Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories–Steering Columbia SDS Into Action, 1968

Chapter 15: Steering Columbia SDS Into Action, 1968 (xi)
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.

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