Strange times, strange reunion

I wrote here about the May 1968 student uprising in France, the upcoming 40th anniversary of which is prompting a considerable amount of misguided nostalgia in Paris. The same thing is bound to happen in this country, where we had our own silly season beginning in 1968. In fact, it already has, as this Washington Post report on the 40th reunion of the violent and unlawful student protest at Columbia University illustrates. A Columbia administrator called it “the strangest reunion I ever saw.” He should stay tuned.

The Post’s story is titled “At Columbia, Remembering a Revolution.” But, as one of the protest leaders explains, this was not a revolution. The protesters took over several college buildings and held one of the Deans hostage. After about a week, the police seized the buildings and freed the Dean. Over 100 people, including 12 police officers, were injured in the process.

The college then acceded to the main demands of the protestors: it agreed not to build a new gym that would have had separate entrances for Columbia students and Harlem residents, and it agreed to end Columbia’s association with a think tank that was said to be involved in weapons research for the Pentagon. Columbia’s capitulation increased the likelihood of similar takeovers at other elite colleges, and over the next few years a number of such actions did take place, most notably at Harvard in the first part of 1969. Dartmouth’s obligatory takeover occurred in May 1969. Fortunately, it did not turn violent.

As the Post notes, the Columbia takeover made Mark Rudd into a media star. Later Rudd helped form the Weather Underground and eventually went underground himself for seven years.

It was my impression that radicals in-the-know generally didn’t take Rudd very seriously, considering him mainly a showman and something of an intellectual lightweight. Today, however, Rudd’s grasp of the late ’60s exceeds that of, say, his fellow Weather Underground alumnus (and Obama pal) Bill Ayers. Although still a man of the left, Rudd told the Post, “I went too far; I’ve spent the past 25 years trying not to be Mark Rudd.”

A worthy goal, indeed.


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