10 to 15 stitches. Then we were released from the hospital. I walked back downtown to my dorm room in Furnald Hall, in the darkness of early morning.

As I re-entered Columbia’s campus, I wondered how many other people were injured, how many other students were arrested and whether the Black students who had occupied Columbia’s Hamilton Hall had been brutalized. I wondered whether the Columbia Administration was going to be able to get away with its use of police to evict us all from the campus buildings we had collectively liberated. I wondered how the rest of the campus and the rest of the world were going to react to the police invasion of Columbia’s campus.

I was angry. And I was ready to resume the fight against Columbia’s institutional racism, complicity with the Viet Nam War and its policy of suppressing student dissent. But were other students at Columbia and Barnard ready to continue the fight?

By the afternoon of April 30, 1968, crowds of students had started to form again on Columbia’s campus. It became clear that the police bust had led to a mass radicalization of the campus. The fight against Columbia’s trustees and the Columbia Administration was going to continue. Spontaneously, students were angrily chanting, over and over again outside of Low Library, “Kirk must go! Kirk must go! Kirk must go!” and, simultaneously, raising their hands in the peace sign to emphasize each word.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Columbia University's Bain Capital-Sankaty Advisors Connection

As the Columbia University website notes:

“Jonathan Lavine is the Managing Partner and Chief Investment Officer of Sankaty Advisors, Bain Capital’s fixed income and credit affiliate, which he founded in 1997… Before the formation of Sankaty, Mr. Lavine worked in Bain Capital’s private equity business which he joined in 1993...Mr. Lavine is a Trustee of Columbia University and former Chair of the Columbia College Board of Visitors...Mr. Lavine also is a member of the ownership group and a Director of the Boston Celtics…He was a 2008 recipient of Columbia’s John Jay Award for distinguished professional achievement.”

  Yet an article by John Nichols, titled “Romney Still Reaps Huge Profits From Bain’s Vulture Capitalism,” that was posted on The Nation’s website on July 16, 2012 contains the following reference to the Bain Capital private equity firm that Columbia Trustee Lavine is affiliated with:
“…Romney…helped to create Bain Capital, a private equity firm that makes its money by buying functional US manufacturing and service firms and rendering them dysfunctional. Bain guts American companies, ripping out whatever parts are profitable and then tossing the workers aside.

Bain forces cuts in wages, benefits and pensions. It outsources work. And it offshores production—harming American workers and communities and undermining American industries….Romney continued to be intimately involved with Bain as the company began to focus more and more of its energies on the shuttering of US factories and the transfer of the work done in those factories to foreign countries….Through arrangements that he made, Romney remains one of the prime beneficiaries of every move that Bain makes….He remains a direct beneficiary of Bain’s buccaneer pillaging of the US economy…Romney continued to collect a share of the corporate buyout and investment profits enjoyed by partners from all Bain deals until 2009… Romney has collected profits from twenty-two Bain and Bain-related funds…. “

  Besides sitting on the board of trustees of tax-exempt Columbia University, Bain Capital/Sankaty Advisors’s Chief Investment Officer contributed $19,200 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on Mar. 9, 2011, $30,800 to the DNC Services Corporation on June 27, 2011 and $5,000 to Joe Kennedy III’s congressional campaign committee on Mar. 31, 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics' Open Secrets website.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Columbia Students Demand End To Columbia University President Bollinger's Support for JPMorgan Chairman Dimon

The following letter to Columbia University President and Federal Reserve Bank of New York President Lee Bollinger was recently sent by some Columbia University and Barnard College students, faculty members, employees and alumni:

"Dear President Bollinger,

"As faculty, employees, alumni, and students of Columbia University, we are writing to express our deep disappointment in your recent decision to support JPMorgan Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon’s continued membership on the Board of the New York Federal Reserve Bank.

"As the Chairman of the Board of the New York Fed, your unambiguous duty -- as stated by the Guide to Conduct –- is to maintain “the integrity, dignity, and reputation of the Federal Reserve System. . . and to avoid actions that might impair the effectiveness of System operations or in any way tend to discredit the System.”

