Monday, January 22, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 3: Freshman At Columbia, 1965

Chapter 3: Freshman At Columbia, 1965 (ix)

I continued to go to anti-war meetings and attend anti-war campus rallies. From a distance, I watched Dave give anti-war speeches from the sundial of Columbia’s Low Plaza. I also heard him debate the head of the Young Republican Club in Harkness Theater in the basement of Butler Library. He opened his briefcase before the debate and pulled out his notes. Then, during the debate, he demolished, with the facts he possessed, the pro-war speaker’s case for a continued U.S. military presence in Viet Nam.

Paul also began to speak at sundial rallies against the war during Spring 1966. He was a fiery speaker who would condemn U.S. war policy from a Jeffersonian Democratic point of view. A graduate student, Paul was the editor of Gadfly, which was a muckraking newsletter sponsored by the office of Rev. William Starr, who was a religious counselor at Columbia. Gadfly was one of the first publications in the U.S. to expose on campus the CIA’s covert actions around the world which violated international law. It also exposed and criticized Columbia University’s complicity with the U.S. war machine and Rev. Starr was telephoned, at least once, by a Columbia Administration official who unsuccessfully requested that Rev. Starr cease publishing Gadfly.

Both Dave and Paul were quite convincing when they argued that major violations of international law and the Nuremberg Accords were being committed by the U.S. government in Viet Nam. Dave also had written a mimeographed paper on U.S. imperialism in Latin America which convincingly argued that U.S. foreign policy in Latin America was as immoral as U.S. policy in Viet Nam.

In late March 1966, there was a packed anti-war teach-in at Columbia’s McMillan Theatre. Most of the professors who spoke opposed the U.S. war policy. A State Department bureaucrat also spoke at the teach-in. But the audience hissed at him and heckled him because his arguments in favor of U.S. policy were unconvincing.

There was another march against the war down Fifth Avenue to Central Park, which was even more well-attended than the Fall 1965 anti-war march. Norman Mailer gave a comical speech at the rally which followed the march and Judy Collins sang an anti-war folk song. But I now realized that the Viet Nam War was not going to end soon.

I attended Independent Committee on Viet Nam [ICV] meetings. I remember an evening meeting in Fayerweather Hall at which Stanley Aronowitz, representing some committee for independent political action on the Upper West Side, gave a dogmatic, left-sectarian speech in a thick Brooklyn accent. Aronowitz used much Marxist jargon when he spoke and didn’t understand that anti-war students at Columbia in 1966 were solely into working directly to end the war in Viet Nam in the quickest way possible. Most anti-war students at Columbia were not yet into working outside the two-party system for a radical change in society’s structure. Unlike Aronowitz, Columbia anti-war students also accurately perceived that the U.S. industrial working-class in 1966 was still too highly-paid, affluent and anti-communist to be open to a socialist political alternative at that time.

By Spring 1966, anti-war students at Columbia and Barnard were increasingly dressing up like beatniks and, if men, were growing beards and mustaches and getting haircuts less often. Both men and women who were anti-war at Columbia were increasingly just wearing dungarees. And Barnard women were starting to wear much less make-up and no lipstick, and letting their hair grow long in a natural way.

Finals came and went. My freshman year at Columbia was over. Prior to leaving my dormitory room for my parents’ apartment, I went down to the reference room of the 42nd Street New York Public Library. In the reference room, I walked to the college catalogue section and pulled out the catalogue for the University of California at Berkeley. I turned to the pages which described the application procedure to follow for students who wished to transfer to Berkeley. I also checked out what the cost of me transferring to Berkeley in Fall 1966 would be.

I couldn’t swing a transfer to Berkeley, financially. My New York State Regents Scholarship wouldn’t be applicable to attendance at a California college, and tuition for out-of-state students at Berkeley was too high for me to afford. I closed the college catalogue and put it back on the shelf. I realized that, despite my loneliness, restlessness, boredom and dissatisfaction with the whole emotionally dead, impersonal and intellectually dull scene at Columbia, I was still going to be stuck at Columbia.

