“Lizzy, what the hell is your trip this morning? We are going to do what we always do. We are going to shout and rant and scare the holy fuck out of the average American citizen. Now, did you bring your camera and all of that?”
“Of course.” I replied.
“Well, I’ll meet you there in twenty minuets, then.”
Dutifully we all piled our few belongings into the rented car and headed out. To what? We had no idea. We only knew that there was a time and a place and our presence was requested. As soon as we pulled into the parking lot, I saw Abbie and Anita. The morning was cool so I had my Frisco coat with me and a cold wind seemed to blow as we walked toward our friends, causing me to wrap my coat tighter around me. “You look like a nervous fucking wreck, Liz.” Abbie laughed. “I never knew you had that in before.”
“Had what in me?” I asked, glaring at my friend and anticipating a smart ass reply.
“Common sense.” He said. “Now, listen, I’m going to be kinda up front, ya know, talking and shit so I want you all to stick by Anita. Just follow the lead if anything changes…Well, hell, you know what to do. Now what the fuck are we waiting for? Come on! Let’s get these fuckers!”
That was what I needed. It was the call to arms to suck up my emotions and do what I came to do…whatever that was. I followed Abbie and Anita toward the sounds of someone on a bullhorn and scores of others cheering. “We are not going to stand by and let this go on! As Americans we have the right to protest! We have the right to stand up against a university that uses our tuition money, not for better teachers or better supplies, but to support research for this unjust war in Vietnam! We have the right to protest a university that seeks to build a gymnasium into a black ghetto, taking away what little bit the people in that ghetto have. And for what? Why? We have the right to ask without persecution and if Grayson Kirk refuses to respect that right than fuck him!”
Abbie got us up front and I watched as the man who was speaking smiled down at Abbie and gestured for him to come up. I listened to Abbie fire up anyone with a pulse that was within ear shot, like he always seemed to do. I listened to the SDS guy, Mark Rudd, talk about what was going on at Columbia. I knew nothing about plans for a take over. None of us did, or at least no one that I had talked to. If Abbie knew he sure as hell said nothing to me about it. I’ve often wondered if that was the plan all along. I suspect it was but I suspect that only a handful of people knew it ahead of time. I was in the crowd cheering Mark on when suddenly he shouted, “Let’s take back our university!” and that was how it started. Everyone surged forward and what I could do but go? There was no option of turning back and frankly I was too into the moment to try. We were seizing the main offices of Columbia’s elite and though I knew in the back of my mind that this was going to end badly, I couldn’t help but revel in the feeling of it!
In all of the commotion we lost Anita but I assumed she was going to find Abbie. As for the three of us, we went to the place of greatest interest, the office of one Mr. Grayson Kirk. Already Mark Rudd was looking for something to pry open the file cabinet with. I looked around to see if there were any women with their hair up but there was no such luck as I appeared to be the only woman there. A paper clip seemed like the next logical step so I pushed my way towards the desk and searched until I found one. “Here. Try this.” I announced, as I handed the little metal object to the guy.
“Thanks.” He smiled a charming smile. Within minuets the files were exposed for all to see. As we were in Kirk’s office, all of us going through the information that we found, others were taking over another building. Word had gotten out about what was going and, ironically enough, the news cameras showed up long before the cops came. This, to Mark and a few others, was a wonderful blessing. They needed attention to accomplish anything and you can’t get any better than CBS, NBC, and ABC all showing up within minuets of each other if it’s attention you are after. Shortly before anyone went out to speak, Mark was talking to Brian and he discovered who we all were. I was sitting with my head bent over the proof that the SDS had been looking for all along when Brian grabbed my arm and led me outside along with Mark and Ross.
Flashbulbs assaulted my eyes and I was aware that there were news cameras all around. There were still hundreds of people outside, either because they didn’t want to take over a university or because they had been blocked from the steps by the news people who were now lining up the front of the stairs. I had my camera around my neck and this was a reporter’s dream so I snapped a couple of photos. This seemed to catch the eye of one reporter who just looked at me as if I were insane. I had no plans on talking to these people. I had simply gone along when prompted. So when one reporter asked of me, “Who are you? Are you a student?” I blinked in surprise…at first.
I found my voice quickly, saying, “Yes, I am a student but I’m not a student here. I came in support of the Columbia chapter of SDS; I came in support of all of those who wish to stand up against the injustices being committed at this university.”
“Such as?” The young woman asked me in a sardonic tone.