"By supporting Dimon’s tenure you have abdicated this most basic responsibility. You denied your own responsibility to ensure the integrity of the Fed by echoing Mr. Ben Bernanke’s remarks that it is up to Congress to address this problem. You then added that Congress had more pressing issues than this one. In so doing, are you not, in essence, urging inaction by all parties capable of affecting this important change? Further, by characterizing those who wish to see Mr. Dimon resign as “foolish” and in possession of a “false understanding” of how the Fed works, you have added insult – and inaccuracy – to the original injury of encouraging this critical institution to continue in its current form.

"It is worth reminding you that JPMorgan Chase is currently under investigation for its recent $3 billion trading loss – a loss Mr. Dimon initially denied and then characterized as a ‘tempest in a teapot’. It may also bear repeating that Mr. Dimon has long campaigned aggressively against important regulatory reforms designed to prevent excessive risk taking by Too Big Too Fail institutions – institutions the Federal Reserve bailed out with trillions in taxpayer money.

"We urge you to reverse your support for Mr. Dimon and instead call for his resignation. We respectfully remind you that there is precedent for this kind of action. In April 2011, Jeffrey R. Immelt, chief executive of General Electric, stepped down from the NY Fed after it was clear that GE Capital would be regulated by the Fed as a ‘systematically important’ financial institution.

"As an educator, you have a particular responsibility to demonstrate moral and intellectual credibility, something you have failed to do in this situation. As the President of a university, you have a responsibility to ensure that students have the best possible opportunities upon graduation. Surely you must know of the unemployment crisis currently facing young people in America – a situation brought about in no small measure by the ‘Too Big to Fail’ financial institutions at the heart of the 2008 collapse. That collapse not only threatened the employment potential of millions of American students, but also risked the financial health of the parents and grandparents who co-signed their educational loans. That you would choose to uphold the interests of major financial institutions over students and their families is unimaginable. We certainly hope that the contributions made to Columbia by JPMorgan – sums north of $500,000 – had nothing to do with your decision.

"Three years after the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, the country is struggling to rebuild its economy. A stable and appropriately governed financial system is a pre-requisite of our recovery. As the Chairman of the NY Fed, you can certainly take this most obvious step forward...."

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Columbia University Restricts Access To Campus During Obama's May 14, 2012 Campaign Speech At Barnard College's Graduation Ceremony

If you’re a neighborhood resident who wishes to protest against Columbia University’s West Harlem/Manhattanville business school construction project, an anti-war student who wishes to protest against the endless U.S. war in Afghanistan or an Occupy Wall Street supporter who wishes to protest against Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs, you apparently won’t be allowed by the Columbia Administration to protest on Columbia’s campus on May 14, 2012 during 2012 Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s campaign speech at Barnard College’s 2012 graduation ceremony. As a May 10, 2012 memorandum from Columbia University Vice- President James McShane to “Members of the Columbia Community,” for example, stated:

“On Monday, May 14,…Barack Obama will be on the Morningside Campus to deliver the…address at the Barnard College ceremony, held on the South Field Lawns at 12:30 p.m. This message provides important information regarding the extensive security measures that will impact lower campus operations and access.

“Please know the logistics outlined here may change at any point, subject to White House and Secret Service discretion. Updates will be posted to the Columbia homepage. We ask for your cooperation and flexibility given these extraordinary circumstances. As a precaution, please carry your University ID card with you at all times on Monday.
"All gates south of 117th Street, Low Plaza, College Walk, South Field and the following buildings must be vacated and locked down. There will be no entry or activity permitted.
“Lower Campus
“Journalism, Furnald, Lerner Hall, Carman, Butler Library, John Jay, Wallach, Hartley and Hamilton
“Upper Campus
“Low Library, Kent, Dodge Hall and Miller Theatre
“Entry to lower campus and its buildings will be limited on Monday. Those permitted to enter lower campus will be required to pass through magnetometer screening. Large bags and liquids will not be allowed. Access will be granted to the below groups at the locations specified.
“Columbia University Faculty or Staff Reporting to Work on Lower Campus
“Faculty or staff must have a University ID card and University-issued letter to verify they work in a lower campus building. If you have been instructed to report to work, but have not yet received this documentation, please see your immediate supervisor.
Lerner Hall and Print Services staff: 115th Street and Broadway, Lerner Hall gate
Hamilton staff: 115th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, Taint gate
“Upon entry to these buildings, staff will not be permitted to exit onto campus.
“Barnard College Ceremony Participants
“Degree candidates and members of the academic procession: Lerner Hall, Broadway lobby entrance
“General Admission ticket holders: 114th Street: Carman and John Jay gates
“Guests with Disabilities, Press and VIPs: 115th Street and Broadway, Lerner Hall gate
"In addition to areas specified here, there may be intermittent street and walkway closures during the President’s arrival and exit.
"Street Closures
"No parking will be permitted on 116th Street between Amsterdam Avenue and Morningside Drive. Additionally, there will be no parking on Amsterdam Avenue from 114th to 125th Street.

