Prior to winning the anti-class-ranking campaign, Columbia SDS was preparing to lead a strike, if necessary, and Phil Ochs came to the campus to give a free concert, in order to help build up enthusiasm for the possible strike. My sister was as into Ochs as I was at this time and she came into Manhattan from Queens to attend the concert at Columbia with me. We both were expecting Ochs to carry on the early Dylan tradition of folk protest songwriting that Dylan had abandoned. But after Ochs sang his “Nobody’s Buying Flowers From The Flower Lady” song in a deeply felt way, which moved his leftist audience, it seemed that Ochs, too, was moving away from protest songs in his new writing.
After my sister had gone back to Queens, I talked with Ted about Ochs’ performance.
“I think he was stoned when he gave the concert. I could swear that he was stoned. The way his eyes looked,” Ted said with laughter, as we sat in his dorm room. “Maybe that’s why he’s getting less political.”
Ted had started to smoke marijuana, himself, around this time. The guy he smoked most with was his new friend, Brian. Brian had entered Columbia the same year I had and lived with male roommates in an apartment on West 114th St. He was a tall guy from Hartford, Connecticut who pretty much got stoned every night, although his hair was never long. Brian came from money and politically non-radical parents. He was a gentle, reserved guy who became both very active in the Movement at Columbia and a great friend of Ted.
Brian was not into any heavy career-preparation trip and was both hedonistic and idealistic in Spring 1967. He was never reluctant to do Columbia SDS shit work and pretty much attended every Columbia SDS meeting or demonstration or rally that Ted and I attended. He also cut classes a lot like I did.
Around the time the campaign to end class-ranking for the draft was won, I began to feel threatened, personally, by the draft. I bought myself a book which described the procedure for seeking conscientious objection. Then I went to my local draft board in Flushing to register and, on one of their forms, noted my intention to eventually seek conscientious objection status, at the same time I also applied for a 2-S deferment. I took the 2-S deferment option because I wished to continue to do anti-war institutional resistance work in the U.S. and the deferment protected me from being captured by the war machine. I felt that granting deferments to college students, but not to non-student youths, was undemocratic. Columbia Spectator, the student newspaper, had even printed a letter to the editor by me on this issue during my freshman year. But as long as the 2-S deferment was an option, I had no reservations about taking it to prevent Uncle Sam from stopping my resistance to the U.S. military machine on the home front.
Once I was registered for the draft, I felt compelled to remain at Columbia in order to protect my deferment. I no longer toyed with the idea of dropping out of college. Much of my political activism was now motivated by my intense anger at being subject to the draft following my four years of college—or if I chose to drop out of Columbia. I felt trapped and enslaved by the draft. I felt that I could not plan my personal life beyond getting a college degree. I did not wish to either go to jail for draft resistance, flee to Canada, go underground, go to grad school or fight in an unjust war and have to submit to U.S. military discipline. I felt a social system that only gave those choices to its young men deserved to be overthrown.
Although certain leftist sects took the position that anti-war students should go into the U.S. military if drafted and organize against the war from within the military, and refuse to hide behind 2-S deferments, I regarded this position as unrealistic in 1967. I didn’t think anti-war organizing within the U.S. military could be as effective as campus anti-war organizing in 1967. I felt no confidence in 1967 that leftist men who went into the U.S. military could really disrupt it without ending up in military stockades or being shot in the back.
James and the Twenty-Seven Bicycles
8 years ago