As I packed up my dorm room possessions and waited for my parents to come with their Pontiac car to pick me up, I felt that the academic year of living alone in Livingston Hall had provided me with the free space I desired.

I had now completed two plays. I was now a political radical who had read Writers On The Left, which was a work on literary leftism and literary communism. I now considered myself a leftist writer, as well as a political activist.

I still intended to teach in a public high school if I couldn’t earn a living as a published writer. I was completely turned off by U.S. foreign policy and corporate capitalism. I assumed that, if I were not drafted and killed in Viet Nam after graduation, my Columbia degree would guarantee me escape from the kind of 9-to-5 clerical job my father had been chained to during his life.

I felt lonely and my heart still ached for Pat. But I realized that, since she was graduating, it was unlikely she would ever fall in love with me. I was friendly with a few guys at Columbia like Tom, with whom I had agreed to share a dorm room in Furnald Hall in Fall 1966, after one of the many friendly philosophical and political discussions or debates we engaged in during our freshman year. But what I really longed for was Pat’s companionship.

I was a man of the left now. But I wasn’t yet personally integrated into Columbia’s counter-cultural leftist student community. My daily activism had been centered more in Columbia Citizenship Council’s P.A.C.T. program than in helping to do the day-to-day work for the ICV’s campus anti-war organizing. When I checked out of Livingston Hall in late May 1966, there was no indication that in less than a year a Columbia Students for a Democratic Society [SDS] chapter would exist as a mass-based organization and that I would be on the steering committee of Columbia SDS.

But back at my parents' apartment a few days later, I suddenly began to feel physically miserable, my eyes started to feel irritated, and I felt like I was going blind. My parents had gone away for a week to some cheap Catskills Mountains hotel resort, so I had to call Doctor Cohen, myself:

"I feel weak and fatigued. And there seems to be something wrong with my eyes."

Dr. Cohen, who was in his late 50s, agreed to stop by the apartment in the afternoon. He arrived, took one look at my arm and noticed red spots. "Measles. Don't use your eyes for 10 days. And rest," he advised. Then he left the apartment.

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories:Chap.3: Freshman At Columbia, 1965

Chapter 3: Freshman At Columbia, 1965 (viii)

During the Spring 1966 term, my strongest feeling was falling madly in love with Pat. Pat was a senior at Barnard, majoring in Sociology, who planned to become a social worker. She was a beauty who I met after Stein re-organized the day care program at Grace Methodist Church.

In the middle of the fall semester, a Columbia student named Juan had become an enthusiastic volunteer in the program. He was a sophomore from Brooklyn who was a very good-natured and friendly guy. When, at the beginning of the 1966 spring semester, Stein renamed the program “P.A.C.T.” and increased the number of student volunteers recruited into the program, he also named Juan as the program’s coordinator. Pat was one of the new student volunteers recruited after Juan began coordinating P.A.C.T. Like me, Pat worked on Tuesday afternoons as a group leader during the Spring 1966 term. Her group consisted of 8 to 10-year-old girls, while my Tuesday group consisted of 8 to 10-year-old boys.

After each day’s activities, all the student volunteer group leaders were required by Stein to meet for an hour in a group discussion that was led by a bohemian-dressed older woman social worker. As a result of hearing Pat speak in these weekly discussions, I fell in love with her. She and I seemed to be the ones most willing to participate in an emotionally open way in these group discussions.

I also began to feel some affection for another Barnard woman named Anne. She was my co-leader in the group of 5 and 6-year-old boys I took care of on Thursday afternoons. Each week, Anne and I would talk on the phone to plan our group’s activities. Anne was friendlier towards me than Pat was, but my obsession with Pat’s beauty caused me to be blind to Anne’s beauty and not adequately respond to Anne’s warm personality. Although both Anne and Pat always wore jeans and dressed in a bohemian way, Pat was more anti-war politically than Anne.

But nothing developed out of my wild longing for Pat—who often wore a scarf on her hair—except some more love poetry, songs and emotional frustration for me. Yet I still found my two afternoons of volunteer work with the children and with other students at the P.A.C.T. daycare center more meaningful than being inside the classrooms of Columbia.

