The Grand Central Riot: Yippies Meet the Man

Inside A Yip-In

All the brass was watching. Chief Inspector Sanford Garelik, shielded by a cluster of Tactical Patrol Force heavies, leaned against the wall in the 42nd Street entrance to Grand Central Station, intently watching the churning sea of demonstrators. Sid Davidoff and Barry Gottehrer, Lindsay’s roving sensory apparatus, roamed around the terminal for hours. And a dozen privileged persons of some sort lined the balcony above the escalators leading to the Pan Am Building, observing the melee below like Romans digging the arena. 

All the brass were watching, and the cops were having a ball. “It was the most extraordinary display of unprovoked police brutality I’ve seen outside of Mississippi,” Alan Levine, staff counsel for the New York Civil Liberties Union, said at a press conference on Saturday. “The police reacted enthusiastically to the prospect of being un­leashed.” Levine reported seeing several people forced to run a gauntlet of club-wielding cops while trying to flee from what has been characterized as a “police riot.” Spitting invective through clenched teeth, cops hit women and kicked demonstrators who had fallen while trying to escape the flailing nightsticks. It was like a fire in a theater. 

It was a Yip-In. “Its a spring mating service celebrating the equinox,” read a Yippie handbill, “a back-scratching party, a roller­-skating rink, a theater, with you, performer and audience.” The Yip-In was held for Yippies to get acquainted, and to promote the Yippies’ “Festival of Life,” which will coincide with the Democratic National Convention in Chicago this summer. 

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The promotion was as heavy as the planning was weak. The Yip-In was announced at a press conference at the Americana Hotel, and several thousand handbills were distributed urging Yippies to come to Grand Central Station at midnight on Friday. Why Grand Central Station? “It’s central, man,” said one Yippie. How many Yippies would come? Well, it was a good way to test the pull of the media. 

The media pulls, and a lot of people came. Most came by subway, coming up out of the bowels of the 42nd Street station to fill the mammoth terminal like a diverted river might fill a dry lake. Soon it was a sea of heads, and it was hard to move. Balloons bounced above the crowd, as an estimated 6,000 people were jammed together under the vaulted ceiling.

The crowd stirred and the balloons bounced for almost an hour, while the terminal continued to fill. Occasionally clusters of people took up chants, ranging from “Yippie!” to “Long Hot Summer!” to “Burn, Baby, Burn!” Shortly before one, kids began to climb to the roof of the information booth in the center of the terminal, where they began to lead the chants, and one militant climbed to the pinnacle of the information booth, striking a “Workers, Arise!” pose, his fist raised in the air, and unfurled a banner which read, vertically, “Up Against the Wall, Motherfucker!” Two cherry bombs exploded, and the sound was greatly amplified in the huge room. Now the balconies were packed, and the cops were quivering in formation in the 42nd Street entrance. 

There are four clocks on top of the information booth, and as the roof became more crowded the temptation to rape time apparently became irresistible. First kids turned the hands around, and then the hands suddenly disappeared. 

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I was standing close to the cops when they started to clear the entrance, shoving people into the terminal or out in the street, where more cops were waiting in formation. I ran around the corner to the Vanderbilt Avenue entrance, and came to the balcony that overlooked the terminal in time to see a wedge of blue slice into the crowd, nightsticks swinging, until they came to the information booth, where they paused. The kids slid off the roof and the crowd recoiled. The police surrounded the information booth and, in seconds, now rein­forced, charged the crowd again, forcing the demonstrators back into the huge corridor which led to the subway. The crowd simply made a U-turn in a connecting corridor and flowed back into the terminal, and the cops went wild. 

Now another formation of cops charged toward the stairs where I was standing, and I made for the street again, rounded the corner, and returned to the 42nd Street entrance, which was now entirely filled with police. I pinned on my press credentials and began to move through the police line. My credentials were checked twice, and I was allowed to pass. At that point, I was stopped a third time by two uniformed cops. They looked at my credentials, cursed the Voice, grabbed my arms behind my back, and, joined by two others, rushed me back toward the street, deliberately ramming my head into the closed glass doors, which cracked with the impact. They dropped me in the street and disappeared. My face, and my press card, were covered with blood. I went to the hospital to get five stitches in my forehead. 

So I missed the climax of the Yip-In, but I can pass on various accounts of witnesses. The police, it seems, continued to charge the crowd at random, first charging, always swinging the nightsticks, then pulling back, then charging again. Sometimes several formations of police charged simultaneously in different directions. The exits were jammed and the crowd was in a panic, desperately trying to avoid the nightsticks. The police kept charging.

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During all this time, arrests were being made. Within two hours, 57 persons were arrested, on charges ranging from felonious assault and criminal mischief to resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. At least 20 persons were taken to hospitals for treatment. 

The arrest procedure followed a brutal pattern. Most of the people arrested were automatically beaten with nightsticks. (The cops didn’t seem to want anyone to walk out after having been arrested.) “If you protected yourself, you were resisting arrest,” a witness said. “If you didn’t, you were knocked out.” A youth was arrested near the escalator leading into the Pan Am Building, and was dragged across the terminal, screaming with pain, while police kicked him in the groin. He finally collapsed, and police grabbed him by the back of the belt, and carried him out to the waiting paddy wagons. 

At another point, Voice columnist Howard Smith relates, the police made a charge toward the west side of the terminal, and a soda bottle came flying out of the crowd, striking a cop. Five cops grabbed a kid — ­the wrong one, Smith said — and shoved him into the door of Track 32, where they began beating him with nightsticks. While the kid, later identified as Jon Moore, 17, screamed “I didn’t do it” and “It wasn’t me,” the crowd shouted “Sieg Heil!” Still the beating continued. Some other cops approached and tried to stop the beating, Smith said, and then a police captain approached and made the guise of breaking it up. Moore, who was now hunched over protecting his head and groin, looked up, and the captain grabbed his head and cracked it against the iron grating of the door, cursing “you son of a bitch.” The captain then turned away, brushing his hands, and Moore was taken out of the station. He was later charged with felonious assault. 

These incidents were not exceptional. Ronald Shea, 22, was shoved by police through a plate-glass door. He raised his hands to protect his face, and the broken glass severed every essential tendon and nerve in his left hand. In six months, doctors at Roosevelt Hospital say, he may regain partial use of his hand. Shea was not arrested. 

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Witnesses charged that several plainclothesmen, who had infiltrated the crowd before the police charged, were even more brutal than the uniformed cops when the swinging started. They add that the plainclothesmen, who wore no badges, refused to identify themselves when questioned by accredited newsmen. Several instances were reported when cops struck or intimidated people seen writing down badge numbers. Witnesses emphasize that no warning or order to disperse was given at any time before or after the police charged the demonstrators, although a public address system was presumably available in the station. Ed Sanders of the Fugs contends that the people would have responded to a warning. “People who come to Yippie demonstrations are very reasonable,” he said. “There was no reason to rush in and crunch.” 

After the police first charged, Abbie Hoffman, YIP leader, report­edly approached Barry Gottehrer, assistant to the mayor, and asked to use the terminal’s public address system. Gottehrer replied that he thought Hoffman was “an hour and a half late,” and refused. Hoffman then asked that the police be pulled out, and Gottehrer presumably refused again. 

After an hour and a half, the cops calmed down, and the remaining demonstrators were allowed to remain in the terminal. Others went to the Sheep Meadow in Central Park, also staked out with police, where the organizers of the Yip-In had planned to meet to “yip up the sun.” By 4:15 A.M., Grand Central Station was empty. 

Saturday morning, the key leaders of the YIP, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Paul Krassner, and Bob Fass, left New York to fly to Chicago for a conference regarding the planning of activities during the Democratic National Convention. Later that morning, the 57 people arrested were arraigned in court. Most of the people were represented by Legal Aid. YIP had made no arrangements for lawyers or bail.

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There was a lot of garbage and buck-passing flying around during the following days. Gottehrer, at a YIP press conference Sunday night, placed considerable emphasis on the crowd on top of the information booth, the cherry bombs, and the damage to the clocks. He refused to concede any misconduct on the part of the police. YIP spokesmen complained about a breakdown of communications, insisting that they had never considered the possibility or violence. On Monday, the scuttlebutt at City Hall included rumors that some of the demonstrators were carrying dynamite Friday night, and privately city officials alleged that the police received two bomb threats at Grand Central Station. Now the rumors have gone even further, with representatives of both sides darkly referring to “provocateurs” who incited the police to riot. 

As I see it, the central issue — besides the astonishing brutality of the police — was a failure in planning on the part of both YIP and the city that borders on gross incompetence and irresponsibility. Although YIP had been in contact with the mayor’s office before the demonstra­tion, the city gave no indication as to what their response would be. The city urged YIP to consult with the New York Central Railroad, which owns Grand Central Station, which YIP did not do. The demonstration was allowed to form without interference or objection and, an hour later, without warning, the police viciously attacked the crowd. There was little direction or coordination evident in the cops’ attack; they seemed to be improvising. YIP did not even bring a megaphone so that they could address their own people; in the situation that developed, the leaders found themselves impotent. The cardinal insanity was the selection of Grand Central Station for an enormously publici­zed demonstration of totally indeterminate size. The Yip-In was the fourth and by far the largest demonstration to be held at the terminal. The first three all ran into cops. It was a pointless con­frontation in a box canyon, and somehow it seemed to be a pro­phecy of Chicago. ❖


The Trial of the Chicago 7: Indictment and Protest

Spring’s Awakening 

It’s been a busy week. Thursday the Federal Grand Jury indicted eight “non-leaders” of the Chicago demonstration for conspiracy to break the law and incite a riot. Friday Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, and Dave Dellinger held a press conference at the Hotel Diplomat welcoming the indictment as “the academy award of protest” and asking others to “join the conspiracy.” Saturday there was a demonstration at Foley Square while the conspirators surrendered themselves to the authorities. Saturday evening another protest sponsored by Alternate U. and a group called the Crazies ran from the New York Times to Grand Central to the Sheep Meadow in Central Park and then back again. And then late Sunday night Abbie Hoffman’s office on East 5th Street was busted for narcotics and guns.

Spring had come. After months of being restricted to indoor sports everything seemed to burst out into the streets. There was a great deal of excitement and agitation leading nowhere in particular. The events seemed to follow each other in no particular sequence. One after another they would capture one’s attention and then disappear as rapidly as they had arisen, leaving the impression that they were somehow tenuously strung together and yet tracing no discernible pattern.

The indictment came as something of a surprise. After having anticipated it momentarily, waited for it patiently, feared it endlessly, and finally dismissed it entirely, Rubin claims that he was really shocked when it finally descended from the higher courts. “I was into something new and now they bring this whole thing back to us,” he complained. “Will Chicago never end?”

