The closest I ever came to participating in an anti-war protest, or a protest of any kind, for that matter, was an afternoon I spent standing at the entrance to my high school with about fifty other students. Some of us were holding signs, and were were all very quiet, since we were having a silent vigil. It was the day after the Cambodian invasion had been announced, and the school was on strike. It was a beautiful afternoon, and the trees along the road were rustling their leaves, just like any other afternoon in a Bucks County spring. Some people would give us the peace sign as they drove by the school. Others would turn on their headlights and drive by very slowly. One man roared past, horn blaring, his middle finger emphatically saluting us. A man of his convictions … .
That was two years ago. Some people say it was the beginning of the end. The climax came with the murders at Kent State and Jackson State, paralyzing all of us and, since then … well, maybe it's fatigue, maybe it's apathy. But the student movement isn't the same, and never can be again. At least that's what a couple of people told me over the phone in the last few days.
The major campuses in the Chicago area, the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, and Northwestern, are all expecting 1971's quiet again. At Chicago Circle, there are nearly 200 student organizations, but only a few are active. The now traditional political organizations, such as SDS and Student Mobilization Committee, are nearly inactive of defunct. SDS is a registered student organization, but no longer functions. Ed Sunden, a member of Student Government there, described the SMC people as "a bunch of asshole Marxists who do nothing but rip off the students." He sarcastically added over the phone that maybe they weren't all Marxists, but that rather there were 2 Lenninists, 3 Marxists, and 1 Maoist; "their token Maoist." As far as the activities of the Socialist Labor Party are concerned, Sunden said there wasn't much doing, that the party was in fact "more or less ignored," despite their activity to get Linda Jeness elected as President. Sunden gratuitously added some derogatory remark about Lind Jeness and her running mate. He also mentioned the "Jesus Freaks," and Campus Crusade for Christ. "Always out to convert. They have more than 10 members and less than 50."
I asked about the other organizations, and he said, "Well, there's OPSR, of which I'm the director." OPSR stands for Occult Phenomena Student Research. Sunden was more enthusiastic over the phone at this point, so I asked about the kinds of things that OPSR does. He replied that it did research. I asked about the research, and apparently it studies such things as "biological time-clocks." I asked what a "biological time-clock" was, and it turns out that it is "what makes a potato know when to grow and what makes a woman have her period." OPSR also studies mystical modes of travel. (Sunden mentioned the name of a certain kind of mystical travel, and I asked him to spell it. He wasn't too sure of the spelling, but thought that it might be "eckanker.") It also studies grey magic, and Abraxian magic, which deals with the "influx and outflux of electromagnetic waves from human bodies."
Sunden and I talked briefly about voter registration drives, and he estimated that 4,500 people had been registered by now. We passed over the moratoriums which too place last fall. He called them failures. We finally got to Gay Liberation. He said that Gay Liberation was the "largest, best-organized movement. Gay people have things that bond them together." So far, Gay Lib has had dances, and consciousness-raising groups. Its membership is upward of a 100. Women's Lib is not too active at Circle, apparently, but in March it will have a week of activities.
The most pressing issue at Circle Campus at the moment, according to Sunden, is the Food Co-op. (It turns out that Sunden is the Co-op's accountant.). The Food Co-op was begun on October 3rd of last year, and Sunden took over the books on November 2nd. I asked him to tell me a little more about the Co-op.
"The purpose of the Food Co-op is to provide edible food for lunch. For instance, we have whole-wheat bread, not the bland white styrofoam most people eat. We also have good potato hips, which I happen to be munching right now on some of the potato chips we carry at the Co-op. We have cheese, pizza, sliced meats, kosher salami, and the 10¢ hot dog. We are the originators of the 10¢ hot dog. We'll also sell you a Coke for 10¢."
A long discussion on Coca Cola ensued, in which Sunden said that the University cafeterias charge more in the end for Coke than the Co-op. He explained at length via a series of logical proofs that if you buy at the Co-op, you'll "come out eight ounces of Coke ahead."
The reason that the Food Co-op is something of an issue is because it was thrown off campus since it wasn't a registered student organization. Also, certain health regulations hadn't been met." "We had to have X-rays, Wassermans, blood tests, and all that shit." Over Christmas break, the University forced the Co-op to move off campus. Sunden described the eviction and subsequent outcry, such as it may have been, as a "power struggle." Apparently, the Co-op now has a hot dog stand set up in Great Circle Hall, and it will be operating as soon as it gets its insurance.
I asked about the student newspaper, the "Illini," and Sunden said that the "Illini" was "really nasty." I asked how that was, and he went and found a copy of the paper and came back and read something to me over the phone which sounded like "Excerpts from 'Shrew', 1968-1972." It turned out that this kind of prose is published in the classified ads. The rest of the newspaper is straight news. Sunden added that SG really runs the "Illini," but that the "Illini" likes to "promote confrontations. (A Pete Aristides from the "Illini" told me that the classified ads are a continuing feature of the paper, but that the rest of the paper has gotten less political and changed its stance since the new chancellor, Warren Cheston, has come in.)
My conversation with Sunden was coming to an end. He told me that SG is "the most political organization on campus," even though its president, Jim Lades, resigned a couple of months ago. The person now in charge is the former vice-president, Don Rubin. Sunden had also told me earlier that SG was practically non-existent. "The one thing that students have in common is apathy. They sit there being consumers, eating from the machines." I asked if he had any more comments to make, and the tone of his voice became more self-conscious. "This isn't really Circle Campus, this is Citadel Campus. The buildings here are designed to drive you slowly insane, with the plastic shit they use, the sound absorbent tile on the ceilings¢."
