Thursday, August 13, 2009

Chapter 16: We Shut Down Columbia University, 1968 (i)-Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories (97)

April 23, 1968 marked the last day I sat in a Columbia College classroom as an undergraduate, after nearly 3 years of being a Columbia College student. It marked a personal turning point in my life, as well as a political turning point in 1960s history.

As I sat behind the SDS table on Low Plaza at High Noon on April 23, 1968, observing people as they gathered around the sundial, it became obvious that we had mobilized more than the 400 leftist students required to finally hold a mass sit-in at Low Library. It became clear that I was going to finally join a Berkeley-like student revolt at Columbia. As I watched and listened to Mark speak in his humorous—but charismatic and morally earnest—way, I felt that together with my Movement comrades I could actually make a great impact on U.S. history and change the world in the way I envisioned doing so in Summer 1965 when I wrote my first songs of protest—until everybody on earth was equal, free, in love and at peace. I overestimated the ease with which the United States could be changed.

Each one of the IDA 6 spoke. Cicero, the new head of the SAS, also spoke in opposition to Columbia’s gym construction project. The inter-racial alliance increased the enthusiasm in which the predominantly white New Left student crowd responded to each speech. There was a tense air of anticipation. On the steps in front of Low Library, the right-wing Columbia students and jocks eyed the rally and frowned. The white liberal students watched from further down in Low Plaza, curious about what was going to happen.

A short time before we were all scheduled to march into Low Library, Mark was handed a compromise offer from Columbia Vice-President Truman. Truman agreed to meet with us to discuss our three demands in McMillan Theatre, if we agreed to call off our march into Low Library. Mark informed us of Truman’s proposal and suggested that it only made sense to meet with Truman if he agreed that such a McMillan Theatre meeting would be a “popular tribunal” on the guilt or innocence of the IDA 6. The crowd supported Mark’s rejection of Truman’s “Too little, too late” offer of negotiation, and it began to get more restless as the speeches continued to go on.

Then a tall, beardless guy, with long-hair and a blue bandana around his head, suddenly stepped up on the sundial and shouted: "Did we come her to go talk or did we come here to go to Low?" He then pointed his arm to Low Library and shouted: “To Low!” The New Left students cheered, turned around and, in a disorderly fashion, while chanting, started to march up the stairs towards Low Library, led by six or seven Columbia SDS hard-core activists who were linking arms, while searching for an open door into the building.

The wild-eyed, bandana-wearing freak who spontaneously went to the sundial to get SDS people to end their verbosity had not previously been active in Columbia SDS. His name was Hurwitz. His father—Leo—had graduated from Harvard in the 1930s, been apparently active in CP circles and founded Frontier Films, in order to try to use film as a political weapon and an instrument for developing mass revolutionary consciousness and to combat the anti-communist ideological influence of Hollywood. In the 1950s, Leo had apparently been economically forced to scale down his Frontier Films operation because of the anti-communism of most U.S. movie house owners and to trade in his radical film camera for a CBS cameraman career. But Leo had managed to pass on much of his leftist politics and his love of filmmaking to his artistically-oriented son.

Yet when Hurwitz dramatically appeared on the Columbia New Left political scene on April 23, 1968, all you knew about him was that he cut an impressive-looking new figure, he seemed militant and hard-line politically and he appeared devoted to his quiet, but physically beautiful, Barnard womanfriend. He also seemed somewhat inarticulate when he tried to express his political views in debate, as well as somewhat cold and elitist when he related to Movement men and women whom he didn’t consider “honchos.” But, despite his political weaknesses, what was great about Hurwitz was that he liked Mark, hated Grayson Kirk and Columbia, had great and deep gut-level revolutionary left feelings and was eager to fight it out with the Establishment. So he seemed a welcome addition to the late 1960s New Left at Columbia.

Standing in front of the main entrance to Low Library was the line of right-wing students, so the Columbia SDS people led the march into Low Library towards the right front side entrance of Low, in order to avert an intra-student, left-wing vs. right-wing fight, a la what had happened in John Jay Hall in April 1967 when Marine recruiting had been stopped. As the demo marched to the right front of Low Library, I put into a box all the SDS literature from the SDS table and walked to the end of the line of march, figuring that, later, somebody else would bring all the SDS literature and the table back to its Earl Hall storage place. I didn’t want to miss out on the expected action inside Low Library.

From the back of the crowd, however, I could see that Columbia security guards were blocking the side door into Low Library, thus frustrating our collective desire to enter the building, confront Kirk and probably sit-in.

Immediately sizing up the situation, some SDS people in the front of the march shouted out: “To the gym site.” And within a few seconds, the front of the angry demonstration was racing away from the side of Low Library, past St. Paul’s Chapel, down towards Amsterdam Ave. and across W. 116th St. to Morningside Park, chanting “Jim Crow Gym, Must Go!” Because of the unexpected difficulty in getting into Low Library, the back of our demonstration was confused about where the front of the demonstration had run off to. So our demo of 500 participants and 300 onlookers was split in half, with some demonstrators and onlookers marching down to Morningside Park and some demonstrators and onlookers standing around in Low Plaza asking each other “What happened?” and “Where’s the rest of the demo?” and “Why aren’t we inside Low Library?”

Being cut off from the front of the demo and trapped on Low Plaza with the confused rear of the demo, my initial thought was “What a fiasco! Everyone was ready to have a mass sit-in at Low Library a few minutes ago and now nobody knows what’s going on.” Then suddenly Mark and Sokolow, a short sophomore caucus action-faction activist and English major who had become increasingly active during the 67-68 academic year, appeared out of nowhere, from the front of the demo.

In an excited way, Mark started to chant “Jim Crow Gym, Must Go! Jim Crow Gym, Must Go!” But because he was now chanting in the middle of an equal proportion of right-wing, liberal and confused left-wing students, nobody else was chanting along with him. He seemed, suddenly, to be a forlorn, utopian, Jehovah witness-like figure. Both the right-wing students and the liberal students who noticed Mark were laughing at him in a sneering way, because he now looked like a leader without any followers.

Not being able to rally people on Low Plaza to quickly head back down towards the gym site to reunite with the front of the demo, Mark stopped chanting and he and Sokolow quickly ran down to Morningside Park in order to catch up with the action. Along with some other confused Columbia SDS people around Low Plaza, I tried in a more patient way to get our supporters to march across Campus Walk to Amsterdam Ave. and 116th St. to also join up with the people who were already at the gym site. Ted, meanwhile, stood up on the bottom of some street lamp on 116th St. and got people organized enough to regroup so that the original demonstration was reunited by the time we all reached the entrance to Morningside Park on Morningside Drive and W. 116th St.

Chapter 15: Steering Columbia SDS Into Action, 1968 (xi)-Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories (96)

The IDA 6 were put on disciplinary probation and Columbia Spectator gave the case much publicity. Then the Columbia SDS underground newspaper hit the campus.

The right-wing white Columbia students and jocks who had attacked us in April 1967 when we protested U.S. Marine recruitment on campus began to panic at seeing how much sympathetic publicity Columbia’s New Left was receiving. They issued a leaflet which asked “Will Mark Rudd be Columbia’s new dean?” and called upon the Columbia Administration to ban Columbia SDS and be hard-line in repressing New Left campus activism. After Columbia SDS announced that an anti-repression demonstration would be held at noon on April 23rd, leaflets circulated around campus which hinted that there might be a replay of the April 1967 right-wing attack on Columbia SDS people.

A well-attended Columbia SDS general assembly meeting was held in Fayerweather Hall to plan our strategy for the April 23, 1968 sundial rally and demonstration. Bill and Ray sat near the front of the classroom in which the meeting was held, listening and observing, while the 100 white SDS people debated possible tactics. Bill and Ray only attended Columbia SDS meetings between 1966 and 1968 when they expected that genuine white radical action might soon follow the meeting.

Frivolously, a guy who had been active in PL circles and the Columbia SDS Labor Committee, named Komm, proposed that we march into Low Library on April 23rd to confront Kirk and then call for a student strike to shut down classes. Mark and the other New Left action-faction people—and even the praxis-axis people—all agreed with the proposal to march into Low Library and confront Kirk, but felt it was too premature to call for a student strike, until we saw how many students turned out for the confrontation in Low Library.

We held some debate about what our substantive demands would be and agreed on the 3 substantive demands: 1. An open hearing for the IDA 6; 2. An end to Columbia’s ties to the IDA; and 3. An end to Columbia’s construction of the “Jim Crow” gymnasium in Morningside Park. We did not include any anti-sexist demands on the Columbia Administration because no demands on the Columbia Administration were yet being raised by either liberal or radical women in 1968, even though the author of Sexual Politics—Kate Millet—was working on her book as a Columbia graduate student while Columbia SDS was attempting to mobilize Barnard and Columbia students to actually fight against the patriarchal Columbia Administration of the patriarchal corporate university. (Ironically, many of the same white liberal democratic women students who did not put forth autonomous feminist demands on the Columbia Administration in 1968 would later place sole blame for the lack of 1960s anti-sexist struggle on the male chauvinism of “patriarchal New Left” men, when they became feminist academics in the 1970s at the patriarchal U.S. corporate universities).

Before the meeting ended in a state of excitement and anticipation, Mark made the following comment: “The usual life span for a leftist organization at Columbia is two years. Columbia SDS is approaching the end of its second year. And we may not survive the Administration’s attempt to repress us. But let’s fight for our right to be free and our right to act politically on this campus as Columbia SDS, for as long as we can.”

A paper had been passed around for volunteers to sit behind the Columbia SDS table on Low Plaza on April 23, 1968 and I signed up for the 12 to 1 p.m. slot. Consequently, I was the last Columbia SDS activist to be at the table before the sundial rally turned into the student revolt, and a new political situation suddenly developed on Columbia’s campus.

Before the 9 o’clock classes were to start on April 23, 1968, some other SDS activists and I went inside the classrooms of Hamilton Hall and chalked up all the blackboards with the following message:

CONFRONT KIRK

HIGH NOON

TODAY, APRIL 23, 1968

Meanwhile, Mark had re-printed a copy of the right-wing leaflet that threatened to bust up our Columbia SDS rally, which now contained humorous, hand-written comments that he had written in the margin of the right-wing leaflet. Some of these “annotated” threatening right-wing leaflets were then circulated and posted around campus by Columbia SDS activists.

There was tension on the campus. A few days before, I had spoken with the head of Harlem CORE, Victor Solomon, briefly, as I sat behind a Columbia SDS table on Broadway and W. 116th St. He was going to meet with some students on campus with regard to stopping the gymnasium project. On the night before the April 23, 1968 noon demo a last-minute alliance was finally forged between Columbia SDS and the Student Afro-American Society [SAS] at Columbia. The Student Afro-American Society’s new leader, Cicero, was scheduled to join the IDA 6 in speaking on the sundial at high noon on the following day.

Chapter 15: Steering Columbia SDS Into Action, 1968 (x)-Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories (95)

In the two weeks during which Columbia Vice-President Truman (who was expected to succeed Kirk as President of Columbia and was handling the decision-making process with regard to how to stop New Left student protest at Columbia) was deciding how to punish the IDA 6, Columbia SDS hard-core activists remained busy. Ironically, in a speech earlier in the academic year in Low Library rotunda, Truman had attacked the New Left and made the following vow: “We will not let the University be turned into an instrument of Revolution.”

Yet upon hearing this, Mark had, subsequently, argued at a Columbia SDS steering committee meeting: “Truman says he won’t let the University be turned into an instrument of Revolution. Our political goal should become exactly that: turning Columbia from an instrument of the corporations into an instrument of Revolution.”

Mark’s next dramatic move was at the Administration-sponsored April 9, 1968 memorial to Martin Luther King in St. Paul’s Chapel, at which Columbia President Kirk was present.

Given Columbia’s record of institutional racism in relationship to the thousands of African-American and Latino tenants it forced out of the West Harlem neighborhood surrounding it and to its non-unionized, predominantly African-American and Puerto Rican cafeteria workers, as well as its continued commitment to push ahead with its gym construction project in Morningside Park despite the objections of Harlem community activists, it was understandable why Columbia SDS people leafleted outside the chapel to protest the hypocrisy of Kirk and Company paying tribute to the assassinated King. The African-American students at Columbia and Barnard, despite Bill and Ray’s interest in radical activism, were still ambivalent about the productiveness of, themselves, handing out leaflets at such hypocritical events, on a predominantly white campus.

Mark, Stu and a few other Columbia SDS people were dressed up in suits and ties as I watched them walk into the chapel on a warm spring day. I assumed that Mark and the others were just going into the memorial service to hand out leaflets and, although I was not dressed up, I followed them into the chapel and sat in a back row.

Just before a few of the usual anti-racist platitudes were to be mouthed by Columbia Vice-President Truman, Mark suddenly walked up to the altar and, before a quiet, shocked crowd of a few hundred, said the following: “This memorial service is a moral obscenity. Martin Luther King was killed while fighting for the right of Black workers to be unionized. The Columbia Administration still refuses to let its Black and Puerto Rican cafeteria workers be unionized.”

He then led a walk-out of about 20 people from the memorial service.

I hadn’t expected such an audacious protest by Mark. But, again, he had shown both white Columbia SDS hard-core activists and the most politically conscious African-American students that the issue of racism could be raised dramatically if just one Movement activist-leader was willing to disrupt university functions in a dramatic way and assert, by his actions, that business as usual deserved to be disrupted until there was racial justice.

The Administration was appalled that Mark had been willing to go inside a chapel at one of their most solemn functions and so impolitely disrupt it. He was immediately threatened with more disciplinary action, even though the Chaplain of Columbia—a guy named Cannon—defended the right of Mark to speak if the spirit moved him, although Mark had disrupted a sacred religious service.

There was much debate on the pages of Spectator about whether Mark had the right to disrupt the King Memorial Service. And many writers were more worried about the religious service being disrupted than they were about Columbia’s policies of institutional racism, complicity with the Pentagon’s IDA or political repression of its student activists.

To answer some of the liberal criticisms of Mark’s decision to disrupt Columbia’s official King Memorial Service, I wrote a short essay titled “In Defense of Disruption,” in which I echoed SNCC Chairman H. Rap. Brown [n/k/a Jamil Al-Amin and presently imprisoned in a Southern prison]’s argument that those of us who, unlike Kirk and Truman, valued justice over order and tranquility, must be willing—in the absence of justice—to disrupt an oppressive order just like Mark did, to expose injustice and end injustice.

I brought the essay over to Mark’s apartment and, while he read my essay, I read an “Open Letter to Uncle Grayson,” that Mark had just finished writing himself for a Columbia SDS underground newspaper special edition that he was going to get published for distribution around campus on April 22, 1968.

Mark liked my “In Defense of Disruption” essay, although he altered a few sentences at the end of the essay to re-emphasize the criminal nature of the Columbia Administration’s institutional policies. He then included the piece in Columbia SDS’s Up Against The Wall underground newspaper. The name of Mark’s newspaper was taken from a line in the LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka poem that inspired Mark’s activism at this time. Like Mark, Jones/Baraka had grown up in New Jersey.

I laughed while reading Mark’s “Open Letter to Uncle Grayson” and complimented him on the skillful, humorous way he had summarized the political differences between Columbia President Grayson Kirk’s corporate liberal ideology and institutional policy positions and interests and Columbia SDS’s New Left view of the world and vision of a democratic society. I felt that Mark’s open letter persuasively indicated why Columbia and Barnard students should mobilize behind Columbia SDS en masse in opposition to the Columbia Administration.

Until Columbia SDS’s Up Against The Wall newspaper appeared on campus on April 22nd, Mark (helped by Sue) spent much of his time putting the newspaper together and arranging for it to be published. Mark had apparently been an editor of his Columbia High School newspaper in Maplewood, New Jersey, so he had no difficulty in doing most of the work required to put the Up Against The Wall newspaper out.

On the Saturday before the underground newspaper was to appear, I bumped into Mark and Sue at the W. 115th St. and Broadway campus entrance, while they were on their way into Ferris Booth Hall. With a twinkle in his eye and Sue standing behind him, Mark suddenly gave me an affectionate kiss on the cheek before he walked into Ferris Booth Hall. He seemed to be in touch with some mystical life force that was driving him to pour all his energy into being Columbia SDS chairman and preparing for a final spring confrontation with the Columbia Administration. More so than any other Columbia SDS activist, he seemed to be quite willing to get thrown out of school for the sake of his politics of liberation. He seemed completely fulfilled in his role as Columbia SDS chairman and totally present-oriented, not future-oriented or security-oriented.

Chapter 15: Steering Columbia SDS Into Action, 1968 (ix)-Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories (94)

Mark, meanwhile, was solidifying his friendship with the new Columbia Daily Spectator editor-in-chief, Robert. Spectator now began publishing columns by Mark in which he reported on some of his experiences in Cuba, during his brief trip of the previous month. Around this time, I recall dropping by Mark’s apartment and listening to Dylan’s long-awaited John Wesley Harding album for the first time on Mark’s stereo. We spent a half-hour speculating about what Dylan was trying to say in his new album, but I can’t recall whether we reached any definite conclusions. We also listened to FM rock on WNEW’s Night Owl program which was DJ’d by Allison Steele. I recall Mark smiling and saying: “Did you ever wonder what she looks like? I bet you she looks completely different from the way people picture her from her voice.”

Following King’s assassination, Lew appeared out of nowhere—after over a year’s vacation from Columbia SDS activism. When I had asked Ted one night in Ferris Booth Hall in Fall 1967, “What about Lew? What ever happened to Lew?,” Ted grimaced and replied in a sarcastic tone: “He says he’s too busy writing a novel to be involved in SDS.”

But now Lew started to push for more Columbia SDS militancy at various steering committee meetings. He also appeared to push himself aggressively to the top of the white campus left hierarchy again, past many Columbia SDS women and men activists who had been doing political shitwork for months, while Lew had been working on his never-to-be-published “great American novel.” But nobody really cared about this too much, because we all felt it was quite positive to have the talented Lew back in Columbia SDS steering committee circles again. And Lew could be quite charming to people who did not block his “Movement heavy” aspirations.

Lew was still also quite inspiring on a political level. When a left sectarian-type tried to discourage SDS people from speaking positively about the slain King because King was a “bourgeois pacifist” and a “pro-capitalist Uncle Tom,” Lew tore into his sectarian argument in a passionate way which made you feel that, with Lew’s intellect on your side, how could Columbia SDS ever lose politically?

Although large street demonstrations of West German students (led by the German SDS New Left group) against the Springer media-monopoly (following the shooting of a West German New Left leader named Rudi Dutschke) took place in early April 1968, most students at Columbia and Barnard did not follow these demonstrations too closely. In early April 1968, few U.S. students yet had the sense that we were part of a worldwide student movement of New Left radicalism.

There wasn’t time for personal introspection or worrying about loneliness in early April 1968. Just one meeting after another. The Columbia Administration had decided to discipline 6 white Columbia anti-war students for the late March anti-IDA demonstration inside Low Library, because they had violated Kirk’s ban on indoor demonstrations. Why single out just 6—but not everyone—who had demonstrated? It seemed like an obvious case of selective punishment. Columbia SDS protested by having the 6 anti-war students refuse to report to the office of Assistant Dean Platt and thus refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of his disciplining authority in this situation.

The six who were to be disciplined came to be called the “IDA 6.”

No women New Left activists from Barnard were included among the IDA 6, not only because the Columbia College Administration wasn’t responsible for disciplining Barnard students, but also because in 1968 the Columbia Administration, like the Democratic Party, was even more male chauvinist than was Columbia SDS. In the eyes of the Columbia Administration and its recently-appointed Vice-President, David Truman (a noted liberal political scientist of the 1950s and 1960s and former Dean of Columbia College), women students were incapable of being autonomous political activists who exercised political leadership.

Mark was the first member of the IDA 6—because he was the Chairman of Columbia SDS. And, let’s face it, without Mark as Columbia SDS chairman, the chapter would have remained an essentially non-confrontational, academic left discussion group without the collective drive and collective will to actually shut down Columbia. So it was quite logical for the Columbia Administration to attempt to discipline Mark, since he was the SDS activist most willing to risk being expelled from Columbia for the sake of his action-oriented politics of militant confrontation with the Establishment. And if you were able to scare Mark off with the threat of discipline in early 1968, then you wouldn’t have to worry about the other hard-core SDS activists that Mark’s militant spirit was pushing into confrontation.

Nick was the second member of the IDA 6—because he was the new vice-chairman of Columbia SDS. Because he had this title, the Columbia Administration felt that he should also be held responsible for the actions of the organization which gave him this title.

Ted was the third member of the IDA 6 because he had been a thorn in the Administration’s side as chapter vice-chairman from March 1967 to March 1968, when he personally carried on his back the day-to-day work of the chapter. He was also targeted for disciplinary action because, unlike Teddy, Ted didn’t visibly retreat much from Columbia SDS political activism after Mark’s action-faction replaced Ted’s praxis-axis faction as the dominant force within Columbia SDS.

Morris was the fourth member of the IDA 6. Not because he was especially militant or politically influential, but because he had been the guy who generally contacted the Administration and, in his name, reserved all the rooms for Columbia SDS leftist film showings and cultural events and did much of the work in publicizing these events. Consequently, the Administration knew Morris’ name better than the names of more politically active Columbia SDS people.

A short, stocky, bearded guy with long-hair who usually wore a beret—named Nate—was the fifth member of the IDA 6 to be selected by the Columbia Administration. And he wasn’t even a member of Columbia SDS. The Administration only chose him because he was the head of the Joan Baez-oriented Columbia Resistance anti-war group, which specialized in turning-in draft cards and getting arrested at off-campus draft induction centers. Nate had decided to participate in Columbia SDS’s March 27th anti-IDA demo and it appeared that the Administration singled him out to warn other anti-war students in groups other than Columbia SDS to avoid forming united fronts with us to protest against university complicity with that war.

The last member of the IDA 6 was Ed, who had only been active in Columbia SDS’s Labor Committee for a few months. Few people in Columbia SDS could ever really figure out why the Columbia Administration singled out Ed. Perhaps because he had a big mouth, was fast-talking and glib and, because he wasn’t shy about speaking in front of a crowd, he may have done some speaking at the March 27th indoor demo? Or perhaps because the Columbia Administration felt that, being so new to Columbia SDS leadership circles, Ed could be the IDA 6 member who it could best pressure into breaking the solidarity of the IDA 6 by threatening him with disciplinary action? Whether for egotistical or political reasons, however, Ed did not break the IDA 6’s group solidarity. Perhaps one reason why Ed chose to stay firm politically until the summer of 1968 was that he was a personal acquaintance of Phil Ochs’ brother.

Columbia had no constitutional right to legally ban indoor demonstrations because the first amendment did guarantee freedom of assembly—even for Columbia and Barnard students. But the problem the IDA 6 faced was that if they all refused to accept the right of Columbia College to discipline them for their political activism they could, conceivably, be suspended, in an era when suspension meant losing your student deferment and being drafted. Columbia Resistance leader Nate probably didn’t feel any special concern about this, because his political beliefs already strategically justified the logic of going to jail, rather than cooperating with the Selective Service System. But the five other IDA 6 people all wished to remain out of jail, in order to avoid the draft and to remain free to continue their political work and pursue their personal and academic lives.

Yet, emboldened by the support of their Columbia SDS peers, the IDA 6 held firm and demanded that they be given an open hearing before any Administration disciplinary action was taken against them. Not wanting to grant an open hearing to the IDA 6, but also not wanting to throw them out of school because it might provoke more student protest, the Columbia Administration put the IDA 6 on “disciplinary probation.” In response, Columbia SDS was forced to mobilize people and attempt to march into or sit-in at Low Library on April 23, 1968, until the IDA 6 were taken off disciplinary probation for exercising their first amendment rights.


Chapter 15: Steering Columbia SDS Into Action, 1968 (viii)-Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories (93)

Over the spring vacation, on April Fool’s Day, the IDA Board of Trustees, meanwhile, had met in order to re-organize IDA’s organizational structure to make it appear that universities like Columbia were not still institutionally-affiliated to IDA as institutional members. As a result of its “April Fool’s Resolution,” Columbia President Kirk and Columbia Trustee Burden were no longer officially serving as “institutional representatives” of Columbia on IDA’s board of trustees and executive committee, but were just sitting there “as individuals.” Because nothing had actually concretely changed regarding Columbia’s ties to IDA, except a shift in the language used to describe this institutional relationship, Columbia SDS people ridiculed this “April Fool’s Resolution” and vowed to continue their anti-IDA campaign until Kirk and Burden formally resigned their seats on IDA’s board of trustees and executive committee.

A Columbia trustees’ meeting was held in early April in the Engineering School building during the late afternoon and Columbia SDS’s IDA Committee organized a picket of about 50 students, which was led by Nick, the Columbia SDS vice-chairman. Entertaining the picket line were Dave and Ted, who sang anti-capitalist lyrics to the tune of a song called “Playin’ With Fire,” that the Rolling Stones used to sing. Both Ted and Dave sang in a very spirited and humorous way.

While Kirk was walking towards the site of the trustees’ meeting, I handed him a Columbia SDS leaflet on Low Plaza that called upon him to resign his seat on IDA's board of trustees and executive committee. Kirk took the leaflet, glanced at it, reddened in anger, gave me a hostile look and then ripped up the leaflet. Other Columbia SDS people started chanting “IDA must go! IDA must go!” while behind Kirk, as he scurried with his entourage to the Engineering School building. After Kirk ripped up the leaflet, I began to feel that SDS had finally psyched him out somewhat with its anti-IDA agitation and that he was beginning to crack psychologically. Instead of offering to negotiate directly about IDA with us before our political conflict escalated and attempting to relate to us in a friendly way, Columbia President Kirk was neurotically ignoring the lessons of the Berkeley Student Revolt and relating to his radical student constituency in an autocratic, anti-democratic, corporate fascist-like way, in order to please the corporate board circles he moved around in.

To more clearly define Columbia SDS’s position on the liberal McCarthy presidential campaign, a general assembly debate was held one night around this time in Hamilton Hall. Paul argued vehemently in opposition to any SDS people supporting McCarthy. Paul had become more politically radical and more Marxist and anti-imperialist in his thinking between 1967 and 1968, as a result of his reading and his Gadfly editorial and literary work. He still appeared to be the best white radical orator around Columbia, with the exception of Mark. But Paul still didn’t appear to be interested in working collectively within Columbia SDS steering committee circles.

“As radicals, we must reject all forms of savior politics. Imperialism will not end just because a liberal savior like McCarthy or Kennedy gets into the White House as a result of an election. In 1960, the liberal savior Kennedy was elected. He brought us the Bay of Pigs and sent more advisors to Viet Nam. In 1964, another liberal savior, LBJ, ran as a peace candidate and promised `no wider war.’ We all know what he did,” argued Paul. “In 1968, we can’t fall into the same old trap of relying on another savior to change imperialism, who will once again double-cross us after the election—as all good liberals do.

“We must rely on ourselves. And work to build a radical mass movement to end imperialism. The election of neither McCarthy nor Kennedy will save us from the moral degeneracy of U.S. imperialism.”

Most Columbia SDS people agreed with Paul about the need to avoid getting bogged down in the “savior politics” of the 1968 presidential primary campaign and to continue to build a mass-based radical movement to end imperialism, not just to end the Viet Nam War. Perhaps if either Kennedy or McCarthy had called for an immediate withdrawal from Viet Nam and an immediate end to the draft, more support for them would have existed among Columbia SDS rank-and-file people. But neither McCarthy nor Kennedy was willing to match National SDS and Columbia SDS’s historically advanced 1968 positions on a whole range of political issues. So the New Left remained a more attractive political option at Columbia for most left-oriented students in April 1968 than the Kennedy or McCarthy campaigns.

The student-sponsored meeting in Wollman Auditorium to pay tribute to Martin Luther King following his assassination was packed with about 200 Columbia and Barnard students, most of whom were white. A panel of four students spoke about the need to do something about ending racism. No one from Columbia SDS was on the panel, but Juan represented Citizenship Council and he gave the first political speech I had ever heard him make at Columbia.

“When Martin Luther King was alive I believed the best way to work for change was to work within the System. Now I’m not so sure. And people like myself, who want to see change, may end up having to become radicals and change the System by working outside the System,” said Juan.

Prior to this speech, I had written Juan off as a good-natured, well-meaning, fun-loving guy who would always be just an apolitical, left-liberal, social worker-type; and always more interested in just having romances with Barnard students and doing concrete community service work than engaging in theoretical political discussion and building a mass-based New Left student movement. He had shown no real interest, previously, in either Puerto Rican nationalism or Columbia SDS politics when he was pouring all his organizing effort and skill into the P.A.C.T. and Columbia Citizenship Council liberal “band-aid” programs.

True, Juan had engaged in non-violent civil disobedience at one of the anti-gym construction demos. But Juan appeared to have had no interest in speaking at campus political rallies or trying to radicalize the consciousness of Columbia and Barnard students. Compared to Teddy, Ted, Lew, Harvey, Josh, John, Dave, Mark and the other SDS men I became close to as I drifted from P.A.C.T. to Columbia’s New Left circles, Juan had seemed less intellectually and politically aware, less morally outraged and politically passionate, and less psychologically alienated from the System.

Yet Juan’s response to the King assassination seemed to indicate that he was beginning to finally feel the same personal hostility towards the whole racist system that SDS people felt. I was also surprised to see that Juan was able to give such a coherent speech before such a large group of people.

The other significant thing I remember about the post-King assassination meeting in Wollman Auditorium was that there was a new mood of mass anger expressed over Columbia’s “Jim Crow” gym construction project. White left-liberal Columbia and Barnard students who had previously been apathetic about Columbia sending its bulldozers into Morningside Park were now talking about why the gym should not be built. African-American students at Columbia and Barnard appeared to be more eager to go public in their opposition to the Jim Crow gym construction plan. The subjective effect of the King assassination seemed to be that large numbers of Columbia and Barnard students felt a special need to fight racism harder and were looking for the most convenient and concrete manifestation of institutional racism around, to be the target of their anti-racist anger. And it became clear in early April that the target was going to be Columbia’s “Jim Crow” gymnasium.

Chapter 15: Steering Columbia SDS Into Action, 1968 (vii)-Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories (92)

Everyone in the student hang-out was white. And only a small number seemed disturbed enough to remain glued to the TV set for more than a few minutes, although none of the whites were happy to hear the news of King’s assassination. By the time I left the restaurant, after watching the TV for about 20 minutes and hearing a saddened and enraged Stokely Carmichael proclaim that “White America just lost its best friend” and “Non-violence is dead” on the screen from Washington, D.C., all the other white students were again acting as if nothing special had happened.

Like Carmichael, I felt non-violence was dead and I was outraged that the Establishment had let King get assassinated. By early 1968, like most other white New Left activists, I felt King was insufficiently militant and was functioning as a “fireman” and “cooling out agent” in relationship to the African-American masses and the SNCC people whose advocacy of armed self-defense, more militant anti-imperialism, revolutionary nationalism, anti-integrationism and more aggressive call for Black political and economic empowerment in line with Malcolm X’s writings seemed to more adequately reflect the mood and aspirations of the Black working-class masses. But I was still angered that a morally righteous pacifist like King could be gunned down so easily, without the Establishment preventing his murder.

I immediately assumed that some kind of conspiracy was responsible for King’s murder. “The Establishment probably didn’t like King speaking out on U.S. foreign policy issues like opposing the war in Viet Nam and didn’t like his Poor People’s Campaign plans, which would attempt to unite poor whites with poor Blacks,” was my first thought. Hence, I thought, at first, that the Establishment just had the FBI turn the other way when white racist conspirators moved in on King. I had no idea, though, that Hoover and the FBI had been conducting an extensive secret COINTELPRO campaign to politically neutralize and eliminate King as a political force “to prevent the rise of a Black Messiah” for most of the 1960s. If I had known about the FBI’s anti-King surveillance and harassment campaign, I would have assumed that the FBI, itself, organized the assassination of Martin Luther King.

In response to King’s murder, I wondered what would happen in the African-American ghettos. I returned to my sister’s room. She had also heard the news and was also shocked, and we discussed the possible implications of the King assassination. We were not too surprised when we turned on her radio and heard news of spontaneous African-American rebellions starting to break out around the U.S. We also would have been in the streets burning the cities to protest the assassination, if we were Black and living in a ghetto. We wondered whether the Black Revolution would begin rapidly, now that King’s peaceful approach had been gunned down.

My sister told me that she had arranged a car ride to New York City for me, with one of her English professors. The professor, a guy from Brooklyn named Bleich, was only a white liberal, but he seemed to be attracted to my sister. So he had agreed to let me sit in his car, along with another student passenger, when he left the following morning to spend Indiana University’s spring break with his mother in Brooklyn.

Early the next morning, I kissed my sister goodbye and got into the back seat of Professor Bleich’s car. He was in his early-to-mid-30s and looked like an academic who was starting to age. He loved to talk. And since each hour on the road brought news from the car radio that more and more U.S. inner cities were burning in protest over the King assassination, we spent most of our time on the road debating what could be done to end racism in the U.S. I can’t recall any of the specifics of the discussion. I just recall that Bleich and I did most of the talking in the car and he was fearful of the prospect of Black Revolution and uncomfortable with the Black radicalism and nationalism of SNCC. Despite our political differences, though, as the car passed through Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey—amidst more and more news of burning cities—we both agreed that the U.S. seemed to be falling apart, because of its failure to rapidly end the oppression of Black people and respond rapidly and positively enough to Martin Luther King’s movement, during King’s lifetime.

When we got to Manhattan, Professor Bleich dropped me off at the subway and I headed up to my dorm room at Columbia. I was surprised that no big mass-based African-American rebellion had taken place in Harlem or in Bedford-Stuyvesant, despite tempers being hot and the cops appearing to nearly provoke a rebellion. Mayor Lindsay’s white liberal approach to the African-American community and his willingness to personally visit African-American neighborhoods when people felt like revolting had proven to be an effective counter-insurgent approach and an effective way to cool down enough Black folk in New York City at this time.

Back at Columbia after King’s assassination, more people seemed to feel that the U.S. was in a political crisis, and more people were now interested in being political. An emergency inter-racial march to protest King’s assassination had marched from Times Square to Harlem, in which the spirit was more militant than in most previous Manhattan marches against racism. But around Columbia, Eugene McCarthy buttons suddenly also appeared on the shirts of many white liberals and white left-liberal students who had previously been flirting with involvement with SDS, following LBJ’s announcement that he would not seek re-election in 1968. A mass meeting in Wollman Auditorium at Columbia was then called by a group of left-liberal Columbia students, who hadn’t been active in SDS, to discuss the implications of King’s assassination.

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As the Council meeting broke up, I asked around for a ride to Bloomington, Indiana. Two SDS guys and an SDS woman from Madison, Wisconsin had extra space in their car for me. They were planning to pass by Bloomington on their way back to Madison, Wisconsin. But first they wanted to visit Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, before heading back north. Since I had never been to Mammoth Cave National Park, I did not mind not driving to Bloomington immediately. In the late afternoon, we left the University of Kentucky campus and started to drive towards Mammoth Cave.

The Wisconsin SDS activist who drove the car had longish black hair and a beard. The other guy from Wisconsin SDS had short hair, was beardless, seemed more sectarian and dogmatic when he spoke about politics, and was somewhat supportive of PL’s anti-bohemian line. The Wisconsin SDS woman activist who was in the car with us had worked with John in building a Madison draft resistance union. Before the sun set, we stopped off at a roadside restaurant in rural Kentucky and were able to eat a tasty, home-cooked, four-course dinner for an amazingly low price. We then got back in the car, continued to drive, and talked politics and debated whether or not the National SDS “heavies” were “too hippy” and “too elitist”, until we reached the inn that was located near the Mammoth caves. It was dark when we arrived at the inn.

Before we were going to turn the lights in our two adjoining rooms out, we watched and listened to Lyndon Johnson speaking on TV to the nation. We all were flabbergasted when LBJ suddenly announced that he was not going to seek re-election in 1968 and was going to stop bombing much of North Viet Nam. Nobody within SDS had predicted such a development. We spent the next few hours excitedly discussing the implications of the LBJ withdrawal from the election campaign and his limited bombing pause: Was it just an election year gimmick to try to regain his popularity? Did this mean Kennedy or McCarthy would be president? Was the war actually going to end? Were we going to be able to actually escape the war draft? Who gave LBJ the order to resign? How would SDS’s Movement organizing be affected by all this? If the war in Viet Nam did end, would there still be a mass base for the white New Left? Then we finally all went to sleep.

The next day we spent walking around the insides of the scenic Mammoth Cave with other tourists. After going through all the sections of the cave, we hit the road again and talked ourselves out until I was dropped off in downtown Bloomington, Indiana.

My sister was living off-campus in a room in a house, in which she shared cooking facilities and a bathroom with other women in the house. She was now as politically radical, comparatively, as she had been in high school. But since there was no active SDS chapter at Indiana University yet, most of her knowledge of what was going on within SDS came from telephoning me.

During the week I visited her, she was busy catching up on her academic work and term papers, and working at her part-time clerk-typist job. So she didn’t have much time to hang out with me during the day. But one evening, we visited the local Woody Guthrie-type folksinger and his woman friend, at another off-campus house. Another evening, we dropped by a meeting of local anti-war students who were planning their student government election anti-war campaign. And a third evening was spent with a grad student she was dating named Cramer, whose father was a paperback book publisher in New York City. Cramer had attended Columbia as an undergraduate and we recognized each other from having played basketball together in Riverside Park one spring Sunday afternoon, when I had been a freshman. He took my sister and me out for dinner at a local drive-in restaurant along Indiana State Highway 37. He still seemed more interested in his academic career than in radical New Left politics.

Most of the other time in Bloomington, I spent walking around campus, hanging out in the student union building or browsing through books in the library. Alone, I also attended an evening meeting about the draft on campus, where I got into a big argument about the war with a U.S. military official who was addressing the sparsely-attended meeting, after I had asked a question about the war’s morality which he had difficulty answering.

It’s hard to recall anything else of what I did in apolitical, non-bohemian Bloomington, Indiana that week. Because on the evening of April 4, 1968 I was sitting in an off-campus student hangout, eating a cheap dinner, when I noticed something strange was being broadcast on the TV screen behind the counter. I stood up from the table where I had been eating and approached the counter to try to get closer to the TV, in order to hear the sound better and to find out what unusual event had evidently happened. In about 20 seconds, I realized what they were saying, and my heart sank.

Martin Luther King had just been shot in Memphis, Tennessee. That was why the TV was broadcasting pictures of him speaking, while they waited for news that he was officially dead.

Chapter 15: Steering Columbia SDS Into Action, 1968 (v)-Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories (90)

There had been some pressure put on the University of Kentucky Administration by the local newspaper and local power structure not to let university facilities be used for an “anti-American” and “communist” meeting like the SDS National Council. But the University of Kentucky Administration hadn’t bowed to this pressure.

In the cafeteria of the student union building, I noticed Mark and other people from Columbia SDS. Mark laughed when he noticed me there and said: “Bob! When did you arrive here?”

“I just hitched down from Cincinnati,” I replied.

Jeff Gordon of PL was also there with his loyal band of PL followers and it appeared that the usual round of PL vs. New Left faction-fighting would take place. In the cafeteria, the PL people sat in the corner by themselves, while all the New Left people from the rest of the country socialized with each other.

There were about 400 white delegates walking in and out of the main mass meetings that weekend in Lexington. It seemed like SDS membership around the country was increasing. Chapters from as far south as Texas were represented and white radicalism in the United States, as a result of the prolonged war in Viet Nam and the draft, no longer just seemed a New York Jewish radical or a Berkeley bohemian phenomenon. There were literature tables with printed material from National SDS’s Radical Education Project [REP] and literature tables staffed by white Southern student radical organizations.

On the Friday evening before the Council meeting officially opened, New Left SDS people relaxed with each other in small groups on a hilly campus lawn of the University of Kentucky and conversed. I can recall noticing Carl and Karen Davidson walking arm-in-arm and Jeff and his woman friend, Phoebe, also touching each other in affectionate ways.

The Columbia SDS men who were unattached were driven by local anti-war religious activists from Lexington, along with other unattached SDS men from around the U.S., to some church on the outskirts of town, on the Friday night after the first session of the Council meeting. We all ended up sleeping cramped next to each other in sleeping bags on the floor of a fairly modern church, after spending a few hours in informal, interesting political discussion with each other. The SDS men and women who formed part of couples ended up crashing in friendly off-campus houses adjacent to the University of Kentucky campus.

I can only recall a few moments from the Council debate itself that seemed significant. Columbia SDS appeared to have the politically strongest and most active SDS chapter in the U.S. by this time. We had sent the most student activists to this meeting and our people usually made the most arguments during the various debates. JJ—although he had by now dropped out of Columbia, did no day-to-day organizing for Columbia SDS and only appeared on campus when demonstrations or SDS general assembly meetings were being held—loved these National Council debates. He would often speak for 10 minutes in a rambling, left-sectarian monotone, in support of some obscure ideological position, until people no longer understood what he was talking about—or even cared. His essential point still was that doing anything other than immediately kicking ROTC and recruiters off U.S. campuses everywhere and immediately trashing university military research labs, in support of the Vietnamese, was bull-shit. But he still didn’t know how to use political argument to persuade anybody that his super-militancy was politically correct—or that his call for SDS people to prepare for campus brawls with those few students he felt would actually fight us if we disrupted campus life, was a good strategy for radicalizing liberal students.

There were again debates over whether to support, at the expense of local campus organizing, national anti-war marches in Washington, D.C. that were being organized and controlled by Socialist Workers Party [SWP] people. Again, National SDS people argued that organizing for national anti-war marches was a waste of time, in terms of building an on-going multi-issue radical movement.

One of the most dramatic moments of the Council meeting occurred on Saturday afternoon when, after long months of study, solitude, thought and non-activism, a former National SDS president—Carl Oglesby—now clean-shaven, came down from the mountain to present his latest political analysis of the U.S. Oglesby was in his mid-30s at this time. He had worked as some kind of white-collar professional at Bendix in Ann Arbor in the early 1960s, before being radicalized by the war in Viet Nam and then discovering that U.S. foreign policy since World War II had been anti-democratic and hypocritical in its Cold War anti-communist hysteria.

“There’s a fight going on in the Establishment between what I call `The Yankees’ and `The Cowboys,’” said Oglesby. “The `Yankees’ are members of the old Eastern Establishment and they’re being represented by Bobby Kennedy. They had power until the Kennedy Assassination and now they want power again, in order to end the war in Viet Nam. `The Cowboys’ are the Southwestern and Western, newly-rich, military-industrial complex-linked members of the Establishment, with Texas and California-based wealth. They’re represented by Lyndon Johnson. They want to continue to escalate the war in Viet Nam until it is won. They’ve held power since the Kennedy Assassination and they want to keep holding power.”

Oglesby then continued his speech, while SDS people listened very attentively. “For the last few years we’ve been saying that the main issue in America is the war in Viet Nam. But the recent Democratic primary results in opposition to Johnson make it look like the `Yankees’ and Kennedy are going to regain the Presidency again and end the war in Viet Nam.

“Now being `radical’ means taking up issues that the liberals are afraid to take up. And no longer will the war in Viet Nam be the main issue in the United States. The main issue is now racism.

“Because of racism, more Black urban uprisings are inevitable. SDS must now prepare for these ghetto uprisings. We must prepare to donate arms to Black activists who need to defend their communities from racism and police brutality.”

At this point in Oglesby’s speech, Ben of the Motherfuckers suddenly stood up in the back of the hall, went into a tantrum and began to shout, as he approached Oglesby in a menacing way: “Donate arms! And let Black people do all the fighting and bleeding while SDS sits securely in the classrooms! White radicals have to fight too, you honky! They may be either Yankees or Cowboys, but we’re the Indians!”

Ben then started shouting incoherently about “white collar radicals” and preparing for guerrilla warfare for a few more seconds, while people laughed at his comment about us being the Indians. Then other SDS people cooled Ben down, finally.

Oglesby next resumed his speech by saying: “Before we can change anything, we have to be sure we’re psychologically together ourselves.” He then stated that the main issue SDS had to now decide was whether or not to support Kennedy in the 1968 election and how to prepare to donate arms to the Black community.

Oglesby’s speech did not go over well because most SDS people were not that certain the liberal “Yankees” were less dangerous than the right-wing “Cowboys” or that it was inevitable that the “Yankees” would end the war so quickly or really alter the foreign policy of U.S. imperialism. People also felt that to respond to Black ghetto uprisings by just donating arms, instead of initiating simultaneous struggle against the common oppressor for radical democratic goals, was too white liberal and passive an approach to responding to racism in 1968.

People were also turned off to the idea of even considering working for the “liberal opportunist” Robert Kennedy, instead of working to build a New Left Movement that radically changed more than who sat in the White House or which country abroad U.S. troops occupied. By this time in National SDS circles, Oglesby was seen as too “apolitical” in his political thinking and not Marxist or neo-Marxist enough in his way of analyzing events. Within SDS rank-and-file circles, the only presidential candidate who had any kind of credibility at this time was Eugene McCarthy because, unlike Bobby Kennedy, he had been willing to run as an anti-war candidate before it became apparent that LBJ could be defeated electorally in the Democratic primaries because of his war’s unpopularity.

In the evening following this Saturday debate a number of parties were held at various locations. I ended up at a party in which people like Ben and the other Motherfuckers and JJ smoked a lot of pot and mingled with local University of Kentucky anti-war movement women. I can recall getting stoned myself and walking around while high with other leftist students and leftist hippies, through car less Lexington streets around the campus. Inside the house, ten to fifteen of us, while stoned or tripping, spent a few hours pounding loudly on steel cooking pots, as if they were drums, at the same time rock music was blaring. Everyone stayed up stoned until mid-morning, turning on again and again, until we each dropped down somewhere and fell asleep either with a leftist or hippie woman in our arms or alone.

On Sunday afternoon, after enough SDS people had recovered from the Saturday night parties, the National Council passed resolutions and tried to raise money, by stirring up friendly chapter rivalry and ridiculing each of the most prominent National SDS “heavies”. Then it wrapped up its business. It was agreed that in late April 1968 SDS chapters would try to simultaneously carry out anti-war and anti-complicity actions on as many campuses as possible, as part of a “10 days against the empire” campaign which would “put SDS on the map.” Although Columbia SDS seemed to have the strongest chapter and Mark’s action-oriented, confrontational leadership appeared to be dynamic, nobody at the Council meeting foresaw how big the spring confrontation at Columbia actually would become.


Chapter 15: Steering Columbia SDS Into Action, 1968 (iv)-Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories (89)

After the pie-throwing incident and the steering committee meeting in which he skillfully outdebated all his Praxis-Axis critics, Mark was clearly in control of the chapter’s direction and was able to lead in a freewheeling, charismatic way, with the enthusiastic support of the bulk of Columbia SDS’s hard core. The next evidence of Mark’s dynamic leadership and willingness to return Columbia SDS to its pre-Praxis-Axis confrontational style of politics was the March 27, 1967 demonstration inside Low Library. Two hundred of us playfully defied Columbia President Kirk’s ban on indoor anti-war demonstrations at Columbia at this time.

The initial goal of the March 27th march into Low Library was to deliver more petitions to Kirk which called for an end to Columbia’s institutional sponsorship of IDA. But—like in December, when Kirk was down in Virginia attending an IDA executive committee meeting—Kirk was not in his office when we entered the Columbia Administration building.

So chanting “IDA must go! IDA must go!,” we marched into the offices of other administrators, including the office of a guy named McGooey, who was your typical mid-50s, suit-and-tie-wearing administration bureaucrat. We asked him to justify Columbia’s ties to IDA and, naturally, McGooey didn’t know anything about them. But he seemed uncomfortable having to face a jeering Columbia SDS crowd led by Mark, Dave and Ted, each of whom shouted questions at him in a derisive, humorous way. Although Ted was hurt by the outcome of the post-pie-throwing meeting, after a few days he put his personal feelings aside and continued to be willing to do chapter agitational work at rallies under Mark’s leadership. After about a half-hour of confrontation and defiant marching inside Low Library, we left the building.

By March 27, 1968, most Columbia SDS people were so frustrated with the Columbia Administration’s failure to cut its ties to IDA that we were ready to sit-in immediately, once we had enough people. We no longer had any faith that the Columbia Administration would resign from IDA because of rational persuasion. We realized that only by showing Kirk that continued ties with IDA meant disruption of business as usual at Columbia would we be able to persuade Kirk to get Columbia’s trustees to pull out of IDA. Our hope was that by defying Kirk’s ban on indoor demonstrations in a confrontational way we would encourage the mass of apathetic anti-war students who had mobilized behind us in the April 1967 confrontation with the Marines to go into political action again. Everyone in Columbia SDS felt “up” after the March 27th demo inside Low Library.

A day or two after the March 27th indoor demonstration in Low Library, spring vacation began. During the spring break, most of Columbia SDS’s hard-core of 30 activists ended up traveling out to Lexington, Kentucky for what was to be a well-attended SDS National Council meeting. At first I wasn’t going to attend. It seemed like too much of a hassle to find a ride in a car going from the Upper West Side, when I only half-believed that National SDS meetings were of relevance to local SDS chapter activity. But after I spent a day back with my parents in Queens, I thought to myself: “What am I doing here? Why don’t I splurge a little and combine a trip to the SDS National Council meeting in Kentucky with a visit to my sister at Indiana University?”

I telephoned my sister (who was now finishing up her BA work at IU), looked at my collection of road maps, telephoned an airline company at LaGuardia Airport, took out some money from my bank account, packed a sleeping bag and some clothes in a knapsack, said goodbye to my mother and took a few local buses to LaGuardia. For the first time in 10 years, I got on a plane—a jet that was bound for Cincinnati. I could only afford a one-way ticket to Cincinnati. So my plan was to land in Cincinnati and hitch to the University of Kentucky campus in Lexington. After the National Council meeting ended, I then hoped to get a ride, or hitch, to Bloomington, Indiana, where I would crash with my sister for a week, before getting a ride back to New York City from Bloomington.

Although I had never hitched before on a highway, I had read through enough Woody Guthrie books and listened to enough Dylan to feel quite eager about starting to do a little hitching in the U.S. My 1968 hitch-hiking from Cincinnati to Lexington was my first time “on the road” hitching.

After the jet landed in Cincinnati in the early afternoon of a hot spring day, I soon found myself on a highway on the outskirts of the city. Within five minutes, a young guy who was a student at Xavier College picked me up and drove me from the airport to the southern outskirts of the city. Five minutes after he dropped me off, two poor whites from a mountain town in Tennessee, who were heading back home, picked me up. I sat in the backseat of their beaten-down jalopy during the hour or two that it took to reach the highway exit for Lexington. After being dropped off, I walked into the town and followed the signs that directed cars to the University of Kentucky campus.

The road from the highway through the town passed through the impoverished African-American section of Lexington, and I walked through this section towards Main Street and the center of town. In the center of town, I made a left and walked by many stores of the downtown shopping section, then up a hill to the University of Kentucky’s campus. As I walked up the hill and saw more of the university buildings, I felt more and more as if I was in a campus town. In the late afternoon, I found the building where the SDS National Council meeting was being held.

Chapter 15: Steering Columbia SDS Into Action, 1968 (iii)-Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories (88)

The Columbia SDS steering committee meeting to discuss the pie-throwing incident took place in one of Earl Hall’s side rooms. I was picked to chair it because both the Praxis-Axis people and Mark felt I would chair the meeting in a neutral way. “What we’re going to discuss is whether Columbia SDS should repudiate the pie-throwing action,” I said right before we went around the room to debate the merits of Mark’s actions.

There were about 20 people in the small room and, initially, it looked like the vote was going to overwhelmingly repudiate the pie-throwing and a move might then possibly be made by the Praxis-Axis to call for new SDS chairman elections the following week.

“Throwing the pie in the middle of the Colonel’s speech was a terrorist action. What Columbia SDS has to still be about is building a mass movement by rational discussion and education—not infantile, small group terrorist actions. It was totally irresponsible for you to ignore the Draft Counseling Committee vote, Mark,” Peter Schneider argued, in an angry voice.

Then Ted followed: “We had a long debate in the committee, Mark. And you lost. You had no democratic right to go off and plan such a politically childish action on your own. It hurts us politically on campus because it alienates us from most of the liberals who still have hang-ups about free speech.”

Teddy and Al and a few other SDS hard-core activists followed with more angry Praxis-Axis condemnation of Mark. It looked like the whole debate was going against Mark, as each speaker poured on heavy criticism of him, and none of his previous sophomore caucus supporters appeared willing to defend either him or the pie-throwing action.

Jeff, from the SDS Regional Office, had dropped by to attend the steering committee meeting. He was one of the first speakers to talk about the pie-throwing action in a positive way. “I was at another campus yesterday and, when I mentioned the pie-throwing, they dug it and thought it was a great action,” Jeff said with a twinkle in his eye and a smile.

A Resist! organizer named Ron, who had been a civil rights worker in the South during the summer before he enrolled at Columbia, also supported Mark’s action.

I then stated my own position: “I think it was a good political action because it shows the campus that we’re about militantly resisting the war and not just having more polite academic discussions. But I don’t think Mark was right in violating the democratic forms of the chapter, in order to carry out the pie-throwing.”

Another speaker or two continued to pour criticism on Mark, as he sat impassively and carefully listened. Finally, it was Mark’s turn to speak. And there was an air of hushed tension as he began his reply:

“The issue isn’t really a question of democratic forms. Or whether the pie-throwing was a good tactic. The issue is whether the old leadership is going to really surrender control of the chapter to me and stop trying to block those of us who want to use more creative tactics to build the Movement.

“Many activists around Columbia have been made to feel like outsiders by the old leadership that still doesn’t want to relinquish control. Now that I’m trying to act more independently and provide a chance for people who have felt excluded from the chapter leadership to get involved in a creative way, they’re trying to undermine me.”

The Schneiders, Al, Ted, Teddy and Nancy began to frown, while the faces of SDS sophomores like Stu and Sokolow began to smile. Then Mark looked at each individual who had criticized him, in turn, and proceeded to answer, in a specific and convincing way, each of their specific individual criticisms, one-by-one. After demolishing each individual’s arguments and criticisms of him, he then made his own psychological and political counter-criticisms of their individual political practice, before turning his attention to the next individual whose criticism he responded to. By the time Mark had finished his 20-minute response, he had won over everyone in the room to his point of view, with the exception of Ted, Teddy, Nancy, the Schneiders and Al.

I called for a vote on whether or not Columbia SDS should repudiate the pie-throwing action. And everyone—except the hard-core Praxis-Axis of Ted, Teddy, Nancy, the Schneiders and Al—voted to support Mark’s position. Ted, Teddy, Nancy, Al and the Schneiders then hurried out of the room after the vote. Everyone else remained in the room to converse about what had just happened, in a gleeful way.

“Did you see Nancy’s face when the vote went against Teddy?” Stu asked somebody, while laughing.

Mark was smiling widely and talking with people in an enthusiastic and animated way.

“That was great! You really exposed their true motives in a clear way. I never saw anyone turn a political meeting around so dramatically like that,” I said to Mark right before I left Earl Hall to get some dinner.

Chapter 15: Steering Columbia SDS Into Action, 1968 (ii)-Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories (87)

The pie-throwing incident of March 20, 1968 marked the start of Columbia SDS’s more confrontational approach, under Mark’s dynamic charismatic leadership.

Colonel Akst, the New York City Director of the Selective Service System, had been invited by some Earl Hall religious counselors of Columbia to speak about the draft options of students. A meeting had been held by Columbia SDS’s Draft Counseling Committee to decide the best way to greet Colonel Akst. At this meeting, Ted, Peter Schneider and Al had persuaded the bulk of Draft Counseling Committee members that the most effective way to respond to Colonel Akst’s presence was to “ask probing and embarrassing questions” after the Colonel spoke.

Mark, however, had argued that this response was not dramatic enough and that SDS people should use guerrilla theater in the middle of Akst’s speech to disrupt the speech of a war criminal. But Mark’s proposal had been voted down by 31 to 3 within the draft counseling committee because Ted, Schneider and Al had argued that it would “alienate” the non-SDS people who would be listening to Col. Akst. Hence, when Col. Akst began to speak in the Earl Hall auditorium all that was expected was that Columbia SDS people would “ask probing and embarrassing questions.”

A de-classified “Red Squad” document of March 22, 1968, however, described what happened when Colonel Akst began to speak:

“Approximately 150 students had assembled in the hall at 4:00 P.M. when Col. Akst began his talk. He had spoken about one-half hour, when a group of students, identified as Students for a Democratic Society (S.D.S.) members, entered through the rear of the audience and proceeded to cause a commotion. The invading students were equipped with an American flag; some were masked, and some carried toy pistols and fake rifles. They conducted what was purported to be a mock war. While everyone’s attention was drawn to the rear of the hall, one or two youths sneaked up on the stage and threw a lemon meringue pie at Col. Akst. The pie struck the Colonel on the left shoulder and left side of his face. The perpetrators escaped before they were apprehended.”


This same document also erroneously identified me as one of the pie-throwers:

“7. [deleted…] F.B.I., advised that a confidential source had been present at the above meeting, and was able to identify the following members of S.D.S. who had taken part in the `mock war’…The source also indicated that one BOB FELDMAN, a member of Columbia University S.D.S., not previously known to this command, was one of two persons who had perpetrated the above pie-throwing incident. The other person was not identified. Bob Feldman is described as follows: 20 years of age, 6’, very thin face, smooth complexion, brown curly hair, blue sun glasses, brown leather jacket…”


The description of me also overestimated my age and height and described the physical appearance of somebody else.

When I noticed Colonel Akst wiping the pie from his face—from a seat in the rear of the auditorium—I was as stunned as everybody else in the room. Nobody in the crowd was laughing and most of the audience perceived the pie on Col. Akst as an act of humiliation against a human symbol of the hated Selective Service System.

It was Mark who broke the silence a few seconds after everybody realized that a pie had been thrown. He stood up and yelled out: “He’s a war criminal. He has no right to speak on campus.”

The meeting soon broke up and the humiliated Col. Akst quickly left the campus, to the jeers of a few students. Ted, Teddy, Al, Peter Schneider and other Praxis-Axis people who had voted against Mark’s proposal to disrupt the speech at the Draft Counseling Committee meeting were furious that Mark had unilaterally decided to arrange for the pie to be thrown.

An emergency steering committee meeting was set up for a few days afterwards, and there was some talk among Praxis-Axis people that Mark would be ousted as Columbia SDS chairman. In the evening after the pie was thrown, Mark, himself, had self-doubts about the political wisdom of planning the pie-throwing and about his own ability to be Columbia SDS chairman. I can recall bumping into him near Harkness Theatre, in the basement of Butler Library, when he was walking around with an increasingly active Barnard SDS activist named Ann, on the evening of the day the pie was thrown.

“Everybody thinks it was a big mistake, Bob. They’re furious. I don’t know why I did it. Maybe I should resign as chairman. It reinforces Ted and Teddy’s notion that I’m too impulsive to be a good chairman,” said Mark.

I reassured Mark that arranging for the pie-throwing wasn’t necessarily a bad political move, although he probably shouldn’t have overruled the vote of the Draft Counseling Committee. “Regardless of what Ted, Teddy and Schneider think about the pie-throwing, you still should stay on as Columbia SDS chairman, because there’s still nobody else who can do a better job,” I said.