“Such as the fact that money is being spent by this university to aid the war movement when it should be going back into the education of those who are handing over the money, people who cannot even exercise their basic freedom of protest without fear of persecution. We are all here today to stand up and say that we are not going to be oppressed anymore by a system that cares nothing about our education, a system that will not stand up to a corrupt government even when the welfare of its students is at stake. We’ve had it!”
Mark took over from there which was fine with me. I was headed back to the office to photograph the documents that we had found. I took a lot of pictures over the course of the eight days that we ended up staying there. I also met a lot of people, spent time with students and activists, and through it all I was waiting. Waiting for the cops to finally make it inside, waiting for the shit to hit the fan like I knew it was going to do. The news crews stayed with us, even relaying demands back and forth from the university big wigs to the SDS leaders. During the course of those days five buildings were seized in all. Food was brought in for everyone, though I was never able to catch the source, and there were enough drugs to make sure that everyone had a good time. Weed was the only thing I did during that time, though the acid was tempting. I was always waiting for the cops to come and I did not want to consider the freak out that I would have if I was arrested while I was tripping. Even though it was all very serious business, we managed to make a good time of it.
On the eighth day of our lovely occupation the cops finally came in. It was evening and the halls were packed as they had been for days. Outside hundreds of kids sat on the massive concrete steps. There was singing, laughter, debates. Someone had started to pass around a joint near to where I sat sandwiched between Brian and Ross. Looking over as Brian passed the thick joint I could see that he was tired. Sleep had been a luxury for us all throughout the whole thing. Hitting the joint twice, I passed it on to Ross and I was about to tell Brian to lay his head on my shoulder and sleep a while when a loud commotion outside startled us all into a sort of hushed silence. This was the first time I had heard silence in eight days. It gave me a chill. Shouts were piercing the air suddenly outside along side commands to stand up, shut up, and to not give out any shit. Then there was the unmistakable sound of metal on flesh. The man had come to crash the party at last.
By the time a swarm of cops got inside Brian had already jumped to his feet. As they rushed towards us I can remember Brian looking at me in a panicked way and I thought of what he had told me on the plane. “Stay the hell out of the way, Lizzy!” He commanded. When I didn’t move, he shouted once more, “Get the fuck away from here!”
I don’t know where he thought I was going to go. People were packed wall to wall like sardines and the cops were quickly beating their way towards us. If my path had been clear I wouldn’t have ran and left Brian alone. There was no chance in hell of that happening. Everything from then on out moves in slow motion in my mind. I remember realizing that a cop had grabbed Ross and then I turned to Brian only to see that two officers were clubbing the hell out of him. Later I found out that they were coming for me and Brian stepped in. I didn’t think. I jumped up and fought like hell against the strong hands that held my arms. I barely felt the hit of the club to my side, such was my rage. My only thought was getting to Brian.When I couldn’t see him anymore I fought harder against the cop restraining me, kicking, biting, scratching, but to no avail. Somewhere in my mind I knew that I had been hit again and again but pain, at that moment, was beyond my comprehension. I was out for blood! “Up against the wall, motherfucker!” Kids shouted as I was dragged down the steps to one of the waiting police wagons. Automatically I shouted the same. When the cop finally cuffed me I shouted once more that infamous line before spitting on him. This time he set the club aside in favor of an open handed slap to my face before throwing me into the back of the wagon.
“Brian?” I shouted in the dark heat around me. I had no idea where they had taken him, what they had done to him, but I was hoping against hope that we were put into the same vehicle. “Brian McVie, goddamn it!” I cursed out loud, more to myself than anything.
“Lizzy?” It was a question with a familiar tone. “Liz, where are you?” I smiled. He was alright and at least we would be together for the ride. When the doors opened again so two more victims could be tossed inside the light was enough for Brian to see me and after fumbling for a small eternity, I felt a protective arm go around me. “Are you alright?”
I wasn’t actually. The pain slammed into me at once, taking my breath away in its intensity. But I was not about to tell Brian that. “Yeah, I’m fine but what about you, Bri? They beat the hell out of you!” Tears of rage and frustration filled my eyes. It had all been unnecessary, really. Despite what we had done, none of us were resisting arrest. None of us were trying to fight until they gave us reason to.
“It looked worse than it was, babe. Dry your eyes. You are going to look horrible for your mug shot.”
“How can you tell I’m crying?” I asked offhandedly. Anything to keep from thinking about the pain and what had happened.
“I can always tell when you’re crying. Are you cuffed?”
“Yeah.” I replied softly, wondering why he asked.
