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.