The Drew University Program Guide
Old and New SDS: Mark Rudd with Nat Good
The first thing that strikes you on meeting Mark Rudd is the boyish
quality - Rudd, the firebrand who led the Columbia strike, is older,
wiser and yet still fired up. As I introduced myself to my comrade
from MDS, I looked into the blue eyes and without thinking about it,
superimposed Mark from 1968 onto Mark today - it was interesting
how neatly the two images fit.
An enthused Rudd steered me to a table to show me a copy of the
Star-Ledger, the local paper that had a cover photograph
of members of Drew University's new SDS chapter. A good sport
who seems to really like kids, he posed for a photo with my 12
year old son - two SDS members...old and new.
Drew's SDS chapter makes the Star-Ledger
NYC artist Fia Backstrom narrated a photo montage
I walked around a bit and said hello to Jeremy Varon, author of Bringing The
War Home, a terrific history and analysis of Weather - and the Red Army Faction.
Still very much the activist, Jeremy was excited about Drew SDS. I saw John
McMillian, author of the New Left Revisited - a wonderful book that contains
a very good section on the SDS Economic Research and Assistance Program (ERAP)
initiative. Max from Left Turn was also there as were several members of SDS New York
and SDS New Jersey. Mark returned and introduced me to Mark Kurlansky, author of
Nonviolence: 25 Lessons from the History of a Dangerous Idea - another amazing
We headed over to University Center as a group and wandered into the auditorium
where a nervous Jeremy attended to last minute details. The event, which capped
a weekend of panel discussions on the lessons of 1968, began with a photo montage
narrated by New York City artist Fia Backstrom. It was an interesting piece that
juxtaposed images from various authoritarian States and movements with adverts for
various commodities, SDS buttons and protest photos. Backstrom seemed to be arguing
for a Movement with a human face.
Varon introduced Rudd as the probable inspiration for a Doonesbury cartoon figure and his
(Varon's) favorite character from the Weather Underground film. Mark acknowledged
family, friends and "some new SDS comrades" in the audience and then spoke about
the need for real organizing and base buiding in the US. He indicated that the
student strike at Columbia was the result of three years of organizing efforts.
He emphasized the goals of organizing: to politicize people and build a mass
movement. He spoke about the tactics as well: tabling, teach-ins and everyday
interactions that could serve as teaching moments.
Mark's Mom - a lively 94!
MR discusses the Action Faction, Weatherman and more
Rudd discussed the "Action Faction", the precursor to Weatherman, and
acknowledged what he considers the main error: the idea that bold action could "elevate
the struggle" and be a surrogate for real organizing. He spoke eloquently
about his own role in recruiting the "Praxis Axis" SDSers, who devoted
time and energy to theory and organizing, into the Action Faction...and
expressed his belief that he bears some responsibility for the fates of
those recruited: Dave Gilbert, who is still in jail, and Ted Gold, who died
in the Townhouse explosion - along with Terry Robbins and Diana Oughton.
Rudd's third major point was that the Columbia SDS alliance with Black students
was pivotal - and that the erasure of this part of the history of the struggle
is doubtless due to racism. Coalition building was a key part of the
Columbia action and Rudd feels an essential element of organizing. He hammered
home the three themes he feels are vital to building a movement: on the
ground organizing; base building and coalition building.
Bertha Rudd: "I never knew my son was such a forceful speaker."
Gary Shapiro, a friend of SDS - from the NY Sun
The promotional placard rests against the podium
Fia Backstrom's presentation
Author, activist and professor Jeremy Varon MC'd
Rudd spent a fair amount of time talking about nonviolence as well.
After the formal presentation he fielded questions from the audience
and many addressed the issue of nonviolence and property destruction.
Rudd was unequivocal in his support for mass nonviolent civil
disobedience and his rejection of the idea of property destruction
as a tactic. He argued forcefully that in this country, right or wrong,
property destruction is perceived as violence and therefore is self
defeating if the goal is to build a mass movement.
Bertha Rudd, a lively 94 years old, stood and addressed the audience
at one point: "I never knew my son was such a forceful speaker!"
Mark quipped: "She's not really my mother, she's from central casting..."
Bertha Rudd responded by asking the audience if there were any grandmothers
present as she wanted to speak with them after the event - I thought of
the Granny Peace Brigade here in New York and thought perhaps one day
they could meet...Bertha continued, noting that she was "glad that
so many people showed up for my son" - the audience responded with
Rudd concluded his remarks by pointing out that it is his view that
what he once called bold action is merely self expression and that the
Days of Rage is evidence of the futility of this approach. He spoke
about the need for movement building and mentioned the new SDS project:
Movement for a Democratic Society - the post graduate arm of SDS. The
event was still winding down as my son and I headed out. As we drove
back to the City my son asked me about some of the key points Rudd had
raised...I smiled and tried to answer his questions...