Categories
FEATURE ARCHIVES From The Archives Uncategorized

Anatomy of a Rumor

Canceling the ’72 Elections

The story has dropped out of sight and out of print for more than two months — the one about Nixon and the Rand Corporation planning the cancellation of the 1972 Presiden­tial election. The brief life and death of the tastiest rumor of the year leaves three questions still unanswered:

— Was there any truth to it?

— Was it a Paul Krassner hoax?

— Was it a hoax created by a mysterious third force playing its own game?

The story, in the form it first reached the press last April, had Nixon going to some top Rand strategists and asking them to game-plan, as he would say, his responses to expected radical vi­olence during the autumn 1972 campaign. One game Rand planned for Nixon was — and this was the chiller — postponement of the election until it could be con­ducted “safely.” The original newspaper story explained that Nixon was alarmed by the Bank of America burning, the 11th Street “bomb factory” explosion, the Weatherman blast at police department headquarters, and the sudden wave of bomb scares, and concerned about possible bombing of polling places and other left wing attempts to disrupt the Presidential cam­paign. But the rumor that preceded the story and mushroomed all over the country afterward had Nixon plotting to use election-eve violence as an excuse for massive repression of students and blacks, mass ar­rests, and suspension of Constitu­tional guarantees to keep the dis­senters behind bars. It was a rumor not so much about cancellation of elections as it was about cancellation of the left it­self.

[related_posts post_id_1=”713359″ /]

The corollary which most often accompanied the rumor was that the several spectacular acts of “left wing terrorism” in 1972 — the kind of acts that would force a reluctant President to postpone the election while he restored order — would be the work of FBI/CIA provocateurs: the rumor was really saying that a Reichstag fire was in the works.

It was a perfect rumor because, of course, it was a rumor about 1970 as much as it was about 1972. It was perfectly timed. Winter: the conspiracy trial, Bobby Seale, Fred Hampton, preventive detention, repression unlike anything seen before. Late winter and early Spring: the wave of bombings, the rise of Agnew as a vice-chan­cellor figure and the rumor’s first appearance in print. Then came spring — Cambodia, Kent State, Jackson State, the anti-dis­sent hard-hat riots, the sense of an uneven civil war, the feeling that They can do anything and get away with it — and, as if generated by spontaneous com­bustion within that particular compost heap of events, the rumor caught fire.

I believe that the Rand rumor is metaphorically and cosmically true, even if proven mundanely false. It’s a truth about the way the Nixon/Mitchell/Philips/Dent White House mind works. But I am the kind of person who still likes to know things, even if they’re unimportant in the long run — I want to see the entire in­tricate web of the Rand story, whether it is a real covert White House network or a complexly artificed hoax. I have sympathy for the devil who shouted out “who killed the Kennedys?” and wasn’t satisfied to hear platitudes like “after all it was you and me.” And since I was in­volved in spreading the story myself, I’d like to know if I was used and by whom, even if I was used by Our Side.

The story first appeared in print on April 5 in a four-paragraph story written by William Howard, a Washington reporter for the Newhouse chain. But it had been circulating by word-of-mouth at least as far back as September 1969. Paul Krassner says he learned about the 1972 scenarios months before Howard’s story was published. Krassner’s story of how he hap­pened to learn of the top secret study is a weird tale which begins with him acid-tripping with Herman Kahn and climaxes at some kind of elite multi-think tank saturnalia up at Kahn’s Hudson Institute retreat. There, the over-enthused wife of a high level Rand strategist confides to Paul, “… you think that’s something, you won’t believe what my husband’s working on now” —  or something like that — and pro­ceeds to describe the ’72 election study Nixon has just asked for.

The fact that it is Krassner telling this story is both (a) good reason to believe it, and (b) one reason to suspect it. Krassner and Kahn have similar systems — conscious minds, a similar inclination to think about the unthinkable in its many forms. And it’s not unlikely that some bored Rand wife would reveal (or perhaps fabricate?) some exciting secrets for him.

[related_posts post_id_1=”724444″ /]

But Krassner has a history of put-ons attached to his name, a history so well recognized that people now create put-on ver­sions of Krassner put-ons: a few months ago an “interview” with Bob Dylan was published in Good Times. The interview turned out never to have taken place … it  was a parody of the disastrous but real interview in Rolling Stone. Good Times subsequently announced that the Dylan inter­view was created by Paul Krassner. But then it was discov­ered that the real creator of the interview was not Krassner but someone who used Krassner’s name in order to get Good Times to run it, convinced they were printing a genuine Paul Krassner put-on. Most Krassner fantasies, including his most notorious, the grisly “Parts Left out of the Manchester Book,” are stabs at larger truths. The Rand rumor seems like a natural for this category — a rumor is an organic satire-in-motion.

But it’s too easy to dismiss the rumor as a satiric put-on just because Krassner was the first to talk about it. The important thing to remember about the story of the boy who cried “wolf” is that there really was a wolf there that last time.

The one key piece of informa­tion missing in tracing the source and authenticity of the Rand story is this: who or what was the source of Howard’s story, the source responsible for getting the rumor in print?

I have spoken with Howard twice — once a week after his April 5 story, and again two weeks after Scanlan’s published its notorious “Agnew memo.” Each time Howard declined to tell me anything specific about the person who gave him the Rand story. The second time I spoke to him, Howard said he believed he had been given either mistaken or false information back in April. He implied that he trusted his source, but that his source’s source, or perhaps his source’s source’s source, may have been playing a hoax. In our second talk, I asked Howard if he knew Paul Krassner. He said he did not. I believe him.

However, two interesting items have come up in connection with Howard’s story. First, in a Wash­ington Post story about the Rand story, Howard told the Post re­porter that he had gotten his story from another Newhouse reporter who had “picked up the story in New York City.” He didn’t name the other reporter. I have since learned the name of a Newhouse reporter who has said he has known Krassner in the past.

In retrospect one other detail in my original April conversation with Howard seems interesting. After Howard refused to reveal his primary source to me, he did mention “also hearing something about the wife of a Rand Cor­poration executive, some Martha Mitchell type, talking about this same thing.” Somehow then, Krassner’s story had reached Howard shortly before or shortly after his primary “source” tipped off the Newhouse reporter in New York. This implies that the New York source either had more solid evidence or told a more solid-sounding story.

[related_posts post_id_1=”717345″ /]

In my August conversation with Howard, I asked him about the Rand wife story, whom he’d heard it from. He didn’t remem­ber anything about the wife’s tale, didn’t remember mentioning it to me back in April, or know who might have told it to him. He asked me what the story was. As I began telling him some details about Krassner’s “source” he just groaned, “Oh, God, some woman on acid. That’s great. That’s a great source.”

Howard was not exactly pleased to hear from me that second time I called him. As soon as I reached him, identified myself, and asked if he remembered me, he groaned: “Remember you. You’re the one who’s made my life so miserable these past months.” He suggested strongly that my story in The Voice about his story had given too much weight to what he described as a “speculative item.” The unwanted prominence he had received when, with my help, the story had snowballed from his buried speculative item to a major scare story had put him in a harried, awkward posi­tion; he had often speculated, he laughed, about meeting me, he laughed, and punching me in the mouth. (Bill, I can’t promise you this is the last one, although I think it is; but I can promise that if it isn’t, there can only be one more after it.

I was led to the story in a rather interesting way. For five days after Howard’s story ap­peared in the back pages of Newhouse papers, no other media had picked up on it. (The story ran in New York City only in the Newhouse-owned Staten Island Advance.) On the fifth day a man — he did not give his name — called The Voice and said he had heard the Rand rumor third-hand — from his girl friend, he said, who had heard it from a Staten Island cab driver who had read it in the Staten Island Ad­vance — and wanted to know if we knew anything about it. Until that call, no one at The Voice had heard anything about the story. Nor was it likely we would have heard anything for a long time, were it not for that call.

A few days after the call, The Voice ran a short article I wrote about the rumor, which, did nothing but summarize the Newhouse story and report the results of three phone conversa­tions — a cryptic one with William Howard, and two absolute deni­als from Rand and a White House press officer. The piece revealed nothing more than the difficulty of learning about a top secret coup from official spokes­man if they don’t feel like talking about it. At the time I wrote the article, I think that deep down inside I believed the story.

A few days after The Voice piece was published I received a brief note from Paul Krassner. In it he told me he had known about the Rand report for a while and was glad it was out in the open so he could escape the burden of paranoia he had to bear while he was the only person telling the secret. I called him up and asked him what he knew and he told me the Herman Kahn-Rand wife saga. I asked him if he had any source other than the talkative Rand woman: I remember his answer being somewhat vague; he didn’t men­tion anything else specific.

[related_posts post_id_1=”728787″ /]

We spoke a little about How­ard’s story, where it came from. Krassner told me he didn’t know Howard and didn’t know how he got his information. He specu­lated that someone within Rand who knew about the project and opposed it in principle may have leaked it to Howard. Or, he speculated, the administration may have decided to leak word of the study as a kind of trial balloon to test public reaction to the possibility and law-and-order rationale for postponing elections. He speculated that maybe even he had become an unwitting conduit for a White House initiated leak. Krassner told me he was preparing a report on the whole thing for his much-postponed 10th anniversary issue of the Realist, and he asked me to keep track of the reaction — official and media — I received to my article.

Meanwhile, the story began to mushroom in that hothouse spring and new “sources” like satellite mushrooms began to spring up all over the place. The Nation picked up the story. The April 24 Wall Street Journal‘s “Washington Wire” published an item about it that appeared only in the Western editions. L.A. Free Press publisher and editor Art Kunkin read it and started an investigation of his own. Kunkin wrote a front page story­ — headlined across the page: “Will Nixon Cancel the Elections?”­ — which appeared in the Free Press one week after Cam­bodia/Kent State. Kunkin’s story made this statement: “Indepen­dent L.A. Free Press interviews with persons close to the Rand Corporation of Santa Monica, California indicate that the White House has indeed ordered such a study and has issued instructions that anyone connected with the project is not to discuss it.” Kunkin concludes his story by asking, “Do you think he is beyond cancelling the elections for the sake of instituting a dicta­torship and blaming it on radi­cals just as Hitler set the Reich­stag fire and blamed the Commu­nists, wrongly as we now know?”  ­

Kunkin has never been in when I’ve called the Free Press office and never returns any of my calls, so I haven’t been able to find out anything about those “persons close to the Rand Cor­poration of Santa Monica” or what they’ve said recently.

By the end of May almost all the underground press and a few straight dailies had picked up the story. In the underground papers the story was either based on The Voice and Free Press stories, or on an LNS dispatch taken largely from Boston’s Old Mole. Because of LNS, stories about Nixon plan­ning to cancel the ’72 election ap­peared in almost every un­derground and activist college paper in the country.

Most of these stories tended to treat the report as if it was based on solid evidence (“reporter William Howard revealed … a Village Voice writer then discov­ered … ” etc.) and gave the im­pression that the whole Rand study was by now an open secret in Washington, one more indica­tion the power structure no longer bothered to conceal its in­tentions. But most of the stories were written shortly after Cam­bodia, Kent, and Jackson State, when the truth of the rumor of the system’s intentions seemed to be acted out in front of every­one’s eyes.

The rumor, spread by word of mouth, campus and underground papers, mention at hundreds of rallies and demonstrations, became common knowledge, or at least popular folklore on cam­puses just as they blew up in anger that May.

[related_posts post_id_1=”728037″ /]

Krassner is said to have told his story at several speaking en­gagements. I remember someone asking Abbie Hoffman about it as he spoke to a crowd of students at Yale on Mayday weekend. “Oh, that’s been known for months,” Abbie said. (Hoffman has not talked to Krassner since the conspiracy trial, so it’s likely he heard it from Krassner at least as early as last fall.) But the crowd was fascinated and told the story people wanted to hear it again: “Run that down again.” “Tell it again,” they called out.

Anyway by the end of May when Nixon felt he had to take a concerned attitude toward our troubled campuses, he ordered every male under 30 on his staff who could read, write, and do sums to go to the campuses and find out just what was troubling them. In addition to finding the obvious answers, it is reported that everywhere they went, Nixon’s young men were bombarded by questions about the Rand Corporation and the 1972 elections. A delegation of Har­vard Law students brought the subject up at a Washington meet­ing with administration people. Suddenly stories about the Rand rumor began to appear in the straight press — only this time they were obviously planted by the administration. The stories were the first public acknowledgement by the administration that the rumor existed. Several times the White House press office had issued denials to indivi­dual reporters, but in the campus­ emissary stories, it seemed clear that some administration officials had brought the subject up with reporters to make sure it was handled properly.

So instead of writing about the rumor, investigating it, taking it seriously even if to disprove it, the straight press wrote stories such as “Nixon men find a rumor hard to scotch,” “Campus rumor plagues Nixon aides,” or “Plot story pops up on campuses.” All of these stories assume from the start that the rumor is a foolish preoccupation of paranoid col­lege students, or accept the flat denials by the White House and Rand at face value, and go on to describe White House aides’ unavailing efforts to clear up the unfortunate but persistent rumor which has been undermining students’ trust of the administra­tion and preventing discussion of serious issues. The straight press reported with a straight face that administration denials did not seem to stop the rumor’s spread, but instead spread it further. The White House was reportedly as puzzled about why it spread as it was over how it was spread.

Then, in early June the ad­ministration went one step fur­ther. The administration’s house liberal was delegated, or opportunely chosen, to lead the offen­sive. Daniel Patrick Moynihan — ­President Nixon’s “counselor” — ­made a speech to a Fordham University commencement, at­tacking increasingly non-ra­tional, even irrational, fear and “growing distrust of all social in­stitutions” among students. The chief, in fact it appears the only, example of this irrationality cited by Moynihan, was a rumor which he said had spread to “just about every campus in the na­tion,” the rumor “that the administration, using radical stu­dent protest as a pretext, is plan­ning to cancel the 1972 election.” Moynihan — who is perhaps closer to Nixon’s counsels than Walter Hickel — denounced the report in no uncertain terms: “Now this is not so — or at least I think it is not so,” he said, reportedly getting a good laugh with that rather superfluous bit of self-deprecation. He went on to say, with a straight face this time, that “ev­eryone in a position to know” de­nied the rumor, that in fact the president of the Rand Corpora­tion himself had taken the trouble to deny it.

[related_posts post_id_1=”714267″ /]

A month later I had a strange phone conversation with Moynihan about the rumor. After the Scanlan‘s “Agnew memo” was released, I called Moynihan to ask for his comment and found him in a no-nonsense mood. It was an incredible, revealing per­formance. He denounced the rumor as “part of the psycho­pathology of the times.” He told anecdotes from Onvell which proved, he said, that leftists believe in conspiracy theories. He denounced conspiracy.

I asked him if a conspiracy theory was a priori false because it came from a “leftist,” or a priori false because there was no such thing as a real conspiracy.

He countered that objection by launching into a description of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (since they were so maliciously false, the ’72 rumor must therefore be false). I ques­tioned this rather flimsy logic, and in response he continued the pattern, dredging up other rumors which had been discre­dited in the past to heap discredit upon the present one.

“You know,” he concluded, “the same kind of people who keep attacking the Warren Report,” he said with an air of elevated contempt.

