Thursday, August 6, 2009

Chapter 1: At Flushing High School, 1964 (i)-Sundial:Columbia SDS Memories (3)

I was a Flushing High School senior in Fall 1964 when I heard about the Free Speech Movement [FSM] at Berkeley. I especially identified with FSM leader Mario Savio, who had grown up in Queens like I had. Savio had gone to Martin Van Buren High School. Van Buren was the high school that the older students in the Beech Hills garden apartment development where I used to live had attended.

What most touched me about Savio and the Free Speech Movement’s message was the assertion that we were “human beings” and “not IBM card numbers.”

I had concluded that the whole rat-race and competition to get into college was ridiculous. I looked down upon students in my classes who were mark-happy and super-competitive, instead of intellectually curious. The process I was compelled to go through in high school in order to get into college seemed emotionally empty. I felt unfree in high school. The 1964 Berkeley Revolt indicated to me that other people in my generation shared my disgust with the U.S. mass educational system.

Another aspect of the Free Speech Movement which caused me to identify with it was the link to the early 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Since the 1957 controversy over the integration of Little Rock, Arkansas schools, one of the passions of my life had been my support for the African-American freedom struggle. The people who were fighting the University of California at Berkeley Administration were often the same people who had gone down to Mississippi to work with SNCC to win freedom for African-American people.

I considered myself a writer-activist in high school, even when almost everyone else in the three high schools I attended was non-activist and not interested in questions of war and peace and racial injustice. In Bayside High School, in Broad Ripple High School in Indiana and in Flushing High School nearly all the students I met were just interested in getting into college, getting Saturday night dates, driving, sports or shopping. When I learned that the FSM students were involved with the Civil Rights Movement in a way my classmates had never been, I felt that FSM people were my kind of people.

My interest in the Civil Rights Movement was reflected in the writing I did in high school. I wrote a character study of a former African-American classmate, entitled “Benny”, which the English teacher, Mrs. Griggs, liked so much that she read it aloud to the class, which found the piece hilarious. Mrs. Griggs—who had some connection to the Columbia University School of Journalism’s high school journalism program—wrote the letter of recommendation that most likely was decisive in getting me admitted into Columbia.

I was restless and eager to get out of high school and into a more activist student setting. Senior year seemed like a waste. I was put in detention for coming late too often. I still liked to play saxophone in the high school band, though.

School’s only value seemed to be as a place to meet high school women in a classroom setting, and as a place to play saxophone with other musicians. My love of writing had no outlet because the school newspaper at Flushing High School was run by a clique that never printed “controversial” articles which criticized the educational process at Flushing, and the literary magazine wouldn’t publish my stories.

Prologue: Clubbed At Columbia, 1968-Sundial:Columbia SDS Memories (2)

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.

Table of Contents-Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories (1)

For Ted Gold and student activists of the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 21st century.


Prologue: Clubbed At Columbia, 1968

Chapter I: At Flushing High School, 1964

Chapter II: At UM & M, 1965

Chapter III: Freshman At Columbia, 1965

Chapter IV: Summer Folk Songwriting, 1966

Chapter V: In Furnald Hall, 1966

Chapter VI: Enter Ted Gold, 1966

Chapter VII: Into Columbia SDS, 1966

Chapter VIII: Discovering IDA, 1967

Chapter IX: Confronting The Marines, 1967

Chapter X: The Viet Nam Summer of Love, 1967

Chapter XI: Ted Gold and Dave Gilbert: Roommates, 1967

Chapter XII: Marge Piercy and The Anti-Rusk Demo, 1967

Chapter XIII: Christmas Vacation with Mark Rudd, 1967

Chapter XIV: Back In Furnald Hall, 1968

Chapter XV: Steering Columbia SDS Into Action, 1968

Chapter XVI: We Shut Down Columbia University, 1968

Chapter XVII: Enter Bernardine Dohrn, 1968

Chapter XVIII: Summer In The Streets, 1968

Chapter XIX: Spreading The Student Revolution, 1968

Chapter XX: Commune On Staten Island, 1969

Chapter XXI: Weatherman Comes To Queens, 1969

Chapter XXII: At United Parcel Service and Queens College, 1969

Chapter XXIII: With Andrea Eagan and Newsreel, 1970

Chapter XXIV: The Explosion at West 11th Street, 1970

Chapter XXV: All Power To My Sisters, 1970

Chapter XXVI: Uncle Sam Don’t Want Me, 1970

Chapter XXVII: The Bronx and Kent State, 1970

Epilogue: Columbia SDS Memories: From Berkeley to Kent State