are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks when decades
Columbia University Struggle of 1968, 50 years ago, was in fact a
Struggle against Columbia University—as a ruling class
slumlord, a racist gentrifier against the people of Harlem and
Morningside Heights, and a genocidal war criminal carrying out
weapons research against the People of Vietnam. It was one of the
great miracles of the times that students who had been recruited to
support The System turned against it and sided with the Black
community and the people of Vietnam.
Struggle against Columbia was carried out by The Movement—a
Black United Front in Harlem including Harlem Tenants Association,
Morningsiders United and Harlem CORE, the Students’
Afro-American Society and Black Students of Hamilton Hall, Students
for a Democratic Society at Columbia, and national groups like
Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, SDS, with support from
the national civil rights and anti-war movements.
Movement demanded that the University stop construction of a
gentrifying gymnasium in Morningside Park, opposed by the residents
of Harlem and Morningside Heights, who called it Gym Crow, and that
it also withdraw all institutional ties to the Institute for Defense
Analyses (IDA)—a Department of Defense think-tank that
developed weapons to use against national liberation and communist
insurgencies including the people of Vietnam. The Columbia University
administration, after a two-month struggle, acceded to the core
demands of the struggle—an unequivocal victory for The Movement
at the time.
Columbia Struggle took place in New York, a world city, and Harlem,
the national capital of the Black Nation. The Movement gained
prestige by taking on such high profile adversaries on a world stage
—the Columbia ruling class, Mayor John Lindsay, the New York
Times, and the New York Police Department. Its historic victory was
shaped by the protracted nature of the conflict over years
culminating in two intense months and the consistent ability of its
Black and white leadership to solve the many challenges in the
organizing process. The Movement built and sustained a broad united
front of Black and white anti-racist, anti-war forces to stay on
message against Gym Crow and the Institute for Defense Analyses, keep
the heat on the university administrators and trustees, and isolate
careerist white students and faculty who tried to capitulate on the
core demands in favor of "student power" and a
the struggle Black Harlem residents, Black students at Columbia and
Barnard College, and white anti-racist anti-war students came to see
even more clearly that institutional racism and imperialism were not
just things that Columbia did, but rather were the very essence of
the university's role in capitalist society—including training
its students to become the future administrators and leaders of the
struggle took place in the revolutionary year of 1968. in which the
United States was losing all moral credibility in the world, and when
students, teachers, workers, women of all races were in revolt shaped
by a world and Third World revolutionary energy and optimism. Like a
revolutionary feedback loop, Columbia in turn contributed to the
revolutionary energy and power of the world movement against the
military and political hegemony of the U.S. Empire. Many students at
Columbia and Barnard, armed with the moral imperatives of the time,
fighting for the key demands of that campaign, and experiencing mass
police repression of their movement came to understand that the
struggle against Columbia was also a fight against The System and
that in turn raised their determination and morale.
years ago I came to Columbia as a national organizer for SDS and
worked closely with the SDS chapter leadership for over a month to
build greater support for the struggle and the Six Demands. I was so
moved that in August 1968 I wrote a long article that was published
in Our Generation, a Canadian radical magazine, and later The
Movement, a publication of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating
Committee, about what I believed were the lessons of Columbia, going
into great and at times minute detail from an organizers perspective.
. I focused on Columbia because it had deeply impacted my views,
radicalized me further, as all events at that time in history did,
and because I believed in analyzing social movements to lay the
historical record. Today, I have spent the last 3 months re-studying
the Columbia struggle, reading Stefan Bradley's excellent Harlem
versus Columbia: Black Student Politics in the late 1960s and
every essay in A Time To Stir, edited by Paul Cronin, a
valuable compendium of Columbia participants, to reground my
historical perspective and re-examine my own role in that struggle. I
think The Struggle Against Columbia is worth that level of engagement
as it provides such a positive model of a Black/white anti-racist,
anti-imperialist mass campaigns on such a large historical stage. And
as I have seen clearly by reading so many conflicting interpretations
of history—where not surprisingly of course I side with the
Black view of that struggle including its many united front voices
and dedicated white comrades—there is no such thing as
"history" but only the battle over historical
interpretation, and this article is my contribution to that battle.
Events in the Struggle Against Columbia
Struggle Against Columbia was a confrontation with Columbia
University's reactionary role in U.S. society. If the decisive event
in the Columbia struggle was the SAS/SDS occupation of Hamilton Hall
on April 23, 1968 that its participants will describe in these pages,
that larger struggle had deep and long roots in protests against the
Tenants in Harlem and Morningside Heights had a long history of
struggle against Columbia the Slumlord throughout the 1960s.
Black groups and Morningside Heights neighborhood community and
tenant activists had been opposing Columbia's building of a gym in
Morningside Park in Harlem since it was proposed in 1961.
Anti-war faculty and students had been protesting Columbia role in
weapons research and Columbia's complicity with CIA and military
recruiters and U.S. genocide in Vietnam since the mid-1960s.
concepts of moral responsibility and confronting complicity drove the
the movement against the war in Vietnam strengthened after 1965,
organizers researched and challenged the structural connections
between U.S. racism and atrocities, the larger society and the
institutions in which they lived, worked, and studied. People
started to say, "my church or university is complicit in war
crimes” and "I don't want be complicit through benefitting
from the system or by being passive or silent in the face of
April 1965, at the SDS March on Washington Against the Vietnam War,
Bob Moses, SNCC leader, said that Vietnam and Mississippi were two
fronts in a world movement against racism and colonialism and
challenged us to "make the connection between segregation in the
South and U.S. defoliation in the Third World."
March 1967, Bob Feldman, an SDS researcher, discovered that Columbia
was institutionally affiliated with the Institute for Defense
Analyses, whose Jason Division of U.S. university faculty members
was doing Vietnam War-related research on weapons for the Department
of Defense to be used against native peoples in the Third World.
Professor Seymour Melman, a prominent anti-nuclear and anti-war
figure, exposed the university as an appendage of the military state
in that some faculty were involved in the production of nerve gas,
and that 50 percent of the University's budget was paid by the DOD,
Atomic Energy Commission and NASA. SDS and anti-war students
challenged CIA recruitment on the campus and raised the charge that
Columbia was directly involved in crimes against humanity against the
people of Vietnam.
April 1967, at Riverside Church blocks away from Columbia, Dr. Martin
Luther King gave his most forceful statement opposing the U.S. war
against the people of Vietnam. Breaking the Silence, he said "There
are times when silence is betrayal" and called the United
States, "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world."