Suddenly I felt his hands on my wet cheeks, wiping the tears away. He kissed me gently and held me close until the cops began unloading us. By the time I went to booking for the second time in four months, a calm had settled over me. When they put me in a cell full of people I found Brian right away and it was then, for the first time, that I was able to see all of the damage that had been done to him. “My god!” I blurted out, taking a seat on the cold stone floor. “Looked worse than it was, huh?”
“Yeah, and you’re fine. You look a hell of a lot worse than I do. What the hell happened?”
He looked down at me as I investigated his bloody temple, the black line on his cheek, the bruises all over his chest, his left arm…there seemed to be no part of his body that hadn’t seen the brute force of the club. “The same thing that happened to you…it happened to most of us by the looks of things. Speaking of that, do we know where Ross is?”
“Yeah. He’s in the cell next to us. He made it out ok, I guess. I called Jack before they threw me in here. He’s on his way and he’s pretty pissed. Something about seeing it on the news…he saw the cop hit you on the news, Lizzy.”
“I hope my parents went out to dinner tonight or something.” I said, offhandedly. I did not want that particular phone call. “Did you tell Jack to bring bail money for all of us?”
“That was his suggestion. He’s also looking into a lawyer. What are they charging you with right now?”
“Right now it’s trespassing and disturbing the peace…oh, and I think they are also trying to get us all for inciting a riot. They want to charge us with breaking and entering but technically, by law, because it is a university they can’t do that. So who knows what we’ll end up with by the time it’s over.”
Until two a.m. Brian and I alternated between talking and sleeping. Ever so often someone would be released but for the most part the kids around us had decided that spending the night in jail was preferable to calling their parents with the news that they had been arrested. I laughed as they talked of this knowing full well that I would’ve done the same if I were back in Ohio. The only real problem I had with that particular jail experience was the fact that there were no cigarettes this time to be had. Besides that, I had no problem sitting in wait for my crazy friend to post my bail.
Around one thirty or so Brian looked up at me, having been asleep just moments before, and asked, “Why do you do this?”
“What do you mean?” I questioned, puzzled.
“Why do you fight so hard against things and for things that wouldn’t touch you otherwise? It’s been the same since Berkeley. Me, Morrison, the war, equal rights, capitalism…this is your second trip to jail, you’ve just been clubbed to hell and back by a cop, none of this seems to be doing any good and yet I know that you will do it again and again until the world is better. Why?”
“Why do you do it, Brian? Apparently you’ve been at all of this much longer than I have and yet you were the one who said you wanted to come.”
“That’s true; all of it, but my reasons are my own. I want to hear yours.”
I sighed. “I do it for the what ifs. What if, somehow, all that we are doing can make a difference? What if we can change the world? What if we really can piss off enough people to end this war? And what if all of us gave up when it got hard before anything was done? Wouldn’t that be a shame, a bitch, really…”
“I’ve never known anyone quite like you, you know that?” Brian asked. The look in his eye was on that I hadn’t seen in a very long time. It was the look of admiration.
I laughed, looking around at the people sharing a cell with us. “Actually, honey, I think people like me are a dime a dozen if you know where to find us.”
Suddenly an officer opened the cell door announcing, “McVie, Sanders, your bail has been posted.”
A perfect way to end a protest, I thought, as I stepped over sleeping jail birds to get out of the cell. I thought it was the end anyway. I could hear Jack screaming as I came out. “You better hope like hell that Liz has a double! You better hope she’s not hurt or so help me god….”
“Sir,” I heard the woman up front say, “You need to calm down. If you keep up like this we will have to…”
“What? Arrest me?” With this Jack laughed. I was surprised when I was handed my camera but I took it with a smile and went out to get Jack before the New York City cops beat the hell out of him.
“I’m fine, Jack. Everyone is fine.” I announced as soon as I saw him.
For a moment he just looked me up and down, assessing the damage that I couldn’t hide or lie my way out of. “I don’t fuckin’ think so! Someone better get their fat asses out here and explain to me why it was necessary to beat the fuck out of a twenty two year old girl! I can’t wait to fucking hear this one!”
At last Brian and Ross appeared and I looked to them with a pleading gaze hoping they could help me out. As it turned out my faith was not misplaced. The two of them simply picked Jack up and carried him out of the police station like he was a basket of laundry. “Did we get our court dates?” I asked.
