The Book of the Week is “Underground, My Life With SDS and the Weathermen” by Mark Rudd, published in 2009.
March 1969 saw the start of Nixon’s secret bombing campaign against Cambodia. The author wrote, “I was so sure I knew better than my parents; after all, their generation had brought the world to this state of affairs, if only by their acquiescence.”
Rudd became the poster boy for the media as a protest leader at Columbia University during its period of violent unrest in the spring of 1968. He started his degree there in the autumn of 1965. At the time, the school employed African American female maids to clean the dorm bathrooms, a service included with the boarding fee.
Rudd joined the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in March 1966. He had grown up in a suburban Jewish family. His father had fought in the Second World War, during which Hitler was perceived as “Absolute Evil.” The United States used its powers for good to defeat the latter. However, twenty years later, when Lyndon Johnson’s war crimes began to be revealed, Rudd became disillusioned with his own country.
Rudd and his contemporaries didn’t support any presidential candidate in 1968 because “Electoral politics was beneath our concern.” He and his fellow political activists were concerned, however, about the deleterious effects of a senseless war perpetrated by the federal government, along with the university’s related and other nefarious activities.
For at least the last half century, hypocritical liberals have sought to “… co-opt the energy of radical young people into working for meaningless reforms…” However, with Vietnam, some would say the protests were justified. For, the American president started a needless war that resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and ruined lives– recruiting cannon fodder against their will. The stubborn, arrogant president didn’t take a lesson from the stubborn, arrogant French, who epically failed in clinging to their fast-fading colonialism in mid-1950’s Indochina.
Columbia University had secret contracts with the U.S. government– researching both war weaponry for the Pentagon and war policy for the execution of the war. In spring 1968, this accounted for 46% (!) of the nation’s budget. The university was also abusing eminent domain in planning both to construct a segregated sports complex in Morningside Park, and more dormitories on West 114th Street off of Broadway near its campus. For years, it had quashed the formation of a union of black and Latino cafeteria workers.
Rudd and his fellow activists held rallies and went on protest marches. He wrote to school publications. The protesting led to occupations of campus buildings by, eventually, thousands of activists in the last week of April 1968.
Although Rudd’s became the most recognized name and face associated with the historical event (possibly because he was a white male), there were plenty of other activist organizations of different ethnicities whose members were arrested and got beaten up by law enforcement sent in by New York City Mayor John Lindsay; those fighting for civil rights, black-power, and peace.
The New York Times propagandized that the destructive and immature hooligans provoked the police; the police were the good guys. It should have come as no surprise to the cynical that the university was in bed with the newspaper. The school’s board of trustees claimed the newspaper’s publisher as one of their own. He was also an alumnus. The Times’ employees were alumni of the Columbia School of Journalism. Nevertheless, the university actually met about half of the six-odd demands of the activists.
After he was expelled from Columbia, Rudd became a recruiter for SDS, visiting various chapters and speaking at universities around the nation. The two major issues were always Vietnam and racism. Various groups within and without SDS, including the Weathermen (a spinoff of SDS), the Maoist Progressive Labor Party, the Black Panthers and the Revolutionary Youth Movement began arguing among themselves and with each other at conferences they jointly held in the next few years.
Rudd was in the Weathermen. He believed that the way to rebel against “the man” was through armed struggle. According to his FBI dossier, he urged college kids to kill cops. But his group was anti-racist, pro-Communist and anti-reactionary.
In the summer of 1969 in New York City, he and his fellow revolutionaries came across as so violent, they turned people off when they spoke at a Central Park rally. The other SDS factions thought the Weathermen (or, as they had renamed themselves, the Weather Bureau) were anarchistic, chauvinistic, masochistic and Custeristic.
In Chicago, there were clashes between sadistic cops and radical protestors. “Cook County Jail was overflowing with the addition of almost three hundred Weathermen, the total number arrested over the three days. The period was named ‘Days of Rage.’ ” After that, Rudd’s group went underground and broke off from SDS.
Rudd’s group’s heroes continued to be: Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Ho Chi Minh, Vladimir Lenin, Malcolm X and Eldridge Cleaver of the Black Panthers.
By the mid-1970’s, Rudd’s group had claimed responsibility for more than twenty-four bombings, which were intended to destroy only property. There occurred three accidental deaths of its own radicals from a botched bomb-making operation in Greenwich Village in spring 1970.
Read the book to learn a wealth of other details of the tenor of the times, the mentalities of Rudd’s contemporaries, and how Rudd fared after his Chicago arrest.