February 1968, Columbia finally began construction of its gymnasium,
put a fence around the site and began digging. Black community
groups called on Columbia to stop construction of the gym altogether.
H. Rap Brown and other national Black liberation and civil rights
leaders joined Harlem groups. Black students at Columbia made the
fight against Gym Crow a high visibility Harlem, city-wide and
in the spring of 1968, the demands against Columbia—stopping
construction of the Gym and cutting all ties to IDA—were not
yet part of a coherent campaign nor was there an agreed upon tactical
plan to even imagine winning those demands.
an irony of history, only a few days before the April 23, 1968
demonstrations and occupation, both SAS and SDS worried that
the campus was not ready to move aggressively to confront Columbia on
Gym Crow and the IDA before the end of the school year.
As Ray Brown of SAS describes in his essay, "Race and the
Specter of Strategic Blindness" in A Time to Stir,
Rudd or Juan Gonzales asked William Sales and myself to attend a
meeting to discuss whether there would be any further demonstrations
about the Gym before the graduation of 1968...We unanimously agreed
that the student body was tired, apathetic, and unlikely to engage
further on the issue. There was agreement however that we should give
it one final joint rally at the Sundial."
Brown explains, first the students tried to occupy Low Library but it
was locked down. Then someone yelled, "To the Gym" and the
Black and white students marched there only to discover, "a hole
in the ground provides a poor prop for a demonstration" and then
the group moved to have a "teach-in" that soon became an
occupation of Hamilton Hall.
the Black and white students understood they were moving from a
protest to a serious and possibly protracted occupation of Columbia
buildings. Later that day, The Black Students of Hamilton Hall
decided they wanted an exclusively Black site to strengthen their own
perspective, presence, and independent role in the overall protest
and asked the whites to "find other buildings to occupy."
SDS leaders agreed and moved on to occupy Low Memorial Library,
Mathematics, Avery, and Fayerweather. The Black and white SAS and SDS
agreed on what would be called The Six Demands:
That the administration grant amnesty for the original “IDA 6”
and for all those participating in these demonstrations. 2. That
construction off the gymnasium in Morningside Park be terminated
immediately. 3. That the university sever all ties with the Institute
for Defense Analyses and that President Kirk and Trustee Burden
resign their positions on the Executive Committee of that institution
immediately. 4. That President Kirk’s ban on indoor
demonstrations be dropped. 5. That all future judicial decisions be
made by a student-faculty committee. 6. That the university use its
good offices to drop charges against all people arrested in
demonstrations at the gym site and on campus.
the occupied buildings more than 100 Black and 700 white students
practiced self-government, engaged in deep personal conversations and
for many, lifetime transformations, and formed the nucleus of a
larger and sustained resistance to Columbia administration and
support for the Six Demands.
April 30, at 2:30 in the morning, after a week of the mass
occupations, the University and New York Mayor Lindsay called in a
massive, armed-to-the teeth, New York Police Department force to
forcibly evacuate the students. The Black students, painfully aware
of police brutality, and with the power of Harlem and the recent
urban rebellion surrounding them, negotiated an orderly withdrawal
from Hamilton. The white students were met by a police riot in which
many people were arrested and beaten. The campus, already supportive
of the two major demands to Stop Gym Crow and Stop IDA, became even
more supportive of the occupiers.
"the police bust" SAS and SDS called a student/university
strike, the university cancelled classes for the rest of the year.
Now, SAS and SDS built a broad united front to support the Six
Demands, went from occupying the buildings to occupying the
university, initiated city-wide demonstrations in support of other
social justice causes including support for Harlem and Morningside
Heights tenants fighting Columbia as a slumlord, and organized a
Liberation School as an alternative to corporate, imperialist
education involving as many as 1,000 students participating.
a complex process of protest, mobilization, community organizing,
counter-institution building, independent media such as Liberation
News Service and Harlem and Black publications, and great city-wide
and national support The Movement,led by the Harlem Community, SAS,
and SDS, was able to take on the Columbia ruling class, New York
Times, Mayor Lindsay, and the NYPD—and win. Miraculously,
Columbia accepted the demands of the Movement. The University agreed
to stop all construction of the Gym in Harlem. The University agreed
to break all institutional connections with the Institute for Defense
Columbia Struggle as a Civil Rights, Black Liberation, and Anti-war
Campaign led by the Black community
Struggle Against Columbia University in April and May 1968 was a
civil rights and anti-war struggle as part of a national and
international movement. It was led by a powerful alliance of the
Black community nationally and in Harlem, the Students' Afro-American
Society (SAS), Black Students of Hamilton Hall, and Students for a
Democratic Society (SDS)—a national, white, radical, civil
rights anti-war student organization and its Columbia-Barnard
chapter. It was not a Columbia University and Barnard
College-student-centered struggle as much as broad united front
inside and outside Columbia against the University as a slumlord,
racist gentrifier, and human rights violator.
year 1968 was a momentous year marked by epochal world events. Three
events among many shaped the Columbia struggle.
In January 1968 the Vietnamese National Liberation Front carried out
the Tet Offensive: a brilliant coordinated attack against South
Vietnamese targets and U.S. troops including seizing the U.S. embassy
in Saigon—the NLF had a great sense of symbolism. This shocked
the world into finally understanding that the struggle led by the
National Liberation Front and the Communist Party of Vietnam would
win the war—and members of U.S. ruling circles began to discuss
how to end it.
On March 31, 1968 President Lyndon Johnson announced he would not run
for re-election as a reflection of the powerful anti-war sentiments
against him and growing anti-war Democratic Party insurgencies
against him by Senator Eugene McCarthy with Senator Robert Kennedy
also waiting in the wings.
On April 4, 1968, in what many believe was a FBI, right-wing plan,
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis Tennessee, a
year to the day after his passionate anti-Vietnam war speech "Beyond
Vietnam—A Time to Break Silence.” His murder led to the
largest national outbreak of urban rebellions in Black communities
all over the U.S. including in neighboring Harlem. While a few made
facile statement like, "Well, that's the end of non-violence,"
in fact King’s assassination was a devastating blow to the
Black movement, the U.S. and world left. We had lost our finest
leader who had the unique ability to effectively confront the federal
government and the Democratic Party and was killed precisely because
of that gift.
