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ALMOST the first thing I did no entering Harvard four years ago was to shell out a few my parents' hard-earned dollars and join Students for a Democratic Society, then a relatively recent addition to Dean Watson's mailing list. I was soon taken in hand by a moustachioed radical several years my elder, with whom I spent a curious, concentrated week canvassing the freshman dormitories for political talent. We weren't too successful, if the truth be known, finding most of my classmates had their minds on P.T. credits and Gen Ed Ahf and the girl next door in Nat Sci 5 lab. Harvard seemed to be a pretty shrewd head, always bending just enough this way or that, always holding out just enough personal and academic freedom to keep people busy.
It was a hard life being an SDSer those days, and I gave up after a precious few of them. For one thing, I made the starling discovery that SDS meetings were a drag and tended to consume whole evening at a gulp. For another, I drifted into alternative extracurricular pursuits where people seemed to get on a lot easier with each other and where it was possible to meet a considerably wider assortment. Still, I continued to assume, come the revolution, that I would leap forthwith into the ranks of Harvard's insurgents, whoever they might be. And I continued to assume as much through the three years that invented between the vision and the event. So it was until it-happened-here that I learned any different.
When it happened, I was driving through northern Scotland in a rented car, finding how utterly disorienting it was to work out of the right-hand seat. After a day of laboriously scanning Loch Ness for the Great Orm, I sat down with a British newspaper and friend to read "Police Arrest 179 at Harvard." It might have been any other school, save for the comparatively big play and for a few proper nouns. I had often been instructed not to use the word "campus" in connection with Harvard, for Harvard was not supposed to have a campus. But here it was being used as freely as if the story were about Berkeley or Columbia. And University Hall all of a sudden seemed large and communal.
SPRING VACATION danced to an overdue end, I came back to Cambridge, and straightway the town revealed itself in a new light. The barefoot townies scrounging and pimping out along. Mass Ave became Harvard students or, failing that, members of the greater Harvard community, rapping. The square was rife with midnight conferences, indoor and outdoors, inconsequential and self-consciously vital. Top-secret information could be had for a song, if that. Friends greeted each other with a knowing smile, as if to say everybody had exactly the same weighty thing on his mind and why not admit it?
For some the strike, declared at and by and open meeting in Harvard stadium, was the thing. These people seemed not the least bit interested in seeing the strike settled, not at any rate if that entailed returning to something. For others, instead of being instant utopia, the strike was only an opportunity to wrest a few concessions from the University and declare a new balance of power. These people were actively conferring in all sorts of formal and informal bodies on issues to be launched, petitions to be drafted and meetings to be manipulated.
Before I knew it, I was on strike myself, having been taught at an early age never to cross a picket line and the lesson having struck. I wondered for a spell whether a New York City teacher ought to adhere to this rule, but then sat back and proceeded to enjoy to prospect of not attending classes--in contrast to Harvard-perusual, where I failed to attend them but got depressed about it. As the next logical step, I began to absorb the issues of the strike--ROTC, Afro-American Studies, expansion--and could see nothing objectionable and a lot of good in the position staked out by the first mass meeting.
I was growing reasonably acclimated, when, by and by, I ran into a girl whom I might as well call Betsy, because that's her name. I was growing acclimated and she was on the brink of complete collapse. "You can't build a legitimate movement on coercion and violence," she said, or words to that effect. Betsy allowed as how she was attending classes regularly for the first time she could remember, now, during the strike to show that people other than fascists cared about such things as feedom of movement. By way of being sympathetic, I went with her to a class of Oscar Handlin's that turned out to deal with the innovative power of American cities around the turn of the century. I searched Professor Handlin's lecture for veiled references to the strike and found not a one. But at its finish, laying down his notes, the good professor waxed grim and offered a brief prayer that Harvard might have returned to normalcy by his course's next meeting.
IT HASN'T happened yet, I'm here to tell you. The people gladdened and the people saddened by April's strike are still glad and still sad, only more so. The bust and the strike were lasting cathartic experiences for many--for H. Stuart Hughes as well as for Betsy. When the Faculty convened to debate Afro Studies and consider Alan Heimert's strongly worded resolution, Professor Hughes, two-thirds of the way through his term as chairman of the History Department, rose to defend the sanctity of Faculty control over such matters as curriculum and appointment policy. This was the same H. Stuart Hughes who in 1962 ran for the Senate on a platform sufficiently unpopular to garner about 6 per cent of the vote, and who was still when I came to Harvard, the closest thing with tenure to an active radical. But Professor Hughes and, for that matter, Betsy were only backwaters in the great stream of people supposedly politicized or radicalized by about five minutes of not unusually brutal police action in Harvard Yard. In both directions storm-troopers had worked the trick, the difference of opinion being as to who they were, students or police?
Summoned by a really mysterious conclave of concerned citizens, mostly graduate students, I wandered down to Soldiers'' Field with a sandwich and several friend. Replete with a lot of equally idle speech and subsequent applause, the meeting seemed to have been packed by different faction. Down front of me I noticed one notoriously conservative classics teacher sitting all by himself, raising his hand dutifully at every opportunity to vote down the strike or against realizing one of the "demands"--as they were affectionately termed by their sponsors. Here was Athenian democracy minus such frills as property requirements, slavery, and demagogues with anything going for them. The meeting ended up endorsing the least compelling of the various mawkish policies thrown before it, and by implication the most awkward of the various would-be leaders who presented themselves for consideration. I knew then and there Harvard Stadium was not going to be the answer.
Somewhere along the line I paid my tutor a visit, and found him incredibly depressed. His politics, I had long realized, were not mine--but he was a good guy and he was together and damn smart. And I found him calling radical "criminals" and talking about a wave of "anti-intellectualism" sweeping the University. He pointed out that even some of the most liberal Faculty people in the social sciences had opposed the Heimert resolution, which passed, he said, only with the votes of a lot of biologists and physicists who weren't going to have anything to do with black studies. The History Department now fully expected to see Eldridge Cleaver brought in to direct a slate of paramilitary training courses.
The way I figure it, my tutor will learn to live with student power--begrudgingly but nevertheless. He may even learn to live with Eldridge Cleaver, though I'm hedging in my bets. But he won't learn to live with anything or anybody that sticks an axe in the face--so why bother? In America, for the time being, revolutions are to be sold rather than made.
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