“There is no court date. They arrested well over a thousand people since all of this started just from the protest. If they made us all go to court we’d be waiting a year or more. All we have to do is mail in the amount of money they feel we owe them when they send us a letter and that’s it.” Brian explained, tossing Jack into the rental car he had retrieved from the almost abandoned parking lot of Columbia. The fact that it wasn’t towed away was a blessing but the amount of fines we owed for the fact that we were a week late getting it back would not be pleasant. All in all, this had been a very expensive trip to New York but I had no complaints. Even the bruises and the pain were worth the feeling that I had while we occupied Columbia.'
I actually gave more up with this scene than I intended to but when it comes to the protests I can't help but give it all. You guys are the friggin' greatest so when it comes to me trying to recreate moments in history that occurred before my birth, I trust your judgement to determine whether or not I screwed it up royally. So...did I? lol The Columbia Take Over was a big deal. It was the largest take over at that time, it made the news in more than a passing fashion, and it was the first and only school take over that Liz ever participated in. See, here is the thing. When you are writing even fictional accounts about the '60's and the anti-war/hippie scene, certain things are almost guaranteed to pop up in every version and this is one of them so it is hard to do it in a fresh way. I tried. I always try. But does my account differ over much from what was portrayed in the mini-series The 60's? Probably not. It is simply one more fictional point of view. That may be one of the hardest aspects of doing a book like this. Things like the Protest on the Pentagon, Woodstock, the Chicago Riots, and this Take Over have all been done before so I have to stick to facts without beating these scenes into the ground. I hope I at least accomplished that. Oh, and the name dropping of characters that I am trying so hard to break free from because I do not want to give away the book by telling you all who stays and who goes in this monster? Ignore that. hahaha
Here is a website that is dedicated soley to this historical event:
And for those of you that only want a little bit of info without searching a whole damned site for it, here is the long and short of those eight days taken from someone who was there from http://www.columbia.edu/cu/computinghistory/1968/:
A personal reminiscence of the 1968 student uprising at Columbia University. I was an active participant, but not a member of any particular faction (the only organization I belonged to was Veterans Against the War). I wrote this article for publication in the "Columbia Librarian" at the request of Columbia's Vice President for Information Services and University Librarian, Elaine Sloan (then my boss's boss), on the 30th anniversary of the student rebellion (a). In 1968 I was an Army veteran working my way through a Columbia degree with a part-time job in the library; in 1998 I worked in Academic Information Systems (the academic half of what used to be called the Computer Center), which, after 1986, was part of the University Library; hence the library connection (now the two are back together as CUIT - Columbia University Information Technology).Because this article was written for a Columbia audience, familiarity with the Columbia campus and setting are assumed. The article was placed on the Web and slightly updated in February 2001, with periodic updates after that. Pictures were added in June 2001, which you can view by following the links or by clicking on VIEW ALL IMAGES above; I hope to find and add more pictures as time goes on, but I've been saying that for years. While this is a personal recollection and not an attempt at a definitive history, corrections, comments, additional information, and especially photos are welcome, and will be acknowledged.
May 31, 2011: This page and its sub-pages and images were moved from http://www.columbia.edu/acis/history/ to http://www.columbia.edu/cu/computinghistory/. It might take Google a few weeks or months to re-index this site and its images.
PreludeLife was different at Columbia University in 1968. There was a war and a draft. Up until the previous year, the University had routinely furnished class rank lists to the draft board (b), so if you had poor grades, off you went (of course, privileged Columbia students still had it better than the many kids drafted right out of high school, but that's another story). There were ROTC drills on South Field, military and CIA recruiters on campus, and classified military research in the labs (c). The Civil Rights movement had become the Black Liberation movement, and Black Panthersand Young Lords (h) – and Soul music – captured students' imaginations. The women's movement was beginning to shake everybody up, especially guys who thought they were already progressive enough. Dr. King had just been killed and the cities were in flames. You couldn't ignore all this.
Throughout the mid-to-late 60s there was all sorts of political activity on campus – teach-ins on Pentagon economics, Sundial rallies against the war, demonstrations against class rank reporting, confrontations with military recruiters, etc. It was an era of bullhorns. Amidst all this, the University was constructing a new gym in Morningside Park – the barrier separating Columbia from Harlem – with a "back door" on the Harlem side. This offended many people, and one day in April some students went to Morningside Drive and tore down the fence, attempting to break into the construction site. They were restrained by police and some were arrested. The ensuing Sundial rally wandered into Hamilton Hall and stayed the night. The original idea was that the united student body, or at least the considerable left wing of it (how times have changed) would occupy Hamilton until the charges against the students were dropped and some other demands were met. Various factions debated tactics and what the demands should be. Eventually six demands were formulated. Their thrust was against Columbia's complicity the war, against racism, and for better and more responsible relations with the surrounding communities.