April 23, 1968, the day of the dramatic escalation of the Struggle
Against Columbia, the civil rights, Black Liberation, anti-Vietnam
war, and Third World movements inside and outside the United States
were filled with a sense of outrage, influence, and hope and dreams
of major structural victories against "The System" —aka
form and content of Black Leadership of the Struggle Against Columbia
1968, Columbia University was a private educational institution with
a campus of 8,000 white students where 100 Black students provided
leadership to the surrounding Black community and the white student
movement as well.
white radical student organization dedicated to opposing the U.S. war
against the people of Vietnam was also very supportive of the civil
rights and Black Power movements at the time. Many of its members
had also been members of CORE and Friends of SNCC even before joining
SDS, and the Columbia SDS committee on university expansion headed by
Mike Golash made the struggle against Gym Crow a high priority. In
fact, SDS’s grasp and practice of support for the Black
struggle and the people of Harlem dramatically improved through the
course of the struggle.
his important essay "Race and the Specter of Strategic
Blindness" in A Time To Stir, Ray Brown, then a leader of the
SAS and Students of Hamilton Hall, argues that
Black struggle at Columbia was the pivotal act of the Columbia
protest not an ancillary code to a New Left uprising."
an active participant in that struggle I understood that at the time
and believe that the vast majority of SDS students did as well.
Today, sadly, 50 years later, a few white,
bitter, ethically impaired, and marginal participants have attacked
the Black students for choosing to make Hamilton Hall an all-Black
site of occupation. I think that is a re-writing of history in which
many white people have moved to the right over their lifetime but
they do not speak for SDS at the time and in some cases are even
rejecting their better selves in their present downward spiral.
Fight against Gym Crow--The Black United Front in Harlem with
critical white allies defeated Columbia University
in Harlem and Black communities throughout the U.S., including South
Central Los Angeles where I presently work and organize, the Black
community is under profound attack—dispersed, disoriented,
defensive, at times demoralized. Black communities are under constant
police occupation and a ruthless market system in which an oppressed,
colonized people driven out of the economy can no longer afford to
live in their apartments and homes. Harlem, the most prominent Black
Community in the United States, once the site of white flight, is now
suffering from the invasion of the white gentrifiers.
I went to work with the Congress of Racial Equality in 1964 in the
north east, including Harlem, the Civil Rights Movement and the Black
militants had already coined the slogan, "Urban renewal is Negro
removal." As such, the struggle in 1968 for Black residents of
Harlem in alliance with Black students to stand up to a powerful
white university to defeat Gym Crow was a significant and symbolic
victory on its own terms. It was part of the historic struggle of the
times for "Black community control" of schools, police, and
public land—reflected in the historic struggles at IS 201 in
Harlem and the Black communities of Ocean Hill/Brownsville in
movement for Black self-determination was in direct conflict with the
University's view of itself as the white civilizer of native peoples.
As Stefan Bradley describes in Columbia versus Harlem,
University Provost Jacques Barzun saw the Black community as
"un-inviting, sinister, abnormal, and dangerous." Barzun
felt that Columbia's Negro removal programs were necessary to protect
the safety of white Columbia faculty "and their wives" and
offered a better alternative to the system's only other solution,
"paratroopers in an enemy country."
Roger Kahn, in the Battle of Morningside Heights, explained, "In
the 1960s, Columbia, `one of the most aggressive landlords on earth,'
bought 115 residential buildings in West Harlem and Morningside
Heights, and displaced around 6,800 Single-Room-Occupancy [S.R.O.]
tenants and 2,800 apartment tenants, approximately 85 percent of whom
were Black and Puerto Rican."
1968, the Ford Foundation gave $10 million to Columbia for community
development that only reinforced their power against the community
while liberal Mayor Lindsay made high sounding statements against
removal and gentrification with no commitment to take on the
university. On the people's side, Architects Renewal Committee in
Harlem put forth radical visions for an alternate future and
grassroots groups continued the protests but there was not sufficient
muscle to stop the voracious university. Since the capitalists
controlled all the financial institutions, the political "power
structure," and the police, and given this ominous balance of
forces, what were Black, Puerto Rican, and low-income people of color
1961 the Columbia University administration, with the support of the
white corporate power structure, went to the New York State
legislature and got them to pass a sweetheart bill to cede, that is,
"rent" two acres of public land in Morningside Park
bordering on Harlem to the university to build a gym for its white
student body and faculty. At the time, Black elected officials State
Senator James L. Watson and Assemblyman Percy Sutton from Harlem
supported it, hoping the project might bring resources to their
by 1967, as the gym moved towards groundbreaking and construction,
the reality of the project hit home—Columbia was going to carve
out 2 acres of valuable public park land to build a monument of
segregation. Columbia planned to "allow" the community
access to 15 percent of the gym facilities and hours of operation
and, to punctuate its contempt, offered the residents of Harlem a
segregated "back door" at a lower level at the bottom of
the gym. A growing community resistance called for the cancellation
of the project with the brilliant agitational slogan, "Stop Gym
Crow," in reference to the racist Jim Crow segregation laws.
October 1967 Robert McKay of the West Harlem Tenants Association
announced that their members would "throw themselves in front of
the bulldozers" if Columbia did not stop its plans to build the
December 1967 H. Rap Brown, the chair of the Student Non-Violent
Coordinating Committee, in the ascendant language of Black Power,
told a meeting in Harlem,
"If they build the
first story, blow it up. If they sneak back at night and build three
stories, burn it down. If they get 9 stories built, it's yours. Take
it over and maybe we'll let them in on the week-ends."
Black students at Columbia, led by the Student Afro-American Society,
made the stopping of the gym their priority. As Raymond Brown,
observed, "As a group we found ourselves more committed to the
Harlem community than Columbia."
artists, revolutionary intellectuals, civil rights, and Black
Liberation organizers helped shape the political and cultural
consciousness of Black Students at Columbia.
leaders Ray Brown, who later became a prominent attorney challenging
genocide in Africa, and William Sales, who became a prominent Black
scholar at Seton Hall University, explained that the Black students
had frequent interactions with militant civil rights leaders
Courtland Cox, James Bevel, Pan Africanists Queen Mother Moore and
John Henrik Clark, and Black nationalists such as Charles 37X
Kenyatta. The group had also met with James Baldwin, the
revolutionary writer. As Brown recalled,
that our presence at an Ivy League University was more important than
we ourselves realized and that our complaints about our treatment
were minor issues compared to the fact of our presence and the search
for connections to the larger issues."
is hard for people today to grasp that those influential Black
leaders who were the celebrities of our time prioritized work with
rank and file and future leaders of grassroots movements and treated
us with great respect. In my own experience with CORE and later as an
organizer with the Newark Community Union Project, we spent hours
listening to Robert Moses, Dave Dennis, Fannie Lou Hamer, Lawrence
Guyot, William Kunstler, and other leaders of CORE, SNCC, and the
Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party who spoke with us about
organizing and movement strategy. As such, Black students came to
understand the significance of their strategic role as a wedge and
even weapon against the University's attacks on their community and
were beneficiaries of the great Black thinkers and revolutionary
worldview of the times—including its internationalist and Pan
Africanist influences. The fact that Chairman Mao Tse-tung sent a
telegram of support for the Black Students of Hamilton Hall is beyond
independence, Black separatism, Black self-determination and the
decision to ask the whites to leave Hamilton Hall.