“You actually believe the Warren Report?”

“Oh, come on. I don’t want to get into that. I have a very busy schedule. The President is leaving for the West Coast soon and we’re all very busy.”

We were both thoroughly dis­gusted with each other and hung up. Five minutes later he called back to tell me he didn’t mean to get overheated but that he was very busy around the White House preparing for the President’s summer vacation at San Clemente, and he might have seemed short-tempered. I sympathized and we started going over the same ground again. He assured me — condescendingly— that “anybody who’s a professional political scientist, as I am, notes that there’s always an element in the population which needs conspiratorial theories of behavior. You know, the John Birch Society believed Eisenhower was a Communist agent. That’s a paranoid invention … Protocols of the Elders of Zion … ” etc.

I asked him if something like this Rand study could be going on in the administration without anyone telling him. He assured me quite confidently: “I know as much about it as any man could know.” Then he started in on “the psychopathology of our times” and the “irrationality of students and leftists for believing the rumor” again.

“I guess I believe in more conspiracies than you,” I finally confessed.

“Maybe you know more than I do,” he said.

“Well, how much do you know?”

“Maybe less than you.”

Maybe. Finally I asked, “Don’t you think that one reason students tend to believe something as obviously untrue as you say this rumor is, and won’t accept your denial, is that your administration has lied so often about Vietnam and Cambodia?”

“Oh come on, this is nonsense. It’s just not true.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”674171″ /]

We hung up again shortly, this time for good. Moynihan probably still dismisses as a dumb conspiracy story the rumor that the Chicago police plotted to assassinate Fred Hampton, or the wild charge about the Mississippi police manufacturing an incident at Jackson State. In the pristine rationalist’s world nothing, absolutely nothing, can be explained by conspiracy. His near-hysterical antagonism to conspiracy theories reminded me of nothing less than a 40-year old Victorian virgin’s rejection of sex: if she gives in just once to its vileness, she’ll start being vile all the time.

Meanwhile, there were at least two other “sources” at work rescuing the rumor from the prema­ture burial Moynihan had attempted.

First, there was that famous Scanlan’s “Agnew memorandum.” Sidney Zion, at Scanlan’s, says that early this summer an old “source” who had proved “extremely reliable” during  Zion’s years at the Times passed on to him a one-page document which identified itself as “page 2 of 4 pages” of a memorandum on stationery headed “The Vice President.”

Zion states that when he first saw the document he thought it was a hoax. But he checked back with his source and made his own investigation, which assured him the document was authentic. Zion says he still does not know who his source’s source is. Scanlan’s has published put-on “documents” before, with a straight face, but Zion continues to insist that this one is authentic.

I talked to Zion in mid-August after the furor had died down, and he said he remains “absolutely sure it’s true … we even have a little more fact now.” He would not identify his ex-Times source further, but denied that he would have hoaxed him. “He wouldn’t do it to me. Someone could have somehow done it to him … but I don’t think so … we hired a private investigator who checked out part of it … if it’s a hoax it’s a right wing hoax.”

Krassner’s name came up. I forget if I brought it up or Zion did, but Zion told me that when they first received the document and thought it might be a hoax, they called up Krassner to ask him if he had done it. “He read the thing,” Zion recalls, “and told us ‘I’m the only one who could have made that up and I didn’t.’ ”

That’s not what Krassner told me he said. I called him up shortly after Agnew himself denounced the Scanlan’s docu­ment as a “complete fraud,” just to find out what he thought was going on. Krassner told me that Zion had shown him a copy of the document and he told them he thought it was a hoax, and not a very well-crafted one at that. But he was no longer quite as sure it was fake, he said, after Zion in­sisted to him again his source was good, and he looked the doc­ument over again.

[related_posts post_id_1=”717712″ /]

The Agnew memorandum seemed so phony to me when I first read it that it made me think seriously, for the first time, that the whole Rand rumor was a hoax from beginning to end. (An interesting reaction, because that’s exactly what a putative right wing or even administra­tion author of the memo might want me to think.) The memo­randum, dated “11 March 1970,” seems phony from its first words, which are a continuation from the missing first page:

” … and the Rand team agree that a judicious leak of a general nature concerning segment alpha of their study for the C/E, that relative to holding no national elections in ’72, to the media (selected, of course) at the right time to test the water so to speak is a vital step in the eventuation or their scheme. However, under no, repeat no, circumstances is any information regarding seg­ment beta of their study, the Bill of Rights repeal, to be made public.”

It reads like either a fairly clumsy left wing attempt at imi­tating Kevin Phillips/Harry Dent’s right wing technocratese (“eventuation of their scheme”, “test the water so to speak”, “segment alpha”), or a mildly clever right wing effort to parody a left wing fantasy of a Nixon­-White House conspiracy. But look how frantically that one paragraph tries to reveal as much as possible to you, while still pretending it is written for someone high up and in the know. Whoever it was written for probably didn’t have to be reminded about top, top secret “segment beta:” “segment beta, you know, the Bill of Rights repeal” or about segment alpha: “that relative to holding no na­tional elections in ’72.”

The rest of the memo, dated March 11, seems to go out of its way to prove itself prophetic. It links segments alpha and beta with another scheme to bring about “in late April or early May (1970) a series of ‘spontaneous’ demonstrations by labor groups publicizing their support of this administration’s Indo-China poli­cy,” and their “discontinuances of any silent indulgences of the excess of peace groups … ” Note the use of “Indo-China” before Cambodia, the precision of the target date, and the hint that the Cambodian adventure had already been given a definite date back in early March.

The memo goes on to name one Vic Borella, Rockefeller’s labor consultant, as a coordinator of the hard hat spontaneity, and to cite an assurance that the opera­tion could be funded with CIA money from their “Rufus Taylor’s mandated ‘internal se­curity’ fund.”

When I spoke to Zion, he went to great lengths to point out to me how prophetic the memoran­dum had been, particularly all the details about the hard hat demonstrations. “If someone had told you that back then, that these  guys were going to beat up kids in the streets, and that the next day Nixon would have his arms around them, thanking them at the White House, you wouldn’t believe it, right? It would have been too impossible. But … it happened.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”723760″ /]

If the memo was written on March 11, it would be a very prophetic document, hard evidence of a conspiracy. If the documents were created some time in June, however, and then dated 11 March, it would not be quite as prophetic.

But the validity of the Scanlan’s document has nothing to do with the validity of the whole Nixon/Rand rumor­ — unless you think that because the Scanlan’s memo sounds false the whole story must be false. It seems likely to me that some free lance operator seized upon the pervasiveness of the Rand rumor and decided to do up a “confidential memorandum,” ei­ther to help along the cause, or as a clever political satire, or perhaps as a device to discredit the Rand rumor by planting an easily discreditable hoax upon it. In any case I am reasonably sure the Scanlan’s document was not Krassner’s work. It seems below his usual standards.

It took Attorney General John Mitchell to give the document at least an extrinsic authenticity: on July 29 he announced to the press an investigation of the whole rumor, an investigation which seemed to be prompted by Agnew and linked to his outrage at the Scanlan’s memo. Mitchell told reporters that the purpose of the investigation was to stop the spread of the story — which he called “an example of Hitler’s big lie technique” — to stop it by publicly identifying the person or persons who originated it. “We think we know where it started, There’s an investigation going on and we want to trace it more distinctly.”

He seemed to imply that the Justice Department has now as­sumed the right to investigate people who spread stories the Administration denies. One unique virtue of the Rand rumor is that it apparently has the power to bring out the latent fas­cism in any administrator who deals with it, even in those who have not been very latent in the past.

I called the Justice Depart­ment shortly after the story to find out how their investigation was proceeding. I was put in touch with a Bill King (they couldn’t put me in touch with Mitchell personally, I was told) who tried to play the whole thing down.

“It’s nothing official, really. We’re just informally, you know, trying to find out how the rumor started.”

“Under what statute could you prosecute someone for this, or what statute gives you the right to even investigate?”

“Well, I don’t know if there are any statutes until you found out who it was, and then, well, there are probably no statutes … ”

“Unless the Vice President wants to sue, right?”

“Well, I guess so. It’s really not an official thing over here. It’s just that we noticed that the thing was unknown one day and common knowledge the next.”

“Who’s doing the inves­tigating?”

“Well, it’s really not an investigation, just everybody was chatting about it. I guess the Vice President’s office would know more.”

The Vice President’s office said they weren’t doing anything, call the Justice Department. Which means that something probably was going on.

[related_posts post_id_1=”723685″ /]

It was about this time (late July) that still another “source” began circulating. I learned about it in August when I heard Felipe Luciano of the Young Lords Party give a talk in which he mentioned the Rand story with some new details I had never heard before. Afterward he showed me a photocopy of a memorandum on National Urban Coalition stationery which some­one unidentified had sent to the Young Lords headquarters. This memorandum was dated 9 June and marked “Confidential.” An introduction cited “a variety of extremely disturbing rumors from highly reliable sources so recurrent they deserve immediate attention.” The memorandum then listed three new sources in addition to the Newhouse story:

1) “a former State Department employee — now president of a consultant firm” — who reports that the White House “commis­sioned MIT to test voter reaction to cancellation of the election;”

2) a “well known lobbyist on Capitol Hill who knows a right wing general” who has been saying that within 18 months the administration will declare martial law, suspend constitutional guarantees, and round up and de­tain thousands of dissenters;

3) “a Vice President of the New York Bar Association” who told a class he taught that the ‘White House had asked the Bar Association to study the constitutionality of martial law.

I couldn’t find anyone at the Urban Coalition’s Washington of­fice who knew anything about the memorandum. If the document is genuine and the Urban Coalition believes its sources, why have they been so silent about it? If the document is a fake, someone sent it to the Young Lords at­tempting to deceive. Unlike the Scanlan’s memo — which can be accepted as a good piece of satire — the Urban Coalition memo is meant to be taken seriously. If the source were left wing, it reflects a rather arro­gant attempt at manipulation for reasons hard to figure out. A right wing hoax upon the left seems more likely, if the docu­ment is, in fact, not genuine.

[related_posts post_id_1=”717703″ /]

What’s going on?

— The rumor is true and word leaked out against the Adminis­tration’s will.

— The rumor was a White House trial balloon testing public reaction before giving the real balloon a go-ahead order.

— The rumor was a “judicious leak” about a project already going ahead, to gauge reaction and to prepare the country for later, fuller disclosure.

— The rumor was a White House inspired hoax designed to put the left in the position of the little boy who cried wolf when they finally go ahead and do it.

— The rumor was a right wing put-on, to make fun of student Movement paranoia.

— Paul Krassner did hear the story from a Rand executive’s wife, planted it in the Newhouse papers and watched it grow, while other “sources” helped nurture it.

— Paul Krassner made the whole thing up as a warning, a device to reveal more clearly the real character of the Nixon Administration and of its think-tank counselors.

— Herman Kahn planted the rumor on Krassner not as a weapon for either side (Kahn would not be automatically for or against the plan, but would find its dazzling maze of implications very interesting) but as another probe into “the unthinkable,” a test to discover more about what America is like, or perhaps whether he ought to take on the ’72 contract himself.

One evening while trying to fig­ure out, from the little I knew what was going on. I decided to visit Krassner and ask him to tell me what was going on. Simple, right? When we met he told me that he had been just about to call me up when I had called.

I told him I had been won­dering about the Rand thing for a long time and wanted to know whether he …

You know, with something like that, if it didn’t exist we’d have to invent it right, he said. It’s the kind of thing that’s really true whether or not the …

I know that, I told him, I know it’s cosmically true. I still like to know how things work.

Really, your wanting to know has nothing to do with the truth, it has more to do with me wanting to know where Angela Davis is — it’s curiosity, but it’s not important. I mean, I don’t even know if someone is using me for their own game the way it happened with that Dylan inter­view.

[related_posts post_id_1=”730641″ /]

I still want to know, not for a story but just for myself.

Anyway, how will you know, if I tell you something; what’s to prevent you or someone else from thinking I’m just playing another game with you with what I say?

Well, I could look into your eyes while you were saying it.

He laughed, said something about acid heads, giving me the feeling that he agreed. Then he started telling me about how he had just come back from speaking at Oswego State College in upstate New York, where he had talked with students victimized by police super-under­cover man Tommy the Traveler. It has long been a rule in the movement that undercover cops would smoke grass with the peo­ple they were trying to fool, but never take acid, because the act could not go on with everyone as they say, grokking it. The Os­wego students had taken acid with Tommy, had “seen him put it on his tongue and swallow it,” and had not figured him out. The same thing reportedly happened with the FBI informer who infil­trated Weatherman, passed sev­eral marathon acid tests, and turned in Linda Evans.

I’m sure Krassner did not mean this as a warning; I think he tells the truth. But I became less confident about finding anything out — I shudder at the idea of staring into Herman Kahn’s face and asking him the truth about himself. We talked about some other matters which made me feel I could trust him not to lie to me (or that, if he were lying, he was perhaps more amoral than Kahn, which I don’t believe).

We came to a street crossing where we noticed a nearly fist-­sized insect wandering aimlessly around the center of the intersec­tion. It was so large some drivers could see it yards ahead and swerved to avoid it. Others didn’t see it and drove on through, always coming very close but never quite running it over. The beetle never gave any indication he was aware that four-ton vehicles were whizzing by inches away, and never reacted to near misses or changed his course from the random circlings which somehow kept him safe. It went on for about 10 minutes before Paul guided it into the safety of a drain sewer.

[related_posts post_id_1=”729235″ /]

What can I do? It happened, and it’s taken me until now to figure out what it meant. If someone were to tell the beetle (Japanese beetle, Paul said) that there was a rumor around that a four-ton blue-green mechanical vehicle 1000 times its own size, was on its way to crush it to death, the beetle would probably call his informant a paranoia freak. And the informant might be wrong. The blue-green one might miss like the others had. But unless this was a very together beetle, he was going to be crushed to death by a car and the particular color of the one that got him wouldn’t mailer. We walked on, the subject kept changing, and Krassner seemed content to leave 1972 behind for good. Finally,

“Paul…  ”

Yeah.”

“You know … I mean? you know.”

“Okay, as soon as I get back I’ll tell you.”

“Well, if I could just ask you now and… ”

“I’ll tell you when I get back.” I decided to let it go at that. Not knowing can be as interest­ing as knowing, because when you know you can no longer be surprised, and surprise is a unique pleasure — unless, perhaps, you are that Japanese beetle.

One more thing happened that night. We were watching televi­sion on Krassner’s TV set when I discovered, or thought I did, a subtle new form of subliminal ad­vertising. I know I just lost a lot of people on that one — oh shit, they’re saying, another head who’s been staring too long at the electrons on Channel 6. But it was there. Paul saw it too. Oh shit, the rest of you are saying, another poor naif taken in by a Krassner put-on.

We were watching the begin­ning of a movie on Channel 4 when it happened. (“Crazy Desire,” starring Catherine Spaak and someone who looked just like Clark Gable.) The movie opened upon a scene in ancient Rome, which turned out to be from a play which the modern Italian characters were watching. Suddenly I was pointing at the TV screen and yelling. Because on the screen three shadowy words had emerged and remained: “Tora! Tora! Tora!” The words were not superimposed but appeared as if they were shadows cast on the film, or translucent after-images stencilled on the screen. All the images of the movie could be seen moving through the words.