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The evening of their indictment, Rubin and Hoffman met uptown in the plush offices of their defense attorneys. Everyone hugged everyone else, talked about how this trial would go all the way, how they’d push it to the Supreme Court, how it might take six months of trial and years of appeals, but how this was what they’d been waiting for.

Most of the speculation centered around why Bobby Seale, (one of the last Black Panther leaders who isn’t in jail or in exile) had been included in the list of those indicted. One of the theories was that the New Left had friends in high places who wanted to see all its various factions unified. Others claimed that whoever had been the architect of the indictment was just plain stupid and clearly had no idea what the consequences of this cross-cultural, cross-racial, cross-political indictment would be.

The lawyers seemed more jubilant about the indictment than the indicted. Here was the test case every liberal constitutional lawyer in the country had been waiting for. The 1968 Civil Disorders Bill had been pushed through Congress by Southern reactionaries who were convinced that there was a combined black power-communist conspiracy to burn down the American cities. The bill was passed in order to stop H. Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael from running around the country preaching revolution. Now, for the first time, it had actually been applied, and would probably face the test of constitutionality before the Supreme Court.

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Later that evening, back at Hoffman’s apartment, the grim reality of it all began to come down hard. At first, when his mother-in-law called to ask about the indictment, Hoffman said lightly, “It’s all right, it’s just in the line of work I do.” Then, sitting in front of a color television set, listening to various garbled accounts of the indictment by pink-faced newscasters, Hoffman chewed reflectively on a lamb chop and mentioned for the first time the possibility of jail. Abbie the clown was instantly replaced by a real person. Under the law he is eligible for a grand total of five years and a $10,000 fine.

Saturday morning I arrived at Foley Square in front of the courthouse where Rubin, Hoffman, and Dellinger were to surrender themselves. An impressive contingent of some 20 elite Black Panther troops were on hand to give evidence that the Panthers are not going to be quiet about Seale’s indictment. Standing in formation in the cold morning sun, their uniforms and discipline gave them a presence which the twice as numerous white protestors lacked.

Once the three indicted men disappeared into the courthouse, the Panthers moved up and faced off with the police who were jealously guarding the steps leading up to the halls of justice. Kafka must have been somewhere in the crowd. Each Panther stepped up nose to nose with a policeman, raised his crossed arms in front of him, and started chanting: “No more brothers in jail. Off the pigs.” Then they filed out.

Inside, Hoffman lit up a cigarette in front of the judge and was told to put it out.

Outside, Paul Krassner, editor of the Realist, complained bitterly about not having been included in the indictment.

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The demonstration Saturday evening in front of the New York Times came as comic relief when compared with the seriousness of the indictments. The police, however, did not take it as a joke and deployed such an arsenal of force in front of the truck loading platforms on 43rd Street that only an idiot would have made a move. The Tactical Patrol Force lined the barricades, paddy wagons were invitingly open at each end of the street, patrol cars were illegally parked all over Times Square, and there were more plainclothesmen than people.

The United States is probably the only place in the world where demonstrations have turned into a spectator sport. Sailors, prostitutes, newsmen, printers in four-cornered newspaper hats, passing motorists, theatre-goers, local bartenders, and the whole gang took time off to come out and watch the Crazies do their bit.

“What are they bitching about now,” a cross looking little old lady with a Macy’s shopping bag asked a plainclothesman.

“Are you in this demonstration or reporting on it?” a detective from the Red Squad questioned me as he examined my press card.

“What’s in the bag, kid?” a detective asked a long haired boy who was carrying a sign which read “The Saturday Load and the Sunday Bullshit.” The boy handed the officer the bag. Opening it he found to his eternal disappointment and minimal embarrassment that it was not a concealed weapon of infernal destruction but only a bologna sandwich.

“Move along, miss,” a young cop suggested politely to a beautiful blond girl who was standing on his corner watching the picket line. “I can’t,” she said, batting her eyelashes at him shyly. “l’m with them,” she continued, gesturing toward the demonstrators.

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Suddenly there was the very strong smell of puke at the Broadway end of 43rd Street. Apparently one of the stink bombs which the demonstrators had brought with them went off by mistake within their own ranks. It was not the only weapon which ran afoul that evening. Several plastic bags of yellow paint, intended for the windows of the trucks which were taking away the Sunday issue of the Times, fell on the ground and splattered several hapless demonstrators who stepped on them.

A pregnant woman who had been holding a toilet-paper-roll version of the New York Times was snatched out of the picket line and hustled away by detectives for no apparent reason. Attorneys who tried to accompany her were turned back. For a moment it looked as if something might happen. The demonstrators surged forward and the police pushed back, banging their clubs on the barricades in a manner which invoked no less than utter terror.

“Scotty Reston is a You Know What,” one poster teased, “All the News That’s Shit to Print,” someone else claimed, “The New York Times Disguises Bald Racism with a Liberal Toupee,” another whined.

But no one could really get it up for the Times. Everyone had their own little bitch, everyone read it with their own kind of skepticism, but the point was that the picketers knew in the back of their minds that after the demonstration was over they were going to slink off to their local newsstand and buy a copy of none other than the Sunday edition of the Times — the very one they hadn’t been able to stop from coming out. They would buy it Sunday and buy it again on Monday to see if their little display of annoyance had hit the Big Times.

By 9:30 p.m. things were beginning to peter out. The picket line was getting shorter and shorter between the rows of policemen and everyone was just about shouted hoarse. The general movement seemed to be toward Grand Central. There another group of Crazies promised to lay a wreath of flowers at the information booth where last year’s bloody riot had begun when someone had climbed up on top of the clock and ripped the hands off.

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At a meeting at the Crazies’ storefront in the East Village several days before, Hoffman had told the others who were planning the demonstration that he didn’t think it was a good idea to go back to Grand Central: “I was knocked unconscious there last year and I don’t plan to do it again. Let’s at least make it a different place next time. Once you’re inside the station the cops can block off all the entrances and you have to run the gauntlet in order to get out.”

“All I hear is fear, fear, fear,” a boy by the name of Danny who was sitting on the floor complained. “People are supposed to be afraid of us. Remember?” he reminded the others.

In the end it was decided that they would go ahead with the Grand Central demonstration in spite of its risks. As one bearded member of the group explained, the strategy of the Crazies is “to walk that thin line between getting your head bashed in and just managing to get away with it — that’s what it is to be a Crazy.”

But by the time the Crazies got to Grand Central on Saturday it was already effectively blocked off by the police who had locked most of the doors and asked for tickets at the few entrances they left open.

“Where’s your ticket, kid,” a policeman asked a Crazy who had decided to make a test of his constitutional right of free movement.

“I don’t have one, but if you let me go in I’ll buy one,” he promised.

“Uh uh, you got to have it with you.”

“But how can I have it if you won’t let me in to buy it?” he argued logically.

“Look kid, we don’t want your demonstration here.”

“I’m not going to demonstrate, I just want to go out to Long Island to visit my grandmother,” he lied.

“Try Penn Station,” the cop countered.

“Here we are at the Prague border, everyone take out their ticket, you can’t travel here without a passport, remember, you’re in Amerika,” the boy shouted at the other freaks who had been listening intently to the dialogue.

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According to Howard Smith, who arrived at Grand Central slightly later, the police were not the only ones who were guarding Grand Central against an invasion of crazies. A number of men wearing buttons which read “PFB” (Peter Factor Brigade?) were patrolling the area, promising demonstrators that if they got inside they’d be “only too happy to kick the shit out of you.”

“What does PFB stand for?” they were asked. “You’ll know when the time comes.”

“What time will that be?”

“When Lee gets ready to tell you.”

“All right, now I guess we have to ask who Lee is,” Krassner said.

The question remained unanswered. Lee will remain a mystery … “until the time comes.”

Meanwhile, outside, most of the demonstrators had grown tired of standing around and headed off uptown, some 150 to 200 strong, toward the park where they were scheduled to meet at midnight. Marching together up Madison Avenue they began to feel their strength and [the] disruptive possibilities of such a large mobile force. “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh,” they chanted over and over, as if the second verse (“The NLF is gonna win”) had been forgotten over the winter or had simply disappeared out of pessimism. A few marchers strayed out in the street dodging in and out of traffic, trash barrels were overturned, and then the police arrived. They drove alongside the march for several blocks and people began to think they were just giving them an escort uptown. No such luck. At 50th Street a gray car drove up onto the sidewalk, splitting the marchers in half. All four doors opened simultaneously and plainclothesmen poured out, grabbing whoever was nearest. Half the group was forced back downtown and the other half continued east. A few blocks later it happened again, only this time it became clear that there were police spotters in the ranks who pointed out the demonstrators they thought were ring leaders. Each time it was the same. The police would run toward the center of a group arresting one or two and leaving the rest to wander around wondering where the hell everyone else had gone to. By the time I arrived at the park I was with four other people.

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“This is all bullshit,” a boy next to me mumbled as we walked through the park toward the Sheep Meadow. “This isn’t a revolution, it isn’t even a decent demonstration. It’s an outing,” he explained as if he finally divined the truth, “a walking tour of New York City.”

“Maybe the revolutionary logic behind it all is to keep the troops physically fit,” I suggested, “like Mao leading everyone down to the river for a swim.”

“Yeah,” the boy agreed, “it could be listed in ‘100 Ways to Lose Weight,’ or whatever that bestseller is called.”

Sheep Meadow was a bummer. The cavalry had the high rocky ground to the south, plainclothesmen blocked off the east, scooter cops could be seen to the north, and patrol cars covered the west. “We’re surrounded,” someone observed in the dark.

“Let’s go home, the cops have made their point, they can have this place if they need it so desperately. The Viet Cong never try to hold a hopeless position when they’re out-gunned,” a dark-haired politico with a pointy goatee announced. “Go home, no one’s having any fun here anyways. This sure doesn’t look like any festival of life to me.”

After a huddle it was decided to take the young man’s advice. On the way out of the park, the wreath (which was supposed to have been planted in Grand Central) was placed in the hands of a lovely nude statue which stands in the plaza in front of the Plaza Hotel. Cheers went up and everybody got their thrill. Then we walked back down to Times Square again, where again the police insisted on intervening. A fairly large group then subwayed down to Sheridan Square and marched triumphantly over to St. Mark’s Place where they were greeted by those who had been too spaced out to make the trip. It had been a long walk and everyone was fagged out. No one except the most naive thought any of it had been worth it.

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The next night, Sunday night, Abbie Hoffman’s office on 5th Street — down the block from the police station — was raided and the police discovered a suitcase full of guns and blackjacks and a packet of heroin. It was all vaguely reminiscent of Rubin’s bust last year just before the Chicago convention when the police broke into his apartment, tore the posters off the walls, riffled his papers, and busted him for possession of pot.