Black Students of Hamilton Hall found their own voice, their own
independence, their own self-determination, inside Hamilton Hall and
created a Black enclave of self-government that was a model for the
Ray Brown explains, once the Black and white students began the
occupation of Hamilton Hall, the Black students began to meet
separately upstairs. Ray Brown, Andrew Newton, William Sales, and
Cicero Wilson formed the steering committee of Black Students of
surprising clarity and speed we decided to embrace the demands to
cease the construction of the Gym and end the university's ties to
IDA. We also decided to barricade the building and ask the still
disorganized white students to leave and seize other buildings on
your own. Our victories on IDA and the Gym have long been manifest."
William Sales explains,
Hall we experienced true self-determination. Everything that went on
inside the building was a result of decisions we made and had to live
with. It was our larger Black community that literally fed us and
stayed the hand of the police for a week. We ironed out disagreements
and established workable protocols for maintaining the livability of
the building and for democratic decision-making. Our success in
remaining together under those circumstances greatly enhanced our
mutual self-respect. It created for us a visceral experience of what
Black Power and self-determination could be within the larger
to the rewriting of history by a few bitter white liberals, the SDS
leadership and supporters, by then 700 strong, along with the vast
majority of Columbia’s white students, fully supported the
decision of the Black Students of Hamilton Hall, saw them as "our
vanguard" and saw their role in occupying Low Library,
Fayerweather, Avery, and Mathematics as their own great achievements.
They saw "take over your own buildings" as a constructive
challenge to expand the support for the Black community, the Black
students, and the people of Vietnam—and had the good sense and
good politics not to get caught up in the false and racist
consciousness of, of all things, "white rejection by Blacks."
my hundreds of conversations with SDS members and allies, I did not
sense any resentment of Black self-determination. If anything, I was
already hearing war stories among white students about their great
experiences in Mathematics, Fayerweather and other buildings, the
"commune experience" and how proud they were of SAS and
SDS. And this was just after the NYPD free-for-all attack on the
white students with more than 700 being beaten and arrested where, if
they had any anger it was against the police and the university.
Then, the questions facing the movement were, "What do we do
now? How do we seize the initiative? If we are no longer in the
buildings how do we win our demands? How do we get Columbia to stop
building the gym and carrying out war crimes against the Vietnamese?
Brown spoke for the Black students and the best of the white students
when he concluded, "Our victories on IDA and the Gym have long
a Black United Front and multi-racial alliance against the gym.
one example of the growing power of the Black Power and Black
militant forces inside the Black united front, many of the Black
Democrats who had initially voted to authorize Columbia's building of
the gym, including Percy Sutton who by then had become Manhattan
Borough President, claimed they had been misled by Columbia and went
from token to militant opposition—first proposing compromises
to make the gym more community friendly and then realizing as did
Columbia that the entire project was toxic—and coming out
against the gym altogether. Victor Solomon of Harlem CORE said "the
racist gym" cannot be built. "Harlem is a colony and the
community should impede the progress of the imperialist." What
is again hard to grasp today is that those radical and revolutionary
ideas had great resonance in the Black community and its advocates—in
this case CORE and SNCC knew how to organize, not just put out
William Sales explained,
knew that Black activists could accept many Communist principles if
presented in the context of Third World Liberation. If one used the
words of Fanon, Cabral, Mao, or Nkrumah many blacks would endorse
your position especially when combined with major references to Black
the interrelationship with advanced thinkers shaped the clarity and
force of the Black students. As William Sale explained, in his essay,
"Self-determination and self-respect: Hamilton Hall 50 Years
"Preston Wilcox of
the School of Social Work faculty helped Ray Brown and myself avoid
the pitfalls of opportunism around the issue of the gymnasium. We
initially conceded that community folks and their student allies were
too weak to oppose the construction of the gym. Our position was that
Columbia could be pressured to increase the size and amenities of the
gym structure but it was too late to force them to abandon the notion
of two separate gyms within one shell. Preston was adamant, and won
us over to the position, that the struggle was against any form of
Jim Crow building, not about getting a better deal within an
essentially Jim Crow arrangement."
and white students were critical elements of the Gym victory.
SAS and the Black students at Hamilton Hall drove the Gym campaign,
the aggressive support of SDS was critical. This was a white
university in a white society and white students were 90 percent of
the student body. Initially, SDS, from my reading of that history
and my participation in the struggle, focused more on opposition to
the war in Vietnam and ending the University's role with the CIA,
DOD, and the Institute for Defense Analyses. But the power of the
Black movement and Harlem made the gym a compelling issue and central
to the strike and the campaign.
April 23, the famous Last Chance Demonstration, as Black and white
students marched together, the chants were "let's take Low
Library" followed by "let's go the gym site" followed
by "let's take Hamilton Hall." In a few hours The Gym and
the IDA were joined together for posterity.
can be assured that if the Columbia ruling class felt any tension or
conflict between the Black and white movements on the core demands of
the strike, it would have exploited them to its own benefit. In my
own work at Columbia, I and other SDS leaders challenged white
students who said, after the police raid on campus, "I support
the strike, but... I want student power and a restructured university
and do not want to be bound by the two main demands of the
campaign--the Gym and IDA."
at SDS vehemently replied that The Strike was about racism and war
and Columbia's role in it. For some liberal and careerist whites to
say they supported a "strike" but not the demands of the
Struggle was in fact supporting Columbia's racism and imperialism and
selling out the people of Harlem and Vietnam. We did not want a
"restructured university" —we wanted a specific end
to specific racist and imperialist policies and institutional
arrangements by the university.
their credit, the vast majority of white students agreed and rallied
behind the powerful moral arguments of the Campaign. By the end of
the struggle, when Columbia finally announced it would end the gym
project--Gym Crow--once and for all and withdraw from IDA, it was a
testament to the broad, multi-racial, progressive, radical, and
revolutionary united front led by the Black community and students.
