Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories–Summer In The Streets, 1968

Chapter 18: Summer In The Streets, 1968 (i)
July 1968 is pretty much of a blur in my memory. My de-classified FBI files indicate that I was under intensified FBI surveillance, along with at least 59 other Columbia SDS activists, around this time. And FBI people even went out to Queens to interview neighbors of my parents, in an attempt to find out more about me. It also was around this time that I attended my first Black Panther Party rally, which took place at W.116th St. and Amsterdam Ave. The Harlem branch of the Black Panthers, although infiltrated by police and FBI informants, was led by a guy who sounded like a solid African-American revolutionary and who appeared to be in his late 20s.

There were also a number of spirited, spontaneous marches in the street around this time. One night, a few hundred radicals marched in front of Manhattan District Attorney and Columbia Trustee Hogan’s apartment and, another night, we marched through Harlem, where crowds appeared quite sympathetic to us. There was also a demonstration outside the 100 Centre St. courthouse around this time.

During July 1968, I also read Martin Luther King’s Why We Can’t Wait and re-read Malcom X’s Autobiography. Then, as a tribute to Martin Luther King, I wrote the song “He Walked Up The Hill,” which contained the following lyrics:

He walked up the hill
And he knew it was willed
That the white racists they would slay
All the good men who crossed their way
And what else is there left to say?
Look! The Black Prince of Peace now lays.

And all go and pray
Though they kill people everyday
Their soldiers kill ‘cross the sea
Their cops shoot up the city
Their managers steal our bread
Their teachers, they ruin our heads.

“Be non-violent!” they scream
For they fear what the Blacks will dream
Now that Moses is dead
Shot in the back of the head
“Love them” is what he said
Yet look how they treated him.

The hearts now are red
As they rise up from their beds
To say to the Man with hate:
“We’re sorry but it’s now too late
We want to control our fate
The Panther will kill your snake.”

As the August 1968 Democratic Party National Convention neared, there was increasing excitement among Columbia SDS activists. Both Ramparts magazine and the underground newspaper Rat started to hype-up the demonstrations that were being organized by people like Hayden, Rennie Davis, Dave Dellinger, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. National SDS people in Chicago like Klonsky also started to get enthusiastic about the planned anti-war demonstrations in Chicago. SDS people hoped to win over disgruntled Eugene McCarthy supporters to the New Left Revolution during the week of demonstrations.

A few weeks before the Chicago Democratic National Convention demonstrations, rumors hit New York City that, since no permit was going to be issued, the Chicago police were going to mercilessly repress anybody who showed up. And that Hayden and Dellinger were receiving death threats. The effect of these rumors and the denial of demonstration permits by Chicago authorities was to discourage large numbers of anti-war people in New York from going out to Chicago into what appeared to be a police-state environment, on unfamiliar terrain.

Mark and JJ, however, were eager to go out to Chicago. I considered going out to Chicago myself but, mistakenly, decided to just concentrate on helping to finish the Columbia and the Community pamphlet I was helping to produce for Citizenship Council. Prior to the nationally-televised 1968 “Battle of Chicago,” I assumed that there were enough local Chicago and other Midwestern anti-war people there to mount an effective mass protest, without having to bus in people from the East. After the police rioted in Chicago, my sister—who had traveled there from Bloomington, Indiana to protest the Democratic Convention—vividly and excitedly described the scene in Chicago. I was surprised to hear that she had even spent some time with JJ, in the middle of all the tear gas.

In New York City, I watched some of the police brutality on TV with a few other people in Dionne’s apartment, because she was the only one around in the Upper West Side neighborhood that we knew who had a TV set. And, later in the night, some of us tried to get an emergency demonstration in solidarity with protesters in Chicago going. Because of her concern for Mark in Chicago, Sue took part in this small New York City demonstration in Midtown Manhattan that protested the Chicago police brutality. She ended up spending the night in an extra bedroom in my W. 106th St. apartment, since she was moving to England in a few days and no longer had the key to Mark’s apartment.

After the police riot in Chicago, the degree of white youth alienation from the U.S. Establishment’s political system appeared to increase. Columbia SDS people eagerly looked forward to a renewed period of confrontation with the Columbia Administration in September 1968.

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