While it’s still impossible to say whether the raid on Hoffman’s place was a frame-up or not (the young man who left the suitcase full of guns, for example, has mysteriously disappeared), we may never know for sure. However, Hoffman claims that “it is totally inconceivable that a person in my position would hide an arsenal of guns and dope a couple of houses away from a police station.”

To make matters even more mysterious, rumor has it that heroin was found planted in the Peace Eye Bookstore and at the Switchboard — both likely places for busts if there was to be a heavy crackdown on the Movement in the East Village. Nothing, however is revealed. ❖


The Education of P*E*T*E H*A*M*I*L*L

“There is nothing which educates an honorable man more than living in a revolution.”
— Che Guevara, 1960

In the early summer of 1954, a young man who used to be me journeyed by subway from South Brooklyn to the gates of Columbia University. The young man was just out of the navy and wanted to enroll as an undergraduate. He was nineteen.

The university struck him as an even more wondrous and myste­rious place than he had expected. He watched these men with tweedy jackets, horn-rimmed glasses, grave, thoughtful faces; they walked among the trees, smoking pipes, carrying books, and he wanted to talk to each of them. They were like the buildings themselves: heavy with old knowledge, repositories of all those secrets an ignorant kid could not discover on his own. The young man patted the discharge papers in the jacket of his Ripley suit and walked into the Administration Building.

A secretary with a metallic smile told him to sit down. He waited nervously, reading the Post. After a while, he was led into another office. This room was dominated by a large dark glass-topped desk, absolutely clear of papers. On the walls, there were various diplomas and certificates, declaring the impeccable credentials of the man behind the desk. The man was as neat in one way, and baroque in another, as the calligraphy on the scrolls. His head was bald and polished. Cuff links adorned the white shirt that jutted from the expensive suit. His fingernails were perfectly drawn. His face gleamed, the product of tight shaves with a straight razor, followed by heaped hot towels. He was reading a book and did not look up. The lighting was muted and bookish.

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The young man did not know what to do. He felt as if he had walked into one of those novels by Henry James which he had tried to read and couldn’t. He didn’t know what to do with his hands, or whether he should stand or sit, or whether he should announce his presence with a cough.

After a while, the polished man placed the open book before him on the desk and turned in the noiseless chair.

“I understand,” the man said, without looking up, “that you would like to attend Columbia University.”

“Yes, I would,” the young man said.

“Why?” the man said coldly, looking up. He had ice-blue eyes.

“I … uh … want to … uh … get an education.”

The polished man asked the young man about his background. The young man did the best he could: He had quit high school at sixteen, worked as a sheet metal worker in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, joined the navy at seventeen, read and studied to make up the missing years of high school. He had received high scores on the equivalency examina­tion. He had read Fitzgerald and Hemingway and Conrad in the navy and he wanted to be a writer. He was prepared to work as hard as anyone at Columbia. The bald man listened abstractedly, then smiled thinly and stood up.

“Well,” he said. “I’m afraid Columbia is not for you, young man.” He pushed his hands into the pockets of his vest. “We only have room for a certain number of students every year. We turn away thousands. The choice must be made on academic qualifications.” He paused. “Why don’t you look into the community colleges? Perhaps you could be a technician of some sort.”

“But I’m willing to work like hell.”

“I’m truly sorry,” the polished man said. “I wish there were some way … ”

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The young man walked back to the subway, feeling humiliated and angry, hating the quiet trees and the tweedy men with the books and the pipes, and the students with their scuffed sneakers, and the weathered buildings, and the sun itself dappling the walks. All right, the young man was saying, I’ll do it some other way. You hard Protestant bastards. There were other ways to an education.

Columbia did not change much. Every once in a while they announced plans to “broaden the ethnic base” and things like that. But it stayed the same on other matters. I imagine that the people who started — four or five years ago — to protest the building of the gymnasium also had polite, hard interviews with balding men. The bald men were not much interested in kids who wanted educations but who didn’t have the money or the background. They were interested in making the University more corrupt: They look money from the Defense Department to study more efficient ways of killing people. They acted smug and indifferent when the Pulitzer prizes degenerated into annual awards to save obscure newspapers. Those were only the more public sins; the others were worse.

The trouble with the people who ran Columbia was that they didn’t really care about other people very much. They had a great institution, 214 years old, and that institution would survive all sound and fury. Yes, money was short. The tuition climbed and climbed, and the neighborhood surrounding the University grew shabbier and shabbier. But Columbia didn’t change because it couldn’t change. It poor­-mouthed a lot, and reminded you of those English barons who sell off sections of the family estates to pay for the gardener. But it didn’t change. The English barons didn’t take honest jobs either.

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So the reactions to what happened in these past few weeks were a confusion of feelings. First, one felt that the paper revolutionaries were just acting out another episode in middle-class psychodrama. They talked about being Che Guevara; they were more like Regis Debray, heads filled with theories of violence, but ready to call Dad for the bail money when the going got rough. Going forward to the armed struggle with a comfortable allowance in the pocket was not the same as dying on a mountaintop in Bolivia. Climbing into a school building and locking the doors was not exactly heading into the Sierra Maestra. You felt like saying: Hey, baby, if you don’t want an education, I know 100 kids in East Harlem who would love to take your place.

But then the cops were unleashed and you realized that the kids were right again and you were wrong. In the end, Columbia acted like all owners of property: The cops acted like cops. I suppose the cops had other things built into that part of their response which was vicious and disgusting; the police, after all, are the best symbols of the middle class we have, believing in order more than justice, in timid acceptance of authority more than personal responsibility. They didn’t rough up the blacks in Hamilton Hall because the blacks were tougher; they had strategic resources only a few blocks away. But the white students were just a bunch of Jew bastards with long hair and multi-syllabic vocabu­laries. The cops broke their heads because they didn’t want their kids to grow up that way. A white cop’s kid would never grow up to be a black man.

The SDS kids must have felt relieved when it was over, because the cops reacted just as SDS had predicted they would act. Every time you accuse the New Left of being paranoiac, our institutions turn around and show that it is you who are naive and innocent and the New Left kids who really know what is happening in this society. A lot of what happened at Columbia was farce, a lot was tragedy. But there are none of us who could truly say that every student in the school did not receive an education in those two weeks. In a violent country, the bat and the blackjack are becoming as important an educational tool as the slide rule and the pointer.

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March on Washington: The View from the Front of the Bus

“There’s no place for Uncle Tom on this bus, man.” The voice of the Negro echoed down the neon bathed Harlem street as he mounted the steps of Bus 10 ready to start for Washington.

It was 2 a. m. on the morning of August 28. Anticipation hovered quietly over the 24 buses that lined both sides of 125th Street. Cars and cabs stopped more and more frequently to pour forth bundle-laden, sleepy Marchers. Black, white, old, young zigzagged back and forth across the street trying to find their assigned buses. Bus cap­tains marked by yellow ribbons and rumpled passenger lists stood guard at the bus doors. Small groups huddled around them.

Voices arose above the general din.

“You’ve got to switch me to Bus 10. It’s a swingin’ bus. There’s nothin’ but old ladies on this crate.”

“Hey, is this bus air-condi­tioned?”

“Where can I get seat reservations?”

“Hey, chick, are you on this bus?”


“Is your husband on this bus?”


“That’s all right. I’ll make love to both of you. I’m com­patible.”

“Who the hell is on this bus?” cried George Johnson, the exasperated 30-year-old Negro captain of Bus 10 and organizer of New York CORE’s 24-bus caravan. “People shouldn’t be swapping buses, especially CORE members. It only adds to the confusion. Now everybody get in a seat and stay there. You can’t save seats. This isn’t a cocktail party.”

The reaction to George’s gruffness was a tongue-in-cheek par­ody of the Mr. Charlie routine. “Yassir, anything you say, sir.”

“Don’t you fret now, Mr. George.” “Don’t you go upsetting yourself, boss.” “You knows I always listen to you captain sir.”

There was a general shuffling of bundles on the bus. Index cards with emergency Washington phone numbers were filled out and kept by everyone. “Sit-In Song Books” were passed back.

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Symptomatic Ode   

Outside the window of Bus 10 an old Negro was standing with outstretched arms reciting an impromptu ode to the Black Woman. “Black Woman, you are the queen of the universe. I would give my life for you.” This was less comic than symp­tomatic. It was just one of many signs of the racial pride which is now surging through the Ne­gro people.

A young Negro in the seat behind me, when asked why he was going on this March, re­plied, “Because it’s like your sweater. It’s Black. It’s for the cause. If my people are in it, I am going to be in it fighting, even if I get killed.”

Outside the window of Bus 10 was also a more extreme reminder of this racial pride. Young members of the Black Muslims, neatly dressed in suits and ties, were hawking copies of Muhammad Speaks. This paper is the official statement of the Black Muslim philosophy: Black is beautiful; Black is best; Black must be separate from white.

I swing off the bus to ask the young Muslim if he was going to Washington. With a faint trace of a smile on his lips, he an­swered, “No, ma’am. I have to sell papers. You people go to Washington.” The implication was clear: he was too busy working for his own cause — sep­aration — to be bothered working for integration.

An older man, converted to a Muslim later in life, was not so emotionally untouched by the March and what it stood for. When I asked him why the Muslims were not participating in the March, he gave all the prop­er answers. He said: “The Messenger has not spoke. If he says nothing, we sit still. If he says go, we go.” But then, asked if as an individual rather than a Muslim he would have gone, he replied: “I would have gone.”

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‘A Mockery’

Moving through the crowd, I encountered a Negro I knew to be a fence-sitter between the Muslim and integrationist philosophies. I asked him why he had decided to come on the March. He said, “It’s like St. Patrick’s Day to the Irish. I came out of respect for what my people are doing, not because I believe it will do any good. I thought it would do some good at the beginning, but when the March started to get all the of the official approval from Mastah Kennedy, Mastah Wagner, and Mastah Spellman, and they started setting limits on how we had to march peacefully, I knew that the March was going to be a mockery. That they were giving us something again. They were letting the niggers have their day to get all this nonsense out of their system, and then planning to go back to things usual. Well, if the white man continues to sleep, continues to ignore the intensity of the black man’s feelings and desires, all hell is going to break loose.”

Moving back toward the bus I almost crashed into George Johnson. With a certain Hollywood director flourish, he was telling the driver to rev up the engine. George was being interviewed for radio, and they wanted the sound of departure. Followed by interviewers trailing microphone wires, George shouted, “I feel good because the Negroes are on the march and nothing is going to stop us.” With that, he boarded the bus, signaled the driver, and we began to move. It was 3:40 a. m.

