A Violence Sequence
Two years after we acted our anger out in a social form in the FSM, I left the protected environment of the West for the first time. I began 1967 in New York, working with Harold Taylor, studying the interface between the Movement and educational change. The work freed me and focused me; I thrived on it. But life in that city was something else.
For years I'd been building up an image of New York as the showcase for all the human bruising of our great cities. My friends went and returned. I watched them like a scientist sending projectiles to study some strange inaccessible moonscape. They came back crumpled, corroded, bent out of shape. Often it took a year or more before their fright unthawed in the relative warmth of Berkeley.
My pre-image of New York was shaped by this, and by the pieces of jagged heartmetal that Garcia Lorca left in Poeta en Nueva York, written during the early thirties when he was a student in strange Columbia, wandering alone with his duskflower face through Harlem:
So when I went there, I went to live as a stranger and alone, in a bare cockroachy room, not to wrap myself in the warm familiar blanket of friends. I wanted to expose myself more directly, to try to sense what imprint the social architecture of the city left upon its people. I tried to make myself sensitive; and New York really put a dent in my head. I had never before been in a city with such constant inhuman scales of space and speed, pressing its inhabitants to harried smallness; nor in a place where almost all human encounters were received essentially as blows; nor in a place of such constant random violence. For the first time, I started to understand what it is like, to live in physical fear.
When I got back West, I spent the next three months in and out of the Haight. These were the months before summer, and the Haight was trembling in anticipation of the stellar grubby agony it was about to undergo, victim of America's first full Media Blitz. What had been a healthy and creative community, growing slowly and naturally, was about to be violently strained and broken, all its real brotherly caritas given, hopelessly frail and inadequate.
All spring the Haight shook with premonition; the airways of gossip were incessant with flashes of apocalypse, constant rumors of angry black invasion. The immediate hostile reaction of the city government -- Health, Fire, Police, Building Inspection -- to any humane planning for the summer's influx of kids gave fuel to visions of police invasions and minipogroms, The visions were real. In April the cops began their darting sweeps down the Street, snatching up juveniles and “drug suspects," appearing on corners like cluster grenades, exploding fear everywhere.
Deep fear throbbed in the Haight. I found it had been growing in me for months, For two things struck me about having long hair and traveling young across this country in the spring of 1967, in a breaking culture whose atmosphere was charging up with rage, hate, despair, frustration, and pain; energies seeking focii by which to discharge themselves.
One was my own inward reaction to the way the flag of my hair waved in the social wind, I struggled constantly against letting myself eat and internalize the negative self-image, the cry you're bad you're bad that I constantly saw, reflected expected or projected, in the eyes of those I passed as a stranger, an impersonal image in hair. I mean, I was really of two impulses, part of me wanted to eat that bad apple and suffer -- the part that my culture hooked up to my death-force, to warn me when I was getting out of bounds.
The other was the obverse of this. I began to see into the roots of the coiled emotions that sometimes were triggered into striking by the signal of my hair: how they were rooted in a deep fearing of the sexual/sensualness of all life. And I saw beyond this, that the energies locked up in that fearing could some day swell and burst into a real cross-cultural pogrom.
This is the feeling I got, as I wandered alone around Eastern America, watching the constant violence of the Lower East Side in New York define the tone of America's third major youth ghetto even before its identity had become established: before the sensational murders, before their Free Store collapsed in beatings and bikers, before the cops began planting, beating, tear-gassing there, and the bottles started flying.
And everything I saw in the Haight reinforced these premonitions. It was only a few months since the Haight had been exposed by the media. The System's reaction was unmistakable, and already people were clear about its ultimate killing intent. By that fall, it was said that everyone into public life in the Haight had a gun; and next spring Free City people made a beautiful silent film of Kerouac-mythical heroes and heroines at target practice, and were showing it around, organizing.
