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The Untold Sixties: When Hope Was Born

An Insider's Sixties On An International Scale

NOTE: The material in this section was written
during the early and mid-Seventies when it was still quite
fresh in the author's mind and is also based upon
his large collection of Sixties documents. For
further information, see the book outline by clicking here.

Kent State—Or Was It Berlin Revisited?
NYC, May 1970

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Since  this book has now been published, many of its chapters have been abridged, though the summary and four chapters can still be found in their entirety.


When I arrived at our Coalition meeting on Monday, May 4, I realized that events had once again gone beyond anyone's control. The talk all day had been of the Cambodian invasion, and I was not surprised to find that this was our main topic of conversation as well. I felt the same way I had at our demonstration over the My Lai poster, that there was nothing more I could do to influence events. Rather, I was their prisoner—I could only settle back and let myself be carried along by them. Under these conditions all questions of leadership were for others to resolve, and they had already stepped in to do so. Once again Farman and the militant wing were in their element, industriously discussing how best to organize teams to design and print posters, which other teams would put up on walls and building throughout the Village, indeed throughout the city.

Then someone came in with the news that several students had been killed—at first we understood eight, though someone else said four. I remembered hearing a radio voice talking about shooting at students in Ohio but had been unable to catch the details. Someone else reported that the entire NYU student body had gathered at the Loeb Center, just a few blocks away from us. It was decided we should send someone over to find out what was going on and report back to us. Then several artists insisted on our starting the meeting. Some of us sat down to do so, while others just wanted to go on talking informally.

The person we had just sent over to the student center came back suddenly with another member who had just returned from there. By now most of us had arrived, and under normal circumstances we would have started our meeting. But these were not normal circumstances, the full news had finally arrived. We were told everything then known about the shootings at Kent State. We were further told that the students had already occupied the Loeb Student Center and were in the process of taking over other university buildings. It was moved that we all adjourn our meeting and go directly to the student center, reconvening at "MUSEUM" after we had determined what the need was and how we could best help. Although it took the rest of the art world another two weeks to mobilize itself over Cambodia and Kent State—and they were prodded to a great extent by us—we immediately jumped into the middle of things.

For the next few weeks we came close to losing our identity as the Art Workers Coalition, as we merged with something much vaster. We also managed to lose, for a while at least, the petty factionalism which often came so close to destroying us. It seems regrettable that major calamities are necessary to make people forget minor ones. As soon as we returned to "MUSEUM" that night—those of us who did return from that crowded emotion-drenched student center, already unrecognizable from graffiti and leaflets covering the walls—we resolved to suspend all normal functionings of the Coalition for as long as necessary and to use "MUSEUM" as an emergency base for whatever work might prove needed—making posters, maintaining communications, perhaps even treating the wounded—no one knew what might come next, but whatever it was we would do it. Over the next few days and weeks the art schools of New York were converted into day-and-night poster factories, and Coalition artists played a role in sparking and coordinating this operation.

If the reader finds the last few sentences fantastic or melodramatic, I think it is because we have all, purposely or otherwise, forgotten how close our nation came to breakdown during the week after Kent State. Perhaps those who were most closely involved have forgotten the most, while those who were on the sidelines are in no position to remember. I am sitting peacefully at my desk going through a pile of leaflets and other documents handed out at the Loeb Student Center and elsewhere during that week, and I find it all a bit hard to believe myself, even though five or so years have passed between that time and my writing this account. For, instance, I find in that week's copy of the Washington Square Journal, the NYU student newspaper, that a spokesman for the students occupying the university has just made the following demands:

    "All functions (must) cease at the University until the end of the semester.
     
    "All employees be paid for the duration of the strike.
     
    "No scholarships be rescinded.
     
    "All students including those on probation be given credit in the courses taken this term.
     
    "All final exams be cancelled.
     
    "Diplomas be given to all graduating students.
     
    "No injunctions, reprisals, civil actions be taken against people involved in the strike."

Courant Hall housing a large computer used by the Department of Defense was among the buildings the students had occupied. And another hall containing sophisticated printing equipment was also in student hands. A group of professors had set up a committee to reach out to other groups in the community and cooperate with them in whatever way might prove necessary.

During those incredible two weeks, I roamed the streets of the Village and the halls of NYU freely, partly to keep track of events for EVO, partly to serve as liaison in whatever way I could. It was ironic that it had taken this crisis to make some professors at this university, often accused of callous indifference to the community around it, suddenly become aware of it. All at once, affairs in the city seemed to proceed on a neighborhood-to-neighborhood, even a block-to-block basis. For the first time Ilene and I became really aware of NYU as a major entity in our own area. It was as though these professors were instinctively taking the initial steps towards setting up an informal para-government, in the not unlikely event that the authority of the legal government should be further diminished. I think we were all beginning to act like cells in a single organism at that moment, as though we had been pre-programmed for such an emergency all along.

The Washington Square Journal also contained pieces about plans for mass mobilization being prepared by the law students, articles on student confrontations with police and rednecks, and two significantly brief and factual pieces, each in its separate box, one entitled If You're Busted... the other If You're Gassed... And this was not an underground paper at all but the very sedate NYU student paper, which also carried a full-page ad for Grand Union's "Frozen Food Festival."

[This chapter has been abridged pending publication...]

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COPYRIGHT STATEMENT:
This book excerpt is Copyright © 2000
by Alexander Gross. It may be
reproduced for individuals and for
educational purposes only. It may
not be used for any commercial (i.e.,
money-making) purpose without
written permission from the author.
All Rights Reserved.

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