Although my volunteer work in P.A.C.T. did enable me to meet Barnard women more easily, I was not motivated to work in P.A.C.T. primarily to meet Barnard women. Guided by the integrationist Civil Rights Movement’s assertion that non-exploitative education and cultural exchange between white students and ghetto children was progressive, I saw my volunteer work as a daycare group leader as a concrete, tangible way of expressing my commitment to African-American and Puerto Rican liberation. In Spring 1966 I was more committed to working in P.A.C.T. than to my academic studies. Pat also seemed more committed to serving people than to academic careerism, which is one reason why I fell in love with her.

Despite my obsession with Pat, however, I continued to browse in Butler Library. I read books on Nazi Germany, Hitler, Mussolini and fascism because I feared that, under LBJ, fascism was developing in the United States. I also tried to understand why the 6 million Jews were exterminated in Europe in the early 1940s. In the stacks of Butler Library, I also thumbed through 1950s issues of Time magazine, Life magazine, U.S. News & World Report, and Newsweek and noticed how inaccurate and anti-communist their reporting was in those years.

When I wished to be surrounded by other students while studying, I would sometimes sit in the Burgess Library on the fourth floor of the Butler Library building. I also would sometimes try studying in either the main 2nd floor reading room of Butler Library or in the Columbia College Library within the same building.

My mind wandered whenever I sat in the Butler Library building. I would start to get restless after about a half-hour and start to feel myself drawn to the various women students who might be sitting near me while I was attempting to study. In the library, though, people didn’t generally talk to each other unless they already knew each other from classes or after-class activities. During my freshman year, I didn’t meet anybody new as a result of studying near people in the library.

For the second term of a “Contemporary Civilization” course, I wrote a term paper on the 1848 romantic revolutionaries and read Marx’s Communist Manifesto for the first time. After reading Marx, I felt his view of the world was possibly as accurate as the viewpoint of C.Wright Mills. I began to think of myself as somebody who was carrying on an intellectual tradition of siding with and identifying with the international working-class. But still influenced by Martin Luther King’s ideology, I was too completely a pacifist to be a Marxist.

In doing research for the 1848 romantic revolutionaries’ paper, I examined many books on the subject. Of all the books written about this period, Engels’ book on Germany’s Revolution and Counter-Revolution seemed to provide the clearest explanation for the 1848 historical events. Engels also described the wavering, over pedantic intellectuals and academics of 1848 in a way which reflected my growing disdain for the wavering, over pedantic U.S. academics of my own time, who appeared to me to be insufficiently resisting the U.S. war machine. In my term paper, I compared the romantic revolution of 1848 with the developing youth revolt of the 1960s. I expressed strong identification with the revolutionary democratic sentiments of all historical eras.

My most interesting course was Stade’s English Composition II course. For this course, I spent much time attempting to write the definitive term paper on W.H. Auden. Auden interested me because in an article on Dylan in the New York Times Magazine a Times writer had called Dylan the “Auden of the 1960s.” In studying Auden, I focused primarily on his 1930s poetry of commitment to changing the world and his work around the time he wrote his poem about the Spanish Civil War.

I felt that the Spanish Civil War issue of the 1930s was the intellectual equivalent of the war in Viet Nam issue. I evaluated Auden and his contemporary literary artists by the stand each had taken in relationship to the 1930s rise of fascism. If a poet had been activist against Franco in some way in the 1930s, then I felt his or her poetry was worth spending time reading. If a poet had either sat out the Spanish Civil War controversy or opposed the Spanish Republic, then I felt that he or she was so insensitive that his or her poetry could not be worth reading.

I ended my Auden paper by comparing him with the folksinger protest-song poets of the 1960s like Dylan, and I expressed my confidence that Auden’s dreams of the 1930s would be actualized by the followers of Dylan in the 1960s. I came out strongly in favor of the young politically-oriented Auden, in preference to the older Auden who wrote poetry after he converted to Catholicism and lost faith in the left.

I worked hard on the term paper. But Professor Stade trashed it. He gave me a “D” for the paper because I didn’t reflect his preference for an art for art’s sake aesthetic and for poetry which was “above politics” and beyond any partisan political commitment.