By way of introduction, I arrived at Columbia in September 1964. In 1965, I participated in an anti-ROTC demonstration. I was a national member of SDS, but there was no Columbia chapter. We formed one in the spring of 1965; I think it was in John Fuerst’s fraternity. SDS, however, was not very active. The main organization then was the Independent Committee on Vietnam, if I remember the name correctly. Someone mentioned that Dave Gilbert led it, and I think that’s when I first met him. Skip forward to about 1967, when there was a demonstration against Marine recruiters. We were attacked by rightwing students, so, the next day, 900 students marched with us against the recruiters. I remember a conversation with Ted Gold on campus at the beginning of 1968. I said to him something about how nothing was happening, and he told me we had to organize first. One of my roommates was active in demonstrations against the proposed gym in Morningside Park. The day before the strike started, I went to the village to see Jerry Jeff Walker and David Bromberg. We went up to David’s apartment afterward so I didn’t get to campus until about noon. Hamilton Hall was already taken then. So I went there and joined the occupation. The dean was trapped in his office. I remember lots of meetings. The African-American students went off and met together. Early the next morning, they told us that they would occupy Hamilton, and the rest of us should take another building. So, we went to University Hall. Someone broke a chain. We entered and occupied Grayson Kirk’s office. After several hours, someone spotted some NY cops outside. An intense debate began about whether to stay or leave. I think we were about evenly split. I think I was for staying, but the people I was with all left so I did, too. But some stayed, and the police did not remove them.
I was an editor of both Jester and the Columbian so I had keys to both offices. We used the Columbian to store supplies, mainly food, for the buildings. We used to sleep in the Jester office. I became involved in getting supplies and distributing them to buildings. I have a strong memory of an older couple (probably close to the age I am now lol) coming with two bags full of food. They were very humble and said they just wanted to help us. We got walky talkies and one of my jobs was to bring batteries around to all the buildings except for Hamilton. I remember getting a tour of Math’s defences and being told that they didn’t normally let people in who weren’t going to stay. I have a memory that we heard via walky talky that someone was ill. Hamilton
rarely used their walky talkies, but they came on and said they had a doctor and would send him over. After the faculty and rightwing student blockade started, I remember two attempts to deliver food. In the first, we had half a dozen nuns and priests who tried to lead people carrying boxes, including me, through the blockade. I think Life magazine ran a photo of me with a box of food in my hands. The second was a march, again I was carrying food. Hamilton sent a contingent with us to try to break through the blockade. I remember that one of us had his arm broken. He told me that he saw plainclothes cops with guns on the line with the rightwing students. I had been on the swimming team, and I saw a former teammate on that line. When we didn’t get through, people through things over the line and into the windows. I remember a guy named Mike—I’ve forgotten his last name—who managed to get through the outer line and was climbing in a window into Kirk’s office. A faculty member tried to pull him down. Mike struggled and kicked and managed to get in which evoked lots of cheering.
Ferris Booth Hall had a lower roof over the student lounge. We used to go out there to use the walkie talkies. I was there when the first bust started. We had a view of it all, and Ferris Booth was the only building that the cops did not enter. The cops filled College Walk with paddy wagons. There were many students on South Field who protested police presence on campus. Before our eyes, the cops charged and beat them. We saw cops running inside the dormitories and dragging students out.
The next day the New York Times reported that more than one thousand students were arrested with no violence. But lower down in the story, it said that one of the Times own reporters was beaten bloody. One of the young Times reporters told me how that happened. The Times sent a senior reporter to the police meeting to prepare for the bust. At the meeting, the police leadership said there would be no violence. The senior reporter wrote the lead to the article. The junior reporters’ dispatches got into the lower part of the article. For me, that was the beginning of complete skepticism toward the commercial media. In later years, I was phoned by Times reporters and refused to speak to them.
We had a lot of support on campus and off. The student government conducted a poll, and we won majority support for all our demands (not sure about amnesty). One day, the Grateful Dead showed up to play for us on a sunny spring afternoon. Alan Senauke later told me that they had played in Central Park. He apparently told them he was a friend of Jody Stecher’s, whom they knew, and invited them up to play. I went into the campus tunnels and borrowed a huge electrical cable from the campus electricians. I plugged the Dead into an outlet in the student lounge; they played on the deck of Ferris Booth with thousands of students watching. The next day, that lounge was closed and locked.