The 49 passengers on Bus 10 settled back. Among them were 10 CORE members, including Omar Ahmed and Wayne Kinsler, both typical of Harlem’s Angry Young Men. Present also were 10 unemployed workers sent to Washington on money raised by CORE to protest the lack of jobs. Also among the pas­sengers were Jim Peck, author of the book “The Freedom Riders,” who took a severe beat­ing on one of the first freedom rides into the Deep South; six members of the Peace Corps who were scheduled to leave for Nigeria; three interviewers from French television, with cameras and sound equipment; and a slightly jaded reporter and a cameraman from the Herald Tribune, both of whom had seen too many Clark Gable reporter movies.

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People began to talk and to question one another. Sue Brook­way, a white member of the Peace Corps, was standing in the aisle speaking to George Johnson. She said, “I think the biggest influence of the March will be to create a greater na­tional awareness of the issue and get more people to make a commitment to the cause. Although I agreed with CORE’s goals, it never occurred to me to become active before this. But now I would join if I weren’t going to Nigeria.”

Omar Ahmed, who had overheard the word Nigeria, turned around in his seat and said, “The Negro on this March has to be very glad of the existence of the Soviet Union. This govern­ment is so worried about wooing the African and Asian mind that it may even give the Negro what he wants.”

“I don’t think the Civil Rights Bill will get through,” commented George Johnson from his seat across the aisle. “I have no faith in the white man. Even Kennedy & Kennedy Inc. isn’t doing this for humanitarian reasons but for political ones.”

After a moment he continued: “CORE has been criticized for its new tactics of civil disobedience. Well, as far as I’m concerned, anything done to get our rights is O.K. It’s remark­able that the Negro has taken it this long.”

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‘A New Negro’

The whites in the group were startled at the vehemence in George’s statement. Omar, not­ing their expressions, attempted to explain. “The white power structure has bred a New Negro,” he said, “and he is angry and impatient. It’s not just the Black Muslims. It’s the man on the street. Come down to Har­lem some night and listen to what’s being said on the street corners. The cops go through and you can see fear on their faces. This isn’t Birmingham. If anyone starts anything, we won’t be passive.”

The kids in the four adjacent seats were twisted around in their chairs listening. Heads pressed together, they formed a roundtable, minus the table. Into this group came Wayne Kins­ler, a 19-year-old Negro. He perched on one of the seat arms. Some crumbled cookies and overripe fruit were passed around.

The discussion turned to the Peace Corps. Frank Harman was asked why, since he was white, he wanted to go to Nigeria. He replied, “I want to go to help these people because they are human beings.”

Suddenly Wayne shouted, “If this thing comes to violence, your’s will be the first throat we slit. We don’t need your kind. Get out of our organization.”

Completely baffled by the outburst, Frank kept repeating the questions, “What’s he talking about? What did I say?”

Wayne, straining forward tensely, screamed, “We don’t need any white liberals to patronize us!”

Other Negroes joined in. “We don’t trust you.” “We don’t believe you’re sincere.” “You’ll have to prove yourself.”

Frank shouted back, ”I don’t have to prove myself to anyone except myself.”

“We’ve been stabbed in the back too many times.”

“The reason white girls come down to civil rights meetings is because they’ve heard of the black man’s reputation of sex.”

“The reason white guys come down is because they want to rebel against their parents.”

“I’ll tell you this, proving that he is sincere when he is working in the civil rights groups is the last chance the white man has got to keep this thing from exploding.”

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Little Comprehension

The other passengers were urging us to stop the argument. Eventually we did. In the lull that followed, the reactions of the whites were mixed. The most widespread one was complete lack of understanding as to why this had all started. There was little comprehension of the effect words like “help you” or “work for you,” with all their connotations of the Great-White-Father attitude, could have on the bristling black pride. Another attitude was one of revul­sion at the ugliness which had been exhibited. Still others saw the argument as a sign that the walls between the races were beginning to come down, that people were really beginning to communicate instead of hiding behind masks of politeness. They felt that with a greater knowl­edge of one another’s sensitivities, lack of understanding, and desires, it would be easier for the white liberal and the black man to work together.

People began to relax and joke again. Gradually they drifted off into an exhausted sleep. Bus 10 rolled on in silence.

With the coming of dawn, the French TV men started blinding everyone with their lights and interviewing those people who could speak French. Being Gal­lic, they made sure to get shots of the romantic duos pillowed against one another. Not to be left out, the Herald Tribune‘s cameraman picked up his light meter and cord and started doing a mock interview of the interviewers.

Someone cheerfully yelled, “Everybody sing.”

He was quickly put down by a voice from the lower depths: “You’re nuts! At seven o’clock sane people don’t even talk.”

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On we went. Sleeping, talking, anticipating. We passed other buses full of heads covered with caps printed with their organizations’ names. On our right was a beat-up old cab with six peo­ple in it and March on Washing­ton posters plastered on all its doors.

At 10:30 — Washington. The city seemed strangely quiet and de­serted except for a few groups of Negro children on corners. They stared curiously at the unending caravan of buses. Police and MPs were everywhere. Traffic moved swiftly. We parked at 117th and Independ­ence, and the people of Bus 10 merged with the crowd moving up the street. The March was on.

The day was full of TV cam­eras, spontaneous singing, speeches, clapping, the green and white striped news tent, the P. A. system blasting “We Shall Not Be Moved,” the ominous Red Cross symbol on a medical tent, March marshals with bright yellow arm bands and little white Nehru hats, the Freedom Walkers in faded blue overalls, Catholic priests in solemn black, posters proclaiming Freedom Now, feet soaking in the reflecting pool, portable drinking fountains, varicolored pennants and hats, warm Pepsi-Cola, the blanket of humanity sprawled in undignified dignity, a Nigerian student with his head bent in prayer, and the echo of Martin Luther King’s phrase: “I have a dream … ”

It was over. The bus moved out slowly. This time there were Negroes on every doorstep. As we passed, they raised their fingers in the victory sign. They clasped their hands over their heads in the prizefighter’s traditional gesture. They clapped. They cheered. They smiled and the smile was reflected back from the buses. On bus 10 there was no one sitting at the back of the bus. All the seats were in the front.

“We’ll be back,” said George Johnson. “If this doesn’t work, we’ll bring 500,000. And if that doesn’t work, we’ll bring all 20 million.”



From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES Protest Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES

New York’s Finest: Busting Out All Over

New York’s Finest: Busting Out All Over
May 2, 1968

WASHINGTON SQUARE — While the good John Lindsay praised the peace parade in Central Park, the bad John Lindsay had the peace parade busted in Washington Square Park. While the good Sanford Garelik passed out flyers of “principles to guide police officers at demon­strations,” the bad chief inspect­or gave the order to attack the demonstrators. While the good William Booth looked on, the bad human rights commissioner looked away. While the good Jay Kriegel and the good Barry Got­tehrer privately deplored the police action, the bad mayoral aides publicly condoned it.

Saturday was a fair, gray day. At 11 a. m. the Anti-Imperialist Feeder March began to form in Washington Square Park. Its marchers, some 400 strong, had split with the Fifth Avenue Viet­nam Parade Committee because, according to an ad, “the Parade Committee leadership arranged for strike-breaker Lindsay, whose police regularly attack the black and Puerto Rican commu­nities and break up anti-war and Yippie demonstrations, to greet the anti-war rally in the Sheep Meadow.” So the dissidents — ­mainly Youth Against War and Fascism and the United States Committee to Aid the National Liberation Front — planned their own march.

As police and city officials met under the arch, plainclothes heavies massed on Washington Square North. Cheaply dressed, each cop sported a red hat pin and secreted a sap. City officials also wore hat pins. Tethered by Garelik’s glance, the plainclothesmen waited hungrily at the edge of things, ignoring the far-off challenges of their enemies and prey.

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Aryeh Neier, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, leaned against the arch and waited for the bust to begin. Earlier, Neier had sug­gested to Kriegel that the march­ers, two or three abreast, be given a sidewalk route. “You’re telling me what’s legal, I’m tell­ing you what’s practical,” responded Kriegel, who had evi­dently already decided on the bust. So there was nothing to do but wait.

At exactly 12 noon the march­ers hoisted their banners (“Poli­ticians lie — Vietnamese die”) and Vietcong flags, marched out to the sidewalk on Washington Square North, and turned west.

An aged police lieutenant with a bullhorn intoned a warning: “Atten-Shun! There are two authorized parades. This parade is unlawful, having no poi-mit. You are in violation of the law and subject to arrest.”

“The streets belong to the people. The streets belong to the people,” responded the marchers, inching forward on the sidewalk.

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The cop with the bullhorn con­tinued to urge marchers to join the Loyalty Day Parade down Fifth Avenue or the Vietnam Peace Parade up in Central Park as plainclothesmen led by Assist­ant Chief Inspector Sidney Cooper seized some 50 demonstrators, slammed them against parked cars, and tossed them head first into paddy wagons. Other cops chased would-be marchers west on 4th Street and north on Seventh Avenue. They caught a few at Perry Street and beat them bloody. The plainclothesmen worked in teams, shielding their colleagues from the press while they pummeled their prisoners. One photograph­er was so carried away by the action that he joined the police in seizing a demonstrator. Aryeh Neier objected, and he too was arrested and thrown into a van. Kriegel watched Neier’s arrest, made a feeble attempt to stop it, failed, shrugged, and went back to directing the bust.

Within a few minutes some 80 persons were arrested and hauled off to various precincts. It took hours to book them and longer for arraignment. At 100 Centre Street, the cops, claiming the court rooms were filled, closed the criminal courts build­ing, denying access to attorneys and bail bearers. It took the DA to re-open the place.

On Monday the New York Civil Liberties Union called for a dep­artmental trial of Chief Inspectors Garelik and Cooper on charges of brutal conduct by plainclothesmen in dealing with the Anti-Imperialist marchers. The NYCLU also said it would bring suit in Federal Court against the Police Department for deprivation of civil rights in Saturday’s incidents and during earlier demonstrations.

“The Police Department be­haved abominably … with the active support and the agree­ment of the Mayor’s office,” said Neier. “Either Lindsay is poorly served by Kriegel and Gottehrer or he is complicitous.”

Neither the Mayor’s office nor the Police Department could be reached for comment. They were busy busting Columbia.

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CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES Protest Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

A Radical Departure: On Not Interviewing the Patriot Party

On My Mind

I left the whipped cream tortes and gemutlich music of the 86th Street burghers behind and moved through a tenement neighborhood of liquor stores and funeral parlors, Yorkville poverty’s only escape. My destination was the office of the Patriot Party. Not some group or strutting storm troopers, but white radicals out to organize the working class.