The three words were ar­ranged in the receding pattern and letter-style of the 20th Centu­ry Fox movie’s billboard ads. And sure enough, after the words floated through the movie for 15 minutes, a commercial came on for “Tora! Tora! Tora!” It opened with a fleet of Japanese planes buzzing ominously on their way to surprise sleeping Americans, who had ignored all the rumors, signals, and warnings which had slipped out about the planned Japanese attack.

[related_posts post_id_1=”730494″ /]

“All the lies, the deceptions, the intrigue,” the announcer promises. The shadowy words seem to have disappeared from the screen. Then the commercial ends with the announcer intoning “Tora! Tora! Tora!” and Wham! Wham! Wham! the words rush up onto the screen exactly where the shadows were, filling up the shadows with big black letters — ­very fulfilling and effective. When the commercial ends the letters disappear, and the shad­ows are gone as other commer­cials appear. Then they start the movie again and the shadow-­words return until the next com­mercial.

I was amazed. Was it possible we had stumbled on the first late-­night experiment with total commercial TV? Was it possible that the message was designed to be even more subliminal, perhaps even unnoticeable to the conscious mind on an average set, but that the peculiar reception fuck-ups of this set had revealed it more clearly than it was supposed to be revealed? Krassner said he wasn’t particularly surprised: “The more you know about these people, the less any­thing they try surprises you.”

However, he called Channel 4 to ask them about it. He reached an operator who was watching Channel 2 at the time and who didn’t quite understand what he was talking about but who said yes, she had heard of “Tora! Tora! Tora !” He asked her if anyone else had called up to complain about it and she told him no, he was the only one who had called.

Back on the TV set we noticed that “Tora! Tora! Tora!” had disappeared and that in its place was a new shadow-and-light pat­tern, this time a small circle with a star inside it and a word flickering below it that I gave myself a headache trying to deci­pher, but couldn’t. We noticed that in general the pattern disap­peared during other commercials and appeared again when the movie went on. It seemed to dis­count the possibility that we were merely seeing an image that had been burned into Krassner’s tv screen earlier.

I called Channel 4 and asked to speak to the station manager. The operator said he could not come to the phone, but after I explained my question to her, she put me on “Hold,” and returned to tell me she had spoken with the man in charge of broadcast operations, a Mr. Walter Ehr­gott, who said he had been moni­toring the program all evening and had noticed nothing at all un­usual, and saw nothing like the image I described. She said I could talk to him about it the next afternoon. I asked, then, al­most as an afterthought, how many other people had called the station.

“No one,” she said.

“No one called earlier?”

“You’re the first.”

“Has there been another oper­ator taking calls?”

“Not for the last two hours. Just me.”

“And I’m the only person who’s called about this?”

“That’s right”

“No one else.”

“Yes.”

I hung up, finding this almost stranger than the advertising on the screen. Is there an NBC poli­cy which deals with complaints by telling people who call with complaints that they’re alone? If so, it’s an effective way of turning anger at the networks back upon one’s own mistuned set or, worse, upon a possibly mistuned head.

[related_posts post_id_1=”723702″ /]

Taking a cab back that night I couldn’t get over how outrageous  it was if the network or 20th Century Fox actually was experimenting with total-advertising TV. Of course I told the cab driver about it, and of course he turned out to be an ex-advertising man with J. Walter Thompson, who told me he quit advertising because “it was so immoral, you wouldn’t believe how immoral it is.”

“I think I saw something pretty fucking immoral tonight.”

“Oh, that’s nothing, you won’t believe some of the things they’ve got in store.”

“Like what?”

“Just wait, you won’t believe it until you see it.”

The next afternoon I spoke with the daytime chief of broad­cast operations at NBC. He told me in effect that I probably didn’t see what I had seen, but if I had seen it, it was merely an easily explainable technical mistake at the studio, not a sneak attempt at undercover advertising or a trial balloon to test viewers’ reaction.

He said the shadow images could have been caused either by “studio leakage” or by “burn through.” The latter occurs when a camera focuses too long on one image and retains an imprint which shows up when it focuses on other things. It sounded like the most logical explana­tion for “Tora! Tora! Tora!,” but it failed to explain why the words, burned through only during the feature film and not during other commercials, why the image disappeared so suddenly, and why a second image (which, unlike “Tora! Tora! Tora!,” was never shown overtly) replaced it. And, of course, there is also the possibility that burn-throughs could be created intentionally by someone in the studio who was properly motivated by, say, 20th Century Fox.

The NBC man told me that  what I saw — or the mistake I didn’t really see — was not exactly subliminal advertising. Subliminal advertising had been outlawed for TV by the FCC, he explained, after the original testing of it at drive-in movies in the ’50s had created such a backlash. (Since it was outlawed it certainly could not exist.) There was nothing subliminal on today’s TV except, he said, a cer­tain meaningless visual signal at the beginning and end of most commercials, put there to trigger unmanned videotape machines at the ad agency which produced the commercial. The signals turn the machines on and off so that the agency won’t have to hire a man to watch TV all the time or tape everything merely to catch its own commercials.

I found this interesting, but the NBC man assured me that he personally, and everyone he knew at the studio, was against any kind of advertising during regular programs. “We just don’t want to get into that,” he said.

[related_posts post_id_1=”722367″ /]

I think what I saw probably was a studio mistake (keep an eye on your screen anyway). But the point of this, the point of the whole ’72 rumor, is that there’s no way of knowing. You just can’t find out. If like the beetle you dismiss all rumors as para­noid fantasies, your only reward will be the ability to be surprised when one of them materializes and runs you over. Remember, two years before 1972 the At­torney General is wandering drunkenly around cocktail parties declaring with satisfac­tion, “This country is going so far to the right you aren’t going to recognize it.”

I would suggest that the 1972 rumor, true or false, now belongs to an earlier, more optimistic season. The thought that Nixon has something to fear from hold­ing elections is hard to take seriously any longer. A more demoralizing rumor than the Rand report certainly devised by someone far more paranoid than Krassner or more amoral than Kahn, is that the ’72 elections will be held and that the candidates will be Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, and George Wallace. ❖

Categories
ACTIVISM ARCHIVES CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

The Trial of the Chicago 7: A Question of Allegiance

The Disrupted Trials

The problem of disruptive defendants who make orderly trials impossible demands a more philosophical jurisprudence than it has been getting. Obviously the acceptance of a court’s jurisdiction depends on one’s social allegiance altogether, and this can be taken into account. Consider first the case of the New York Panthers. Given their prohibitively high bail, the judge cannot exercise his ordinary power to impose short terms for contempt, since the defendants are in prison anyway. And psychologically, there can be no doubt that imprisonment during the crisis of a trial creates a pent-up frustration and sense of being trapped and railroaded that naturally will burst forth at any occasion to be heard. If the defendants were free on bail, at least some of this would explode outside, not in the court.

[related_posts post_id_1=”728037″ /]

The theory of their high bail has two overt reasons and perhaps one hidden one. (1) It is said the defendants are dangerous and might carry out the conspiracy they are charged with, bombing public places. I do not know any evidence that such acts by similar defendants on bail have occurred; but it ought not to be difficult to keep such marked persons effectively under surveillance and disarmed, especially since criminal association with them would spell almost certain arrest for any accomplices.

(2) More plausibly, it is feared that the defendants might forfeit lower bail and leave the country, as Williams, Cleaver, and others have done. Why is this bad? The claim by the defendants that the court itself is political part of an oppressive System, means that they have no allegiance to its justice. Allegiance cannot be compelled. If a person feels he is not a citizen, he may reasonably choose physical exile, and it is probably political wisdom for the sovereign to allow it, with penalties — as Castro has sometimes done in Cuba, though not in the (to me) interesting cases of anarchists and “moral” offenders. Needless to say, those who opt for exile, e. g. Williams or Cleaver, might not find themselves happy outside the United States either. Implicit in the idea of bail is that the defendant has a choice, to accept the jurisdiction or pay a penalty, of property and citizenship, for leaving it. There may be exceptions when a society cannot allow this choice, but then it has given up the idea of the social contract altogether. If one cannot refuse jurisdiction, there is no longer a question of identifying with the sentence, and a jail becomes equivalent to a dungeon or cage for animals. (To be sure, all penal systems degenerate to this any way. Prisons are not a workable idea.)

(3) But the hidden motive for prohibitive bail, or trigger-happy use of the contempt power, may be to keep the defendants from political, not criminal, action on the streets. This motive actually surfaced in the trial of the Chicago Seven when Judge Hoffman threatened Dellinger with contempt for having made a political speech outside the court! And political defendants claim, justifiably or not, that a chief reason for these recent trials is to put them out of circulation and tie up their time and money. In the pretentions of the American constitution, of course, this motive has no warrant whatever; and if there is the slightest trace of it, the court with its subpoenas becomes simply a place of violent politics and the defendants are right to try to disrupt it.

[related_posts post_id_1=”724444″ /]

***

All of the above should have no connection with the concept of a “political trial” that people like Dellinger, Spock, or the Berrigans have asked for. Traditionally, a Political Trial is one where the defendants try to show that political issues of the times are relevant to the meaning of their acts, and the legal guilt or innocence of the acts depends, at least in part, on their political justification. Often, indeed, it is impossible to separate the legal and political questions even formally, as when a ”law” may be unconstitutional, against the Nuremberg judgments, or so forth.

In my opinion, the meaning of all adjudicable acts is at least partly extra-legal. During a trial, acts are always interpreted in their real social and moral contexts, otherwise there would be no point in pleading extenuating circumstances or bringing in social and psychological factors or the current state of science and art, as in M’Naghten, Leopold and Loeb, Brown, Scopes, or all censorship cases. Rather, it is implicit in the very idea of trial by a jury or peers that the indictment will be interpreted and judged, at least partly, according to substantive social and moral, and not merely formal and legal, justice. The jury is supposed to bring in its own life experience and values; and it must consist of peers in order that the defendant’s acts may be understood in the sense that they were performed. (Thus the Panthers claim that white jurors are not adequate peers.)

But if all trials, and especially trials with novel issues, depend on the social, moral, and political interpretation of the community, it is unacceptable for judges to run them as if the meaning of acts could be defined in cut-and-dried courtroom terms; but this is what happened with Spock, the Chicago Seven, and others. In any State legal system, with abstract statutes and penalties imposed from above, it is inevitable, and perhaps useful, that there is a distinction between legal justice and moral or political justice — as an anarchist, I am not so sure that it is useful — but it is monstrous to try to make this distinction absolute, to direct a  jury not to consult its life experience and values, and to prevent a jury from hearing evidence in that direction.

[related_posts post_id_1=”728478″ /]

Political, moral, and civil libertarian defendants have always used Political Trials to address the public outside the courtroom. This is in itself a good thing, it is part of the democratic process. A man willing to risk his liberty for his beliefs has a claim to air them in. court, and the public can only profit by hearing deeply held convictions. The one disadvantage to it could be that the stump speeches may take so long as to be obstructive to the court procedure, but any judge has enough power to prevent this kind of filibuster. It is quite another matter for a judge to keep defendants from explaining themselves to the jury, including the jury’s political judgment, as part of the judicial process. The result of trying to prevent a trial from being political in this reasonable sense is to drive lively and intelligent defendants to make the court itself a place of confrontation, physical force, or tricks, not a judicial forum at all. The defendants can no longer give allegiance to the court, and we must go back to the problem of disruptive defendants that we started from.

Finally, in the midst of the courtroom uproar there is increasingly appearing a strain that is not political at all, but existentialist and religious: the middle-class young people, the witness-bearing of priests, the noise of the sons of uprooted urban poverty. This is a response of life in over-structured and dehumanized institutions; it is not aimed at the courts as such but at all authority. Naturally it ought not to shout demands for “constitutional rights” or “Power to the People” or “Socialism”­ — any constituted society would have statutes and courts — but it really makes no difference what the words are, though Abbie is unusually boring.

My own intuition, as a conservative anarchist, is that we ought to affirm Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights as among our great victories, that we have to preserve and extend, at the same time as we increasingly try to get away from States and Courts altogether. ❖

1970_Village Voice article about the Chicago 7 trial

1970_Village Voice article about the Chicago 7 trial

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

The House on 11th St.: Digging Up the Debris

A Bomb Factory?

The “live bomb” which, according to Monday night radio reports, was discovered in the ruins of 18 West 11th Street turned out to be a six-inch vintage 1916 shell, probably a souvenir, probably dead. But the two dead bodies pulled from the tons of brick, plaster, and charred furnishings in the basement of the townhouse were real enough. And then, late Tuesday afternoon, police and firemen still investigating the explosions which destroyed the building Friday morning came upon a quantity of live, wired dynamite fashioned into bombs, and announced that the $275,000 townhouse was a “bomb factory” filled with enough explosives to level the whole block if detonated at once.

Early Sunday morning, the body of 23-year-old Theodore Gold, a Columbia activist and Weatherman leader, was pulled up. Police then announced they were searching for SDS member Catherine Wilkerson, daughter of the owner of the four-story house. She was seen fleeing naked from the burning building with another girl. Three other as yet unidentified men were said to have fled the building shortly after the explosion.

[related_posts post_id_1=”728646″ /]

Monday morning, firemen uncovered intact the building’s oil furnace, which seemed to rule out the early explanation that a gas leak had torn the 20-foot-high holes in the two-foot-thick walls and collapsed the roof, all four floors, and the front wall into the basement.

Monday afternoon, detectives, in charge of the investigation announced that they had discovered SDS pamphlets in the debris. And Monday evening, shortly after the “live bomb” scare, firemen began removing brick-red paper-like material which some observers described as wrapping for dynamite. Police would not confirm or deny this until the dynamite itself was discovered the next day.

Tuesday morning, the second body, that of a girl, badly mangled and missing the left leg, was discovered about halfway down into the basement. Police were checking evidence indicating that the dead girl was Kathy Boudin, also of Weathermen and the daughter of Leonard Boudin, the prominent Greenwich Village lawyer who defended Benjamin Spock in his conspiracy prosecution.

[related_posts post_id_1=”725060″ /]

Theodore Gold, a leader of the 1968 Columbia strike, was one of the most influential organizers in the Weathermen movement. He is reported to have gone to Cuba last summer with Miss Boudin and Bernadine Dohrn, then a national coordinator of SDS. There they met with representatives of the NLF, a meeting which was said to have helped them shape the ideas which later became Weatherman doctrine. The group helped write the “don’t need a Weatherman to know which way the wind blows,” manifesto presented at the July, 1969 SDS convention, after their return from Cuba. The manifesto called for an immediate commencement of white guerrilla activity in America to “raise the price” of U.S. involvement in the Third World.

After the July convention, Gold travelled around the country urging local SDS chapters to move toward the Weatherman position. A Times story implying that Gold was one of the founders of the Mad Dogs, a Columbia SDS faction, was said to be “absolutely incorrect” by someone who knew Gold. “The Red Squad didn’t bother to get their facts right,” he added. A Post story depicting Gold as a moderate member of the Revolutionary Youth Movement II was met with incredulity by people who knew him.