During this time, most of my writing was going into an article trying to sum up what the War -- the foreign and open projection of America's violence -- was doing to the Movement: how it was absorbing the available energies of our beginnings and focusing us away from building and into desperation. We made many responses to the pressure of the War upon us -- the massive organizing effort of Vietnam Summer (1967) for one. But our only effort that seemed to me really to have a chance of binding a part of our energies into work that would leave a permanent imprint, and perhaps catch the cutting-edge of our changing spirit, was the Resistance. Within a year, it had more than gathered its goal: 3,000 young men committed to jail, and to developing and acting our in their own lives a changed relationship to authority and government which would form a basis later for community and a new Way of living.
So one way and another, I’d been pretty well into violence when I went to spend my summer in jail for FSM. Jail is the cast concrete house of our social violence. I expected to find it somewhat like New York, always lighted and steadily twinkling with flashes of brutality, unexpected and understandable. But as a system, jail works better than New York does, and I felt safer there. It was more like college, and I found myself disturbingly at home.
The big event of fall 1967, after I got out of jail, was our attempt to close down the Oakland Induction Center for our October Days of Protest. At the height of the week-long demonstrations, 8,000 of us paralyzed forty blocks of downtown Oakland. But first several hundred kids had gotten the shit clubbed out of them. It really messed my head, to see this cop who was running after me veer, knock down a girl who ran slower, and beat on her with his buddies in frantic enjoyment, moaning, Hippie hippie dirty hippie.
Six months earlier, the Haight's first street-closing was busted up by the cops. I was caught in their rush, taking pictures, and crammed into a paddy wagon with this Mex kid tripping on acid. He kicked up a fuss, yelling; the cops proceeded to jump into the wagon and beat him bloody and almost unconscious. He went into convulsions in our arms, we didn't know what to do; they came in and beat him some more.
I caught one remarkable picture of that, before they broke my camera. I kept a big blowup perched by my desk, trying to understand where it put me. At first all you can decipher is the hand and the club, gleaming and descending; not even the white curve of the helmet makes sense. Then slowly details begin to emerge from the paddy-wagon gloom -- Tri X, f 3. 5 at 1/15 with a 35 mm lens, overdeveloped like crazy in UFG and then intensified twice with mercury, and printed on hardest paper -- and sort themselves out: the kid's vulnerable shoulder, the black leather geometry, the cop's face, eyes hidden his helmet brim.
Pretty heavy. I had been there, helpless. In Oakland, running too fast to take pictures, I was helpless again, though there were eight thousand of us. Later I wrote in my notebook:
Earlier that year cops had descended on a peace parade at Century Plaza in Los Angeles, sending scores to the hospital. And around then all the trouble on Sunset Strip was coming down -- teenyboppers entering cultural politics, and in their midst one hip SDS organizer trying to learn to work with them. The Buffalo Springfield were singing about paranoia, how it invades our lives, wells from the fear of the Man catching us out of line; and warning us to stop, look, and listen to the rumble of something coming down.
[Stephen Stills and Cotillion Music, Inc. demanded $200 for permission to quote the chorus of "For What It's Worth." What have we come to, when our poets clilng jealous to the words born through them, which now belong to many people's lives and will out-live their private fortunes?]
So one way and another, it was becoming pretty clear that violence was in the offing for me and us in particular, let alone more largely in America: black and white caught in the cities that grind the human bean for a dynamite brew of pain. And I had only a blind sense of how to respond.
It was time for me to stop admiring people like Burt Kanegson, of the War Resisters' League, and gentle flaming Dave Harris, who started the Resistance, for the ways they had approached the problem of their own violence, trying both to get near it and to act out its resolution in a social form, moving toward a world in which violence was not used to resolve conflicts. Why had I only watched and loved them, and not sought to learn their thing from them? It was time to get moving on myself -- for the club was aimed and descending.