It was the dialectical relationship between Black ideas, Black
community forces, Black students, and a broad and militant support
from the white and vast majority of Columbia/Barnard university
students and again the revolutionary conditions of 1968 and that
period in history that turned the tide for such an unequivocal
Sales summarizes the spirit and achievements of unity/struggle/unity
in Black/white relationships that successfully defeated the Columbia
"Black students at
Hamilton Hall did not split with the agenda of the white students. We
endorsed the demands of the strike and never wavered from that
position. There were however, important tactical considerations that
could not be ignored. We felt that white students underestimated the
violence that the system was capable of directing at its own citizens
when challenged. Black students knew this from the beginning. As a
small minority of the student body Blacks did not want mere numbers
to swallow up their presence in the demonstration. In addition, our
smaller numbers and stronger mutual familiarity allowed us to arrive
at firm consensus significantly quicker than our white counterparts.
Stylistically, the ultra-democracy of SDS with the amorphous,
fluctuating white membership in the strike was a protest style we
wanted no part of. It appeared to us to be anarchic.
I personally respected
the SDS leadership. The need to keep cohesion among their
constituency was a monumental task that they should be praised for
executing. Their self-sacrifice and adherence to a principled
position in support of oppressed people of color, in Harlem as well
as Vietnam, commanded our respect. No decision to assume separate
tactical headquarters should imply we were not allies in the same
Protest to Strike to Campaign to Victory
April 30 after a week of student occupation of the university, the
New York City Police Department (NYPD) arrested more than 700
students—500 men and 200 women. The SAS and SDS leaders enjoyed
significant popular support but Columbia administration had not
agreed to meet their demands. In response to the "police bust"
there was even more support for the movement and SAS and SDS proposed
and thousands agreed it was time to go on Strike. But what was the
tactical plan? What did a strike look like? How could the movement
win its demands and sustain the momentum of the occupations? Again,
the Six Demands were debated, discussed, and dissected.
Six Demands as a Definition of Politics
That the administration grant amnesty for the original “IDA 6”
and for all those participating in these demonstrations.
That construction of the gymnasium in Morningside Park be terminated
That the university sever all ties with the Institute for Defense
Analyses and that President Kirk and Trustee Burden resign their
positions on the Executive Committee of that institution immediately.
That President Kirk’s ban on indoor demonstrations be dropped.
That all future judicial decisions be made by a student-faculty
That the university use its good offices to drop charges against all
people arrested in demonstrations at the gym site and on campus.
I arrived at Columbia, Mark Rudd, Juan Gonzales, and other SDS
leaders explained the challenge. They said that while the Black
students of SAS and SDS had won the respect of the majority of the
campus, they worried that the more militant forces could be isolated
as more moderate forces, closely aligned with the University
administration, had joined "the strike" but were not
committed to stopping the Gym or ending the university's ties to IDA.
We all knew this was history in the making but how could we turn a
great protest into a structural victory?
one example, a new group, "Students for a Restructured
University" (which received $40,000 in funding from the Ford
Foundation, whose then-president, McGeorge Bundy, was a former
Johnson White House National Security Affairs Advisor) said that SDS
was turning people off with talk about "racism and imperialism"
and argued that Columbia was in fact a "community of scholars."
They put themselves forward as a competing political force and tried
to negotiate a separate and unprincipled peace with the Columbia
administration telling the public that SAS/SDS did not speak for the
(white) students. But what about the interests of the people of
Harlem and the people of Vietnam--would these privileged white
students from an imperialist Ivy League University, some of them with
their own imperialist aspirations, sell out the movement? At the
time, the answer was "very possibly, if not probably, if we
don't continue to provide political leadership."
struggle for the political leadership of the Columbia Strike
and SAS proposed that the strike committee be expanded from the 100
Black occupiers and 700 white occupiers. They agreed that the Black
students would get 3 delegates, a ratio more than a literal counting
of the 100 Black students who occupied Hamilton. Today it seems
shocking that SDS did not propose the Black students get at least
7delegates to the 7 white SDS delegates. The Black students and their
Harlem allies were the main force and had provided such great
leadership for the campaign—and it was not their fault that
because of Columbia's racism there were so few Black students. It did
not make sense that the white SDS students could out-vote the Blacks
let alone the new mass of more moderate white students just joining
the movement after the Police Bust. Fortunately SDS and many other
white students did respect and grasp Black leadership and were united
on the Six Demands of the movement. It is a credit to the white
students and the leadership of SAS and SDS that they did not provoke
a split by trying to overrule the Black students who clearly would
have left the strike committee under those circumstances.
now, the SAS/SDS bloc had to worry that their votes and power would
be vitiated by the thousands of new people, almost all white, who
wanted to join the strike. SDS and SAS made what was in fact a very
generous offer. Any additional 70 people who organized themselves
into a working group could get one vote on the strike committee
providing, of course, that they supported the Six Demands of the
Protests since that was why people were now going on strike.
Grad-Facs (Graduate Faculty) put forth the most manipulate demagogic
proposal. They thanked SAS and SDS and the Strike committee for
agreeing that every additional 70 people who supported "the
strike" could get one vote but they argued that the new
delegates did not have to agree to support the Six Demands or demand
the end to the Gym or IDA. They even accused the Black students and
SDS of not being "democratic" by "imposing" these
demands on the new white students who had done nothing to support
those demands in the first place. So here was another dilemma for the
organizers. If we told the new members of the Strike Committee they
had no right to mess with the demands but could participate in the
discussions of the strike, the right-wing liberals would have split
the forces and yes, there was danger of isolation. If on the other
hand, we said that Columbia's role as a slumlord, Gym Crow
gentrifier, and human rights violator was "negotiable" then
we could be accused of selling out the demands of the Black community
and the people of Vietnam in an unprincipled pursuit of popular
support of white students at an imperialist university.
or wrong, the SDS leadership agreed that the new 70 member groups had
some power to debate the demands and we took the responsibility to
win those debates. As one example, I was asked by the SDS Columbia
chapter leadership to argue for the strike demands to a mass meeting
of more than 300 new strike supporters in a large auditorium I think
in the Architecture school. I began by challenging the white
students to ask themselves whether they believed they had the "right"
to vote, as privileged beneficiaries of a racist, imperialist
university, as to whether Columbia in turn had the "right"
to be a slumlord in Harlem, had a right to build Gym Crow, had the
"right" to conduct research on mass weapons to kill
civilian populations in violation of the Nuremburg statutes. Many of
the white students were Jews, as was I, and I argued they had to
grasp the present Holocaust being imposed on Black people in the U.S.
and the people of Vietnam—and many of them did. I argued then
as I do now that "Human rights and civil rights are not subject
to ‘majority vote’ by those who are inflicting or
benefitting from those abuses by our government.”