[related_posts post_id_1=”61038″ /]

Miss Wilkerson is reported to have participated in Weathermen actions in Chicago and Pittsburgh. An acquaintance described her as having developed into a militant at Swarthmore: “She was a premature Weatherman.”

Weatherman itself is reported to have declared its own death as a formal organization recently, but exists now as a decentralized underground in keeping with its guerrilla orientation. ❖

1970 Village Voice article by Ron Rosenbaum about the Weathermen blowing up a townhouse on 11th Street

1970 Village Voice article by Ron Rosenbaum about the Weathermen blowing up a townhouse on 11th Street

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM ARCHIVES From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

The Trial of the Chicago 7: ‘The Seditious Movie’

films in focus

“LOVING” gets so much better as it goes along that it emerges almost in retrospect as that rarity of rarities: an intelligent and compassionate treatment of the New York-Westport merry-go-round. Throughout his career in films, Irvin Kershner has shown an unusual interest in eccentric losers stranded in natural locations. “The Luck of Ginger Coffee,” “A Fine Madness,” and “The Flim Flam Man” never quite bridged the chasm between surreal characterizations and too real backgrounds, but, with “Loving,” Kershner has found material that fully conforms to the contradictions of his style. George Segal’s commuting commercial illustrator is a kind of Charlie Bubbles character drowning in Bromo Seltzer, and at first it does not seem clear why he has begun to malfunction as a marital mechanism dedicated to making money as efficiently as possible, but suddenly the why seems less important than the how. Don Devlin’s adaptation of J. M. Ryan’s novel is deceptively elliptical in its exposition, and Kershner’s distant lensing of cramped streets creates a dangerous degree of anguished alienation in the audience, dangerous, that is, because many spectators may turn off from the protagonist before he begins making psychological contact with his predicament. Then suddenly there is one unexpected scene, and another, and still another, and, for a climax, a voyeuristic orgy of childish adultery, combining the possibilities of Marshall McLuhan, Sigmund Freud, and Lewis Carroll. Ultimately, husband and wife (Eva Marie Saint) come together with convulsive violence through mutual shame and humiliation and a shared complicity in the sweet life of suburbia. Segal and Saint are ably supported by Sterling Hayden’s Old Testament plutocrat and vulgarian, and Keenan, Wynn’s grubby agent.

[related_posts post_id_1=”719633″ /]

Not the least of the merits of “Loving” is its acknowledgement that a man’s job is of more than passing importance in the living of his life. Indeed, making a living is often the largest part of making a life. Not that the movie should have been called “Living.” “Loving” is about loving, and the energy it requires to keep relationships in focus. George Segal’s tiredness should make many members of his generation extremely uncomfortable if not utterly uptight. “Loving” strikes too close to home.

I strongly recommend Robert Bresoon’s “MOUCHETTE” at the New Yorker. Also, Maurice Pialat’s “ME,” a stirring testament to the irremediable loneliness and alienation of a child. The film manages the difficult task of expressing feelings without fantasy, and of evoking tears without sentimentality.

1970 Village Voice article by Andrew Sarris about a possible Chicago 7 movie

FOR THE BENEFIT of readers who wish to be kept informed on where it’s at, the following press release dated March 3, 1970 is reprinted in its entirety: “Abbie Hoffman announced this morning (March 3) that he and other defendants in the Chicago conspiracy trial will attempt to offset legal expenses by making their own feature film of the trial.

“Speaking on Alex Bennett’s WMCA radio show, Hoffman said the film will be called ‘The Seditious Movie’ (‘because we’re not allowed to make seditious speeches’). It will star all seven defendants, their lawyers, and a number of ‘sympathetic’ celebrities including Dustin Hoffman (no relation), he said.

“The Yippie leader revealed that he sent a telegram to Judge Julius Hoffman (also no relation) yesterday afternoon offering the judge $100,000 to play himself in the film. The prosecutor and assistant prosecutor have also been offered money to appear.

[related_posts post_id_1=”728064” /]

“The picture will be directed by Nick Ray (‘Rebel Without a Cause’), Hoffman (Abbie, that is), and Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman said. It will be filmed this spring in New York on a studio set that will be an exact replica of the Chicago courtroom where the trial took place.”

The implications of such a press release strain the resources of the most speculative mind. The idea of re-enacting a judicial spectacle full of violent outbursts, poisonous prejudices, and the most lurid lapses of decorum would seem to be consistent with Abbie Hoffman’s strategy of making political realities seems as grotesquely contrived and as predictably theatrical as a Punch-and-Judy show. And who is to say that he is ill-advised to treat his predicament with such levity? Sacco and Vanzetti were much more lovable than Abbie Hoffman, but they were judicially crucified just the same. The fact is that Abbie Hoffman and his co-defendants should never have been brought to trial at all on such flimsy evidence and on such nebulous charges. And that they should be denied bail as dangerous criminals at a time when the alleged murderers of the Mississippi civil rights workers were roaming around on their own recognizance indicates the rampant hypocrisy of the American judicial system. But what galls many otherwise sympathetic souls about Hoffman is that he seems determined to exploit every misfortune to the greater glory of his own showbiz personality. Dear Abbie just won’t behave like a professional victim with sad, mournful, hangdog expressions. There is no stoicism, no proletarian nobility, no heroic dignity in this clown of a thousand costumes. There will be no revolutionary songs about Abbie Hoffman, perhaps because Abbie knows enough about history to realize that the subjects of revolutionary songs seldom live long enough to sing them.

[related_posts post_id_1=”728670″ /]

There is a great deal of talk these days about the proper tactics for reform and revolution as if the unarmed and the outnumbered can ever prevail even with magical verbal potions from Havana or Hanoi. More likely, the white middle class radicals will indeed cash in their ideological images for the rich rewards of cultural one-upmanship while the blacks of all classes bear the full brunt of the backlash. It is hard to forget that Abbie Hoffman is at least partly responsible for making Nixon, Agnew, Mitchell, and Carswell such household words, and so long as Nixon is allowed to campaign against Abbie Hoffman, so long will the Great Silent Majority continue to swell into terrifyingly Hitlerian hordes. As I have said, Abbie Hoffman doesn’t belong in a courtroom or on the political stump. He is a creature of the theatre, the cinema, the media. He should not be tried by judges, but rather reviewed by the gentlemen of the Fourth Estate. And was it so long ago that Eugene McCarthy’s crusading children cut their hair before canvassing the New Hampshire voters? If anyone has found a better way to change conditions in America except by winning election then let that inspired innovator step forward and explain how. Somehow, I don’t see that the antics of Abbie Hoffman are improving things, but I am talking as a citizen rather than as a critic. As a critic, I am sorry that Abbie Hoffman was unable to get Groucho Marx for the role of Judge Hoffman. With Nicholas Ray at the helm, and Groucho Marx in his judge’s robes, “The Seditious Seven” might well have emerged as a mordant version of “Duck Soup.” But as for changing people’s minds and souls with a movie, forget it! Reliable observers tell me that Southern audiences give the murderous rednecks in “Easy Rider” standing ovations for blowing up the noncomformist bikers. ❖

[related_posts post_id_1=”716561″ /]

1970 Village Voice article by Andrew Sarris about a possible Chicago 7 movie

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

The Trial of the Chicago 7: The Conspiracy in Jail

The Press of Freedom: Transcending of Differences

The long-distance operator finally reached the Conspiracy office the Saturday before last, several hours after the Appeals Court granted bail to the Chicago Seven. The caller asked for several of the defendants, none of whom was available. “I’m really sorry, operator,”  blurted the euphoric, thoroughly exhausted staff worker, “they’re all out getting laid.”

The nightmare, or at least its first phase, is over. Prosecutor Foran is making the rounds on the Northern Illinois Kiwanis circuit manfully describing the defendants as “fag revolutionaries” and loathsome subverters of American youth. Sprung from their five-by-eight metal cages, most of the defendants spent last week relaxing and making plans to move the Conspiracy office to New York.

Last Wednesday, Dave Dellinger, who has been advocating the abolition of prisons for 30 years, talked with a few of us about his unexpectedly brief residence in the Cook County Jail, which he described as “from a racial point of view, one of the most ideal societies I’ve ever been in.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”728037″ /]

The defendants weren’t prepared for the instant heroism and generosity accorded them by the inmates, who had exultantly followed the trial on television. (Even the prison guards had soft moments: one wordlessly pocketed Dellinger’s stash of Cuban cigars during the daily 3 a.m. strip-and-search routine and returned them later; another knowingly overlooked Dellinger’s copy of the New Left Review, a British Marxist monthly, while other reading matter was confiscated.)

“The inmates really know what it means to run up against a legal system which is stacked against you,” Dellinger said. “A lot of them are there because they couldn’t make bail. The fact that we had stood up to the greased machine was something new to them.”

Dellinger had the good fortune to reside in a cage that was out of the direct glare of the bulb that stays on day and night. He shared it with a veteran safecracker with a very creative passion for new hustles. “The guy was actually very friendly. We took turns sleeping except that when it was my turn he would try to convince me of his plan. ‘Dills,’ he would say, ‘you’re big now, really big. With your name and my experience we could start an organization and get eight million people to pay $4 dues a year — say a buck every three months. That’s 32 million bucks a year — 32 million, Dills, whaddya say?’ I rolled over and asked him what the hell the organization would do. He told me to leave that to him. When I finally convinced him I wasn’t interested, he sort of groaned, ‘Dills, the trouble with you is that you’re an idealist.’ ” Dellinger laughed, “I tried to explain that if I wasn’t an idealist, I probably wouldn’t be in a position to consider the proposition in the first place.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”724444″ /]

“The best time in jail was Conspiracy Day when 7000 people gathered outside the jail to support us. We could hear the helicopters whirling overhead. One guy at the end of the cell row had a partial view of the crowd and passed along what he saw. It was a human information chain as it went from cell to cell. The inmates shouted and joked about how the Conspiracy kids were going to blast a hole in the jail and how everybody better hurry and get packed.”

I asked Dave to discuss the disagreement he had with Tom Hayden over whether it was worth speaking out in court, thereby risking contempt citations and jail terms. Generally, Dellinger thought it was and Hayden thought it wasn’t.

“Before the trial we all agreed to wage a ‘positive defense.’ I wanted a few of us to conduct our own defense but was strongly over-ruled on that. We did agree that we wanted to present testimony that would leave the jury with a sense of what we are about as total human beings. There was no way they could judge us fairly unless they heard and saw what we believe and what leadership meant to us. But the actual courtroom resistance didn’t come out of the pre-trial discussions. It developed organically and without much prior consideration. It became a real issue when Bobby Seale was bound and gagged. During the recess following the shackling, I argued that we shouldn’t go back to court willingly. If they wanted to drag us in, okay, but as long as they held Bobby, we couldn’t acquiesce in the business-as-usual routine of the court. Tom thought we had to learn like the Vietnamese to feel no pain, that our real job was to organize people outside and that symbolic acts of non-compliance with the court could only impede our larger purpose. My response was that unless we resisted each step which moved us further along toward a fascist state, we would end up in a hopelessly defensive position. But I also thought that showing solidarity with Bobby at that point was a form of organizing.

[related_posts post_id_1=”726362” /]

“We were split on the issue of what to do and finally agreed that we would go back to the court for the afternoon session and then discuss it with Bobby that evening. Bobby insisted that we continue the trial, that one person locked up was enough.”

When I heard of the Dellinger-Hayden argument, having worked fairly closely with both of them, I thought, oh boy, are they ever in character. A certain caricature has developed depicting Hayden as a kind of revolutionary Bobby Kennedy, disdaining warmth and spontaneity and caring about nothing so much as raw power. I think this is an awful distortion of Tom and I don’t want to reinforce it. What is true, I believe, is that Hayden is usually thinking five, 10, even 50 years ahead and wants to be able to share his acute sense of what it will take to make a revolution in this country. He is, or at least used to be, terribly worried that personal indulgences would deflect the movement into fruitless culs-de-sac.

There is, in fact, a lot of Hayden in Dellinger. For more than 30 years, Dellinger has been a utopian, rejecting, where necessary, historical models as a guide for what is possible in human arrangements, and eliciting, throughout the ’40s and ’50s, patronizing contempt from left sectarians and realpolitik liberals for advocating such naive causes as unilateral disarmament, abolition of prisons, sexual freedom, and the like. Like Hayden, though, Dellinger has never succumbed to the precious irrelevance of the moralists, violent and non-violent, who kind of assume that maybe things will change when the rest of us are illuminated by their sanctity.

[related_posts post_id_1=”728509″ /]

There is a tension in both men which stems from, on one hand, an aching awareness of the destructiveness of the American system (not simply destructive to blacks and Vietnamese but to all of us) and, on the other, a fearful recognition of the force needed to undo that malevolence. It requires a prodigious balancing act of consciousness to keep a hold on both perceptions. (Try it. Most of us find it less demanding to fix one or the other or to ignore them both.) Dellinger, I suppose, represents the tradition more sensitive to the problem and Hayden to the solution, which may account for their different views on the matter of comportment in Judge Hoffman’s court. But Chicago was a crucible into which eight movement “leaders” were tossed. What emerged, says Dellinger, was not cleavage but a coming together, an incredible trust and love which transcended the real differences which distinguish Abbie Hoffman from Rennie Davis from Bill Kunstler. Six months ago, Dellinger said, it couldn’t have happened. ❖

1970 Village Voice article about the Chicago Seven Trial

1970 Village Voice article about the Chicago Seven Trial

Categories
EQUALITY ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

On the Progress of Feminism

The light of liberation can be blinding

The women’s movement has been under fire from the moment it drew its first breath. It’s enemies and detractors are many, though often they pose, in their own minds, as supporters — “Yes, yes, there is much justification in what you are saying, but good God! those awful women you put on tv!” … “Well, I’m willing to support you people, but you’re just gonna have to do a lot better in the way of propaganda. That mimeographed Marxism. Jesus.” … “Look, I’ve always believed in women’s liberation. I take my wife out to eat all the time, but my God, what’s going now is just incredible. These strident, man-hating bitches you people have for spokesmen.” … “You people.” If I hear “you people” just once more …

Those who have responded with open fear and anger to the movement — no doubt out of the illness of middle-class libertarianism — are too numerous to articulate properly on the sociological scale that will ac­curately place the many combinations of anxious self-interest they represent. (And, indeed, it is not now my intention either to castigate or to proselytize.) But there many who declared themselves partisans from the start, many who claimed to see in the women’s movement a hope of salvation denied elsewhere in the cultural politics that domi­nates our social passions, many who responded to the cause of justice for women with quick support and ready alliance, who are now beginning to separate themselves from the movement. For many of those partisans­ — both men and women, but most especially the men — are striking out now, in boredom and irritation, at the many apparently unwholesome aspects of the movement — and in that quick partisanship and early souring lies an instructive tale, one that is crucial to both an increased understanding of and a renewed faith in the movement that seeks to alter radically the psychic lives of men and women.