The National Student Association threw the "first" National Student Power Conference in Minneapolis in November 1967. They brought in a couple of hundred student government people from all over, and me among a bunch of speakers and resource people. There was no bread, but the deal included going on to Washington to consult on ed reform, and I wanted to see what was happening in the East.
I got there a bit early and fell in with the people running the conference. They were a bit uptight. The local SDS, small but rhetoricalIy militant, was rumored ready to crash the conference, take over the platform and try to call the delegates out, or something like that. Well, some of us had been having thoughts about how conferences should run, about what accounted for the times when people learned in them. We were in a mood for experiment. In cheerful subversion, we argued for a radical destructuring of the conference. Instead of the speeches and panels slated for opening night, we left the platform open, as a free stage, a place of improvised theater, so that even the SDS kids, if they came, would find themselves part of a natural process. Make Open Space For Things To Happen In, that's the motto for now,
It worked pretty well, though the first couple of hours were pure open chaos, as expected. The current president of NSA greeted everyone and told them no one knew what was supposed to happen next, did they have anything in mind? Panic ensued. "We demand to be Speeched to!" "What's the plot?" After a while some SDS kid grabbed the mike and made what was supposed to be an inflammatory pitch. It was pretty timid, but then this was Minnesota. Within twenty minutes, delegates were standing on chairs demanding to be heard, delegations were rallying and declaring their exits for regional caucuses and purposeful work, chicks were crying, and some stilted Southern cat was yelling in his best male manner You cahn't speak like that in front of ouah women over and over.
So much anger, my my, popping up the minute you lift the lid! It was some show. I found myself tripping on its dynamic, waited for a lull in the floor mikes and took over with a hard rap on learning, really asking them to stretch and integrate their experience right there on the spot. How we react to open structures, what fear and anger in us they tap into, why educating for freedom must involve the skills we lack for dealing with them, what we as planners of the conference had been about, and how to start bringing the lessons home to their campuses, where pressure for freely structured growth -- in politics, culture, learning -- was gathering rapidly; could they respond to its needs?
All fun comes to an end. The NSA officials were getting edgy as the affair continued, still seemingly out of hand. A bit later they took the mike and stuffed the happening into the parliamentary bag of Passing a Resolution. As well as being a bit panicky, this was cruddy manipulative politics, given the resolution and how it was being pushed. But, though I was mad at the time and didn't see this, the maneuver supplied just what was needed: a chance to let the group settle out its anxiety and disband, absorbing the experience, after rejecting the resolution.
Two of the three main poles of thought about Student Power (1967) were under the tent of that conference. Over here, some of us were trying to prepare kids to deal with the textures and emotions of environments of conflict and change as they move toward power. Over there, the NSA center was leaning heavily toward society and Law, presenting the Joint Statement on Student Rights and Freedoms they had articulated with handsome, aging Prince AAUP, and arguing its virtues and relevance. A thousand miles east of us, the Columbia SDS kids I'd met at a party after the Princeton Radical Education Project Conference were planning for their spring 1968 action ... [which turned out to be spectacular.]
Later that night we checked out our experiment. The electric field of the earlier drama had opened everyone up. We moved between the triangle of motels that housed the conference. All were buzzing with open conversation, kids getting into what mattered with them, horseplay and love and talk about law and spontaneous groups deciding to T-group or microlab through the night in endless offering and probing, winding up with their legs entangled and the milk gone sour and morning sun making rainbows in their sandy lashes.
We were in our room at midnight, busy with analysis. The corridor outside was jam-full of kids; we heard speakers arguing dimly through the door. Their discuss-in was almost a sit-in, they were even considering whether to block people from their rooms. That sort of caught my fancy and gave me an idea. All day, from the planning meeting to the height of the evening's chaos, I'd been rapping about how real experiment means real unknowns and real risks. And I'd been feeling accurate but hollow, for I was performing experiments but not risking my self in them.