The First Building OccupationsAbout 6:00am the white students left Hamilton and moved into the President's office in Low Library, while the Black students remained in Hamilton. This was the result of an agreement reached between leaders of SDS, PL, SWP, YAWF, etc (the predominantly white groups), on the one hand, and SAS on the other, behind closed doors and reflective of the tenor of times . Over the next few days the various mostly-white factions branched out to other buildings – SDS to Math (which flew the splendid red flag featured on the cover of Spring 1968 Columbia College Today, an issue devoted to the uprising with lots of great photos and much grouchy commentary), the Trotskyites to Avery, the anarcho-syndicalists to Fayerweather, etc (or something like that). In all, five buildings were occupied for a week. The history is written elsewhere such as the souvenir-bound editions of Spectator, and there is also a locally-produced film, Columbia Revolt (shot in large part by the legendary wall-scaling Melvin), that is trotted out on special occasions. When I took my son to see it at the 20th anniversary get-together in Earl Hall in 1988, it was already crumbling. (As of February 2003, there seems to be a copy available for viewing and downloading at Archive.Org; see Links.)
I spent the week in Low Library. There was a carnival atmosphere the first day, with press photographers and reporters from magazines, the local newspapers, etc (the Post was fair, the Newswas atrocious, but the Times was beyond belief – small wonder, considering the connections (d)). There was an unforgettable, Felliniesque visit from a faculty member who swooped through the window in full academic regalia, Batmanlike, to "reason" with us. Security guards and office workers brought us snacks. Life magazine (May 10, 1968) ran a cover story featuring pictures taken in Low, including my favorite: a group of us seated on the carpet, each with a Grayson Kirk face, complete with pipe (from President Kirk's desk drawer, which was stocked with dozens of 8x10 glossy book-jacket poses).
After the first day, activities grew more structured, and thenceforth the occupation was one long meeting governed by Robert's Rules of Order, interpreted creatively ("point of obfuscation!"), interspersed by housework. Contrary to popular belief and press reports, the President's suite of offices was kept immaculate and orderly after the chaotic first day (e). Cleanup detail included vacuuming, shaking out blankets, scrubbing the bathroom, etc. The administration's fears of vandalism (and their special concern for the Rembrandt hanging above President Kirk's desk) were poorly founded, at least in Low.
Outside, a system of rings developed around Low Library. Opponents ("jocks") formed the inner ring; student supporters (known, along with us, as "pukes") formed an outer ring, and later concerned faculty formed an intermediate buffer ring. Each group wore distinctive armbands, not that they were needed: jocks (Columbia light blue) looked like jocks; pukes (red) were scruffy; faculty (white) wore tweed with elbow patches. Black armbands came later. Beyond the rings were crowds of onlookers and press. The outside pukes would try to send food up to us, but the jocks intercepted most of it and made a great show of wolfing it down con mucho gusto as we looked on with envy (most food didn't throw well and fell short; what little got through was mainly oranges and baloney packets). One day a tall stranger with waist-length hair appeared at the distant fringe of the crowd (almost all the way to Earl Hall) and began to hurl five-pound bags of home-made fried chicken our way, one after another, with perfect aim, over the jocks' heads and right into our windows. What an arm! (The chicken was cooked by Mrs. Gloria Sánchez of the Bronx, and it was delicious; I never learned the identity of the mysterious stranger.)
. . . Until June 1, 2001, when I had a call from Jerry Kisslinger of Columbia's Office of University Development and Alumni Relations, who recognized the waist-length hair and powerful arm of John Taylor, son of Nürnberg prosecutor and Columbia Law Professor Telford Taylor (who declined to lend his name to a statement signed by most other Law School faculty, which said the student protests exceeded the "allowable limits" of civil disobedience [New York Times, 24 May 1998]). Thanks to both John and his dad!
Aside from the meetings and work details, a concerted effort was made to rifle through the many file cabinets and turn up evidence of covert links with the war machine and defense contractors, large corporations planning to divide up the spoils in Viet Nam, etc, all of which were to be found in abundance. These were photocopied and later published in the East Village underground newspaper, Rat. Some items were picked up by the mainstream press, resulting in some embarrassment among the rich and powerful, which quickly passed.