When I finally found the storefront on Second Avenue, I didn’t really want to go in. Despite my usually over-active curiosity, I couldn’t work up any enthusiasm for the interview. Only boredom prevailed. The feeling I would have heard it all before. Not just a replay of the Panthers and the Young Lords, but a rerun of the ’30s.

Not that I was putting their dreams down or even the small amount of good the breakfast program and the medical program and the housing fight might do. It was just that I couldn’t face any more machine-made revolutionaries who would talk to me about The People instead of people and re-confirm the movement’s loss of soul.

So feeling very alienated from the alienated, I kept circling past shops full of second-hand furniture and second-hand clothes and second-hand lives. Circling as I had since returning to this country after a long hiatus, unable to find a home anywhere in the movement.

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I was still as disgusted with the country, still as concerned about changing it, but there was one difference. Before leaving the country, I had little doubt that movement people were the best of the generation. Now, I was no longer so sure of that.

My encounters with radicals since I returned had been strained, if not disastrous, and I was no longer on their wave length. The meetings I attended for assorted causes were totally unfamiliar — no longer run in the open, tolerant style that was reflected in the slogan, “One man, one soul,” and that made room for all politics and points of view. Instead they seemed dedicated to making everyone conform to the current version of the truth.

It was at one of those meetings, after dissenters tired of the put-downs and contemptuously walked out, that I first became aware of my own estrangement. Most of the other radicals in the room considered the walk-out a great success because now they could run things their way, while I thought it was a complete failure, a violation of the humanistic and unmanipulative style of politics I and the movement once valued, and a long way from the germinal ideas of the Port Huron statement that said at whatever cost to the cause, one had to care for the dignity of each individual, and not let vague appeals to posterity justify the mutilation of the present.

From that meeting on, I was an outsider. How could I re-join a movement that had opposed the depersonalization of human beings and now called all cops pigs? How could I re-join a movement that had been people-centered and now broke up not only organizations but long-standing friendships over ideology?

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The ultimate in the loss of personalistic politics, of all that made the new left new, was when one faction of Columbia SDS beat up another faction of SDS for passing out leaflets. It inspired a New York Times reporter, in a rare moment of levity, to write the story in Stalinist jargon, full of long unused phrases like leftist sectarian deviationism. The fact that neither the city desk nor the movement saw anything satiric in the story is a measure of how much things have changed.

The movement seems to be sliding backward to the kind of ideological politics that made it possible, during the Spanish Civil War, for Harry Pollitt, the leader of the British Communist Party, to tell poet Stephen Spender to go get himself killed in Spain because the party needed more martyred artists to bolster its image. The new left, like the old, is beginning to subordinate the individual, his needs, his feelings, his beliefs, to the cause.

And that isn’t my kind of movement. As the French students so incisively said in one of their 68 mottos: “Une revolution que demande que l’on se sacrifice pour elle est une revolution a la papa” (“a revolution that expects one to sacrifice one’s self for it is Daddy’s kind of revolution”). More than just Daddy’s revolution, it is the reverse image of the society it is supposed to change. Instead of material goods, abstractions like the movement or the doctrine become more important than human well-being, deadening our sensitivity to one another, isolating us, and opening the way for the self-righteous use of others as objets.

My own estrangement and immediate lack of enthusiasm for the Patriot Party was caused not only by the elevation of ideology, but by the limiting of vision. The creativity, the flexibility, the willingness to dream of worlds not yet seen, has been squeezed into dry socialism. Utopia reduced to an economic formula. There was the phone call I made to a friend who had been part of the Mississippi Summer and who was now devoting herself, with the all-excluding obsessiveness of any business executive, to the study of Chinese. I wanted to discuss The Politics of Cultural Despair, a book that fit my present mood. Although it dealt with 19th century Germany, the German people’s reaction to the Industrial Revolution that disrupted their society was like our own loss of certainty, of values, of faith in our institutions. Their rebellion against modernity and the sterility of urban life included our longing for a simpler past, communal bonds, a hero to save us, and even the flourishing of fresh air hiking clubs to get the young out of the cities as often as possible.

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Yet every time I tried to talk about the psychic dimension, to connect the malaise and feelings of cultural despair to the rise of Hitler, she kept stuffing me back in the economic bag, kept talking about the conditions of the workers and inflation in the Weimar Republic. When I said the book had led me back to Nietzsche, it was as if I mentioned an author on the Index. I was immediately reprimanded for not reading Marx or one of the proper books everyone else was reading. It was as if all truth and all solutions to the ills of the nearly 21st century resided in one 19th century man and his disciples.

Yet this constricted thinking, the tendency to talk only in terms of overthrowing capitalistic systems and ruling classes, can lead only to a one-dimensional revolution. It would mean only redesigning the turrets and towers on the technocratic citadel. For socialist as well as capitalist countries are motored by a technocratic machine that needs constant and instantaneous coordination from the center. In the name of progress, efficiency, and necessity, government officials and experts in the East as well as in the West manipulate lives, while we, like Kafka’s bewildered K, remain powerless dependents on inaccessible and inscrutable castles where they conjure with our fate.

Even sacrosanct Cuba, despite all its homage to the creation of a new man, has made its main thrust the accomplishment of agricultural and technical feats. For the sake of progress, as well as self-preservation, the Cuban revolutionaries have sacrificed the rights of individuals.

Not that the political forms are important. The American experience has taught us that a free press does not guarantee truth, that laws do not guarantee justice or elections representation. Yet Cuba and the new left’s cavalier dismissal of these forms seems based on the assumption that the state and its survival are more important than the individual. In that reversal lies the danger of the creation of another Superstate, the danger of the destruction of Cuba’s possibilities once the genuine concern and charisma of Fidel are gone.

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For me, the movement’s easy adoption of the socialist economic and political system as its panacea is a cop-out, a failure to do the tougher job of coming up with ideas for a new society which, unlike either the capitalists or the collectivists, will do more than make the unlimited satisfaction of material wants its god, which will put the individual at the center and make all economic and political activities subordinate to his human growth, and which will make no man the means to either the state’s or another man’s end.

A couple of fringe efforts seek to go beyond this one-dimensional revolution. The women’s liberation movement recognizes that it cannot depend on the revolution to change the relationship between men and women. They are trying to do something about it now. Yet the narrowness of their concern makes it impossible for me to become all-involved in that one issue, the way so many other homeless activists have become.

I also admire the hippie-yippie effort to evolve a new style of community to rediscover joy and redefine living, but the egocentricity of just doing your own thing keeps me from donning love beads.

I even believe the new politics has some merit in its search for ways of letting people more directly affect the choice of candidates. Yet when I consider the possible candidates the former “clean for Gene” kids might come up with for ’72, I can’t share their faith or illusions. Nor in ’68, our hour of need, could I convince myself that a moderate liberal like McCarthy or Kennedy would be the savior. The compromises, the petty power plays, the think-small mentality needed to become a politician in this country makes the liberal left think only in terms of extending the welfare state rather than redistributing the real power that sets our priorities, makes even the best-intentioned candidate unable to do more than bandage the country’s wounds.

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And so I remain an alien among the alienated. Unable to find an honest home among the new politics because listening to the New Democratic Coalition argue the marginal differences between a Nickerson and a Goldberg is like listening to competing cigarette commercials trying to sell their nearly identical anti-life products. Unable to comfortably fence-sit with the radicals who dropped out of the political system either before or after Chicago because I’m not self-indulgent enough to deny an extra 50 cents on a welfare check to someone who may need it while waiting for the revolution that may never come. Unable to be just a women’s liberationist or hippie, a Panther or Patriot.

Still, as I wandered orphan-like around Yorkville, I wasn’t unaware that it wasn’t just the movement that had changed, with guns and bombs becoming the escapist toys of radicals who have no other way of dealing with the political reality, it wasn’t just the country that had turned into a bad hallucination, with moon shots and map pins in Laos the romantic kicks for a Washington unable to deal with social disintegration. For a couple of months after returning from South America, I heard myself, the girl who used to be Pollyanna, who used to believe nothing was impossible, arguing with a professor who was saying pessimism was outdated — the young were going to save the world.

And it was loss of belief, near nihilism, that really kept me from going to see the Patriots, that reduced others alienated from the movement to talking to each other in assorted living rooms, made some even stop trying to search for answers and become the siren voices saying the hippies are right, nothing can be done, the only important thing is to enjoy your own life.

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Perhaps it was only the intensity of my despair that made it so rough, so constant. I had certainly been around activists for a long time. My memory went back to an afternoon when the civil rights movement was falling apart, just before Stokely gave birth to Black Power, the time when blacks and white radicals could still sit and talk about “the problem” which was our problem. The mood was not that different — the people in the room suffering from the same exhaustion of protest, the feeling that all the tactics had been used up, absorbed into the country’s tolerance system. Group fantasy became the afternoon’s relief. One black student jumped up and shouted he knew what we should do. With everyone’s attention riveted on him, he began to demonstrate how we would erect this giant computer on the comer of 126th Street and Lenox Avenue, feed all the problems about jobs and schools and housing and unions into it, push all the buttons, and then wait for the machine to tell us how to solve them. He reached for the imaginary computer card, then looking down, reading in a voice that still echoes out of time, he said, “The machine says there’s no answer… no answer… no answer.”

Yet blacks were able to discover their psychic salvation in the black power movement, to hold hope and pride together with a black beret, while white radicals went only to the fragmentation of SDS or the futility of the peace movement, knowing that demonstrating on Tuesday only meant Johnson would escalate the bombing on Wednesday, knowing that demonstrating tomorrow will only mean Nixon will defeat them with benign neglect the next day.

All this brought me to the Yorkville border of Lotus Land, but still refusing to cross over. Grasping at any rope that would lead me back over my nihilism and alienation, willing to believe the fault was all mine, that being gone so long I had lost my ability to listen between the lines of the hard-edged rhetoric, to hear what people weren’t saying, I decided I had to see the Patriots.

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The thought of the distance between us sent me on a preliminary bender — like some wild alcoholic, buying, buying, buying books I couldn’t afford, everything, anything that would reconnect me with the soul of the movement — and finally, stumbling out of the store, shopping bags full of truth, I returned to my apartment and piled paperbacks 20 deep on the coffee table.

For a while I just sat before them as if they had some totem power to illuminate the movement and bring me home. Then I began reading everything at once, hopping from chapter to chapter, and, following an old tradition, usually beginning at the back of the book. I found little cause for optimism, and, too often, a recognition of my own near resignation.