was the moral argument. But, in that they did have a "vote"
in the strike committee and since we urgently wanted to win those
demands against Columbia I had to convince them to support The Six
Demands. I argued that they had a moral obligation to vote for human
rights and against racism and genocide. I said they had a moral
obligation to stop Columbia as a slumlord and war criminal and yes,
in the arguments of the times, challenged them to not be "complicit"
in those crimes by even passive support. I challenged them to support
those in SAS and SDS who had occupied the buildings, had stood up to
the police, put their bodies on the line, yes, had risked their
continued student status at the university, and had fought for the
people of Harlem and Vietnam. "You can't make your support
conditional on re-debating the demands of the campaign. You must
support the Six Demands of the Campaign fully and enthusiastically
with gratitude to those who had the courage to lead." And then I
ended with the punch-line, "And think of what a great victory it
would be if we were able to force Columbia University to stop
construction of the gym and end all ties to the IDA--think of how
people in Harlem and Vietnam would appreciate what you did."
we had to confront those on the strike committee who argued against
our demands for amnesty and the dropping of charges. Again the
pro-Columbia liberals were very clever. They argued, "Well, if
you chose to violate the rules and seize property and fight the
police, in the spirit of civil disobedience why aren't you willing to
suffer the consequences?"
replied that if the University was evicting people from their
apartments, building a racist gym, and participating in the murder of
civilians, part of our political victory was to force them to accept
the righteousness of our actions and to stop repression against the
movement. If Columbia could bring in the police, get people sent to
prison on political charges, suspend and expel students, then it
would have a chilling effect on future protests – which is
exactly what the university wanted. We argued, "Do not hide
behind civil disobedience which none of us thought we were doing—if
a racist court sends Black people to prison for registering to vote,
who are you to call that justified. And what of the Black students
at Columbia who had to fight to just get into this racist
institution. Now that they fight for their community you white
liberals want to have them face charges, suspension and even
expulsion. Why don't you just go to work for the University and stop
pretending to support the strike? "
while we had to win this debate day by day, through this process we
won many hundreds of students to not just support the Six Demands,
but angrily reject the manipulation of the Grad-Facs and later,
Students for a Restructured University.
up the protest movement and building the Liberation University
now thousands of students were on strike—but now what did we do
with people? Many students agreed to boycott classes but how did we
prevent them from just "dropping out" and going back to
their dorms or apartments and disappearing? We at the Strike
Committee came up with two interrelated ideas—keeping up
demonstrations and actions throughout New York, especially in Harlem
and building a Liberation School on the Columbia campus to show an
alternative university as the revolution right inside the very
institution we were shutting down.
I wrote in 1968 in The Movement magazine, "The liberation
classes served several functions:
to give students an example of the type of university Columbia could
be under different political conditions.
To keep students occupied and on campus.
To provide a unique opportunity to put forth radical critiques and
solutions to political questions in courses taught by radicals from
around the city, many of who were not ‘professionals.’
To provide an opportunity for radicals to show that they could run
institutions competently and democratically.
students were rapidly changing their opinion of the left, and
although still suspicious, were becoming increasingly open to ideas
that only a few weeks before they would not have considered. It
became clear that while some peoples' ideas change through
discussion, action can provide a political context in which those
discussions can be most fruitful. For many, resistance to radical
arguments stems, not from disagreeing with the particular issue being
discussed, but from a belief that radicals can't win. At Columbia,
thousands of students came to believe that the left was, or perhaps
could be, a real force in this country. And because of that
feeling, they became more open to our politics."
then went into a detailed discussion of the strengths and weaknesses
of the Liberation School experiment. But in retrospect a lot of that
was metaphysical—"wishing" we could have gone from a
protest group to a disciplined mass organization with infinite
organizational skills and capacity. In reality, the Liberation School
was a smashing success—we built an alternative out of whole
cloth, figuring it out on the fly. The Liberation School involved
more than 1,000 students in classes on the lawn, in classrooms, some
academic, some strategic, some interesting, some boring, but all of
them real and carried out by radical students and their community
supporters. I taught a course on radical movements on the Columbia
lawn—the organizer as radical educator. We had succeeded
beyond any historical expectations.
Unfolding Dialectic of Direct Action—Maintaining
the Momentum of the Strike—expanding the scope of protest while
the strike continued
I wrote in 1968, "After the first bust the momentum of the
strike could be described as steadily declining, with frequent
exciting incidents temporarily halting that decline. The problem of
maintaining cohesiveness and commitment, always a difficult one, was
greatly influenced by the nature of how the strike began. The fact
that the original defining character of the strike was its tactics
continued to influence its development throughout its duration. As a
result, the leadership of the strike spent a great deal of energy
planning a series of confrontations that would keep the pressure on
the administration and maintain a sharp focus on the strike.
Considering the great difficulty of such a strategy, they were quite
were many actions: a demonstration against a university ban on
outsiders coming into campus, rallies with people from Harlem, a
demonstration by the moderates on the strike committee to retest the
ban on indoor demonstrations, and most successfully, a joint sit-in
with community residents in Morningside Heights who seized a building
Columbia owned because of high rents, poor services, and efforts to
evict them. Over 140 people were arrested, about half students and
half tenants, and hundreds more were in the street." Fifty years
later, the significance of this is hard to grasp—the Black and
white students increased their commitment to Harlem and expanded
their struggle against the Gym to Columbia as a slumlord, and The
Movement as an ally of Black and Puerto Rican tenants.
on May 21, there was the second bust. The police were called in to
clear demonstrators protesting the disciplining of six students who
participated in an earlier demonstration against I.D.A. Police
stormed through campus, clubbing demonstrators and non-demonstrators,
students who supported the strike and students who couldn't care
less. Even though they were ordered to clear the campus some police
went inside dormitories to beat up students. Students retaliated by
throwing cobbled stones ripped up from the walk, and dropping heavy
objects off the tops of buildings on to police cars. More than 70
Columbia students arrested inside Hamilton Hall were immediately
suspended by the Columbia administration.”
victories of May.