The First BustAfter a few days, the NYC Tactical Police Force (TPF, of distinctive leather cladding)(f) muscled through the crowd and the rings to form a new inner ring just below our feet as we congregated on the ledges and windowsills. Police on Campus! Academia violated! (A famous photo shows Alma Mater holding a sign, "Raped by Cops".) We fortified the entrances to the occupied buildings, especially through the tunnels, against the expected assault.
Which, inevitably, came. After the final warning to vacate or be arrested, we discussed (still observing proper parliamentary procedure) whether to resist or go peacefully. Opinion was divided and many variations were proposed. After much discussion, consensus converged on civil-rights-movement-style passive resistance; we would go limp and the police would have to carry us out.
We devoted the final moments to preparations – the Defense Committee piled furniture up against door, while the rest of us picked up trash, vacuumed, and scrubbed so the President's suite would be left in pristine condition, better than we had found it (except for tape criss-crossed on the window glass and the jimmied file-cabinet locks). Those with pierced earrings took them off (a routine precaution in those days of police actions) and then we formed a 100-person, 10,000-pound clump singing "We Shall Not Be Moved", knowing that we would.
Soon axes were crashing through the door, the barricade was breached, and an army of TPF piled in, first prying apart the singing clump of us, then forming a gauntlet to pass our limp bodies down the corridors, whacking our heads with flashlights along the way, and dragging us by the feet down the marble steps so our heads bounced. Superficial head wounds are harmless but they bleed a lot, and journalists got some terrific photos of us on our way to the paddy wagons waiting on College Walk.
Soon we were in the Tombs [the jail and criminal court building at 100 Centre Street]. I was in a cell with six others including Tom Hayden (one of many luminaries who visited and/or sat in with us – others included H. Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael, Charles 37X Kenyatta, I forget who else – Angela Davis? Che Guevara?). Later, students from the other buildings began to arrive, much bloodier than we were. The students in Math (some of whom – the ones who weren't killed in the 1970 East 11th Street townhouse explosion – later went on to the Democratic convention in Chicago, and then formed the Weather Underground) (deep breath...) received less gentle treatment – one student was thrown from a second-story window and landed on a professor (Jim Shenton), breaking the professor's arm.
In December 2001 I received the following email from Thomas Gucciardi: "My dad, Frank Gucciardi, was a cop during the riots. He was paralyzed from the waist down for 3 years. (A student jumped off a building into the crowd) He has had a miraculous recovery & still enjoys a fairly active life. I just found your site & commend you on it. My dad till this day loved his job & he does understand the students uprising. He holds no grudges at all for what the students did to him at 34 years of age & having 3 children. Thank you for your website." Later Thomas sent copies of newspaper clippings that told how Patrolman Gucciardi had been inured when an unidentified white student jumped from the balcony of Hamilton Hall, landing on the officer's back as he bent over to pick up his hat, and of the operations on his spine over the next several years. A series of articles by columnist Martin Gershen in the NY Times, the Long Island Press, and other papers, followed his progress and gained national attention. Also injured was Officer Bernard Wease, kicked in the chest by a student in Fayerweather Hall while giving the vacate-or-be-arrested order, causing damage to his heart.While an article in the LA Times, 9 September 1969, quotes Mayor Lindsay as acknowledging that some police used "excessive force" and states that "news reports quoted witnesses as having seen nonuniformed policemen punching and kicking both male and female students... one blond girl was said to have been beaten unconscious on the sidewalk in front of Avery Hall... a boy left writhing in front of Ferris Booth Hall with his nose smashed...", the only two injuries serious enough to require prolonged hospitalization were to Officers Gucciardi and Wease.
Many of the later arrivals to the Tombs were bystanders. All hell had broken loose after we left, with mounted police charging through the crowds on South Field, swinging their "batons" at all nearby heads like rampaging Cossacks (NEED PHOTO). Subsequent investigative commissions called it a "police riot." The combat spilled out to Broadway and down the side streets towards Riverside Park, horses galloping after fleeing pedestrians – it must have been quite a sight (too bad I missed it), and it was a "radicalizing experience" for many former sideliners. Ed Kent (UTS BD 1959, Columbia PhD 1965, currently professor of moral / political / legal philosophy at Brooklyn College, CUNY) recalls:
I made sure that I put on a coat and tie – it was about 1 a.m. and I had been alerted by a colleague at Hunter who had heard the bust was imminent. I then joined the cop assigned to the gate who was entirely sympathetic to the students and we watched with horror as the cops beat up kids that had come out of their dorms to find out what all the ruckus was about (Those occupying buildings had been taken out through the tunnels earlier.). I will never forget one small sized student being chased by a group of cops with clubs intent on beating him up – he finally took refuge on top of a car where he tried to avoid their swings. They finally knocked him off and pounced with their clubs. The next day many faculty and students were treated for head and other injuries – all of them innocent of any connection with the actual building occupations. Incidentally at the Cox hearings I heard the dean [Henry Coleman] who had supposedly been imprisoned by the students in Hamilton admit in response to a question by Anthony Amsterdam that he had in fact been ordered by the President to remain in his office and had been treated with entire courtesy by the students throughout and could have unlocked his office door (and relocked it to protect student records) and left at any time. This was given as the excuse for the police action and Sidney Hook refused to take it out of his book account (I got his galleys to pre-view) although I personally drew his attention to his mis-reporting there. Hook had become very right wing by then.