[related_posts post_id_1=”725859″ /]

I have a story to tell, a story that contains all the dramatic el­ements involved in this signifi­cant play of life:

Recently, I was visiting old friends in Berkeley, a couple who are both radicals of many years’ conviction, people who literally feel that the oppression of other people limits and corrodes their own lives. This conviction happens to be the best part of these people. Unlike many radicals whose radicalism is the worst part of them — that is, their radicalism is often rendered in mean-spirited and righteous be­havior, an arrogant excuse for emotional deficiency — in these people the disgust with capitalism and the social inequities that follow from the system is neither shallow nor fanatical: it has produced an extension of spiritual generosity, a genuine disavowal of worldly accumulation without an absurdly false asceticism, and, more often than not, an emotionally developed desire to understand what the other person is all about. It was, in fact, this man and this woman who introduced me, two years ago, to women’s liberation, and it was, at that time, the man’s understanding and persuasive elo­quence that I found most af­fecting. “I am just now beginning to understand,” he had said softly, “that my wife’s oppression has forced me into certain molds of behavior and all of a sudden I see a whole world of be­havior that has been denied me …” (It was after that conversation that I began, very fast, to feel a great number of connec­tions being made inside me.) Things went quickly for them. The woman became an active member of a women’s collective (that is, a group of women who meet regularly to talk, and also to plan women’s liberation ac­tions.) The man helped organize demonstrations and started a couple’s group.

Now it was two years later. I had seen them only once in the intervening time, and we were naturally anxious to see one another again. When I arrived at the house in Berkeley I found some changes. My friends, together with their two children, now occupied the lower half of the house they lived in; the upper half was occupied by three mari­tally estranged feminists and their collective five children; together, all five adults and seven children were attempting some variant of cooperative liv­ing.

Richard was out when I got there at 8 p.m. but Eva wel­comed me heartily and pulled me inside to the kitchen for coffee and kisses and laughter and words that tumbled one after another in some vague sem­blance of sentences meant to communicate meaning. After a while, one of the feminists from the top floor came down and joined us at the table. She was the estranged wife of a promi­nent New Left radical, life with whom she acidly described: “He was the intellectual and I was the earth mother.” It became quickly clear that she was now, heart and soul, given over to the women’s movement. Within minutes we were all embroiled in serious, fastmoving movement talk — and within the hour I was being told I was a revisionist … It seemed I had too loose an idea of what constituted properly revolutionary behavior.

[related_posts post_id_1=”713447″ /]

When Richard came home he walked into the kitchen; I was very glad to see him and leaped out of my chair to hug him hello. He responded, was friendly for a few minutes, and then left the room. I expected him to return and so I simply sat down again, resumed the conversation, and it was 1 a.m. before I realized Richard had gone to his room with no intention of returning to the kitchen.

We, the three women, con­tinued to talk movement talk until 3 a.m. Movement talk, of necessity, is composed of a constant intertwining of personal experience, tactical speculations (regarding acti­vity in and out of the move­ment), and theoretical projec­tions, all being fed continually through the mill of observation and analysis. Naturally, the men in our lives are part of the mate­rial we supply for model cases and situations. Naturally.

I wasn’t able to speak to Rich­ard, who seemed abnormally preoccupied, until late the next day, and then I asked him why he hadn’t come back into the kitchen the night before. He looked at me for a long minute, and then he burst out; “I’ve gotten to hate women. I can’t stand them gath­ering in cliques, the way they do now. I just can’t stand the con­stant cliqueishness. It reminds me of my mother, for God’s sake. When I was a kid, my mother and her friends would gather in the kitchen like that, pushing the men — me and my brother and my father — out with their eyes and their sudden silences … Jesus. Now it’s the same thing all over again. When I walk into my own kitchen I feel the invisible curtain suddenly coming down between me and the women. Suddenly, I am the enemy incarnate, I am the fucking oppressor, I’m the one to be watched and to be shut out …” He gestured in disgust. “It’s useless now. I really don’t know what to make of the movement any more, and certainly I don’t feel part of it at all.”

I was stunned by his outburst. A great blot of sympathy began spreading in me. But very quickly my sympathy began to be outlined in anger, and the outline thickened until it covered half the blot … and then I realized that both my sympathy and my anger were for Richard and for the women. For him and for me, for the cause and for the movement, for the depth of meaning sealed into this incident and for the insight it holds into the nature of the struggle that lies still so far ahead of all of us.

[related_posts post_id_1=”721605″ /]

  ***

What is happening to Richard is happening to men (from liberals to revolutionaries) all over this country who have considered themselves spiritual partisans of the women’s movement and feel, bewilderedly and angrily, that the movement itself is now beating them over the head daily with an indiscriminately wielded club marked “male chauvinist pig.” (A really unhappy example of this: John Leonard’s recent, startling battle in the Times with some of my sisters.) The entire action is amazingly reminiscent of the time only 10 years ago when thousands of white middle-­class liberals who had fought with patience and sincerity in the black civil rights movement were suddenly being called “ofay motherfuckers” by LeRoi Jones and Stokely Carmichael and told to get the hell out of their move­ment. It was as difficult then to sort out the right and the wrong of the matter as it is now, because the right and the wrong were then, and are now, all mixed up with the ugliness of emotional need so swollen and so distorted as a result of having been told so long it does not exist that blacks then, and women now, could not take in all at once both the full impetus of their previous condition and their roaring need to see it change­ and still retain their full capacity for humanist behavior. It is al­most as though the very act of declaring oneself ready to do battle for one’s humanity trans­forms one into something other: like the good and innocent men who go to war to fight for the sweetness of civilization and re­turn killers.

But of course that is the whole sickening trickery in life — the idea that one cannot fight for one’s humanity without, ironically, losing it — and it is a piece of trickery that the blacks some­times seem helpless against and the women now sometimes seem helpless against, and, in the final analysis, that trickery is the real enemy, and the very essence of the thing we must continually be on our guard against. For what shall it profit a woman if she gain an end to slavery in mar­riage and in the process lose her soul?

However, a liberal who was out­raged 10 years ago at the sheer “unreasonableness” of the blacks and is outraged now at the sheer “unfairness” of the women is a fool, and possessed of the kind of impatience that calls all of his early allegiance into ques­tion. For how is it possible that a man in one breath should proclaim his genuine under­standing of woman’s deeply subordinate position in our society, and in the very next exclaim savagely against the forceful and sometimes “unreasonable” ex­pression of rage now rising in women, an expression which inevitably accompanies the up­rising of those who suddenly real­ize they have been cheated of their birthright, and which dies down only slowly and with the healing passage of time that brings real change and increased understanding? Does a woman suddenly understand the need to reverse the behavior of over 2000 years, and presto! That  understanding  makes her saintly? Or is it exactly the opposite? “Ye shall know truth and it shall turn you into a monster. And only after a long siege of fever shall you become human again.” After all, why did it take Moses 40 years to cross the goddamn desert? Because God instructed him that he was not to return slaves to Canaan.

[related_posts post_id_1=”727878″ /]

Many women are acting ugly now because they feel ugly. For a long, long time these women acted sweet when they didn’t necessarily feel sweet. They did so because deep in their being, in a place beyond conscious thought, they believed their lives depended upon their being sweet. Now, when they think of that time, of all that life spent on their knees, they feel green bile spreading through them. and they feel that their lives now depend upon calling men “male chauvinist pig.” That sweetness, then, was infantile, and this viru­lent aggression, now, is infantile. But a people are not kept for generations as children and sud­denly, simply upon coming to re­alize that they have lived as chil­dren, become fully humanist adults, capable of measured proportion. That measured proportion is the kind of behavior that is learned, and it is learned only in a specific way: through the reinforcement of a repeated personal experience which per­ceives humanism, finally, as the only true and necessary and satisfying expression of the sell. A people who have only just begun to emerge from a state of sub­jugation are in no position to be even-handed in this manner, and it takes much patience and un­derstanding and good will on the part of the strong ones both in the subjugated group and in the group holding the power to provide an atmosphere of stabili­ty in which the frightened bravado on both sides of the fence can dissipate itself without increasing the chaos that is al­ready intrinsic in the situation.

John Leonard was appalled by the out-of-focus fury of the sis­terhood over his review of a number of feminist books, a fury that ended up saying a man shouldn’t be reviewing feminist books. Leonard, a long-time supporter of women’s liberation, flew into a rage and in reply said that in that case “Moby Dick” should be reviewed by whales, and ended, in his turn, with an attack on the stupidities of the women’s movement. It was so obvious to him that the feminists’ response was an outrageous at­tack upon every civilized notion that allows a reviewer of in­telligence and decency to call the shots as he sees them.

Leonard was right and he was wrong; the women were right and they were wrong. If I were in Leonard’s place, I would have done precisely what he did — and regretted it five years later. On the other hand, I am in the feminists’ place: I would not have done what they did, but I can see exactly why they did what they did.

[related_posts post_id_1=”685323″ /]

***

Women’s liberation is being called by many names today. It is called “the movement,” it is called “the cause,” it is called “the revolution.” Often, the lan­guage — as language does­ — begins to take on a life of its own, and then the idea of women’s liberation and the terms of description by which it is known begin to grow dangerously distant from each other. Even more important, those terms of description sometimes harden into dogma, and dogma in time becomes a kind of shorthand —  first for explanation and then for response. When that happens, experience is on its way to becoming institutionalized and the life at the center of that expe­rience is slowly sucked away.

The liberation of women is, in my view, at one and the same time, all of the things it is called, and none of those things. For me, feminism is, more than any other single thing, not a movement, not a cause, not a revolution, but rather a profoundly new way of interpreting human experience. It is a vital piece of information at the center of a new point of reference from which one both re-interprets the past and predicts the future. In that sense, it is parallel to the great cultural movements that have so altered the shape of the 20th century — Freudianism and existentialism. Feminism is a piece of emotional and intellectual insight that allows us to see that women’s lives represent the effects of a piece of culture that has come to be known as “sexism”: a determination — based on fear and the existential struggle for power­ — that women shall be declared natural inferiors, and taught that they are natural inferiors. The consequences of this insight, if it is perceived instantly, are as far-­reaching as Freud’s discovery of sexual repression and the exis­tentialists’ discovery of noth­ingness. For each woman and each man contains within herself and within himself a microcosm of the universe in feminist terms — just as each person also contains within himself and within herself a microcosm of sexual neurosis and existential angst — and thus feminism also is nothing less than a new form into which one pours old knowledge, thereby re-vitalizing and setting into motion anew the sources of psychic energy responsible for growth and change and altered behavior.

The conversion to feminism is also very much like the conver­sion to Freudianism and existen­tialism: for a long time one sees nothing, and suddenly one sees it all — whereupon absolute hell breaks loose. A woman suddenly sees herself in feminist terms (just as a prospect for psycho­analysis suddenly sees that his behavior is the response to repression); she grasps the fun­damental idea in a flash (and that, by the way, is the last thing she is going to grasp in a flash); immediately she is surrounded by the “panic and emptiness” of a world in shambles, on the one hand, and the drunken exhilara­tion of a world overflowing with new possibility on the other. Ut­terly dislocated, a newly con­verted feminist is then like the man in Plato’s parable who, coming out of the cave of igno­rance, is blinded by the light and must grope slowly and painfully toward some coherent re-assembly of the world — a groping, I might add, that is further re­tarded by the fact that the man is eager to accept each new ob­ject he stumbles on as the ultimate object, the one that really defines this giddy and fearful new atmosphere he now finds himself in.

[related_posts post_id_1=”579085″ /]

But more significantly and more directly, the newly converted feminist bears a striking resemblance to the novitiate into psychoanalysis who — for an amazingly long time — is over­whelmed by the fact that his fa­ther never made him feel loved and that his desire for his mother deeply affected his ability to love other women, as well as by this amazing discovery of a world within himself of emotional scars, complicated repressions, unbelievable defenses — all busily going into operation every time a stranger says hello all explained by an erudite world theory, all passionately seen as part of an enormous puzzle, there simply to be worked out — and shazam! on the very day the last piece of the puzzle is in place, those compul­sions formed by that unanalyzed self begin to wither and die, one sheds the worn-out skin of defen­sive behavior, and a whole, new creature is born inside the famil­iar but now psychoanalyzed body.

All that is romantic fancy, as the unhappy analysand is quick to learn; should he actually piece the entire puzzle together, he has just begun his trip, and it is one of the cruelest journeys in the world — that journey that must be taken from the stunning point of initial conversion, quick understanding, and unquestioned belief in the miraculous powers of the language of faith, to the disenchanting point of realization that insight must be reinforced by and ultimately (through the formerly impotent tools of intelligence and will) replaced by an act of hard, drudging work in which the emotional habits of a lifetime are slowly and continually chipped away — inch by inch, moment by moment, day by painful day — in order that the analysand’s life may perhaps ­begin to resemble that glorious possibility of existence glimpsed in the rarefied atmosphere of the analyst’s office, hour after cathartic hour.

For the feminist, it is exactly the same. The woman who suddenly sees that she has been forced by cultural decision to remain a half-formed creature, never to have known actual au­tonomy or direct power, is as overcome by her revelation as is the new analysand by his. So violent is the nature of her insight that she is able in a shot to gather into her previously resistant understanding a new explanation for almost every identifiable piece of behavior that characterizes her life. She is able quickly to see her life — down to its smallest detail — as a microcosmic example of the larger and more theoretical idea: sexism. She sees the cultural and political system under which she has grown, suddenly, not as the familiar capitalist West but as a patriarchy in which men have direct power and women do not; in which women have been kept, essentially, as children, and men have assumed the responsibilities and the rewards of adulthood. When the feminist comes to see her life in this light, it is inevita­ble that she should see men — all men, the men in remote places of power as well as the men in her immediate life — as agencies of her victimization. It is also inevi­table that she be overwhelmed by an uncontrollable and very unhappy fury — just as the analysand is overtaken by a furious anger against his parents when he first realizes what they did to him.” It is only with enor­mous difficulty that the fe­minist — like the analysand — can get past the point of initial understanding and primary response­ — for indeed, if she does not, she, like the psychiatric patient who cannot stop explaining his behav­ior in terms of how his mother or father affected him in early childhood, is lost to genuine change. Man-hating, for the feminist, then becomes a waste of energy and a force for retar­dation rather than progress. It is exactly like taking a trip down an unknown country road in the middle of the night. One goes a short distance and falls into a ditch. One steps on the gas pedal, again and again, but to no avail. The force of acceleration makes it feel as though the car is moving, but in fact the wheels are only spinning. One must get out of the car, lift it from the ditch, and proceed down the road — to the end of the trip.

[related_posts post_id_1=”596209″ /]

For in the final analysis, feminism, for me, is the journey deep into the self at the same time that it is an ever increasing understanding of cultural sexism … and, more than anything, the slow, painful reconstruction of that self in the light of the feminist’s enormously multiplied understanding.

Let me explain what I mean. Recently I was walking through midtown Manhattan with another woman. We had just had lunch and we were speaking warmly with one another. This woman is over 50. She is very beautiful, she has two broken marriages behind her, a grown son, an amazingly gentle nature, and a terrifying history of alcoholism. She does not call herself a feminist, and yet she is certainly deeply af­fected by the women’s move­ment; she is, in my view, a per­fect candidate for feminist con­version. As we were walking, she said to me: “You know, I’ve been reading Ti-Grace Atkinson, and I’m beginning to think perhaps she’s right, perhaps separatism is the answer for us. I realized, as I was reading her, that love, being in love, had always been to me exactly what alcohol had been. I mean, when I was in love, it was just like being high; I would experience exhila­ration, a sense of strength, and a marvelous conviction of freedom … do you know what I mean? And then, after a while, love­ — like alcohol — would begin to wear off, and the high would end in depression … Perhaps, then, I should abstain from love as I have abstained from alcohol.”

