Sunday, April 27, 2008

Feudalism in '68 and Today | Gonzales Heeds the Call to Adventure, Gets Arrested and Entombed

JUAN GONZALEZ: And interestingly, I mean, I think it was—the importance about the Columbia strike was that it brought together a variety of movements that had been developing not only against the Vietnam War and racism on campus, but the gymnasium was sort of a—it brought the whole battle beyond the university itself, because I remember—I actually was not a member of SDS at the time. I was actually more involved in some of the liberal student tutorial programs that were in West Harlem and in East Harlem, and I got involved actually in January, because there was a protest at the gym site. Columbia University was building a university gymnasium, but it was taking public park land, and it was going to create a backdoor entrance for the Harlem community to use from time to time when the university saw fit to give it some time. And there had been no real discussion about this in Harlem. It was a deal that the university did with the city. So the community group that I was working with was participating in a protest at the gym site in January, four months before the strike, so I went, because it was our community group that was involved.

And all of a sudden, this young African American minister, whose name I don’t know—I’d never met him before—came up to me and three other Columbia students who were standing around, Mark Nason, who was a part of Columbia CORE, and a guy by the name of Will Stein. They were both organizers of Columbia CORE. And the young minister said—pointed to the three of us and said, “Follow me.” So he was a minister. I’m respectful. I’ll follow a minister. So he goes around the back entrance of the construction site and sits down in front of the bulldozers, and he says, “Here, sit down with me.” So the three of us sat down with him, and we were all arrested.

AMY GOODMAN: I never knew you followed orders so easily, Juan.

JUAN GONZALEZ: So, well, a minister, you know, give him respect. So we ended up all being arrested and spending the day in jail in the Tombs, and so that was actually my introduction to protest movement, and from a complete stranger who—and I didn’t even know Mark Nason or Will Stein at the time, but I got to know them better over the period of time.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you end up at Columbia University, being a student there?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Oh, well, I was a scholarship student from out of Frank K. Lane High School in Brooklyn, and I don’t really know how—I guess my college adviser had never heard of Columbia before.

AMY GOODMAN: And what year were you?

JUAN GONZALEZ: I was class of ’68. That was my senior year.

AMY GOODMAN: So this was the senior year?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah. But I think the important thing is to understand that the land battle, because, as Bill and I were talking about this earlier, there has not been much of an analysis of the role of urban universities in their cities, and in—this university expansion is a huge problem in most major cities around the country where private universities exist, because they’re always gobbling up land for their own private interests that are cloaked as a public interest, an educational interest, but they are huge landowners, and they have enormous impact on what happens to the communities around them, whether it’s Johns Hopkins or University of Pennsylvania or Yale or any of these, Harvard, any of these universities. They’re all involved in the same thing.

And that same thing sounds like feudalism, to me.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Tom, also the impact of the Vietnam War obviously on the students, not only Columbia, but other universities—again, it was a particular moment in history. The Tet Offensive had just occurred earlier in the year. Lyndon Johnson had announced his resignation. The Eugene McCarthy campaign was building up. What was, again, the impact of the war on all of us, but the other young people at the time?

TOM HAYDEN: Well, there was a New York Times op-ed piece this week by somebody who was there in Columbia, which said essentially that the war had nothing to do with the demonstrations. He also said, in defense of his behavior, that he was crazy. He said it eleven times in the article. He said that the war made him crazy. I think that there’s some truth in that, that people were driven to extremes, felt devastated particularly by the murder of Dr. King. I had been a community organizer in Newark in ’67. We went through—watched the killings of twenty-five, twenty-six people. The war was ever-present, and it’s a big difference from Iraq, because you could be drafted, and many of the young people in the community or on the campus could not vote. So I wouldn’t call the response crazy.

The logic of it was like in the 1930s. Industrial workers occupied factories in Michigan, because they didn’t have union representation, they didn’t have any protection, they didn’t have living wages. In my experience in the South in the early 1960s, black students and whites, some whites, sat in at lunch counters and went to jail and refused bail, because powerless people sometimes have to do that in order to get any leverage or get any attention. And so, the occupation of buildings by students who had no rights, trying to fight for people in Harlem who had no representation on the campus—the campus was run autocratically under an eighteenth century regulation that gave the president all power, no due process; if you’re going to get kicked out, like yourself, there was no recourse, there was no appellate process—that was the situation.

AMY GOODMAN: Tom, can you explain the founding of SDS, Students for a Democratic Society?

TOM HAYDEN: I wish I could. SDS was a kind of a clearing house for discussion. It was in response to two things: one, the imperative to do something in support of the Southern students who were sitting in at lunch counters and going to jail; and secondly, there was a rising awareness of the fact that students themselves, everywhere in the country, had no rights, no real power on campus, were treated like children. So SDS was about student power, but it was power to make a difference on campus and in the community and in support or solidarity with other movements.

AMY GOODMAN: And it was founded where and when?

TOM HAYDEN: It was founded slowly in a two-year period, and most people would date it as ’61. And then the Port Huron Statement, which was named after a town that’s called Port Huron—in a recent Michael Moore movie, actually, you can see what Port Huron looks like—the Port Huron Statement called for participatory democracy, an end to the Cold War or the nuclear arms race, and a focus on the internal problems of the United States, starting with race, poverty and civil liberties. And so, it became associated with all the movements that were starting spontaneously. I don’t think it was necessary to those movements, but it became a kind of channel where people could form chapters, discuss the situation, come together. It had a short life. It was a catalytic organization, I would say, a life of six or eight years.

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