the SAS and SDS "only" occupied 6 buildings and put
Columbia on the political defensive and won great support in New
York, the U.S. and the world, that would have, of course, been a
profound victory. But those forces continued the tactical offensive
to win their demands throughout all of May under very difficult
conditions. During this period, when the administration played a
consciously passive role, momentum was difficult to keep up because,
without a visible common enemy, the direction of the strike had to
come from within. While the SDS chapter at its core was a small,
perhaps 25 to 50-person group, and SAS had also been transformed to
Black Students of Hamilton Hall, it was miraculous that those forces
who had as late as mid-April worried that their campaign would have
little support were now leading a movement of thousands of students,
and many thousands of Black and Puerto Rican and white
who did not have a long history of collaboration, were forced by
history to work far more closely together and work out contradictions
in the process of organizing. It is a great achievement that they
were able to transform the character of the strike from a mass
confrontation, to a sustained mass action, to a coherent campaign
with clear demands and broad mass support, and were also able to
isolate the Columbia University administration despite its powerful
ruling-class allies—or perhaps because of them and the
growing mass, moral revulsion against The Establishment.
leadership of the strike, and the hundreds of others who worked hard
on keeping the strike going, were painfully aware of the problems
being encountered, and, yet, kept solving the problems put before
them. This was an historic experiment in Mass Politics. SAS, SDS,
and The Strike Committee were not a bureaucracy making decisions and
implementing them in a vacuum. Both SAS and SDS were a group of
people—most of them from 18 to 22 years old, often very new to
this level of spotlight and leadership, functioning and functioning
effectively in the midst of powerful political currents. When
things were moving, they moved with enormous force and rapidity. When
periods of inertia set in, the malaise was overpowering.
great revolutionary victories must have some element of good fortune
and the benefit of our adversaries, far more powerful than us, making
major mistakes of arrogance, miscalculation and brutality, and
carrying out indefensible, immoral policies. Harlem, SAS, SDS, and
their allies defeated the Columbia University ruling class, Mayor
John Lindsay, the New York Times, and the NYPD. In the end Columbia
University agreed to stop the construction of Gym Crow, agreed to end
all institutional relationships with the Institute for Defense
Analyses, and even beyond the immediate demands of the campaign but
clearly as a result of it, in the fall of 1968 called on the U.S.
government to immediately withdraw all U.S. troops from Vietnam.
I wrote in 1968, with such great hope and optimism,
Columbia strike, more than any other event in our history, has given
the radical student movement the belief that we can really change
this country. If we are successful, we can use the university as a
training ground for the development of organizers who will begin to
build that adult movement we talked so much about."
Praise of radical and revolutionary organizations who challenge
the U.S. Empire
the 50th anniversary of The Struggle Against Columbia it seems like,
"A long time ago in a galaxy far far away." I am so lucky
to have lived through the Great Revolution of The Two Decades of the
Sixties because I truly saw a revolution with my own eyes—a
revolution that shapes my organizing work today.
The Sixties I was given the gift of working with the great
organizations and leaders of our times. Millions of our lives were
shaped by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, Mississippi
Freedom Democratic Party, Congress of Racial Equality, Southern
Christian Leadership Conference, Students for a Democratic Society,
Young Lords Party, American Indian Movement, and the Black Panther
lives and life choices were a product of Third World Revolutions that
created the historical events, international conditions, and mass
consciousness of the times. Whether people understand it or not, the
events of 1968 were on a direct continuum with the Haitian revolution
of 1794, the Great Slave Revolts that swung the civil war to the
North in the 1860s, the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Chinese
revolution of 1949, the Cuban revolution of 1959, and the great
African revolutions of the Congo and Ghana in 1960 and beyond. The
Sixties were profoundly determined by the Great Vietnamese Revolution
against French and U.S. Genocide— beginning with opposition to
the French invasion of Vietnam in the 1850s, through World War I and
World War II, culminating in the defeat of the French at Dien Bien
Phu in 1955 and the U.S. in 1975.
was also a period shaped by such great revolutionary intellectuals,
organizers, and mass leaders who carried out the most revolutionary
rejection of White Settler State U.S. colonialism and imperialism,
and who built an entire worldview of counter-hegemonic thought and
ideology to delegitimize the system and legitimize The Movement—Black
and Third World revolutionary thought.
image of Black students at Columbia being schooled by the great Black
thinkers of the time—James Bevel of SCLC, H. Rap Brown and
Stokley Carmichael of SNCC, John Henrik Clark, and James Baldwin is
inspiring to me to this day. And their generation was the product of
the work of W.E.B. DuBois, Paul Robeson, Claudia Jones, William L.
Patterson and the great Black communists who wrote We Charge
Genocide--the Crime of the U.S. Government Against the Negro People
and presented it to the United Nations in 1951.
the 1960s, our generation's radicalism took the form of courageous
action, making moral choices, confronting individual and group
sacrifice, and a speaking out with force and conviction against the
profound moral depravity of our own government.
the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Justice, Dr. King called
out the United States for duplicity against the Negro people.
a sense, we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a
check. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given
the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked
Berkeley in 1964, Mario Savio gave voice to many students at U.S.
a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you
so sick at heart, that you can't take part! You can't even passively
take part! And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon
the wheels…upon the levers, upon all the apparatus and you've
got to make it stop! And you've got to indicate to the people who run
it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine
will be prevented from working at all!
1966, Muhammad Ali, a great political thinker, gave voice to Black
people's opposition to the war in Vietnam,
should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from
home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while
so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied
simple human rights?
I am not going ten thousand miles from home to help murder and burn
another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave
masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when
such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such
a stand would put my prestige in jeopardy and could cause me to lose
millions of dollars which should accrue to me as the champion.
I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my
people is right here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or
myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their
own justice, freedom and equality…
I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22
million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d
join tomorrow. But I either have to obey the laws of the land or the
laws of Allah. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs.
So I’ll go to jail. We’ve been in jail for four hundred
the Struggle against Columbia, we felt a profound moral obligation to
defend Black people in the U.S., the people of Vietnam and the people
of the world from the assaults of our government. We agreed with Dr.