I felt a terrible rush of confu­sion and unhappiness as she spoke. “No,” I said hotly, “no.” It seemed to me that the lesson to be learned from that experi­ence is not that we must stop loving men, but that we have all been taught a corrupting version of romantic love and we must learn better how to love. That high of love is like something on the cover of the Saturday Eve­ning Post. It is falling in love with the ritual of love, not with a human being, and experiencing the emptiness that follows when ritual is perceived to be without substance; and women do it a thousand times more often and more easily than men because “falling in love” is what women wait to do. Imagine a bride as she is prepared for the ordinary American marriage: there she is draped in masses of queenly white, surrounded by adoring subjects, (family, friends, neighbors), ready to worship at her prize-winning feel, intent on absorbing every detail of this high-mass ceremony: the gather­ing of gifts, silver, wedding rings, honeymoon plans, dressmaker details, wedding-hall plans … the actual man who is actually being married slowly recedes into the unreal background … delicious! Suddenly it’s over. They are married and it is all over. Nothing remains but to prepare for the next high: having a baby. In one sense or another — ­given higher or lesser degrees of spiritual and intellectual pre­tension — thousands of people marry in precisely this manner, mistaking circumstance for per­sonality. Although we alone are not the victims, we, the women, are the ultimate victims of these marriages — because marriage is so damnably central to a woman’s life — and precisely because we are the more genuine victims, it is incumbent on us to understand that we participate in these marriages because we have no strong sense of self with which to demand and to give sub­stantial love, it is incumbent in us to make marriages which will not curtail the free, full func­tioning of that self. If giving up “romantic” love, then, is the price that must be paid for a new kind of marriage, let it be a price we pay gladly, and once and for all have done with the hellish lies attached to the whole damned business so that we can look for­ward with pleasure to a new, free, full-hearted, eminently proportionate way of loving. That, for me, is the feminist lesson to be learned from the re­alization that love is an institu­tion of oppression, as Ti-Grace so accurately puts it.

[related_posts post_id_1=”713245″ /]

***

breaks my heart to hear a woman speak of “ripping off” a man, or another calling a man she lives with — and has every intention of continuing to live with — a “male chauvinist pig” 29 times a day, or another reveling in the open hostility she displays toward every man she sleeps with. It breaks my heart because I know equally well the confusion and the despair and the frustra­tion behind such a woman’s words. I know that her emotional wheels are spinning, and that she can’t see her way past her present position. And I know also that somewhere inside her, perhaps well below the conscious level, she apprehensively feels that displaying the same emotional vic­iousness toward men that they have displayed toward her may be suspicious proof of the females crippled ability to assume respon­sibility for the making of her own life.

And I want to say: have faith, my sister. The place in which we now find ourselves is unavoid­able, but soon it will prove insup­portable; soon it will prove emotionally unsatisfying, and with that emotional dissatisfaction comes another leap toward un­derstanding, and with that, the automatic courage to press fur­ther and be off down that road once again. It is insufficient to the cause to concentrate on man-­hating; it exhausts your energy and makes you lose sight of the real aim of the struggle. It is not the action that will return your life to you; it is not the way to the end of that road, and the end of that road is all that counts.

None of which is to say that the fight against sexism is not very real, or that it must not be fought daily by the  woman’s mo­vement — in the courts, in the streets, in the offices, in the bedrooms — or that those in power are anywhere near ready to relinquish that power. It is only to say that I believe that the thrust of feminism should not be the reforming of old institutions so much as the creation of new ones:

— I do not wish to batter down the doors of male institutions, crying “Let me in!”, so much as I simply wish to walk away from those institutions, thereby causing them to fall, as women make of themselves human beings who simply will not participate in the male scheme of civilization.

— I wish to see every feminist take a solemn vow: “Let there never be another generation of women for whom marriage is the pivotal experience of psychic development.”

— I wish to see every feminist say to herself: “Yes, the pa­triarchy has taken my life from me, but also I have given it. I am not going to waste the rest of it in an avalanche of reproach. I am going to fight the patriarchy, but my real energy goes to the hard drudging work of making myself human — as well as humane. Men may have taken my life from me — but they cannot give it back to me. Only I can do that, fighting inch by inch to reverse the emotional habits of a life­time.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”418139″ /]

All much, much easier said than done — especially for us, the women between 30 and 40, the truly brave and sacrificial transitional generation. But it is, I believe, the only true direction that we — as women, as human beings, as intimate possessors of the final understanding of “liber­ation” — can travel. Yes, men are also in chains. Yes, “powerful oppressor” is, for most men, a painful farce. Yes, it is the sexual liberation of everyone that is required. But history has now passed the ball to us, the women, and it is our liberation that is demanded, our liberation that must be of paramount con­cern, our liberation that will, by default, insure the liberation of all. And it will come, all of it, not so much through the develop­ment of a political dogma or a revolutionary apparatus or a sweeping commitment to fem­inist ideology, as through the slow, irreversible conversion to a new psychology of the self on the part of thousands of women today, and millions more tomor­row. Against that force, the operating principles of the old male civilization will be utterly helpless. Against that force, the denial of female autonomy will be as a leaf in the wind.

It is for these reasons that I believe that the heart and soul of the feminist movement is the small, anonymous consciousness­-raising group. It is here that the real work is being done, here that feminism struggles to life, here that it takes hold with rooted strength, transforming the soul of a woman, biting deeply and slowly — like acid on metal — ­into the ready heart beneath the encrusted surface, so that it becomes forever impossible for that woman to turn back on what she now knows or to make whole again that old, false self.

The existence of the women’s movement as a source of support and strength for thousands of women who will come slowly to feminism is invaluable. On the other hand, the movement is also a source of apprehension in that it nurtures the irresistible ten­dency toward doctrinaire indict­ments, the easy out of man-hating, the often false solidarity of ideological “sisterhood.” In the short time since it first came into existence, the movement has already spawned hundreds of party hacks, women who are now “movement women,” women whose line of defense grows more rigid with each passing day, women who have often ex­changed one crudely held ideology for another.

[related_posts post_id_1=”719221″ /]

To travel down that ideological road is not fatal — nothing can be fatal to the feminist movement, for it is alive in all its parts and its desire for more life is omnivo­rous, feeding itself on anything and everything — and often, it seems the only real road to be on. But, it seems to me, in the end it is regressive and danger­ous to a movement that prides it­self on having as its ultimate goal the humane treatment of all human beings.

For myself, I can only say: I fight the polemicist in me daily. I fight not to destroy it, but merely to hold it in balance. To hold it in balance. And I must fight, because it is such a temptation for me to simply surrender to it. The excitement, the energy, the sheer voluptuous sweep of feminist ideology is almost erotic in its power to sway me. My mind grows vividly sharp, my responses come quickly, my illu­minations and connections are ir­resistible, as one piece of the puzzle after another begins to fall swiftly into place no sooner do I allow a single sentence to domi­nate my being: “Everything in man’s experience makes him an oppressor, everything in woman’s experience makes her a victim.” That’s all. Just a single sentence. No more than that. And yet …

Something in me holds back, some part of my soul struggles up in painful confusion to say softly: no, that’s not entirely true. That is certainly not en­tirely true. I cannot say to a man who has loved me: “You god­damn sexist” (as I have said) without feeling a terrible, numbing pain as I look upon his dismayed face and the whole of our deeply woven experience together flashes before me. No, I cannot say I am a total victim as I feel the energy of life rushing through me and I exult in my growing independence. I cannot say these things — and I think it is the best part of my feminism that will not allow me to say them.

Feminism has within it the seeds of a genuine world view. Like every real system of thought it is able to refer itself to everything in our lives, thereby rescuing the old, forgotten knowl­edge that is locked deep inside each of us. But if, in the end, in our ideological lunge toward retribution, we use it as a means of abdicating our responsibility to be true to every part of our expe­rience — we are lost. ❖

Categories
CITY HALL ARCHIVES EQUALITY ARCHIVES From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Women on the March: “We’re a Movement Now!”

“Why not?”

“‘Cause I go to sleep in the school. But I don’t like to lie down.”

“What do you like to do?”

“I like to draw.”

“What does your mother do?”

“She works.”

“What does she do at work?”

“I don’t know, but she works.”

“And your father, what does he do?”

“He goes for interview.”

Mrs. Dorothy Pitman, the chairman of the Committee for Community Controlled Day Care, was busy telling reporters how centers like the one on West 80th Street could free welfare mothers to go back to work.

Lucy Komisar, the famous and constant gadfly in the haunts of men, would later petulantly accuse Deputy Mayor Richard Aurelio of paying attention to the day care needs of poor women alone. And Betty Friedan was to drop a couple of comments about the rich women who’d joined the demonstrators because “they know that all women are poor.” But the day began with West 80th Street hold­ing its own on behalf of poor mothers.

Soon the not-so-poor mothers began wandering into the park. They were young women like Mrs. Carolyn Marshall McKee, mothers educated enough to feel frustrated in domesticity but also poor enough to have to drag their young progeny along on their own adventures.

Mrs. McKee wore her son, age one-and-three-quarters (“by last count”) strapped to her back. In her blue workshirt and bell bottom pants, she looked ready for action on the front, wherever that was. And she kept repeating the phrase, “I’m ready.”

A pretty young woman, she explained that she had had her ambitions “shot down” twice in her short life, once at Mount Holyoke College, where she had been studying pre-med, and the second time when she had learned she was pregnant.

“Like, I got married and I went to the doctor and he said, ‘You’re pregnant,’ and I said, ‘Shit!’ And the doctor said, ‘Nobody ever said that before.’ I worked up until the week I had the baby.”

Doug, her young son, was meanwhile going into ecstasies over a string of lollipops that hung from a branch just above his head.

Mrs. McKee went on to explain that she’d been doing some “consciousness raising” with the Radical Feminists. She had learned that there were “two fronts you have to fight on,” one within yourself and the other with the outside world.

“It’s as sort of a sense of the future,” she said, looking thoughtful. “Now it’s really coming back.” Breaking into a smile, she looked around at the beginnings of the Women’s Strike.

“I really really feel good,” she said with a nod, “I feel good today.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”719221″ /]

Which is what every demonstrator who was asked about her feelings would repeat throughout the day. There was no great unity of styles or goals in the Women’s National Strike for Equality. There were the three basic demands: free abortion on demand, 24-hour daycare for all mothers, and employment, pay, and promotion opportunities for women equal to those for men. But no one seems to harp much on these demands. The common bond was the demonstration itself, their presence in the streets together, sharing defiant sisterhood.

Mrs. Friedan would speak about her “rich women, who know all women are poor,” while Eleanor Holmes Norton, the city’s Human Rights Commissioner, would emphasize the plights of black women forced to leave their children untended as they went off to clean the homes of the rich. But for that day, at least, neither of these feminists seems disturbed by their disparate constituencies.

Mrs. Friedan looked almost tearful as she accepted Mayor Lindsay’s proclamation declaring August 26, 1970, Equality for Women Day in New York City. And though Richard Aurelio, the Deputy Mayor who presented it to her, disappeared abruptly thereafter, walking out on a promised dialogue with the feminists, Mrs. Friedan seemed overjoyed. Only Lucy Komisar shouted at his disappearing posterior from the other end of the car that served as a platform. She later trapped him up against a fence in City Hall Park to tell him that the Mayor had said nothing about daycare centers for non-poor mothers. Aurelio looked pained and quickly backed off again.

(No one seemed aware of the fact that the Mayor’s Assistant for “Women’s Affairs” is a man. His name is Marvin Schick, and he was assigned to deal with women’s problems several months ago, a task which fit in with his general liaison work with the Human Rights Commission. A member of Women in City Government United told me her group was pleased with Schick’s work on behalf of women but unhappy that a man had been selected to do it. Schick is an orthodox Jew who every morning recites the Hebrew prayer, “Blessed art though, king of the world, that thou has not made me a woman.” He chuckles good-naturedly when asked about the prayer and explains that it is merely a way of expressing thanks for being able to perform the religious duties of a man. According to Schick, most women’s liberationists do not understand that prayer.)

[related_posts post_id_1=”685323″ /]

The counter-revolutionaries were reading off the names of people they’d chosen for “Adam’s Rib” awards. Calling themselves “Men Our Masters,” they held up pink signs which said “MOM.”

One of their group strayed into enemy ranks. They quickly started challenging her. Trembling all the while, she tried to stand up to them.

“What are you fighting against?” A feminist asked her.

“The idea of putting sex down … One man today lit my cigarette for me. I thought it was wonderful,” the MOM girl replied without much spirit. Her heavy make-up was beginning to streak in the heat, and she looked forlorn.

“Why can’t you light your own fucking cigarettes?” the feminist asked impatiently.

“Why are you cursing” asked the MOM girl. “That’s very, uh — ”

“Unladylike,” the feminist suggested with a knowing nod.

“Don’t you think there’s room for both?” an interested male bystander asked the MOM girl.

“She’s putting us down,” said the girl, her sign hand shaking. “Why do you feel unliberated?” she addressed her tormentor.

“I don’t feel unliberated,” came the answer. “Why are you against us?”

“Because we don’t like your ideals.”

“What do you do? Do you work?” another feminist asked.

The MOM girl saw her enemies closing in on her. She started to look for an opening in the throng behind her.

“I’m a bookkeeper,” she said, “and I make a good salary, just as good as a man does.”

“Have you ever come up against job discrimination?”

“No,” said MOM girl, beginning to look really uncom­fortable.

“Would you like to become an accountant?” asked the male bystander

“I could if I wanted to,” said the miserable girl, “but I don’t want that responsibility.”

With that she turned around and shoved back toward her friends, consciousness still unraised.

[related_posts post_id_1=”724804″ /]

There were more encounters to come and some already ac­complished before the eager press could get there to record them. Some Media Women had invaded the New York Times early that morning, going to the offices of Abe Rosenthal and John Oakes. Lindsay van Gelder of the Post, four and a half months pregnant, but defiant as ever had gone to Rosenthal’s office. She later said that he treated her group with respect, “was not paternal,” and frequently admitted the Times’ failings.

Mrs. van Gelder said her group had complained about the paper’s hiring and promotion of women, about its women’s page (“as if everything else in there is for men”), and about its extensive columns of engagement announcements.

“We told him that if they were all going to leave those in, they ought to at least show us the men, so we can have something to drool over,” said Mrs. van Gelder.

She was chattering happily about her triumph to the women who are about to invade the Katharine Gibbs Secretarial School on the fourth floor of the Pan American building. Barred from the main elevators, this group circumvented the guards and appeared, some 50 strong, at the Katharine Gibbs reception desk. Reporters, sensing a good fight in the offing, had flocked to the school.