Meanwhile, back in jail... Escorting a group of incoming wounded was a fellow worker from Butler Library, now wearing a badge. In Butler, posing as a student library assistant, he had been trying to recruit us to "blow stuff up". Luckily he had been an inspiration to no one, but the episode served well for many years in discussions of leftist paranoia. The librarians, to their credit, were shocked to learn they had hired an agent provocateur and fired him immediately, not so very inhumane considering his better-paying day job.
Some 700 people were arrested that night, a logistical nightmare, involving at least 20 precincts and much transportation. We were arraigned and released over the next day or two, with court dates set that would stretch for years into the future, a story in itself. Back on campus... what a mess! The morning's newspapers were full of it. The Times ran a front-page story with a photo of a police officer standing in the President's Office, which was a total wreck (mean-spirited graffiti sprayed on the walls, bookshelves toppled, etc), gesturing sorrowfully towards a mound of mangled books, a forlorn tear in his eye: "The world's knowledge was in those books...". Ironic because it was not us who made the mess and sprayed the graffiti! We caught the author of the story on campus and asked why he had written such dreck when he had been witness to the whole episode – he freely admitted it was a pack of lies and recommended we complain to his boss (a Columbia trustee). Luckily for posterity, whoever wrecked the office after we left overlooked the Rembrandt.
The Second and Third BustsIn the following weeks, regular classes were replaced by "Liberation classes" on the lawns (NEED PHOTO). There were no grades that year. Picket lines were thrown up in front of every building. The Grateful Dead played on Ferris Booth terrace. A student batallion marched up Amsterdam Avenue to City College to make noise and "link up". Organizers for progressive labor unions began circulating pledge cards among supporting staff (this cost me my Butler Library job). A contingent from the French student/worker uprising handed out those famous posters(unfortunately printed on cheap paper, now disintegrated) from the "Ex-Ecole des Beaux Arts", and we also had visits from student representatives of many of the other universities that followed Columbia's energetic lead that year, who raised clenched fists and gave rousing speeches. (Later some of us visited other student uprisings in progress, notably in Mexico City, where police and military actions made the Columbia arrests look like a lovefest.)
Community issues loomed large – an apartment building on 114th Street was the scene of a second occupation a couple weeks later, in which several hundred of the newly radicalized onlookers from South Field took part and were promptly arrested (I don't recall exactly what the issue was, but housing has always been a touchy topic at Columbia). On May 22nd, sensing no movement in the administration on the issues of the strike, we went back into Hamilton (déjà vu was the rallying cry). This time the police were summoned onto campus without hesitation, and back we all went to jail (there were 1100 arrests in all). By now it was like commuting. Again, campus erupted after we left – this time, 15-foot-high barricades were erected at the main gates and set ablaze (NEED PHOTO), windows were smashed, cars crushed, crowds surged back and forth, and many heads were bashed – most of them attached to innocent bystanders. As in the first bust, the police also did a fair amount of mischief aimed at discrediting the strikers.
Commencement and BeyondThe year ended with most of the Class of '68 walking out of graduation, which was at Saint John's that year, on a prearranged signal – students carried radios under their gowns and walked out when WKCR played "The Times They Are A'Changin'" – to a countercommencement on Low Plaza, accompanied by loud rock music, and from there to Morningside Park for a big picnic that turned out rather well.
At Columbia, classified war research was halted, the gym was canceled, ROTC left campus, military and CIA recruiting stopped, and (not that anybody asked for it) the Senate was established. Robert Kennedy, the antiwar presidential candidate, was killed in June 1968, and later that month the French uprising was "voted away" in a national referendum. Mexican students and supporters and bystanders were slaughtered wholesale in October, in La Noche de Tlatelolco. Columbia antiwar rallies continued, and large Columbia contingents chartered buses for the huge demonstrations in Washington, of which there were to be far too many – the war dragged on for another seven years. To this day, I don't know if all the antiwar activities combined had as much affect as the Vietnamese figuring out how to shoot down the American B-52s that were carpet-bombing their cities.