We had two other benefits that I recall. For one, we rented an old hotel ballroom on 96th Street. Country Joe and the Fish played with a light show. The hotel only had 100 amp circuits, and the band kept blowing the circuit breakers. They’d strum their instruments until I got the circuit breakers back on. Then somebody moved the plug for the light show to the same circuit, and they kept blowing the circuits except much faster. The second benefit was at a club in the village. I remember riding down to it in a cab with Dick Gregory. There were a lot of performers: I recall Dave Van Ronk, Stephen Stills, some others, and especially Jimi Hendrix. He had played a show at Fillmore East and then played for us from 2 am to 4 am. I remember meeting with the manager of the Jefferson Airplane, but we didn’t get them to play. One day a free concert was to be held in Wollman Auditorium, but nobody would come inside to hear it. So, the performers came outside and played on the lawn with no amplification. I remember the Pennywhistlers, Jerry Jeff Walker, and the New Lost City Ramblers, among those who played.
One night, local area residents occupied an apartment building that Columbia had been planning to demolish to build something else. We had a huge support rally outside. By 2 or 3 am, however, there were 145 of us left. I was on the steps, standing next to Mark Rudd. There was a guy in a blue jacket who had been fingered as a plainclothes cop earlier. All 145 of us were arrested, but only Mark and I were handcuffed, to each other. The plainclothes cop came up and arrested us. He put us in the front of a paddy wagon. Some others tried to dive into the back, worried that something might happen to Mark. As they drove us downtown to the Tombs, they’d stop every so often so other cops could get a photo of Mark. My left leg was on the front page of the New York Times the next day. Our arrest group was Mark, me, and Jerry Avorn, a Spectator reporter. They kept us overnight and then released us without bail. Columbia had traditionally held its Commencement on College Walk.
That year, they held it in the Cathedral of St. John, the Divine. We organized a counter Commencement on College Walk with Erich Fromm, the president of Sarah Lawrence, and Dave Gilbert as the speakers. Seniors who had been arrested did not get tickets to the official Commencement. Ted Gold and I organized a group of seniors to carry radios inside. Ted had been arrested but got a ticket from someone else. We made a recording on my tape recorder. It started off with “I Believe I’m Fixing to Die Rag.” Then Ted Kaptchuk, who had been SDS chairman, made a short speech explaining why we were walking out. Our recessional was “The Times They Are A-Changing.” We set up a small transmitter in Mark’s apartment; his lawyer had advised him to go to Long Island for the day. Our antenna was a very long cable. Ted and I went up to the roof. There was a line of cops in front of the cathedral, which was right across the street. Ted and I kept whispering to each other, “Don’t look up. Don’t look up.” They didn’t, and we got about 50 feet of cable down the side of the building.
Ironically, only Ted and I had good enough radios to pick up the signal so few people knew what we had done. Outside, someone held a radio up to a megaphone, but most people thought it was a tape recorder. My parents attended the countercommencement. They were very supportive. But my mother told me that she and my dad had ridden in a cab with Mark’s parents. Apparently, Mark had an older brother, who wasn’t a radical by any means. Mark’s mother said to my mother, “I’m sure he’ll grow out of it.” Mine replied without thinking, “My older son is 25, and he’s still very active.” Mrs. Rudd said, “Oh, no.” I also remember Mrs. Rudd bringing some very tasty chicken to the strike office one day. She said something like, “I don’t support you, but I want you to eat.”