[related_posts post_id_1=”724970″ /]

The determined women had their encounter with Alan Baker, the director of the school, and the dialogue went like this:

Baker: Actually, in 1911, women couldn’t get responsible jobs at all … Women were actually called typewriters. (Katharine Gibbs’s) idea was, lets get women good jobs.

NOW Woman: On the average, secretaries with college degrees earn 60 percent less than men with college degrees.

Baker: We agree with you entirely … I think what you’re all overlooking is that you’re talking with people who are working for women …

Young Women’s Lib Member: Why did Katharine Gibbs start this school? Because she couldn’t get a job?

NOW Woman: At what age does a girl become a woman?

Baker: I think you’re more qualified to answer that than I am … We don’t expect our girls to wear white gloves or hats anymore. I think we stopped that in about 1964 or ’65.

NOW Woman: I’m talking about an air of subservience … Do you train people to be office wives?

Young Liberationist: How many of your secretaries have gone on to other jobs?

Baker: I think what you should all recognize is that you’re putting me in the position of defending the system.

NOW Woman: You’re fortifying it with your ads! (Those things that say: Now that you’ve got a college degree, come to Katharine Gibbs and learn how to type.)

Young Liberationist: What are your plans for accepting men?

Baker: We have some which we can’t announce at this point … I think we’re all victims of the system.

Liberationist: Were you ever a secretary?

Baker: Well, I was a secretary, but they called it administrative assistant. (Many groans here.) … We have had many complaints and many criticisms about our advertising.

[related_posts post_id_1=”725060″ /]

Liberationist: Who were the complaints from?

Baker: Girls.

Several Liberationists in Unison: Women!

Baker: (Looking sheepish) Women … I remember one girl in particular. She said, “I saw your ad, and it was like an answer from heaven.” (Very loud groans here.)

Liberationist: What is her salary?

Baker: $135 a week.

Liberationist: Is she a college graduate?

Baker: Yes.

Liberationist: Is that a good salary for a college graduate?

Baker: Yes … But I’m not defending the system …

NOW Woman: These women who come to you could go into a management trainee job at Chase Manhattan Bank …

Baker: Most women don’t want to work more than three years or four years. (The loudest groans yet.)

Liberationist: You’re not supposed to want to work more than three years or four years!

Eventually, the group grew weary of challenging Baker. Sev­eral NOW women thanked him for his time and told him they would be back. He promised to re-examine the school’s curriculum to find out whether his students were really being en­couraged to adopt “an altitude of subservience” toward men.

[related_posts post_id_1=”724444″ /]

Similar encounters occurred at companies and banks during the afternoon. First National City got a “Thanks for Nothing Award” for its hiring and promotion practices. The inventors of Silva Thins were told that Women’s Liberation did not appreciate their ads.

On another front marriage came under attack.  A group car­rying placards which said things like “Oppressed Women: Don’t Cook Dinner! Starve a Rat Today!” invaded the office of the First Deputy and Acting City Clerk. They presented him with a sample pamphlet entitled “You and Your Marriage,” something they said all prospective husbands and wives ought to read. The pamphlet listed the legal rights and responsibilities of each partner — although the page entitled “Wife’s Responsibilities” contained nothing but a question mark.

The First Deputy and Acting City Clerk said he didn’t know whether his office should give out legal advice, but he would con­sider the pamphlet.

A female reporter asked the distraught-looking clerk what he thought of women’s liberation.

“Well, I’m not against it,” he said. “I don’t necessarily think women should be every place that a man is at all times, like clubs and bars.”

“The women might call you a male chauvinist,” said the reporter.

“Yes, they might,” said the clerk.

Late in the afternoon, a small cadre of women plus one pony-­tailed man from the East Village ­Other went off to liberate the men’s bar in the Biltmore Hotel. They were served immediately by a smiling bartender. Male boozers glared at them for a few minutes and then went back to staring at their drinks.

Claudia Dreifus, an EVO writ­er and member of the cadre, soon decided she ought to liber­ate the Men’s Room just off the bar. A gamy young feminist went along with her for moral support.

Two minutes later they were back at their table looking a little put out.

“There was a man using one of the urinals in there,” said Miss Dreifus.

“I don’t like urinals, anyway,” said another member of the group.

“Pissing is a private thing,” said Miss Dreifus gravely. The Men’s Room in the Biltmore would have to be liberated another day.

[related_posts post_id_1=”722721″ /]

Off to the “Powder Room” they all went, pony-tailed male included. He sat in the mirror-lined outer chamber as the females used the facilities, complaining all the while about the 10-cent charge. When the women emerged, he told them he’d never seen a men’s room quite so splendid.

Soon someone decided the gilded Powder Room mirrors were offensive. Up went the stickers: “Smash Sexism!”, “Women’s Strike for Equality, August 25, 1970,” and, over a fine, clear mirror: “This Insults Women.”

The Biltmore Powder Room stick-up seemed the right finishing touch somehow, the last final guerrilla comedy action of the day. It was not a day for anger. The women who had made it their special day were too cheerful, too proud of them­selves and their predecessors.

And up at the Plaza fountain where the march was assembling all was happy chaos. You couldn’t tell the spectators from the reporters or from the demon­strators. It seemed that every two-bit magazine, tv station, city desk, and news service had sent a female reporter. These women were dressed in the motley liber­ation styles and could not be dis­tinguished from their subjects unless their press cards were vis­ible. There were in addition scores of male reporters and photographers, milling and shoving around in aggressive ef­forts to be on the spot when the march began. Spectators, reporters, and women stood like figures on a life-sized wedding cake along each tier of the fountain. They quite obscured the little placard ceremony for Sojourner Truth, the black female un­derground railroad worker, for whom the liberationists wanted to erect a monument in place of that Plaza statue.

[related_posts post_id_1=”596209″ /]

The vague beginnings of the line-up for the march were over at the 60th Street exit from Park Drive. There the lower half of Gloria Steinem’s face was visi­ble under a poster of the My Lai massacre which bore the words “Masculine Mystique.” There Ed Koch’s face was a full foot above the crowd, beaming out with its characteristic liberal good cheer. There a serious-looking young woman with a bull horn was commanding reporters to step back in between her calls for Ruth Ann Miller and other women’s lib celebrities who had been swallowed up by the crowd.

Kate Millett came drifting by, frowning over a movie camera. A serpent-like line of women wove through the crowd with the huge “Women of the World Unite!” banner that had been displayed at the Statue of Liberty.

It seemed that everyone was waiting for a signal. One young liberationist with a sense of organization got a small group chanting “Out of the houses! Out of the jails! Up from under! Women unite!” for a brief period. But even she didn’t seem to know where the sign to start the march would be coming from.

Through the crush of it all a man and woman were bumping and shoving themselves down the Fifth Avenue sidewalk toward the fountain. They apparently lived nearby, for he was carrying a poodle. And as they walked past the women, he could be heard telling her:

“My dear, they’re always disorganized.”

Somehow, it got under way. And then, only then, did the women realize how large their demonstration was. As they moved down Fifth Avenue, they kept jumping above the crowd to get quick views of the numbers still behind them. “Did you see how far back it goes?” they kept asking each other in excited tones. They were amazed, those young women who had been meeting in small groups or taking part in small actions for months. And with each block of their route as the line stretched out longer and longer behind them, their jubilation grew. No one of them would have dared to say before that evening that the women’s liberation movement had 20,000 members in New York City alone.

[related_posts post_id_1=”418139″ /]

The march was liberally sprinkled with men. And in the end the newspaper crowd estimates were widely disparate. One march organizer said a po­liceman told her “there must be 50,000 people here.” The New York Post said there were 7000. But Pete Hamill estimated that 35,000 had taken part in the march. Bryant Park, where they staged their final rally, holds 20,000 and every we blade of grass in there was occupied.

The women were white, young, and college-educated. Their movement was, no getting around it, made up of the women least in need of a special politics to get their fair share of power and wealth. But for one brief eve­ning they felt themselves to be standing up for all women every­where. Tomorrow they could think of their old factions and divisions, tomorrow Betty Friedan and Eleanor Holmes Norton might discover that it would take more than woman-hood to unite them. But that night, as the darkness fell on Bryant Park, they were simply amazed at their numbers.

Kate Millett uttered what they were all thinking as she looked out over the park. “Wow!” she said, “we’re a movement now!” They cheered and cheered at this, for they all seemed to know that women’s liberation had not really emerged until then. It had gotten by on humor and anger and shock effect. It had received publicity far out of proportion to its size. The demonstration’s organizers themselves were later to admit they had expected a much smaller turnout. They did not know until the end of August 26 that the women’s liberation movement had finally earned its title. ❖

Categories
From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Postal Strike: Moving the Mails

Neither Nixon Nor Troops Should Stay These Men

“Solidarity,” that tired labor union catchword, took on real meaning for me on Monday afternoon, at the moment President Nixon announced that he was sending troops to New York. I stood with about 500 postal workers in front of the General Post Office across from Penn Station, listening on transistor radios to the President’s pious rhetoric. There was about half a minute’s hush while each worker seemed to ponder all that awesome power of the United States government and its mighty army — all seeming to focus on him alone, or on his family, or on a pension only a year or two away. But then there was a great roar of “no” to the president as 500 men felt the strength of sticking with the union.

Solidarity but not community, for these men are politically as diverse as the society at large. A small minority wearing American flag pins and “Support Our Boys” buttons tried to destroy newspapers and leaflets being distributed by members of the Workers League, Progressive Labor, and the International Socialists. “We don’t need help from reds,” they said. But most were tolerant of the leftists, and accepted and read the leaflets, some of which were notable for their irrelevance. At least one postman, however, came to the conclusion that “to the people who run this country we are the same as the Vietnamese.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”726911″ /]

Everyone agreed that without the blacks and the young whites there would have been no strike, not because of the politics of these elements but because of their fearlessness. “They just aren’t going to take the shit we came to accept as normal,” an older worker explained. Militancy rather than radicalism was the keynote.

The postal workers judged that the troops were being sent to inspire fear rather than move the mails, and that the fear might do the job for the government, especially outside the city, where solidarity is weaker. Workers claimed that postal sorting schemes take weeks to learn and that any resumption of normal mailing by the public would result in colossal foul-ups by untrained soldier-scabs. Almost all the postmen are veterans. One humorously presented this as a typical scene: “Private Schmuck: ‘Sir, where does zip code 07548 go?’ Sergeant Putz: ‘Why the hell you asking me, I’m a non-commissioned officer.’ ”

Whether the postmen are correctly estimating the complexity of their jobs, a postal outsider cannot evaluate. With few weeks on the job and with the aid of supervisors, some of whom are unsympathetic to the ordinary clerks and carriers, the army might actually be able to deliver the mail — provided they are not physically interfered with by striking  postmen. Those I spoke with were overwhelmingly against the use of any kind of violence, but the arrogance of the Nixon administration has been so successful at angering the government’s most conservative and loyal workers that it just might provoke more desperate acts. Compare your mailman to a cop, a garbage man, or a cab driver. He is definitely the least surly of our public servants. Imagine the pent-up rage. One of the most repeated complaints I heard from strikers was about the “patronizing attitude” of the government toward them.

[related_posts post_id_1=”723760″ /]

If they don’t interfere with the troops, they can try something even more shattering to the American status quo — organizing a general strike. A friend of mine with experience in both Europe and America laid out the revolutionary dream scenario: postmen, wearing the hats from their uniforms and with their union pins prominent, go in car pools to workers at the Ford assembly plant in northern New Jersey, to factories all over the metropolitan area, to subway, rail, and truck depots, and to every worker who will listen and say: “This struggle is yours as well as ours. Troops used against us may be used against you. Put down your tools and join us on strike.”

The workers all go out and a shaken government accepts their demands (or faces overthrow). It doesn’t happen often in Europe, but it has happened enough times to produce consciousness of labor as a great slumbering giant not to be casually awakened.

But in America, this is very much a dream only, my friend admits. Power is expected to reside in politicians and corporations who belch “constitutionality” and “legality.” (Was the New York Times ever so bitter about the illegality of the war as about the illegality of this strike?)

One thing is certain: if there ever is a general strike, it will be called by workers, not by their leaders. James H. Rademacher, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, says he will ask George Meany to call a nation-wide strike if the government offers nothing by Friday. But Meany will be about as willing to do this as Rademacher was to lead his own men out. And there have been few statements of support from union leadership in the city or in the country. This strike is as much against the union leadership as against the government employer.

[related_posts post_id_1=”725990″ /]

Moe Biller, Manhattan and Bronx Postal Union president, who had fled through a kitchen at a meeting last Thursday, flashed the V sign to his men at the General Post Office. He looked frightened. If he is forced to pay $10,000 a day in fines or sent to jail, he will be the first victim on the altar of Nixon proposed postal re-organization (to which the President has tied postal pay raises).

All of us who use the mails will to a lesser extent follow. Nixon wants to create a “public authority” to run the Post Office. As with all public authorities — like our own Port Authority and and Transit Authority — this is a way of diminishing public accountability in the name of fiscal solvency. We can look forward to a postal authority run for the benefit of big mailers like Time Inc., Readers Digest, Sears Roebuck, and Chase Manhattan. They already receive preferential rates subsidized by our taxes and our six-cent stamps. With a self-sustaining authority, we would be subsidizing them with 10-cent stamps.

What’s wrong with the post office is its bureaucracy, low pay, and inequitable rates, not its status as a government agency. The private telephone company isn’t managing service so well. It keeps its profits up, however, by charging twice as much for service as anywhere else on earth. In most countries, telephone profits go into the postal service.

[related_posts post_id_1=”714267″ /]

Nixon’s Postal Authority is supposed to put postal service on a pay-as-you-go basis, like the New York subways. I might see this principle as more reasonable if it were applied across the board to all government services. We could have a pay-as-you-go army, air force, CIA, and FBI. When these agencies failed to show profits, services would be cut back. Forces in Laos or Thailand, for example, could be brought home for being in the red by the same procedure the Transit Authority used in closing the profitless Myrtle Avenue line in Brooklyn last autumn. And the bill for Vietnam could be footed by those who like the war.

I would choose to sustain my brave and friendly mailman. ■

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

The Velvet Underground at Max’s: No Pale Imitation

The Velvet Underground at Max’s Kansas City? At first I thought it was some kind of joke. As if someone was trying to rig a re-run of the Terrible ’60s by conjuring up old ghosts in old haunts. The Velvets, after all, had been the darlings of the Pop/amphetamine culture, whose spiritual center was often to be found at the round table in Max’s back room, and it was not inconceivable to imagine some entrepreneur attempting to cash in on what would certainly be a premature revival of those jaded, faded years.

But no. The Velvets have changed considerably since they left Warhol’s gang. No more demonic assaults on the audience. No more ear-wrenching shrieks of art. No more esoterica. “We once did an album with a pop painter,” Lou Reed told the audience last Wednesday as the group began a two-week engagement upstairs at Max’s, “because we wanted to help him out.” “You’re doing better without him,” a fan yelled back.

[related_posts post_id_1=”725655″ /]

And so they are. It seems the Velvets are now back to where they once belonged, functioning as a genuine rock ‘n’ roll dance band, dedicated to laying down strong rhythms and a steady beat that gets the vital juices flowing. No fuzz tones, no academic exercises. They were always good musicians, sometimes precocious and lacking discipline, but admired by their peers, nevertheless, for originality and innovation. Now they are all bloody virtuosos, with a mature sense of knowing when they are good and enjoying it. The result can be positively exhilarating.

The audience told me that. Opening night, of course, was something of an event, a kind of Old Home Week that brought together various elements of the rock/pop hierarchy, plus nostalgia seekers and true believers, most of whom had not seen the Velvets since they exercised at the Gymnasium three years ago. I don’t know what they expected to hear, but they certainly weren’t disappointed.

The Velvets served up scads of crisp, new material, along with what Lou calls “rock ‘n’ roll versions” of the group’s old standards, like “I’ll Be Your Mirror” and “I’m Waiting for My Man.” The first set was done “in concert,” with the audience seated behind tables, but in no time at all everyone was fighting the urge to dance. People started smiling, sometimes in amazement, as the boys began pulling these incredible notes from their instruments, and then they started beating time on their knees and bobbing their heads.

[related_posts post_id_1=”722266″ /]

By the time they were halfway through the first set people were yelling “Right on!” and you know what that can do to a performer, especially if he’s white and the guy yelling is black. The room is small, and very conducive to that kind of rapport. After two nights of this the group was firmly convinced that they had done the right thing by coming into Max’s to make their return appearance on a New York stage.

By Friday, night they were at the peak of their power. The word must have gotten out that the Velvets were back and in rare form, because the audience was right there from the beginning. They applauded the first notes of each old number and when Doug Yule, playing lead guitar, went into the bluesy, heart-tugging solo on “Sweet Nothing,” which is the Velvets’ “Hey Jude,” they went wild, interrupting it twice with applause.

I don’t know what effect this will have on their careers, but judging from past audience reactions to the Velvets (and other groups), I would say things are at an all-time high. I, for one, have always believed that the Velvets have never received the attention they deserve, but I attributed this to the fact that they have never tried to be commercial. They seemed to enjoy being artsy and esoteric. I also think that they were so indigenous to New York City that they were probably too sophisticated for the rest of the country. Oh, they always had a loyal following, even in the most obscure burgs, but it was all purists. No mass market. They’re more eclectic now, so things may change.

[related_posts post_id_1=”562145″ /]

They have made significant contributions to rock music, that’s for sure. They have influenced many groups, including the Beatles, the Stones, and the Airplane (who lifted one of Maureen Tucker’s drum riffs line for line and used it on one of their biggest singles). The Velvets are also the foremost exponents of something I call white/urban East Coast rhythm and blues, a form that doesn’t rely on a white singer doing black face. All rock has black roots but the Velvets are one of the few groups around (along with the Stones) who have succeeded in developing their own style without coming off like a pale imitation. They have managed to evoke a culture born of the Long Island Expressway, and what’s wrong with that?

They’ll be at Max’s another week, at least. Two shows a night, Wednesday through Sunday, starting at 11:30. There’s a $3 admission fee, but once inside you can relax and enjoy. There’s no hustle. ♦

[related_posts post_id_1=”358878″ /]

1970 Village Voice review of the Velvet Underground's last performances at Max's Kansas City

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES Equality From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES PRIDE ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

A Happy Birthday for Gay Liberation

They stretched in a line, from Gimbels to Times Square, thousands and thousands and thousands, chanting, waving, screaming — the outrageous and the outraged, splendid in their flaming colors, splendid in their delirious up-front birthday celebration of liberation:

“Say it clear, say it loud; gay is good, gay is proud!”

“Two-four-six-eight; gay is just as good as straight!”

“Ho—Ho—Homosexual!”

“Out of the closets and into the streets!”

They swept up Sixth Avenue, from Sheridan Square to Central Park, astonishing everything in their way. No one could quite believe it, eyes rolled back in heads, Sunday tourists traded incredulous looks, wondrous faces poked out of air-conditioned cars. My God, are those really homosexuals? Marching? Up Sixth Avenue?

And they were. From New York and Philadelphia and Washington and Baltimore. From  Rutgers and Yale (Yale) and NYU. From staid old-line chapters of the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis, to Gay Activists, to the political radicals of Gay Liberation Front and the radical lesbians from the Lavender Menace. “Together,” they shouted, “together! G-a-y P-o-w-e-r. What does it spell? Gay Power! Again Louder! GAY POWER!”

[related_posts post_id_1=”715930″ /]

It was an event, the first mass coordinated event of the gay liberation movement. One year old this week. One year since the Sixth Precinct raided the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, and those insane, freaked-out, sexed-up drag queens went berserk and clawed back, actually fought with police in the streets and rioted, sent cops to the hospital, overturned cars, lit fires, and showed all the closet timmies that enough was enough, that the growing harassment and repression and terror was much too much. Too much bullshit from bar owners and Mafia and police and all the rest of pious straight society that thought gay was simply a huge giggle.

And here they were. Out in the streets again. Not the precious birthday party queers or “Boys in the Band,” not the limp-wristed, pinky-ringed, sad-eyed faggots of uptown chic, but shouting men and women with locked arms and raised fists.

Gay Pride Week began a bit more quietly, with a Wednesday sit-in action at Republican State Committee headquarters by Gay Activists Alliance. GAA is an activist offshoot of GLF, but confines its focus to homosexual questions, equality, and civil rights. It split from GLF when GLF became involved in Black Panther demonstrations. GAA is more militant than Mattachine and more sedate than GLF, which identifies with all oppressed groups, and is somewhat anarchic-freak in style and structure. GAA has worked to put pressure on elected officials to end job discrimination and sodomy laws, and says it might have provided the margin of victory for Bella Abzug, who got a rousing reception at a GAA meeting she addressed.

[related_posts post_id_1=”715936″ /]

Seven members of GAA sat in at the Committee’s 12th floor offices on 56th Street, demanding a public response from Governor Rockefeller, while a picket line of several dozen paraded outside  to the bewilderment of  East Side passersby. There was no satisfactory answer from Rockefeller’s office however — the only Republican official present was a woman, and as a Committee spokesman explained, “I really don’t think this is a … uh … subject that a lady would find … uh … palatable.” That pretty much ended any possibility of dialogue, and the first seven sit-ins of the gay movement were quietly arrested when the Committee’s office closed.

Much of the week’s activity swirled around the Washington Square Methodist Church on West 4th Street, where gay groups provided booths, information desks, first aid, free food, housing, and the opportunity to chat. Signs outside read “Gay Liberarion Front, Come In and Come Out,” and were an obvious treat for Village sightseers who littered and snapped away with their instamatics. (Across the way, however, 4th Street’s sedentary gypsies hardly batted an eye, deeply embroiled in games of chess, goh, and their bustling lampshade commerce.) There were also several dances throughout the city, workshops of Alternate U., and a well-attended Lesbian Center restricted to women.

The friendly church was unfortunately open game for hungry winos, who put something of a strain on the kitchen staff, and a strain on everyone when they muttered “faggot” on a free full stomach. “Even the Sabrett man on the corner came in and left with two plates of food,” complained one chef. But there were also straights who dropped by just to find out what was going on, and at one point a mass of Tennessee high school students poured downstairs from a church program to hear about gay liberation from a GLF member. “The reason we’re despised as homosexuals,” the GLFer explained, “is because we’re supposed to be effeminate and sissy and weak. We’re supposed to be womanish, and there’s supposed to be something wrong with being womanish. But I’ve been in the navy three years,­ I’ve played football and been a lifeguard, I’ve done all the John Wayne things society says men are supposed to do, and I’m still a fag. Well, Sunday we’re going to march up Sixth Avenue and you can stare and take pictures and scream fag all you want, and we’ll just say ‘fuck you.’ Because we don’t care any more. We don’t want anybody’s acceptance. We’ve begun to stand up by ourselves.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”720983″ /]

And the students looked at the man from GLF, and somehow he didn’t look queer. And they looked around, and there were all these men who really didn’t seem to have anything in common except they must be queer or else why would they be there? Still, it was strange, so many different kinds of queers, even some older men in business suits, men who talked in deep voices, men who looked as tough as anyone regular, men who were smooth and men who were hairy, and when you thought about it, they, the high school students, looked a whole lot more alike than the … what did he say? … the gay people. They’d have to think about that.

On Saturday, a number of gays donned giant sandwich boards reading “I am a homosexual,” and marched around the Village, trying to convince some straights to lend a gay hand and experience a little oppression first-hand. A street action by the Gay Guerrilla Theatre pictured a drag queen in front of a gay bar. The queen gave a $5 bill to the bar owner who gave it to the State Liquor Authority who gave it to the Mafia who gave it to a policeman who clobbered the queen with his nightstick.

Mafia control of gay bars is a continuing source of oppression of homosexuals. Many gays complain of exorbitant cover charges, watered drinks, overcrowding, and the constant threat of raids, terror, and embarrassment. Even the location of gay bars is oppressive, with many tucked in underground haunts and others located in the raunchy Siberia of Leather Land, under the shadow of parked trucks and the West Side Highway. Few gays offer any specifics about Mafia control, but gang influence seems pervasive, with a little help from the SLA, police, and public morality that condemns gays to a forbidden zone.

[related_posts post_id_1=”715936″ /]

Sometimes oppression is not so covert. Friday night, four gay men were walking along 14th Street at University Place when they were jumped by four straights from a car. Why? Because they were holding hands. The sin of sins. One of the gays was immediately knocked to the street unconscious — he needed 14 stitches in his head. Another lost two teeth. Three of the four went to the hospital. At the Sixth Precinct, police told the gays that if they wanted to file charges of assault, they would be arrested and counter-charged with harassment. No charges were filed.

And not all oppression is at the hands of the Silent Majority. Friends in the radical movement itself have sometimes turned up less than friendly. One of the first events or Gay Pride Week was a midnight benefit at the Elgin Cinema in support of the Christopher Street Liberation Day Committee, the group that organized the week. After the Elgin booked the gay benefit, however, it proceeded to schedule a benefit for the Venceremos Brigade on the same night. The Brigade apparently learned of the prior booking, but went ahead anyway. Thursday night, however, members of GLF showed up at the Elgin, switched off the projector, turned on the lights, and demanded that the Brigade hold its benefit some other night. The Brigade suggested the gays choose some other night, then suggested splitting receipts, both of which GLF rejected. After all, it was Gay Pride Week, not just any Thursday. And as things got tense, reports GLF, the Brigade called the gays faggots and threatened to rape them. Right now, the two groups are trying to work it all out. GLF has demanded that five of 20 persons sent to Cuba be gay. GLF has expressed its political communion with the Cuban revolution on a number of levels, but it refuses to tolerate anyone’s inhumanity toward homosexuals. “Members of the Brigade have the nerve to show us pictures of concentration camps for homosexuals — camps they never saw,” said one GLFer, “and tell us they were just nice health camps, that they were places where homosexuals were being helped to get their thing together. Goddammit, we don’t need to get anything together! They do.”

Even at Sunday’s march, there was a mini-confrontation when an 8th Street Black Panther paper-hawker called out “Get the Panther paper and stop all this foolishness.” Several gays pounced out of the line of march with angry cries of “listen, brother, cut that shit out!” It all ended peaceably with some tense shouts of “Right On!” and “Power to the People!” but it is clear that the radical movement is going to have some of the same problems with gay liberation that it has been having with women’s liberation.

[related_posts post_id_1=”724897″ /]

Just as many movement radicals are more readily attuned to racism than sexism, more willing to preach black liberation than cope with their own male chauvinism, so the gay movement has added a whole other dimension to the struggle, for some the logical extension of women’s lib. Women’s lib has begun to expose the plastic role mitosis of our society, the diseased polarities of male and female. More and more that analysis has led into an exploration of homosexuality as a realm where traditional sex roles are more easily jettisoned. (“Women’s liberation is a lesbian plot!” announced the Lavender Menace.) Many women have found it impossible to relate to men in a non-sexist manner, and have begun to re-discover their identity and sensuality through sisterhood. (There is nothing sacred about homosexuality, of course, male or female. Many gays play the same butch-femme role-games with the same arbitrary sex coordinates.)

For men, of course, radical brotherhood is with other peoples, Third World peoples, blacks, chicanos. We, as men, objectify our brotherhood because we can’t hug and kiss in the streets, because we are taught that sex is male and affection is female, and to be affectionate with another man is womanish. (One man alone is a man, but two men together equals a woman.) So we slap each other on the back and jab at each other’s shoulders — don’t touch too long.

The black experience is safely compartmentalized; we’re not about to change color or culture. But there is nothing stopping the heterosexual going gay. Who is a latent homosexual? That is the threat posed by gay liberation. It is a challenge to all our macho chauvinism, a challenge to shed our protective skin and open up ail the insides. The implications of gay liberation are not that everyone is gay, or that everyone should be gay (“you can’t knit a homosexual,” said one GLFer), or even that everyone must have a gay experience. The implications are that we must begin to cope with our own non-sexist loves and affections, and not let our sexual preferences distort and color our entire emotional life. To that extent gay liberation is not a problem, but perhaps the most profoundly revolutionary movement we are in touch with.

[related_posts post_id_1=”719221″ /]

Ideally, bisexuality is the pot of gold. But practically, there appear to be few honest bisexuals. Many male homosexuals who do have affairs with women, or are married and have affairs with men, often are simply clinging to the respectability and rewards of the heterosexual life, unwilling to accept the full impact of being gay. For straights, it is tempting to use bisexuality as a prophylactic in confronting the threat of the gay movement. Exclusive homosexuality, after all, is just as repressive and dehumanizing as exclusive heterosexuality. Even if there is some significant biological reality to bisexuality, however, it is clear that politically that logic belongs to an era when integration was the yellow brick road. As long as gays are oppressed, as long as they are beaten on 14th Street and quarantined in underground bars, as long as they are told they are less than complete, less than normal, less than human, then the first step in gay liberation must follow that of black liberation: black is beautiful, gay is good. And maybe when we can see through the screens of our own fears and frailties, maybe then we can begin to talk about integration and bisexuality.

Certainly Sunday’s march was a monumental step. Not everyone was quite ready for it. As the crowds began to swell around Sheridan Square, one man was pacing back and forth and muttering, “It’s too soon, it’s soon.” A Christopher Street resident told an interviewer, “Mankind is falling apart. It’s like the Roman era. Everything is decadent.” An irate older woman was having a fit because the assemblage was disrupting her 1 o’clock mass. Startled onlookers were doing triple takes at the spectacle, men kissing men in the street, women kissing women, everyone holding hands, and the crayoned signs of the Lavender Menace reading “We are the dykes your mother warned you about,” “Sappho was a right-on woman,” “Everything you think we are, WE ARE!”

[related_posts post_id_1=”715273″ /]

Among the marchers themselves, the majority were young, political, and freak. It was clear that the quiet West Enders still wanted to keep their homosexuality private, still saw their sex life non-politically, and were hesitant to share it with the cameras, tourists, employers, and families.

For sheer power of analysis, however, the day’s award must go to a burly-looking straight with a football helmet and letter jersey, interviewed for TV in Sheep Meadow. “What do you make of all this?” he was asked. “Well, I’m from Alabama,” he explained, “and at home you back into ’em everywhere. But it sure is something to see ’em all united. Hell, it sure is something.”