The next day I called the "Illini" and talked to Pete Aristides. He informed me that the amount of activism on campus is very little. The change in stance of the newspaper was due, he felt, to the fact that the new chancellor didn't rub the students the wrong way, as the first and previous chancellor, Norman Parker, had done. Parker threw SDS and the "Illini" off campus, but since the "Illini" had been an independent corporation for about two years prior to its expulsion, there was no problem in moving. The expulsion occurred right at the end of the first quarter of last year. Students were too busy studying to raise an outcry.
Aristides felt that because the students at Circle were not residents on the campus, it was very hard for them to become involved in campus events and campus movements. "Students prefer to come strictly for classes." Sunden had also mentioned this problem and had cited the fact that most Circle students have to live on their own. As a result, very little energy is left for activism.
At Northwestern, the traditional groups are not active at all. They seem to be waiting for things to pick up, according to Ken Anderson, the executive vice-president of Student Government there. There is no mass political enthusiasm because there's no driving issue. Another SG member claimed that the last "activist" class at Northwestern will graduate this year, but that didn't necessarily mean that other classes wouldn't become activist once an issue did present itself.
As far as present activity on the Northwestern campus goes, the Political Forum, which really is a speaker's bureau, has brought Senators Church and Bayh on campus. Straughton Lynn recently made an appearance there, and he is supposed to have a lot of friends on the campus. Student Government is working towards having younger trustees. The voter registration drive was successful, as was the collection drive for Bangladesh. The Better Environment Group doesn't do much, according to the executive editor of the Daily Northwestern, Phil Lantz, though it works with the city Council of Evanston. Lantz also mentioned that Women's Lib stopped bothering the Daily Northwestern "when we stopped running Pepsi-Cola ads."
There is a legal-aid clinic which is researching the impact of changes in residency, and the legalities of tuition increases. In general it serves as an ombudsman for student groups.
Gay Liberation has had dances. It's also supposed to have one of the largest treasuries out of the student groups on campus.
In fact, the only increase in political activity which has occurred has been that of the radical right, according to Ken Anderson. The memberships of both Young Americans for Freedom and Young Republicans has increased.
The only recent issue on campus which has stirred student support has been the firing of the campus security director who has disagreed with the director of public safety over the carrying of guns. The security director had been in favor of carrying guns, and in effect rebelled along with his staff when he was told to stop carrying guns. He had apparently been well-liked and had been on campus for some years.
Also, while representatives of the Union of South Africa were speaking on campus, disruptions occurred.
Amos Brown, speaker of the forum for Student Government, noted that issues at Northwestern have usually been handled by professional negotiation wit the University. He said that students are included to some extent in nearly every decision-making process. The result is that any decision can almost always be claimed to be mutually representative of the administration's and students' interests. Brown seemed to imply that the university policy of including students in decision-making processes was a form of co-option that left students with all the rights they wanted and needed. As a result, the number of issues which would activate them was less.
Ken Anderson felt that the community of Evanston had a great effect on the campus. For one thing, he felt it tends to cramp the social life. Also, there was no "college ghetto" for the campus, and the student base is thus forced off into Chicago.
he also noted a change in the admissions policy. "The activist student has gone east or west, not to the midwest. Northwestern has gone south and east." He felt that the pick-up in registration for the Young Republicans and for YAF was symptomatic of the change brought about in the student body by selective admission of this kind. "The administration appreciates the chance to get its breath," Anderson remarked.
Eva Jefferson, former head of the student body at Northwestern, is now working for the ACLU in San Francisco. When I asked Phil Lantz if he know any stories about former radicals from Northwestern, he said that he only know of three people. "One is selling shirts, another shoes, and the third is working for the Post Office and is afraid the Post Office will find out he's a radical," he said.
At the University of Chicago, there is very little activity. Gay Liberation has consciousness-raising group sessions, and has had a dance. Also, toward the end of the last academic quarter, there was an incident in which four members of Gay Lib broke into a dinner at the Quad Club which was being held in honor of Thomas Foran, prosecuting attorney of the Chicago Seven Trial, and who, after the trail said, "Our kids are being lost to a freaking fag revolution." apparently, the people from Gay Lib shouted "Foran is a fag beater!" whereupon they were dragged out of the Club my members of the police force.
The collection drive for Bangladesh has been successful, and has raised over 2000 dollars. Also, there has been some agitation to make the university recycle its trash instead of disposing it in some conventional manner. Some administrators have said that recycling may be too expensive for the university. The Chicago Maroon charged in an editorial on February 1st that "to ignore the pollution problems that we all face because of fiscal worries is putting an every increasing burden on our tomorrows to make today easier." The friction between the University and the surrounding community has also been getting a lot of attention from the Maroon.
Milton Rosenberg, professor of psychology at the U. of C., a leading member of SANE, and a longtime peace activist, commented on the student peace movement in general. "My real impression is that for the national Vietnamization has worked as the public relations gimmick that it is. People rate the war issue less highly than they did before, although we're still continuing genocidal activities through the air. By my classes, students appear to be politically fatigued."
David Affelder, president of Student Government at the U. of C., said, "Not much is happening. There is no semblance of a mass movement at all anymore. Besides which, students here have a great deal of difficulty in creating time for anything other than study." Affelder added, "You run your article on the fact that the campuses are dead, and then what?"