So I was ripe for a bit of guerrilla psychodrama. Half an hour later, after some sociable talk, our door bursts open. Trench coat, boots, helmet, club, a cop arrives to bust up the sit-in. "All right, you've got thirty seconds to clear the hall!" he yells, and strides into the throng laying about him with the club, whop whop whop. When he grinds to a halt, he scatters the cIub into a shower of Yellow Submarine posters. They flutter down, with their message about non-violent disruption, while he scurries for the door and disappears,
Well, I almost got murdered. The group dynamic in the corridor had peaked half an hour or more before. Instead of a crowd centered on a shifting drama of speeches, which could respond naturally to the entrance of Violent Authority and generate a group reaction, I erupted into a warm mosaic of small groups turned softly into themselves. All into the role, and flashing on how naturally it came to me, I dug this all helplessly, and the action ended before I could sort myself out,
Luckily, the kid I chose to wind up whopping on while he slowed me to a stop was this cool blond Resistance type, who wound up on his back with his feet in my stomach, totally startled, totally furious, totally gentle. His buddy was beside himself, came bounding into our room later staring wildly: "You tell that guy, he coulda got killed! He coulda got killed!" It was an hour till he could let himself recognize
The guy I beat on and I were about equally shaken up by the experience. We wound up talking for hours, about violence and how to move around it, about America and what we were into. His buddy sat in, and a few others; it was a heavy conversation. But what a way to begin to make friends!
Ill. Paranoia Waltz
By then, even a rational man would have been a bit paranoid. In October already I'd felt nervous, a known non-student standing and rapping to an illegal campus meeting about how we should go and shut down downtown Oakland with guerrilla street theater, which we did. Two weeks later, J moved to photograph a plainclothes agent, a friend wanted to do a poster of him. He turned and greeted me by name. How nice, to clear out of Berkeley for a while, into the peaceful hinterlands of Minnesota.
Where, between threats to dynamite the President's house, a pending SDS sit-in, and thirty-five busts for grass in the previous fortnight, the campus was simply crawling with feds and narks. They turned out en masse for our opening night: after all, it was a Student Power conference, right? And everyone knows what that implies. I had the longest hair in the place, though the kids in the Haight take me for a straight. And so the dour gents with the credentials of impossible Southern splinter sects -- Anabaptist Evangelical Congregation -- kept sneaking around taking my picture and bumping into each other, especially when I was doing my bit on the platform. We stopped and unmasked a couple, but what was the use?
So innocent me on a work vacation, I wander into this with my tool kit: blue cords, hair, flute, a hundred Yellow Submarine posters, camera full of Tri-X, and six lids of grass, meant more or less for friends in the East, though I wasn't adverse to dealing off a couple for fair Western prices, as I mentioned to this local kid I dug there the first afternoon. But that was before I picked up on the paranoid lie of the land. After that I kept my mouth shut to strangers and sweated slightly thinking of the dope in its nice plastic baggies in my unmarked luggage -- left in the Student Union instead of my own motel room; it seemed safer.
There'd been no hint of trouble, it was late in the third afternoon, an hour before cab-to-the-airport time. I was with Tony, black fox with an eloquent pen, sharing a joint in a third floor office to start floating down from the lovely frantic turn-on I get when I'm working with people; it had been a good conference. Outside the door: "Rossman?" A guilty start, I ditch the joint to the roof, "Yeah?" It's Pennsylvania Bob of the merry laugh, "Someone said you guys were on this floor, Christ, all down the hall you c'n ... ," he wrinkled his nose appreciatively.
So the three of us are traveling to Tony's office to smoke, when this kid comes up and onto me; he wants to score. I don't know how he found out I was carrying. But I remember him giving me this long rap about morality that first night, and making a big deal of his belonging to SDS.
He comes up in the corridor. "Hey, there's the man I been lookin for, c'n you lemme have a lid?" "Yeah," I tell him, gesturing vaguely, "it's back in my suitcase, we'll get it later; come on, we're going to smoke." Suddenly these two young fellows show up, dressed in shades in the Minnesota winter and meek precise two-week unshaves. The joint and my stash go whisk! out of sight, as paranoia mercury soars in the sphygmomanometer. Tony leads us outside, casually. "Yeah, let's get some air," I boyishly chime, "take a walk across the bridge." We walk ahead. Some chick joins them, she doesn't say anything. Tony doesn't know her either: only the kid, and him by vague sight alone. Higher, mercury! We compare notes on the state of our intestines, decide coolly to split. Yes, but how? We turn and stand. Tony shrugs: "You tell 'em, little bro' ."
I come up front with it. "Look, where we are is painful, gotta say it to clear the air: no offense meant, but please let's part company, we're freaked." "Well," says the kid, “glad you came our front with it" -- I'm thinking, is he trading me for some leverage on a trap his leg's in or what? -- "and it's good to try to work with it now. If we can't deal with that here, what chance of movement. I mean it starts with us, right?" “I c'n dig it, brother," I say, "and ordinarily I'd make it first priority to pick at the knot. But neither my heart nor the circumstance nor the short-time-to-flight make room to do it properly. And I wouldn't want to botch it. You understand."
An invisible conference takes place apart from us, their concealed antennae agitate the air with vibrations. The two fellows and the girl beat discreet withdrawal. Why not earlier, when it became clear we were freaking? The kid says, "Look, can I still ... can I?" "Sure," I say expansively. "Need a ride there?" Then the flash hits me: he thinks I haven't checked out yet, he expects my luggage and dope are still at the motel. "Crazy," I say, "I got a ride wanna play some bridge meet you there ten to five?" "Sure."
We wander off, toward the bridge tables. Inside the Union, Pennsylvania Bob rejoins us; he had lagged behind innocently probing the three strangers. He is shaking his head. "Like ripe fish," he says. "Do you have any reason to risk it, or not to split straight for the airport?" We caucus, make contingency plans -- inside spinning and panic flashes, outward calm decisions -- and then move through clock-work melodrama. Bob goes to hustle a chick with a car, we go to clean out my luggage. Hand off: her car takes Tony, my suitcase, and me; Bob takes the film canister and the black executive-Iength sock, full of Christmas cheer. Bur he has to leave from the same airport. "Look man, I can ditch it, it's only weed …" His smile, again: "I can pass it back in New York. Shame to waste it." I have no words. We embrace tightly while the unheard music does something slushy about brotherhood and shared danger. The second hand begins another minute; we spin away in our choreographed steps. Across town crouching out of sight in the fastback, two stoplights, drop the motel key in the mailbox, then to the airport.
I'm walking up to the check-in stand oh so casually, I look back, these four immense identical plainclothesmen are catching up, in formation. The attendant scrawls on my ticket, turns his ear to them. As I pass out of earshot into the plane I hear them saying, "He's supposed to be on this flight, we have orders ... " I buckle my seat belt, whoosh with relief, I'm half-hoping they'll come on the plane and arrest me, with half of NSA officialdom right across the aisle: sweet fantasies of an airtight damage suit.
Oh, it would have served me right. The film can I handed to Bob had high-speed Ektachrome in it. The one with the hash was still in a side pocket of my suitcase, as I found out when I reached New York and collected the dope, leaving a couple of lids with him, over his embarrassed protests. It was meant for friends anyway, not to be sold,
IV. New York: The War Is Over
And so I came to New York again, running scared, to tramp through the filthy snow of despair, see magazine people, find an agent, settle the deal on the book and meet my editor. And touch with my friends, to find how they were faring, and whether this harsh pain I felt growing were mine alone,
Was there an objective reality in winter I967? I'm afraid so; I wish it were my madness only. Spock, Coffin, and the rest were already committed, and one thousand of the Resistance. Articles in the New York Review were busy defining and explaining the drift "from Protest to Resistance," and calling on the left-liberal intellectual Establishment to sympathize and maybe follow. All in the most noble Academic-Man-Enters-the-World terms, of course.
Meanwhile, everywhere I went I kept bumping into kids who'd been at the Pentagon. The national media pretty much blanked it out, till Mailer's monumental piece, But our people had come from everywhere, and everywhere were hip to what it meant, that the wheel of our change was advancing a hard notch, A girl from Iowa told me how eager hands tossed cartons of cigarettes and sandwiches over the wall (it sounded like the Cop Car scene). “They charged up the steps," said Bill in Washington, "swinging flags and singing Hey! Hey! Viva! Che!" "My fantasies are getting really violent now," said the NYU grad who transferred from Berkeley after FSM, in which he'd been afraid to risk arrest, "I find myself trying to remember what I can of my chemistry course …”
Before I left for Minnesota, I spent a week in Santa Barbara at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, rapping with the resident intellectuals about youth culture and beginning a long study of the evolution of mass political behavior in Berkeley. When I got to New York, the Center's branch there asked me to speak in a panel about Youth for a select dinner of their monied benefactors. There Ira Einhorn, Taurus guru from Philadelphia, and I began a friendship, as we took turns freaking the customers with dawning apocalyptic projections and masques, our anguish in a game. For a small fee. Shit, what a mess that causes in the heart.
Anyway, my head was really into this evolution-of-political-behavior business. And I was anxious to pick up on some mass demonstrations in New York, to see how nearly correct was my notion of a basic evolutionary track, on which the West preceded the East by about a year or so. Luck was with me, for right at the start I hit upon one of the nicest. The demonstration was named "The War Is Over," after the song by Phil Ochs.
It was organized by him, Paul Krassner of the Realist, Digger Abbie Hoffman, and I don't know who all else: that crowd. When I got there three thousand kids were clustered in and around the stone bowl in Washington Square, digging singers and children and costumes and each other and themselves, color us Affirmation. I heard a blues guitar, saw a thin kid with a fringe of beard sitting on the rim, center of a knot. To hell with Observation, the vibes were so good that I wasn't embarrassed -- as I usually am, not for my music but for myself -- to play in public. Among friends, I sheathed my camera eye and my I, knelt down, unslung and assembled the flute, joined him. Swaying in the darkness of closed eyes and the brightness of reaching human rustle around us, our sounds moved toward each other, played and built. Oh, it was a singing: I had been so hungry to pIay well with someone, even so briefly.
When we came out of it, an agitprop musical had started in the bowl. Audience-in-the-round, so firmly packed. The guerrilla actors were lively and well-practiced, really into their thing, a long hippy string of anti-war, anti-draft skits and songs; and the audience was really with them. It was all so classical. But its obvious imitation of NLF peasant agitprop didn't keep it from being effective.
Suddenly it was over. I turned to look for the guitarist, By the time I turned back, a handful of fifteen-year-olds had surged over the bowl's rim and through the great stone arch, shouting On to Grand Central! and were headed up an avenue with almost everyone following.
God, that was a pell-mell chase, a linear shout of defiant useless joy circling like an anagogic metaphor through a City of Death! All the way to Grand Central Station, blocked off well in advance by the cops; then over to Times Square, cops again; back to Grand Central, back down to Washington Square,
“The War Is Over!!" they cried to startled matrons, stalled angry Marines, the young lovers standing under the marquee of La Guerre Est Fini. The cops controlled the destinations and damped the festivities by keeping the kids off the streets. But our life was in motion, not in place; and the free surface of the demonstration splintered into a thousand tiny beats of street theater: hunting down a Viet-cong by the cashier's window of How I Won the War, turning manhole covers co peace symbols, blowing bubbles at
"I declare the end of the War," said Allen Ginsberg to two hundred straight student body officials attending an NSA Congress at midnight somewhere in summer Illinois, 1966. He was ending the most beautiful reading I'd heard in years with Wicheta Vortex Sutra: the flat heart of America, broker of killing abstractions, the delicate sallow flesh of far children. Never had most of them seen anything like him before, and he broke through to them, true voice that speaks from our plight and warmth.
And here, fifteen months later, that flash of understanding was translated to flesh, sweeping like a deviant ephemeral emotion loose in the streets, vanishing. 0, there is something common happening in America! In the Bay Area, that flavor of public behavior had appeared conclusively in April, seven months before the East. Don't let me bore you with indices of similarity. But the critical index was the leaderIessness of the street demonstration, its flowering into a multitude of little centers of independent drama, Not even group songs along a portion of sidewalk could be maintained. The only instant of uniform response I saw came when my block sighted a car full of pressmen from the Post and burst into a synchronized chant: "The Post Sucks!! The Post sucks!!"
In so many ways, that demonstration reminded me of the joyful spread of our action in October, trying to close down the Oakland Induction Center. (Our percentage of active actors is much greater, however.) Except for one critical thing: these brothers in New York were still basically playing it safe. They weren't trying to close anything down.
I do think that kind of theater is a potent political technology: I wish the subways and department stores were full of it. But events since have shown how inevitable was our next experiment: resistance carried to active, though still non-violent, opposition. For "The War Is Over" to mean anything, we had to be saying it while trying directly to stop the War.
V. New York: Whitehall
That test was coming. It was so important to me to watch that I hung over an endless extra week in New York. I was aching with the harshness of gathering city winter, wanting blindly painfully to get back to Karen. But I got to see New York's radicals stage their version of what we did in Oakland in October. They tried to close down the Induction Center at Whitehall, on the lower canyon-towered tip of Manhattan, on December 4. The affair was gruesome.
It began dismally enough. As with our Western stint, the first day was given over to pacifist-type people: symbolic resistance. The high point came when Dr. Spock crossed through the police line to sit on the ground at the entrance and get arrested. Only they wouldn't let him through, see? All around are these barricades behind which are cops. And he's too old and unlimber to climb over them, so he goes around trying to crawl under them, and the cops keep blocking him with their legs, oh grand fun, until finally a ranking cop sort of orders them to make him a place to crawl through because everybody and maybe even the Media are beginning to pick up on how shabbily this old human being who is still on the edge of retaining his dignity is being treated.
Ode to Dr. Benjamin Spock
Hmmm. Writing this is such a heavy trip. I didn't feel a thing when I watched it happen: I was stunned, closed, aching, only my cold notebook eye was open on that next-to-Iast day in New York. Nothing in the months since then, either, forgot all about it. And now at this morning typewriter, punch-drunk from going for fifteen hours, it comes all up in a lump. I wonder what the original feeling would be like, if I could stand to dig it directly?
Anyway, about WhitehaIl, which I'm avoiding because I can't bear to write about it. It was the most inept, self-endangering demonstration I've ever seen. But it didn't get smashed up hardly at all, because it was so impotent the cops couldn't even begin to respect or fear it. These several thousand people were going to close down the Induction Center, remember? So at 6 a.m., they start streaming cold and disorganized out of the subways.
And meet thousands of cops who won't let them near the place. There are also a thousand plainclothesmen, off-duty cops in beef and green lapel buttons, who infiltrate and lead groups around in circles. So do the demonstrators take this lying down? Quite. They don't split up like we did in Oakland and saturate the downtown, because the whole area's filled with hostile toughs, and small groups might get brutally handled. (They have no idea of tight small self-defense/tactical units, ready to fight and defend; though to be fair, these are only now developing in the West.)
Instead, they straggle together in three or four large disheartened groups; and march behind their elaborate array of monitors, up streets and down, flanked led and followed by cops. My group walks right down a quarter-mile exitless cul-de-sac by the sea, into a waIl of mounted policemen. My, they have it soft here so far! Since October 1965, it's been clear that any similar maneuver in the Bay Area would result in several hundred people smashed, and maybe a few dead in the trample. But here we just turn around, all the time in the world; and then proceed to get so fouled up and lost behind police lines that we have to ask them for a police escort to guide us through their lines and back to the park where we are supposed to rally.
Big joke. Whitehall made it clear that, in New York at least, and likely all big Eastern cities, the authorities have everything perfectly under control in this area (if no other), Any demonstration on that plan, and with that style of leadership, can be at best symbolic. If it tries to get substantive, it'll be helpless bloody in an instant.
I wandered around the dispirited crowd so down I couldn't even take pictures. And suddenly came on this scene: scruffy cat with lots of hair standing atop a Volkswagen yelling, bunch of people gathered around yelling back with bitter grins. He reached and ripped off his monitor armband, held it aloft, people cheered, he set fire to it, crying, "Follow me!" Armbands thawed off like snow from mountains that had forgotten spring. And I felt suddenly one fragment redeemed. For here sprung to view, full-bloomed already in many hearts, was the belated spirit of revolt against our own adoption of the old culture's forms of leadership, which betray us in our action.
The symptoms of that spirit are long familiar in the West. But I think the New York-style brutalization of Western cities will have to proceed quite rapidly (as it may be doing) if the spirits are to take parallel tracks in their expressions East and West. New York is too stone hostile even for that flash of light; I mean, I can't see anyone staying in N.Y. to try to work with it. San Francisco maybe: there if anywhere.
WaIking away after this Volkswagen drama, I bumped into Jerry Rubin, bulky in woolens and moustache, and his slender lady Nancy. We hadn't seen each other since he went East after his 1965 Vietnam Day Committee work, summoned by HUAC to testify in his American Revolution uniform, oh lovely burlesque! We had been equally turned off by Whitehall, turned on by the arm-band-burning; and we repaired to long coffee, rapping excitedly about what new flavors of action were rising in our stew, and how to move next with them. Finally they had to run; we promised to keep in touch. I drifted cross-town to my suitcase, uptown to the plane. Six hours later, I was a continent away from New York's grey violence defeat.
Need I say: in body but not in spirit? Lifeheat on the left pan, deathcold on the right: each mounted up, as I went around trying to bring together what was happening to us. New York, the Haight, jail, Oakland October, Minnesota, New York. At each new stop I took on another burden of despairing premonition, heavy cover for the catalogue of new beauty I wanted to compile.
Too much, already I was breaking with it. In those last days in New York, I went to see Harris and Hiram. Harris heads an experimental campus of SUNY: he's forty-five, charming, magnetic, an upwardly mobile, Kennedy-King exemplary liberal, slick rhetorical exponent of educational freedom. His love for MLK and JFK was fierce, blind, and genuine. I care for him terribly, and think his politics will kill us. At some three A,M. I poured it all out, glibly, brokenly, my gathering sense of what was coming down on us. All he could say was: no, no, I'm sure it can't be so, it won't come to that, I can't believe it will happen, things will get better. I wanted to fall into his arms sobbing and have him hold me; I wanted to smash him in the face for his blind stunned reassurance, irresponsible and convictionless.
Can I bring nothing but my pain to my friends? I laid all that on Hiram too, the first time I saw him in eight months. ''The doctor permits me half-an-hour visits with people I care for," he says, "no more than that, the excitement ... " A tableau. Big grey editor of scholarly journal, bluff and avid and gentle and sixty, wrapped around the heart that has lately played him deathly false. Nutty breathless kid from the West, who for some reason Hiram rook a shine to, patiently coaxing out his first Eastern piece. I wanted to hear where he was, and of his children. But he waved that aside. No, he says, what's on your heart? And I spilled it in a gush of cruel love, hardly daring to watch the weather wrinkles on his face. I respected his response much more: he did not try to reassure me.