Sunday, January 13, 2013

Columbia SDS Memories Revisited: Into Columbia SDS, 1966--Part 1

November 1966 was also the month that, along with Ted and most other ICV activists, I became a Columbia SDS activist.

During my freshman year, I had seen John around campus anti-war rallies, often talking with a tall guy named Lew. And during a late September 1966 Wollman Auditorium meeting, I had heard John, in a panel discussion, explain why Columbia students should get into political activism:

“First you get yourself a Barnard chick. Then you look for something worthwhile to get involved in and you join the Movement.”

John had provoked hisses from his mostly freshman audience later in the panel discussion when he said:

“The best writers are always leftists. The best poets are always leftists, like Allen Ginsberg. People who are right-wing politically can’t create good literature or good poetry.”

John was a thin senior guy of average height. He wore glasses and his longish hair was beginning to recede. His father had been a conservative Republican mayor of New Rochelle.

John had spent an extra year doing academic work in London, which, according to Ted, was “one reason he’s so smart.” Along with Dave, John was the activist most responsible for starting an SDS chapter at Columbia.

John lived with a Barnard woman a few years younger than him, named Joan, in his West 108th St. apartment. Joan appeared devoted to John and leftist in her politics, and she usually dressed in a bohemian way. But Joan never became involved in a day-to-day way in campus political organizing like John did. She wasn’t socialized to feel comfortable participating in the 1960s leftist student meetings at Columbia. These meetings tended to be male chauvinist in their form, so Barnard women usually found it difficult to participate in the political discussion as intellectual equals.

In 1965, John had been involved in the anti-war student disruption of the Columbia Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps [NROTC] awards ceremony. As a result of this protest, which was busted up by the Columbia Administration with the aid of New York City police, John had received a disciplinary warning letter from Columbia College Dean Truman. On the kitchen wall of his West 108th St. apartment, John had taped up this letter from the Dean, in the same way that doctors tape up their medical school diplomas on their office walls.

Prior to founding the Columbia SDS chapter with Dave, John had been involved in Columbia student government politics and had also attempted to radicalize National Student Association [NSA] members all around the United States. John had also worked with National SDS people and been involved in some of the New Left student activists’ arguments with Michael Harrington and the League for Industrial Democracy [LID] people over the Social Democrats’ desire to impose a red-baiting, anti-communist tradition of political organizing on the younger New Leftists.

In early November 1966, John took the initiative on campus when it was learned that the Central Intelligence Agency [CIA] was coming to recruit students in Dodge Hall. Columbia SDS sponsored a sundial rally to protest the CIA’s presence on campus and demanded that the Columbia Administration not allow the CIA to use university facilities to recruit.

Speakers at the sundial during a lunch hour rally explained what the CIA had already done around the world prior to 1966: overthrown the democratically-elected government of Iran in 1953, overthrown the democratically-elected government of Guatemala in 1954, planned the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961 and helped set up the Diem dictatorship in Viet Nam in the 1950s, which led to the 1960s U.S. military escalation in Viet Nam. Then around 100 of us marched into the lobby outside of Dodge Hall’s recruitment office and stayed there until CIA recruiting was cancelled by the Columbia Administration.

The following day, a letter was sent to Columbia University President Grayson Kirk, asking for a meeting to discuss university policy on CIA recruitment and university relations to the U.S. government. Later in the month, another rally was held at the sundial, prior to confronting Columbia University President Kirk in the Low Library administration building. Kirk appeared to feel he had to meet with the 300 Columbia and Barnard anti-war students who were rallying, in order to avert a possible Low Library sit-in.

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