"No parking will be permitted on the east side of Broadway from 114th to 120th Street.
"There will be no parking on West 114th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue. Additionally, this street will be closed to vehicular traffic.
"Pedestrian traffic on 114th Street will be restricted to the south side of the street.
"Sidewalk traffic along campus on both Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue will be restricted, from 114th to 117th Street.
"Campus Closures
"The 116th Street gates, College Walk and Low Plaza will be closed.
"The Amsterdam Avenue overpass will be closed.
"The Bookstore, Butler Library, Dodge Hall, Furnald, Carman, John Jay, Hartley and Wallach will all be closed.
"Hamilton, Journalism and Kent will be closed, except for personnel already identified.
"The Intercampus Shuttle 116th Street, Northbound stop will be moved to 117th Street.
"Administrative and Student Mail delivery, as well as external couriers to lower campus will be suspended and the Lerner Hall Student Package Center will be closed Monday.
"Access to Dodge and Kent Halls will be restricted as described above. All other buildings on upper campus will follow normal University operations on Monday….”

Coincidentally, the Barnard College president who invited the 2012 Democratic presidential candidate to give a campaign speech at the 2012 Barnard College graduation ceremony, Debora Spar, also sits on the board of directors of Wall Street’s Goldman Sachs investment banking firm; and a vice-chair of Columbia University’s board of trustees, Esta Stecher, is also the CEO of Wall Street’s Goldman Sachs Bank USA.

Friday, April 27, 2012

U.S. Political Prisoner David Gilbert's New Autobiography: A Review of `Love and Struggle'

My Life in SDS, the Weather Underground, and Beyond
by David Gilbert
Oakland : PM Press 2012

Love and Struggle: My Life in SDS, the Weather Underground, and Beyond is a well-written, intellectually and politically exciting, and emotionally moving autobiography. Published by the alternative non-commercial collective PM Press, it presents a more balanced picture of Gilbert than has been portrayed in the U.S. mass media since his arrest in 1981. Most people have previously had the chance to hear Gilbert speak for himself only in Sam Green and Bill Siegel’s 2003 Academy Award-nominated documentary film, The Weather Underground.

Love and Struggle provides its readers with a sweeping history of the growth and development of the Movement of the 1960s that reflects the historical perspective of politically radical anti-racist and anti-imperialist activist/organizers of the 1960s. Gilbert explains how he—the son of a toy company production manager and scoutmaster who grew up in upper middle-class Brookline, Massachusetts in the 1950s, “went on to become an Eagle Scout and also to win the highest religious medal for Jewish scouts” and graduated with a B.A. in philosophy from Columbia University in 1966—ended up, at the age of 37, “handcuffed and getting worked over in the back of a police car” on the night of October 20, 1981; before being, subsequently, indicted, tried and convicted of felony murder and sentenced to 75 years-to-life in prison. Like Dave Dellinger’s autobiography, From Yale to Jail: The Life Story of a Moral Dissenter, Gilbert’s Love and Struggle documents the sweeping life changes experienced by many radicals of the time.

He recalls how the impact of Martin Luther King and the late 1950s/early 1960s Civil Rights Movement led him to approach religious leaders in Greater Boston’s white community about allowing the local NAACP chapter to set up anti-racist education programs for white people. A friend’s acquaintance with a Vietnamese exchange student inspired him to write an article in his school’s student newspaper in 1961 “saying America was in danger of getting drawn into a major civil war in South Vietnam, and on the wrong side at that,” while still a liberal anti-communist high school senior.