There were the doubts and weariness that made the hero of The Strawberry Statement say that we were the bridge generation, the product of all the past and the ones who had to keep the future human, and then wonder in the same paragraph whether struggling to keep people human was desirable. “I don’t know,” he continued to debate, “in Brave New World, the people were always happy. They were dehumanized and low, but the fact remains they were happy. It was repugnant to the observer, but they couldn’t step outside their system to see it. They were just happy. That seems all right.”

And reading it I remembered the perverse pleasure I had felt in the mindlessness of a filing job. The secret fantasy of being a content dumb blonde manicurist. The often repeated quotation of one of Lawrence’s heroines: “Why can’t I simply rest in him.”

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It was at that low point in my slide toward becoming one of the lotus eaters that the phone, my umbilical cord to the real world, began ringing. It was a call from the other half of friendship’s oddest couple that forced me to confront the toughest part of my own alienation from the alienated.

The conversation — with my favorite North Carolina cracker, honorary member of the Ku Klux Klan, and sharer of my concern for poor whites — began with his excited report about the postman’s strike, his announcement that, for the first time, he had rolled down his car windows, honked his horn, and given the V sign to demonstrators. It was his constituency on the move, the thing he had been waiting for, much more significant than some nutty kids who couldn’t even make a bomb without blowing themselves up, he said, winding up with a harangue against dynamiting radicals that would have done any Southern preacher proud.

My response to the harangue would have been much simpler a couple of years ago. Although always ambivalent in my feelings, arguing both sides of the violence question with equal conviction, it was easier to empathize with the strange kind of love that made the most sensitive and the most intelligent, the Malcolm Xs and the Le Roi Joneses, unable to passively accept the daily soul-worn destruction of their people. It was easier to justify rebellion, even violent rebellion, when it was a gut reaction to the irrationality, the incomprehens­ible injustice of the human spectacle, when it insisted the outrage be brought to an end in the name of life.

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It is quite another thing to justify murder for a rebellion which prefers an abstract concept of man to a man of flesh and blood, which forgets the spirit of humanity for the defense of ideology or the delusion of power, which puts resentment in the place of love, which vilifies all opponents, which measures convictions by the efficacy with which one can hit the nearest cop, which adores violence for its own sake, and which shrieks with exhilaration the ultimate cry of nihilism, “Viva, Viva la muerte.”

A movement that acts like the other side is the other side, and worth no one’s loyalty.

Muddling through the distinction for myself and my phone confessor, I began to feel the time had come for the alienated among the ashes to consecrate a new rebellion. A phoenix that would rise above the nihilism that is making us incapable of any action or only of desperate action. A phoenix that would return to its roots and use the intelligence, conviction, and passion of its followers to find a creative alternative to murder.

And if we still fail, if despite all our ideas and words and actions, we cannot turn this country around, if it becomes our curse to be faced with the choice between accepting an intolerable world and either directly or indirectly killing another human being, then let it be done not in triumph but in despair by a generation lost in its own loneliness, with weapons in its hands and agony in its heart, never for an instant deluding itself that murder is right, recognizing that the only virtue is in not deifying the power to inflict death, and in returning as rapidly as possible to the original impetus — the impetus of compassion, of community, of life.

From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES Protest Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Merging of Messages, Proliferation of Protest

Saturday in New York: Merging of Messages, Proliferation of Protest
May 2, 1968

I remember a year ago, when the march began in the Sheep Meadow, and the people walked through the midtown streets until they came to the plaza of the United Nations to hear the man they now mourn repeat as a litany, “Stop the Bombing!” Last Saturday, half a world away, the bombs still fell on the rutted earth of Vietnam, and the people came back to the Sheep Meadow, now to hear the widow of Martin Luther King speak of the road ahead.

“My husband always saw the problem of racism and poverty at home and militarism abroad as two sides of the same coin,” she said. “The inter-relatedness of domestic and foreign affairs is no longer questioned. The bombs we drop on the people of Vietnam continue to explode at home with all the devastating potential.”

The mood of the demonstration this April was confident yet cautious. There was not the same exhilaration in finding many thousands of people of like minds together, for it was no surprise. In 12 months peace had become popular. Lyndon Johnson had an­nounced his retirement, and pow­erful candidates were campaign­ing for peace. Now the Mayor greeted the march, and reiterat­ed his call for an end to the war. Finally there seemed to be light at the end of the tunnel.

So encouraged, 90,000 people came to the Sheep Meadow last Saturday to press for final resolution.

“You who have worked with and loved my husband so much,” Mrs. King said to the people, “you who have kept alive the burning issue of war in the American conscience, you who will not be deluded by talk of peace, but who will press on in the knowledge that the work of peacemaking must continue until the last gun is silent… I come to you in my grief only because you keep alive the work and dreams for which my husband gave his life.”

Helicopters circled noisily overhead as the two massive feeder marches poured into Central Park and filled the 12-acre Sheep Meadow as a diverted river might create a lake. More than 120 groups were represented at the march: veterans, draft resisters, religious groups, the black community, the Puerto Rican community, women’s groups, labor groups, professional groups, and a mammoth contingent of high school and college students, primed for the occasion by a national student strike against the war on Friday. The marchers remained in the Sheep Meadow for more than three hours, to hear more than 20 speakers and en­tertainers from the platform built on the hill on the south side of the Meadow.

Although a separate group, the Coalition for an Anti-Imperialist March, which split with the Fifth Avenue Peace Parade Committee in protest over Mayor Lindsay’s appearance at the demonstration, encountered police violence at Washington Square, the Sheep Meadow rally was not marred by serious violence. There were, however, several incidents involving a group of pro-war youths who infiltrated the march.

Shortly before the main groups of peace marchers arrived, a group of 150 youths, many waving American flags, charged up a hill on the southwest corner of the meadow toward a large ban­ner reading “Revolutionary Lit­erature” which had been set up by the Socialist Workers Party. They crashed through the banner and scattered the literature.

Purely by coincidence, coming up the other side of the hill were the survivors of the Coalition for an Anti-Imperialist March, which had lost 80 members to the police at Washington Square. The Coali­tion, which includes Youth Against War and Fascism and the U.S. Committee to Aid the NLF, marched behind a banner which read “The Streets Belong to the People,” and carried several NLF flags and placards of Che Guevara. The attacking youths seemed astonished, but charged ahead, and the two groups clashed, fists swinging. It was a melee, as police rushed in to break up the fight. The pro-war youths pulled back to the top of the hill, where they burned an NLF flag, and the Coalition pushed across the now crowded meadow, their flags and placards bobbing above the heads of the demonstrators.

The Coalition rallied among the trees at the east side of the Sheep Meadow and told demonstrators about the police action at Washington Square. Meanwhile, the pro-war group circled around the south side of the meadow and a few minutes later attacked again. Several fistfights were broken up by police, and the attackers, some still carrying American flags, pulled back. While people from the main rally urged the Coalition to return to the Sheep Meadow, the two groups hurled sticks, cans, and handfuls of sod at each other. The Coalition chanted, “Remember Washington Square!” and “Up Against the Wall,” and the pro-war group yell­ed, “Why don’t you go to Viet­nam?” and “Support Our Boys in Vietnam.” The police finally persuaded the pro-war group to leave the park.

Meanwhile, Mayor Lindsay had arrived at the rally, where he was greeted by loud applause and scattered booing. He spoke briefly, reaffirming his opposition to the war and his support for the men who are fighting in Vietnam.

Other speakers included the comedian Dick Gregory, the Reverend William Sloan Coffin, Jr., Franz Schurmann, Professor of East Asian Studies at Berkeley, who described his recent trip to Hanoi, actress Viveca Lindfors, who spoke of a recent meeting with North Vietnamese and NLF women in Paris, Linda Morse of the Student Mobilization Committee, and Michael Ferber of the Resistance.

Near the end of the rally, a group of students from Columbia urged demonstrators to join them in a march to the site of the controversial gym construction in Morningside Park. They led a group of about 1500 demonstrators out of the west side of the meadow, and began to march up the West Drive of Central Park. Soon several mounted policemen began to follow the group. A student with a bullhorn said that they would follow the West Drive up to 108th Street, unless the were stopped by police, in which case the demonstrators should disperse and reassemble outside Columbia. Several blocks later, they were stopped by police who ordered them to disperse, and the demonstrators left the West Drive and walked over the grass to the west wall of the park which they helped each other climb. The student with the bullhorn gave subway instructions, and the group slowly began to disperse, most of them walking slowly up the sidewalk on Central Park West.

But the police began to arrive in force, in many patrol cars and with several paddy wagons. Police were pushing the march­ers on from behind, and at 84th Street their path was blocked by more police. A paddy wagon pulled up and plainclothesmen began to arrest the marchers. I counted 20 who were led or shoved into the wagon. The re­maining marchers rushed over the park wall and climbed up a steep rocky hill on the edge of the park, and dispersed among the trees on the top of the hill, they chanted “Sieg Heil!” at the plainclothes police, who were still catching marchers. Suddenly, the police leaped over the wall and began to scramble up the steep hill in pursuit of the marchers, who fled into the woods. The plainclothesmen caught a few and dragged them, half sliding themselves, down the hill to the waiting wagons.

An hour later, about 500 of the marchers assembled on 116th Street between Amsterdam and Morningside Avenues. The demonstration at the gym site — a handbill, printed by the United Black Front, said they were going to fill in the hole — had been called off because of the number of police in the area, and students from the “liberated areas” on campus came out to address the marchers from a mall on the third story of the building overlooking 116th Street.

A student spoke to the march­ers through a bullhorn and said that the Strike Committee asked that they not attempt to enter the campus. The marchers applauded. Then he introduced former SDS National Chairman Tom Hayden who, the student said, was also chairman of Mathematics Liberated Area.

“The morale inside the five liberated areas is fine,” Hayden told the marchers. “There is plenty of food. The barricades are built firmly and strongly. We are prepared to resist until the end.”

Hayden said that the back windows of the Math Area were open overlooking Broadway, and there was a dialogue going on with people in the street. “You can go over to Broadway if you want to talk to people inside the building,” he said. “The discus­sions are good. That’s the way to get in.

“There has been no political break in the situation, so the students have no alternative but to hold on. Their existence and re­sistance is on the line.

“This situation is one in which Vietnam is coming home to America. This situation is one in which those people who claim to be the administrators in this society call in the police to pro­tect them from their own people.

“This should be an example to you. The best way you can express your solidarity is to spread this through the city and country, to spread this so there won’t be enough police to deal with the situation.

“If we go down,” Hayden con­cluded, “we want the rest of the city to go down with us.” It was a weekend in which the issues seemed to merge. The rally in Sheep Meadow was a demonstration against the war, but at the same time it was used to enlist support for projects ranging from the Poor People’s Campaign to nuclear disarmament to the student occupation of Columbia. Mrs. King not only called for an end to the war, but called upon Congress to restore the recent cuts in the welfare section to the Social Security amendments, and asked that Congress establish a guaranteed annual income.