The Cox commission produced a report on the disturbances. Springtime building occupations continued for the next few years, but eventually were replaced by disco. Then came the 80s and 90s: the rich became richer at the expense of everyone else; organized labor was squashed; most real jobs were exported; drugs and greed ruled; social awareness was replaced by political correctness, student activism by ambition, and real work by sitting in front of a PC clicking on investments.
After a semester's suspension and dozens of court appearances (but no hard time – thanks National Lawyers Guild!), I received my BA in 1970, held a number of odd jobs (taxi driver, etc; nobody pays you to save the world), and eventually wound up back at Columbia getting a graduate degree in computer science and working in what was called the Computer Center, where I still work today. And now, thanks to the Information Age, the Computer Center has been absorbed by the University Library and I suppose that brings us full circle(g).
AfterwordMuch can be said (and has been) about the strike's effects on Columbia University. Of course it hurt the University in many ways – applications, endowment, contracts & grants, gifts, and so on. It took at least 20 years to fully recover. Perhaps it strengthened the University in other ways, who knows.
Most press accounts of the time focus on the strike leaders, their affiliations and temperaments and hairstyles, but honestly, I don't recall them being a major force, except on the first night when they decided the white students should leave Hamilton Hall. They certainly didn't choreograph the events after that. Actions were either taken spontaneously, or discussed to death by EVERYBODY until consensus was reached, in the manner of the day (and night!). In Low library, leadership meant nothing more than fairly moderating the open discussion and applying Robert's Rules – a process not nearly as interesting to the media as sound bites from high-profile personalities.
I never felt the strike was motivated primarily by antipathy towards Columbia. After all, students came here voluntarily and received good educations (often obtaining their introduction to radical thought from their own professors) and – even in those days – the student body, if not faculty and administration, was among the most diverse anywhere. Community relations were notall bad: many of us were Project Double Discovery counselors or involved in various Columbia-sponsored Harlem community action projects.
Rather, it was a case of students doing the best they could in the place where they were to stop the war in Viet Nam and fight racism at home, just as they hoped others would do in other places: in the streets, factories, offices, other universities, the military itself, the court of world opinion, and finally in the seats of government. Whether this was the best way to do it is debatable, but it is clear that the more polite methods of previous years were not working, and every DAY that passed cost 2000 lives in Southeast Asia. So to the extent that the Columbia strike hastened the end of the war, it was worthwhile. As to racism and community relations, it's not my place to judge.
After-AfterwordDon't Trust Anyone Under 50!
Sometimes I wonder why I wasn't more involved in SDS; if I had been, my life would have been quite different after nearly everybody I knew went off to Chicago in 1969 and then underground. I noticed recently that Wikipedia pages have appeared about many of my friends from those days: Ted Gold, JJ, and others I won't name because they are still alive. Reading them, it suddenly dawns on me after all these years: as a returning veteran putting myself through college, I was working 60 hours a week* in addition to taking a full course load. I simply never had the free time. Teddy and JJ and many others, on the other hand, didn't have to work.
23 April 1968 Occupation of gym site, occupation of Hamilton Hall 24 April 1968 Occupation of Low Library 26-28 April 1968 Occupation of Math, Avery, Fayerweather 30 April 1968 712 building occupiers and bystanders arrested 6 May 1968 University reopened, students boycott classes 17 May 1968 117 arrested at 114th Street SRO 21 May 1968 138 arrested in "Hamilton II" + bystanders 4 June 1968 Counter-commencement on Low Plaza.
BPP Black Panther Party CORE Congress Of Racial Equality (then); Columbia Organization of Rising Entrepreneurs (now) IDA Institute for Defense Analyses PL (PLP) Progressive Labor Party ROTC Reserve Officers Training Corps SAS Students Afro-American Society SDS Students for a Democratic Society SNCC Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee SRO Single Room Occupancy SWP Socialist Workers Party TPF Tactical Police Force WKCR The Columbia student-run radio station YAWF Youth Against War and Fascism YCL Young Communist League YSA Young Socialist Alliance
So, is that enough for ya? I hope not because youtube has a five part little film about it that you know I have to share. :)
And Last But Not Least....
Students taking over Columbia's Hamilton Hall:
And the bloody after math of the Take Over....