We rented a fraternity for the summer for a liberation school, and I spent the entire summer there. In September, I flew to California, where I was starting Graduate School at UC Berkeley. My attorney told me not to fly back to New York for my trial since he would get a delay. He didn’t want Mark’s arrest group to come up first. We had a special courtroom with a very liberal African-American judge named Bruce Wright. The city didn’t want us to see too much of how the criminal justice system really works. The judge acquitted Mark and Jerry on the grounds that it wasn’t reasonable to arrest people for disorderly conduct and blocking a public thoroughfare at 4 am with almost no warning. The judge wanted to issue a bench warrant for me, but agreed to have me appear later. I remember the cop who arrested us saying that the DA had instructed him to ask that the charges be dropped against me in the interest of justice since I would have been acquitted had I shown up. However, he said that they would prosecute all of the rest of the 145.
That was a very busy year in Berkeley. There was a struggle for credit for a course taught by Eldredge Cleaver, then a strike for a third world college, and finally People’s Park. I was wearing a Columbia t-shirt at one meeting and got nominated to lead an affinity group purely on that basis. I was arrested on a picket line during the third world strike with a group from the TA’s union that I belonged to. Ironically, it was essentially the same charges as in New York.
I was very active in the SDS chapter in Berkeley, which became increasingly dominated by Progressive Labor. There’s a long story there which I won’t go into, but eventually all the radical student organizations ran out of steam. In 1970, I met and joined an organization called Liberation Support Movement that I worked with for 11 years until it dissolved. LSM’s primary document was an article called “Toward an International Strategy,” which had been written by our leader, Don Barnett, and published both in Cuba and in Monthly Review. Later, I recalled hearing some of those who created the Weather Underground discussing that article. LSM’s primary activities were distributing literature and raising material support for liberation movements in Africa, primarily MPLA in Angola, Frelimo in Mozambique, SWAPO in Namibia, ANC in South Africa, PAIGC in Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde, and ZAPU and ZANU in Zimbabwe. I was the main person involved in supporting Middle Eastern liberation movements, though others were involved, too. We also supported FRETILIN in East Timor, and in 1977, I and another member interviewed Jose Ramos Horta, who later won the Nobel Peace Prize and was recently elected president of East Timor. In 1978-79, LSM sent me to Africa where our two-member delegation visited the ANC, ZAPU, ZANU, and SWAPO in Zambia and Mozambique.
We did a lot of interviews, including one with Robert Mugabe and one with Joshua Nkomo. In Mozambique, the Ministry of Information organized many visits in three parts of the country. FRETILIN had a compound in Mozambique, an they invited us to lunch. Jose was there. I remember they gave us a bag of guavas from their garden. In Tanzania, we interviewed Mohamed Babu, a former government minister who had just been released from prison on bogus charges. On my way home, I stopped for a week in Aden in what was then the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. I was hosted by the Omanis, but I met with Palestinian, Iranian, and Eritrean movements there, too. LSM also did some work for the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front, and I was actively involved in that.
I had met Arab students in about 1970 just when they were becoming politically active. When Newsreel made a film which came to be called “We Are the Palestinian People,” I organized the world premiere in Berkeley. They had only one copy of the film, and this was a benefit to raise money to make more copies. I recall that Melvin, who had filmed at Columbia, showed up and tried to talk his way in for free. We also had a phony bomb scare and Zionist pickets. I was invited later to participate in a secretive Gulf Solidarity committee to support the Omani revolution. There were a few Americans, Arabs, and Iranians. We published a newsletter called Gulf Solidarity, which I became editor of. In 1977, I went to a conference of solidarity groups in Paris. Palestinians had mainly been involved in organizing their own community up to that point. But in the late 1970s, they told me they wanted to begin working in the larger American community. I helped in many of those activities, and in 1981, we formed what was to become the Palestine Solidarity Committee with about 25 chapters around the USA. I was national chair briefly, but my main role was as a co-editor of our national newspaper, Palestine Focus. I also went to Geneva twice to UN conferences on Palestine. I interviewed Edward Said at one of those. The history of the PSC is much too long to go into here. We were very active in the national activities opposing the first US-Iraq war in 1991. I wrote the text for some of the national organizing materials. However, after the Oslo accords in 1992, the solidarity movement fell apart. Since then, I have maintained some contacts but limited involvement. These days I am better known as a musician. I started a usenet discussion group on old-time music in about 1995, and I have written for three magazines about it. I produced a radio show for several years and will probably do so again.- by Steve Goldfield