“Never in the history of this nation,” she said, “have the people been so forceful in reversing the policy of our government in regard to war. We are indeed on the threshold of a new day for the peacemakers.

“But just as conscientious ac­tion has reversed the tide of public opinion and government policy, we must now turn our attention and the soul force of this movement of people of good will to the problems of the poor here at home.…

“With this determination,” she concluded, “with this faith, we will be able to create new homes, new communities, new cities, a new nation — yes, a new world which we desperately need.”

From The Archives Protest Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Violence

Peace March, 1966 

Peace March, 1966
March 31, 1966

I live on 103rd Street near Central Park West, one of the very few whites in a block of Negroes and Puerto Ricans. Garbage strews the streets and children play in it. Their elders view the scene with sullen passivity. Getting drunk seems to be their only retort. The subway strike and the blackout before it seemed not to affect their lives, both being manifestations of a foreign life in a society in which they are kept alien. 

When I saw the ad in The Village Voice that told of the Peace Parade down Fifth Avenue on March 26, I had been watching several men and women in windows opposite my building going through an elaborate system of signals, all directed to a window next to mine. One, a man I’d noticed often before, wearing a dirty white trench coat and limping, I had put down as a runner of sorts. Another, a janitor with a carrying voice, still young and dressed always in army fatigues, carries on as the neighborhood pimp. All would appear as Hollywood spies but for their apathetic demeanor. I wondered what Vietnam meant, if anything, to these victims of the Great Society. 

I turned on the radio to get the weather and had to wade through a report on the War on Poverty, a bulletin telling us that narcotics addiction threatened our way of life, then came the voice of a hero of my youth, Louis Armstrong, singing about Schaefer’s beer, a premature estimation that 10,000 to 12,000 were marching in the Peace Parade that wasn’t to start for at least an hour and a half. Then I got it: it was 43 degrees and windy with partially sunny skies. I was slightly hungover from a $20 evening listening to Sonny Stitt and Roy Eldridge, both of whom had thrilled me in the late forties and early fifties when we were all young. I would go to the parade to see what youth was up to now. 

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I dressed warmly, left my apartment to pick my way through the debris of Friday night’s brawls, and entered the park. 

The sun was filtering through a hazy sky, and wind blew dirt into my eyes. The pond is idyllic from a distance, but up close its water is green with slime and dotted with broken buggies, beer cans, unidentified junk. Plane trees with greenish-yellow peeled bark seem the only trees able to thrive in the polluted city air. Even the squirrels look ratty and undernourished. 

As I walked, I thought of the 2,000 Vietnamese we were said to have killed in the past week, of the President’s voice when he branded those who spoke out against the killings as misguided, and how carefully parental he made his voice sound, like a misunderstood teacher explaining to his very young students that their welfare was in his heart. Further on in the park, boys played baseball desultorily, some drank from bottles in bushes, others fought in cruel desperation. Here and there an old woman fed squirrels or birds with bread crumbs. A man tossed a stick for his dog to chase. Spring had come to Central Park and was greeted apathetically. 

When I reached Madison Avenue, I headed south toward Ninety-Second Street where The Village Voice said that the “unaffiliated” were to gather with “professional groups” and “pacifist groups.” Having spent the major portion of the past fifteen years as an executive of an automobile-leasing firm, giving up finally when I realized the only legitimate concern was the making of money in the shortest and cleverest way possible, I decided that I was one of the “unaffiliated.” 

It was a little after 12 when I arrived at my corner. Small knots of people had congregated and were being stared at by the police, who were out in riot proportions. One or two looked at me with the deference I had become used to, and I hoped the small frays in my Rodex overcoat that had cost me $175 a few years ago would be noticed by the young people who were, I thought, beginning to eye me with suspicion. I reached greedily for a copy of The National Guardian being shoved into my hands, sticking my finger through the hole in my leather gloves as I did. I even tried to adopt the sullen looks the partisans were giving the police. But the feeling of alienation was strong within me, and as I pushed past the corner, throngs were on Fifth Avenue, and I saw myself as they must have seen me: a forty-nine-year-old man who could afford to dress well, one with gray hair and a white mustache, an Enemy of the People. When a girl asked me to buy The Catholic Worker, I said in a loud voice that I hadn’t enough money. Several near me tittered, and she said it only cost a penny, or what else I felt like contributing. I fumbled nervously in my pocket and gave her all the change I had, four pennies. A bearded youth gave me a placard to carry, saying “Bring the Boys Home Now!” I was in business. 

It was getting on toward 12:30, and I realized I had been foolish not to have had a more substantial breakfast than a cup of coffee and a glass of orange juice. My back, which plagues me from time to time, began to stiffen. I sat down on the low stone abutment of the Jewish Museum to wait for the start of the parade. A policeman, with a forced smile, asked me to please not sit there, that no one was allowed on the sidewalks. I took my stand close to a family group being photographed by the father — two lovely teenaged girls in long straw-colored hair, and their mother. The girls were eager for action. Two middle-aged and respectable couples were working on a banner strung between two wooden poles on which a crude replica of Picasso’s “Guernica” was drawn. The street was filled up. I couldn’t now, if I wanted, leave for food or for any other reason. There was barely room to move without jostling. 

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There were several young men looking self-conscious in their attempts to live up to newspaper descriptions of “beatniks,” in long matted hair and beards, talking overly loud to girls neutered by clothing that de-emphasized their sex. There were also those who seemed to be cultivating a look that would brand them as “radicals,” wearing the mask I remembered from the Depression leftists, along with the newer Fuck-Communism-Let’s-Have-a-Ball variety. There were, too, a few teenagers out for kicks. But most of the men and women packed close to me were coupled, concerned and brimming with enthusiasm I had been taught by my daily reading of the press had been stamped out. On no face did I see the signs of cowardice, malevolence, or moral depravity such “peaceniks” were implied to be contaminated with. 

A jolly fat man pushed through with a shopping bag, crying out, “The old button man is back with more goodies!” Another, bare­headed and scholarly, followed in his wake, distributing placards, a baby slung round his back, calling out with the placard waved aloft, “Who is qualified to carry this sign? Step right up!” Laughter floated round in the cold air of the shaded street. “I want to see the parade,” a small child’s voice complained. Police had given up their attempt to keep people from the sidewalks; paraders now occupied the window ledges of the Jewish Museum as well as the doorway. Behind me, all the way back to Madison, the street was walled with people. Signs of all kinds were held aloft with now and then a streetwide banner proclaiming the groups to which they were aligned: teachers, scientists from Rockefeller Institute, writers and artists, professional groups. Before me, across the weakly sunny Fifth Avenue, on the park’s stone wall, were photographers taking pictures of us. Over the heads of those in front, the tips of flags could be seen. People were patiently waiting for their time in the sun. Overhead, a plane buzzed and someone shouted, “There they go!” and nervous laughter broke out. 

Finally, at close to two o’clock, two flags, one the standard of our country, the other an older standard with thirteen stars in a circle surrounding the number seventy-six. A cry sprang up, building to a roar. The parade bad begun. Veterans from World War II and Korea were in the vanguard. Mothers gathered their children around them, some taking fresh grips on their prams, signs were held aloft as we strained on tiptoes to catch glimpses of the marchers and the signs they carried. The sound of applause was loud. 

Cold and hungry, my back threatening to break down at the first wrong movement, I stood in that crowd of dedicated young Americans and allowed their fervor to warm me in a way that food and drink never could. When the word came, we were let into the street, our banner aloft, to walk eight in a line down that sunny street, to the bursting applause of the throngs who lined the sidewalks on the other side of the barriers of wooden horses and policemen. It was like a sudden entrance on a stage lit by klieg lights. To my left a young good-looking couple marched hand in hand, next to them a woman pushed a stroller with a child in it, an old woman in a purple plush hat with pearl hatpin, an ancient man looking grim, two bright young girls with widely staring eyes. I was on the right end of the line on the park side of the street. Marshals in green armbands tried to keep the lines orderly, men with green badges of the press stalked along with costly picture-taking and sound equipment, policemen with bullhorns swaggered as thousands of their co-workers lined the streets facing the spectators. Here and there a small blue motorscooter buzzed by with a blue helmeted policeman on it. The chanting began, slow and faltering at first, then growing as it found its own rhythm: “Peace Now, Peace Now, Peace Now!” 

A can of red paint splattered on the asphalt, a scream, then the chanting rose to cover all for a time. I saw faces in the crowd along the route contorted by insane rage, mouths stretched to the breaking point, eyes staring, fists shaking. They were young boys in brown uniforms with orange lettering and green berets, though they were scarcely old enough to have seen action in Vietnam, most still in their teens. They were screaming as loud as they could in scratchy voices. When the “Peace Now” chant died down, I heard some of the words they spat at us. 

“Fruits, Communist bastards, cowards!” “We killed two thousand of your kind last week, queers!” “Killing’s too good for you bums!” “Look at ’em, they look like girls! A bunch of dirty girls!” 

“Don’t you like girls?” I found myself asking suddenly, my face hot with excitement and embarrassment for having been lured into talking back to them. My marshal came quickly alongside to tell me there was no need to answer. I marched in silence, eyes ahead, my ears ringing with the profanity of the hooligans from the right. It was no longer possible for me, seeing those faces, the signs that urged for more, more bombing of Hanoi and a mining of the Bay of Haiphong, to believe what the press told me, what our political leaders said, that these were men of courage while we, the marchers, were cowards, evil or misguided. Compared to the naked hate on the faces of these sidewalk hecklers, those of the marchers I associated in my mind with early Christian martyrs, as they bravely faced scorn with songs. 

The hecklers were only small pockets, isolated by long stretches of sympathizers who clapped their hands and called out encouragingly to us. I saw a Catholic priest bearing a sign saying “FOR GOD’S SAKE STOP IT!” An egg was hurled and it stained the street. An elegantly dressed woman of middle age, heavily painted with snobbery, looked down her nose and muttered something to a man with a cane. Behind them, on the steps of an institution-like stone building, a woman in her twenties in bizarre clothes, showed herself to the marchers, her long legs drawn up and wide apart. She giggled when the marchers looked. Her young man smoked moodily, now and then he raised his fist and screamed some obscenity. The woman laughed hysterically and opened her legs wider.