Love and Struggle then revisits Gilbert’s political, academic and personal life and the history of the New Left Movement of the Sixties after his arrival on Columbia University’s campus in the Morningside Heights/West Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan . In one section, “The 1960s and The Making Of A Revolutionary,” Gilbert explains why he and other New Left anti-war and anti-racist activists, along with Black Liberation Movement activists, became more politically radicalized, anti-imperialist and militant in their political thinking and street actions during the decade; and he also describes how he went about organizing students into SDS chapters at Columbia, Barnard and the New School for Social Research prior to the historic Columbia Student Revolt that shut-down Columbia University in 1968. He recalls, for example, how, in the spring of 1965, anti-war student activists at Columbia “set-up literature tables on the main plaza on campus, and we’d be there all day discussing and debating with those who stopped by.” He incisively observes:

I don’t want to give the wrong impression that our great arguments immediately turned people around. It is rare indeed that someone will give up on presuppositions in the course of a discussion. Ideas don’t change that quickly, and ego makes it hard for most of us to readily admit we are wrong. Organizers who expect instant conversions will become overbearing. Instead, our educational work, planted seeds and helped people see there were alternative interpretations and sources of information, so that once events developed to create more stress—the war intensified and the military draft expanded—people had a way to see that something was wrong, instead of just becoming more fervent about escalations to `win.’”
Given the decisions of university administrations at Columbia, Harvard and Stanford in 2011 to bring ROTC back to U.S. elite university campuses that had terminated their campus programs in response to late 1960s anti-ROTC campaigns of campus SDS chapters, Gilbert’s timely reference to his participation in a May 1965 anti-ROTC protest on Columbia’s campus may also be of special interest to 21st-century anti-war student activists:

“…We carried out a valuable early example of civil disobedience against university complicity with the war machine. This action was initiated by the civil rights group CORE, which planned to repeat an action done the preceding year, when a few of them sat-in to disrupt a Naval ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) ceremony…The administration moved the ceremony inside and when we marched to the door we were locked out, so people jammed up in the doorway and refused to disperse. The university called in the police, who started to pull people away, one by one…The cops twisted the tie around my neck, choking me, until, fortunately, it broke. They dragged me away and threw me down, ripping my jacket almost in half…

“Afterward, Columbia threatened to suspend the `ringleaders,’ but we were able to rally a lot of support…Some liberals wanted to reduce all organizing to defense of the right to dissent; but we maintained a balance, building a coalition on those terms while continuing to speak out against having the military on campus. And there was a tendency for students to get pumped up about how they had been subject to `police brutality.’…But I knew from my civil rights work that our bruises were minor compared to what was done routinely in Harlem…”

In the following section, “The Most Sane/Insane of Times,” Gilbert looks back in a self-critical way at the 1969/1970 period of New Left Movement history. During this period, the Weatherman faction attempted to mobilize anti-war youth to “bring the war home” to Chicago in the October 1969 “Days of Rage” protests; the Chicago 8 Conspiracy Trial began; Black Panther Party organizers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were assassinated; and Gilbert’s best friend, former Columbia SDS Vice-Chairman Ted Gold, and two other members of the Weatherman faction were accidentally killed in a West Village townhouse explosion, while building bombs to target a military base, possibly including civilians. Living in a Weatherman collective in Denver at the time, Gilbert provides readers with an interesting sense of how members and leaders of the Weatherman faction reacted on a political and emotional level to the shock of hearing the news about the deaths of their three comrades.

Love and Struggle’s next section, “Underground,” provides an exciting and vivid recollection by Gilbert of what it was like to be a member of the Weather Underground Organization [WUO] whose members were being hunted by the FBI. He also discusses the internal political differences and divisive debates that contributed to the demise of the WUO by the late 1970s.

The last four sections of Gilbert’s autobiography tell of his life in the nearly 35 years since the collapse of the WUO. He recalls his aboveground life as a furniture mover and Men Against Sexism activist in Denver in the late 1970s; some of the political, emotional and psychological reasons that he chose to resume his underground lifestyle in 1979; his return East and involvement in underground activity in support of the Black Liberation Army [BLA]. Stating that “I deeply regret the loss of lives and the pain for those families caused by our actions on October 20, 1981,” Gilbert also engages in self-criticism and self-analysis about the political appropriateness of his decision in 1979 to begin working in a clandestine way as an ally of a BLA unit “on such a high-risk tactical level with so little knowledge of the political context.” He cites “my corruption of ego” as possibly influencing the political choices he made after the collapse of the WUO, when he “was anxious to reestablish myself as a `revolutionary on the highest level,’ and `as the most anti-racist white activist.’”