King that the United States was "the greatest purveyor of
violence in the world." We saw our role, as it is today, to
challenge every institution of which we were a part, to develop the
most radical and structural demands against the system, and to
develop forms of organization and forms of struggle, that is,
tactics, to carry out those objectives. We all wanted to be part of
organizations and looked to national organizations with local,
city-wide, and regional chapters as the best form of challenging the
the Struggle Against Columbia, SAS and SDS built the broadest
possible united front in support of the Six Demands. We were generous
and inclusive but not stupid—we understood our moral
responsibilities and would not sell out the cause to which we had
dedicated ourselves. We confronted and isolated the cynical corporate
liberals among Columbia students and faculty who were little more
than proxies for the Columbia administration. The vast majority of
students, Black and white, saw Columbia the slumlord, Columbia the
gentrifier, and Columbia the war criminal as a clear morality play in
Black and white and saw the Six Demands as a clear Black and white
answer. We fought with both innocence and sophistication to defeat
powerful ruling class forces.
we are living in a Great Counterrevolution Against the Great
Revolution of the Two Decades of the Sixties. The greatest weapon of
the counter-revolution is to caricature and slander the great radical
and revolutionary organizations that made history. Many of us, as
veterans of those movements, can tell you better than our enemies the
many mistakes, errors, even abuses we carried out in the process of
fighting for a better world. Within months of the great Columbia
victory, the Progressive Labor party inside SDS came up with a new
line, "All nationalism is reactionary" and began attacking
Black studies, Black liberation, Black Panthers and even the
Vietnamese Communist Party for exercising self-determination in its
negotiations with the U.S. to end the war. Another faction of SDS,
calling itself the "Revolutionary Youth Movement" was
adamant in its support for the Black movement and the people of
Vietnam. But in its tactics of believing it was leading the struggle
against P.L. in fact turned on virtually everyone but themselves and
ended up played a destructive role by rejecting the mass, radical,
character of SDS agreeing with PL that SDS would be a playground for
factions and little else.
that I stood close to my principles and the politics of the broad
united front I had learned in my work in the Civil Rights and Black
Liberation movement and what I thought were the "lessons from
Columbia" that still guide my work today. I went back to Boston
University where along with Craig Kaplan, Don Alper, Nora Tuohey,
Sherrie Rabinowitz and other SDS members, and in close alliance with
great faculty Howard Zinn and Murray Levin, we built BU SDS into a
powerful mass radical organization.
initiated our Anti-military campaign that called in Boston University
to prohibit Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) from being on the
campus and to end its B.U. Overseas Program in which BU faculty
taught at U.S. military bases all over the world. We fought on the
side of Chuck Turner and other Boston/Roxbury Black organizers to
challenge white trade unions and white construction workers to demand
Tufts University hire Blacks in its construction projects, fought for
Black Studies, and worked closely with the Boston Black Panthers. We
did not attack other SDS members or each other and somehow managed to
survive both PL’s growing chauvinist impact on other SDS
SDS did not survive. By the SDS Convention of June 1969, only a year
after the great Columbia victory, SDS had destroyed itself and could
not blame the U.S. government for its descent into sectarianism and
white chauvinist self-importance. Even at the Convention, I and
others tried to find a "3rd road" but while I was a very
effective organizer I was not up for the job of leading a left
tendency in bitter factional battle. At that time, the idea of SDS as
a radical, non-sectarian, mass anti-racist, anti-imperialist
organization with deep devotion to real Black people and the real
people of Vietnam was an idea whose time had gone.
had a great run. The job of building and sustaining a national
organization is very difficult and most organizations eventually fall
of their own weight and their inability to solve their own internal
contradictions. For those who continue to be outraged about the
crimes and punishments of The System, the idea is to learn the
lessons, look in the mirror, and move on to another form of
organization that you believe is more relevant and righteous and get
on with the work. That is what I have done my whole life and will
continue as long as I live. For me, my fight continues with the
racism, imperialism, and ecological catastrophe of my own government
aka U.S. imperialism so I am always in search of an organization in
which to do my work.
of us today who continue the search for national and international
organizations to challenge the U.S. Empire can give no assurances
that similar problems will not occur again— for they are in the
human condition. Certainly any effort to bring together 5, 10, 100,
let alone 1,000 or 10,000 or more people in one organization will
confront old and new challenges.
what cannot be denied is that we of The Sixties carried out the
Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Freedom Rides, the March on
Washington, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and Occupation
of the Pentagon. We passed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights
Act, elected Black mayors, fought at Wounded Knee, led anti-war
protests among G.I.'s and for a moment, slowed down racist violence
and ended the war in Vietnam.
is not our fault that The System fought back with a vengeance, killed
the Black Panthers, used COINTELPRO to infiltrate our organizations,
and carried out the greatest re-enslavement of Black people as 1
million Black people are in prison and millions more face police
brutality and occupation every day of their lives. It is The
System’s Fault that the Democrats under Clinton ended welfare
and passed the "anti-terrorist and effective death penalty act."
It is the System’s Fault that Barack Obama with 8 years in
office stood by as the Republicans destroyed the Civil Rights Act and
the Voting Rights Act as he and the Democrats made weak noises of
protest and did nothing to fight for those rights.
was unimaginable in 1968 that U.S. and world imperialism would
pollute the planet with such a vengeance and emit so many greenhouse
gases that the future of the world, beginning with the very survival
of Africa, hangs in the balance.
the midst of this U.S. Holocaust against the world, it is beyond
disgraceful to hear people today, repeating the "lies the system
taught me," say with so little investigation, or empathy let
alone admiration— "SNCC did this wrong, SDS did that
wrong, Black Students at Hamilton Hall did that, Dr. King and Malcolm
did not understand this and that, and the Panthers did that."
Without radical and revolutionary organizations there is no hope for
radical and revolutionary change and Columbia was one of the high
points of successful, creative, organization and organizing.
Especially because The Struggle Against Columbia was such a great
victory for The Movement we need to study and restudy and debate its
lessons as one of the most successful Black/white collaborations and
a great synthesis of militant, radical, and revolutionary mass and
central problem facing the movement today is an epidemic of
anti-communist, anti-left, anti-Black nationalist, anti-Third World,
and anti-organizational individualism. The central challenge, that so
many of have tried to solve with little success for decades, remains—
How can we rebuild a national and international movement against the
U.S. government and imperialism and how can we build a movement, led
by Third world people inside and outside the U.S., that anti-racist,
anti-imperialist, environmental justice, independent and to the left
of the Democratic Party.
Columbia under enormous odds, the Black Liberation Groups of Harlem,
SAS, SDS, and all of us thought we were part of a world movement in
which we told the system "the whole world is watching." I
am so proud to have been part of that movement where I showed up, did
my job, and, as an ally of SAS and an organizer for SDS, helped to
stop Gym Crow and force Columbia out of the IDA.
I work with Black and Latino organizers who in turn are working with
hundreds of Black and Latina high school students along with veterans
of the civil and human rights movement in South L.A., city-wide and
nationally. We are calling for an end to U.S. Genocide against the
Black Nation, Free Public Transportation, No Police on MTA Buses and
Trains, No Police in the Schools, Stop MTA Attacks on Black
Passengers, and an end to U.S. drone attacks all over the world.
am spending even more time reading and writing revolutionary history
so that I can help today's movement grasp the great achievements of
our past to once again fight for a hopeful and revolutionary future.
Join the Strategy Center in New York April 23
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