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Waves of weakness surged through me. My legs, from long standing, would not behave, and I stumbled along like a cripple or one with too much to drink. The sounds were overwhelming. Out of it came the high-pitched taunts of a young fellow, clean and scrubbed-looking, his hands in his pockets as he marched cockily along with us on the sidewalk, one eye out for his two straggling companions. When they cheered him, he screamed louder. He was centering his attack on the woman with the purple plush hat in my line. She was at least sixty and walking was a job. She tried to ignore him. He broke through the line of onlookers to walk beside her. “You filthy old whore!” he screamed, his face pushed close to hers. Above were the fat horizontal ramparts of the Guggenheim Museum. “A dirty old whore!” I moved without thought. I slapped that red young face and saw surprise and fear as police zoomed in to get him. There was some murmuring but I was too confused by the suddenness and unseemliness of my attack to know if I was being praised or put down. But I was pleased with myself, in spurts between waves of self-loathing, when seeing the distorted faces of the anti-demonstrators I appeared in my own eyes as one of them. “Please don’t answer them, and stay in line,” I was warned by my marshal. “That’s what they want. It’ll only get us in trouble.” But when I could look around me, I saw smiling faces, especially that of the old woman in purple plush. 

At 72nd Street the march turned into the park, where those before us were lined up along the paths, held back by policemen. From the mall came the amplified sounds of folk singing. There were to be speeches. I had had it. All I wanted was a place to sit and a drink to warm me. I left the march and walked for a time alongside it on the grass, feeling again the difference in my dress, my manner, my weariness. Was I no longer a part of humanity? Had I been led astray too long by the trappings of success? 

I had my drink in an Irish bar with a television set blaring out the final inning of the Chicago White Sox–New York Mets baseball game. Here were men said to be of my kind, well dressed, in various stages of inebriation, shouting, faces flushed, about sports. I left to walk back to the subway station and home. 

On my block swarms of children filled the streets, their parents shouted up to the windows of friends, who screamed back. Garbage was mashed into the sidewalks and spilled over cans already filled. A four-year-old was banging with two chair rungs on a sheet metal fence, while above him two older boys clung to a fire escape masturbating. On the wall of the tenement was a sign in chalk that said “Fuck China.” I was home. 

Healthcare Immigration Protest Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES

’Like Being Inside a 180-Foot Bell‘: A Statue of Liberty Protester Remembers

The dozen-odd members of Rise and Resist who dropped an “ABOLISH I.C.E.” banner from the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal on Wednesday — and the one member who took it upon herself to climb onto the statue itself and announce she wouldn’t leave until “all the children are released” (she lasted nearly three hours until NYPD Emergency Service Unit officers brought her down) — were part of a long tradition of protests at the statue, which as both a symbol of immigrant welcome and the second-tallest female statue in the Americas contains a multitude of symbolism.

In 1970, demonstrators with the National Organization for Women draped a sixty-foot banner from the statue reading “Women of the World Unite!” The following year, members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War spent forty-two hours inside the statue’s crown, festooning it with banners. (VVAW repeated the feat in 1976.) In 1977, Puerto Rican nationalists draped a Puerto Rican flag across the statue’s brow, locking themselves inside for eight hours to call for the release of four independentistas in prison for shooting at members of Congress from a Capitol gallery.

By 1991, the threat of the moment was to abortion rights, as the Supreme Court had ruled in Rust v. Sullivan that the Bush administration could impose its gag rule forbidding women’s health clinics that received Title X family-planning funds from counseling women on abortion. On July 29 of that year, a group of activists with Women’s Health Action and Mobilization (WHAM!) and AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) dropped a pair of banners from the statue, one from the pedestal reading “Abortion Is Healthcare, Healthcare Is a Right” and one from the statue’s crown reading “No Choice, No Liberty.” 

The banners were abducted by national park security, but the activists slipped away unnoticed. In the wake of Wednesday’s protests, two of the 1991 demonstrators shared with the Voice their recollections of the 1991 statue protest, and their thoughts on its spiritual descendants. 

“We were talking about actions we might take in response,” recalls Dana Luciano, at the time a WHAM! activist and currently an English professor at Georgetown University. (Full disclosure: I was also a member of WHAM! at that time.) “And someone said, ‘We should gag the Statue of Liberty!’ It was kind of spontaneous — I don’t think most of us knew, at the time, about the history of protest at the site. I think we just thought that as a high-visibility female figure, the statue would be a good place to stage a feminist action. It was thrilling to learn afterwards that we were part of a much longer history of protest there.”

As it turned out, an ACT UP affinity group called Action Tours — best known for ambushing Dan Rather’s CBS Evening News during the Gulf War with chants of “Fight AIDS, not Arabs!” — had already been scoping out the statue as a site for protest; the two groups soon joined forces. Around 35 people participated at the statue itself, Luciano recalls, with perhaps a dozen more working on press and legal support.

“Early on we’d realized that actually gagging the statue wasn’t feasible, so we decided to drop banners from the crown — the idea being to cover the statue’s face, like a mourning veil — and the base,” she recalls. “It took about three trips to the crown to figure out how to open the windows so we could hang a banner. It was windy up there, so we weighted the bottom of that banner with a heavy chain sewed inside a few layers of fabric so we wouldn’t damage the statue, which would have carried a felony charge.”

On the day of the action, the activists showed up carrying the two large banners, cinder blocks to weigh down the one that would hang from the pedestal, and additional tools. “We get up there and use special hardware to open the windows the way they’re supposed to be opened — no damage was done,” says Jon Winkleman, an Action Tours member at the time. One activist held a helium balloon in front of a security camera to block its view — “it turned out it wasn’t even on,” says Luciano — while others blocked the steps to the crown to buy more time.

“The banner got tangled, so I’m sticking my head out, reaching outside the statue to untangle it,” recalls Winkleman. “And it’s like — oh my god, I’m touching the Statue of Liberty’s nose! Which was the coolest thing in the world.”

One reason the demonstrators had been particularly careful not to break windows or otherwise harm the statue, Winkleman says, is that they had discovered that causing over $2,000 in damages could be considered a felony: “If you do any type of scratch, they can always claim $2,000 worth of damage.” 

“But as soon as we got the banner up, it started blowing around and the chain, despite the wrapping, started banging against the statue,” says Luciano. “Since the statue is made of metal it was like being inside a 180-foot bell — it was kind of terrifying. As we ran down the steps to the base, one of our members shouted, ‘Felony!’ each time it rung. By the time we got to the base, someone had pulled it inside, unnerved, I guess, by the noise.” (The Associated Press credited a Park Service ranger with hauling the banner inside after about five minutes.)

The group that draped the large banner off the pedestal had fewer problems, she recalls — “except that some of them had gift wrapped their cinder blocks to hide them in case their bags were searched, so that delayed things a bit. People looking on were actually pretty excited — some of them started taking pictures. One man asked if they were from Greenpeace.”

Eventually, all the activists joined the crowds of tourists on departing ferries. “We were about to get on the boat, and they grabbed this woman who wasn’t part of us, and they were going to arrest or question her,” says Winkleman. “And then her husband pulls out a badge — he was an off-duty cop.” No arrests were ever made.

Of course, 1991 was a less security-heavy time, when lugging cinder blocks on a ferry to a national monument was less likely to raise eyebrows. At this year’s protest, Luciano notes, everyone was arrested, not just the statue climber.

“With CBS, the moment we did that, they changed their security badges to have a little radio transmitter in it, so you couldn’t fake them,” says Winkleman. CBS staff, he recalls, immediately nicknamed the new cards “ACT UP badges.”

“9-11 definitely had a chilling effect on protest, but the wheels were in motion long before,” Luciano says. “In New York City, for instance, the Giuliani administration was committed to squashing dissent from the beginning. They went after civil disobedience activists especially hard, making sure the arresting officers had them put through the system rather than just giving desk appearance tickets.”

Still, she’s cheered to see that direct action is alive and well despite the heightened security state. “Black Lives Matter, Occupy, Standing Rock — these are and were sustained direct-action movements. Almost 600 women were arrested in D.C. last Thursday in the Senate office building; six senior citizens were arrested Friday for blocking the ICE offices in Philadelphia,” says Luciano. “The woman who climbed the statue yesterday made me remember Bree Newsome, who climbed the South Carolina Capitol to take down the Confederate flag there in 2015.”

And, adds Winkleman, in many ways getting news of a protest out to the public is much easier than it was in 1991, when activists had to hire a helicopter to shoot video of the event. (The weather was bad, and it arrived minutes too late.) “You look at the social media, the live-streaming online that happened yesterday — I wish we had that back then,” he says. “So yeah, things are different: They can’t do what we did back then, but we can’t do what they can do now. And I’m sure some other activists will find a way to do something even more spectacular.”


Demonstrators Greet Trump on Return to New York

Donald Trump returned to New York last night for the first time since his election as president and was greeted by throngs of jeering protesters outside of his home at Trump Tower. Thousands pressed up against police barricades addressing the president directly with drums, horns, and chants of “New York hates you.”

The protest came days after a white supremacist in Charlottesville, Virginia, drove his car into a crowd of anti-racist demonstrators, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and wounding nineteen others. Trump was slow to condemn the hate groups organizing the “Unite the Right” rally, taking days to issue a specific statement beyond generalized comments about violence on “many sides.”

While there have been dozens of anti-Trump demonstrations in the city since the election, the gathering last night seemed focused squarely on recent events, with many placards invoking Heyer’s name and condemning the neo-Nazi and white nationalist ideologies on display in Virginia.

Rhina Mercado of Harlem said she had come out to oppose someone she considers a racist and illegitimate ruler.

“I’m here because we don’t welcome him here,” Mercado said. “It’s obvious that he’s a white supremacist.”

The fact that it took Trump days to directly condemn the hate groups behind the rally in Virginia, Mercado said, shows that his ultimate comments were disingenuous. “Obviously he was forced to do it,” Mercado said. “It obviously wasn’t sincere.”

Crowds began gathering around 5 p.m. on the corners around the tower but were blocked by NYPD barriers a half-block from their destination. Security cordons around the tower have been in place since before the election, with a permanent police presence and occasional bag checks on nearby blocks.

Charlottesville had been the scene of widespread violence as counterprotesters faced off against white nationalist and militia groups, some of them heavily armed. More than thirty injuries were reported as the sides battled each other with sticks, fists, and pepper spray. The city’s police department has been criticized for what Governor Terry McAuliffe characterized as a hands-off approach designed to minimize provocation of armed demonstrators.

“You can’t stop some crazy guy who came here from Ohio and used his car as a weapon,” he told the Times. “He is a terrorist.”

There was nothing like that at Trump Tower, where a small group of counter-demonstrators remained behind a police cordon and traded insults with protest attendees.

Crowds began to thin around 10 p.m. The NYPD said three arrests were made, for obstructing governmental administration, reckless endangerment, and refusing to disperse.