Gilbert also describes, in an emotionally open way, how he reunited underground with fellow WUO member Kathy Boudin and their decision to become parents while underground. His account of how they prepared for the birth of their son in August 1980, how he felt at the time of his son’s birth and during the first year of his life and the sadness of his separation from both after his and Boudin’s arrests (she was released in 2003 after serving 22 years) are some of his most moving passages.

Some readers who were politically active in the Movement of the 1960s and 1970s may have a different political view of U.S. white working-class people’s historical revolutionary potential or the primacy of internal national liberation struggles within the US than what Gilbert presents in Love and Struggle. But there’s so much great political and psychological analysis of both U.S. society and the inter-personal dynamics within the U.S. left movement in this fascinating book—which also resembles an exciting mystery novel in some parts—that Love and Struggle should be required reading for everyone interested in 1960s and 1970s U.S. Movement history and how this history relates to current struggles.

Since David Gilbert has already been a political prisoner for more than 30 years he (as well as over 60 other U.S. political prisoners) should finally be released by U.S. state and federal government officials in 2012. In the North of Ireland, Italy and Germany, most of the political activists of the 1970s and 1980s who were involved in armed actions similar in nature to the one Gilbert was involved in were generally released from prison by the early 21st century. So why shouldn’t Love and Struggle author Gilbert and the BLA members who are also still imprisoned now also be released by the government authorities in the United States? For as Gilbert concludes in Love and Struggle’s “Afterward” section: “The book ends here; the struggle of course continues…with love and for the unity of humankind.”

Friday, April 20, 2012

Stop Columbia University Displacement Activists To Rally Against Columbia's West Harlem/Manhattanville Construction Project

COMMUNITY RALLY, MEETING, FIESTA THIS MONDAY, APRIL 23, 6:30PM ONWARDS ST. MARY’S CHURCH, 521 WEST 126TH STREET * HEAR ABOUT THE OCCUPATION OF A BUILDING THAT COLUMIBA WANTS TO EVICT, * COME TALK ABOUT THE NEXT STEPS TO STOP COLUMBIA’S DISPLACEMENT * BRING YOUR INSTRUMENTS, COME JAM, WE’LL HAVE FOOD TOO Community residents, workers, property owners, and students joined in a building takeover of property on historic 125th Street that Columbia plans to evict and destroy soon as part of its expansion. We joined forces again in a way that is reminiscent of the coalition developed during the Hunger Strike of 2007 and Tent City in 2005. During this occupation process, the Coalition to Preserve Community (CPC) and Stop Columbia University Displacement (SCUD) established a strong coalition between the community on campus and the community in the community and we hope everyone can come to St. Mary’s Church on Monday, April 16 at 6:30 to participate in a rally, meeting, and fiesta (food and music featured). Let’s keep our momentum going! We declared 655 W. 125th Street a liberated zone, taking it away from the clutches of the Empire State Development Corp and giving it back to its rightful owner. We slept there, enjoying the night air on the sidewalk for many nights, and brought the sounds of James Brown back to street level on 125, reflecting the soulful custom of so many of those long gone music shops that gave Harlem its beat and contributed to its character of free expression. Sometimes a painting or a poem would magically appear on our wall of art. A group from St. Mary’s church came by and read a Frederick Douglass poem. Ramon Diaz, owner of Floridita Restaurant, and his family came by and lent support. The students held a meeting on campus where community members were the featured speakers – for the first time since Low Library cracked down on such meetings about 5 years ago. Sarah Martin, the president of Grant Houses and Professor Mindy Fullilove were particularly powerful voices in the defense of the neighborhood. The Rev. Earl Kooperkamp spoke with both passion and humor, and he will also make his last appearance at a CPC meeting next Monday, so don’t miss that. Come on out and get an update, bring your ideas, and enjoy some music, food and some good company. The gathering will start at 6:30pm and will go on as long as people care to stay. SPONSORED BY CPC AND SCUD. AND CHECK OUT THE UPDATED WEBSITE: