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

Chapter 18: Summer In The Streets, 1968 (ii)
Except for Lew, Mark and me, by Fall 1968 most of the people who had been active during the first year of Columbia SDS’s existence had either moved on to other arenas of activism or retreated from Columbia SDS politically. Ted, Teddy, Josh, Harvey and Peter Schneider had all enrolled in a NYC Board of Education teacher-training program during Summer 1968. Their plan was to protect their draft deferments by teaching in the public schools during the 1968-69 academic year while, at the same time, attempt to organize teachers into a “Teachers for a Democratic Society” (TDS) New Left post-graduate Movement group, around anti-imperialist politics.

Because the Columbia Administration withheld Ted’s diploma from him, he became ineligible to teach in the City public schools. But through a friend of his family, he was able to protect his draft deferment by landing a job in a private school for the emotionally disturbed. In the evenings and on weekends, however, he worked as a Movement regional organizer for TDS during the 1968-69 academic year, as did Teddy.

Within Columbia SDS leadership circles in early September 1968, Lew and Mark were still the most influential people. But there was some negative feeling developing towards Mark among other Columbia SDS activists who were somewhat jealous of his newly-acquired mass media celebrity. These activists felt that Mark had become too “egomaniacal” as a result of all the mass media publicity.

During the summer, a number of position papers had been written which recommended various possible September 1968 fall strategies. Sokolow and I had felt that, in addition to working to completely win amnesty and our other Spring 1968 demands, Columbia SDS should also demand that Columbia’s Graduate School of Business be shut down, because it trained managers for U.S. imperialism and for the efficient exploitation of the U.S. working-class. We showed our position paper to Lew, but he and Robby were wedded to a strategy of using exemplary action only to completely win the Spring 1968 demands and to shut down Columbia’s NROTC unit.

I was for mobilizing people to eliminate Columbia’s NROTC program as well. But, unlike Lew, I felt that without equally targeting Columbia’s School of Business we were failing to adequately generate sufficient anti-capitalist, pro-working-class consciousness. There was little Columbia SDS leadership inclination, however, to attempt to shut down Columbia’s Business School. But a consensus was reached by people like Lew, Robby, Stu, Mark, Sokolow, Josie, Juan, Dionne, myself and other New Left SDS people to focus on both winning the 6 demands and eliminating NROTC on campus in the fall.

Our Fall 1968 strategy of exemplary action was developed as a result of collectively analyzing both the French student revolt of May and the lessons of our own revolt of April and May. The fundamental idea was that New Left students at Columbia could most effectively win the support of both the mass of students on other campuses and the mass of U.S. working-class people, not by leafleting outside factories or on other campuses (as advocated by Lynn “Marcus” and Tony’s Labor Committee), but by engaging in disruptive exemplary action at Columbia which would, by its example, inspire students and workers elsewhere to occupy those institutions which most affected their lives.

Between early May and September, the trustees of Columbia University attempted to defuse the situation at Columbia by appointing a commission headed by a Harvard professor named Archibald Cox, by setting up a new campus disciplinary process according to rules drawn up by a Columbia Law School professor named Sovern and by appointing a former UN official named Cordier (who had previously headed Columbia’s School of International Affairs) to replace Grayson Kirk as Columbia University President. In the course of doing a background check on Cordier, I discovered that he had played a key role in creating the conditions that enabled the CIA to eliminate Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba in the Congo in the early 1960s.

As my last Columbia SDS research project before enrolling at the low-tuition Richmond College, I put together a research paper on Cordier’s connection to the Mobutu overthrow and assassination of Lumumba, which described how Cordier used UN funds to pay anti-Lumumba soldiers and authorized UN forces to prevent Lumumba from speaking on the radio and rallying his supporters. As a sourcebook, I used Kwame Nkrumah’s book, Challenge of the Congo. Dionne liked the pamphlet and arranged to mimeograph a few hundred copies to pass around campus as a first step towards revealing whose special interests Columbia’s new president served.

In preparation for the New Left’s recruiting drive during Freshman Week, Mark put together an updated pamphlet, entitled Why We Strike, which used material I had written in the spring and summer describing Columbia SDS’s pre-revolt attempts to change Columbia’s institutional policies using the so-called legitimate channels and documenting which apartment buildings and SRO buildings Columbia had emptied, converted or knocked down during the 1950s and early 1960s. Around this time I was also invited by Klare to join a NACLA research project on the mass media. On the day of the June 1968 “counter-commencement,” NACLA people had sold a magazine-like pamphlet, titled Who Rules Columbia?, which contained dirt on Columbia that even Columbia SDS had not previously known about.

I chose not to join NACLA’s mass media project after attending one meeting of the group in an Upper West Side apartment. Following the relatively sympathetic mass media coverage of the Chicago Democratic National Convention anti-war protests (perhaps because more journalists got beaten by cops there than at Columbia), I—perhaps mistakenly—felt that Movement people should focus on finding dirt on the police—and not on the mass media—at this time. I also felt that the NACLA people were still more into research in an intellectually elitist way than into activism, but that I was more of an activist than either a researcher or an intellectual elitist, myself.

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