To the Editors:
This is a personal, and urgent, appeal for money. The SDS—Students for a Democratic Society—which played a major part in the recent and, in my opinion, beneficial disturbances on the campus of Columbia University, is about to be evicted from its New York headquarters. It needs $3,400 for the down payment on larger, cheaper offices in a friendly cooperative building. This will be a permanent solution for at least one of its problems. I hope you will contribute.
“In the last ten months,” writes Anita Simpson of the SDS regional staff, “the New York office has been evicted from three locations. The charges against us have always been vague—’bearded and unkempt people in the corridors,’ ‘other tenants request your relocation’—but the message is always emphatic: 30 days to get out, lease not withstanding. As long as our organization is kept in packing cases, it is dead. Our printing equipment is sitting idle, its installation frustrated. To end this nonsense, we would like to locate in a co-op building. We have an option on a loft in such a building on Prince Street. Its cost is $3,400 down and a monthly charge of under $100. This is less than half of our present rent. Please don’t let the voice of SDS be stifled…Hail Columbia!”
It’s always hard to write a “begging letter” and this one is especially hard for me because, as a member of the Old Left, I’ve long had, and still do, mixed feelings about the New Left, especially about the SDS, or, as they disarmingly style themselves, the Students for a Democratic Society. Their political line—if one can use so definite a term, an attractive aspect of the SDS being that its organization is open, democratic, indeed anarchistically porous—has often seemed to me alienated to the point of nihilism, while their methods have sometimes been both deplorable, from a libertarian viewpoint, and, from that of making friends and influencing people, counterproductive. The only justification for such ideology and such tactics would be that there is a revolutionary situation in this country, which there obviously is not, in general. But on two particular, and major issues today, Vietnam and race-cum-poverty, there is such a situation, I think. The follies and the injustices of the Establishment, in these two cases, are so extreme and so indurated as to make necessary the use of extra-legal pressures. Like, for example, the occupation—or, more accurately, the “liberation,” as the phrase was—of certain buildings on the Columbia campus to which the students had a moral right, from concrete use and interest, that they successfully asserted against the abstract ownership of the trustees; for a while, anyway. The other condition, also met by the Columbia sit-ins, for revolutionary, extra-legal tactics is that there will be a broad response to the minority action from the majority directly involved—in this case the Columbia under-graduates—a general recognition that such actions, while unlawful and even, at first, statistically undemocratic, are the only ones adequate to the historical situation: the kind of outrageous defiance of the Establishment which can shove it off its dead-center stasis toward basic reform. Like what the Sorbonne students are doing; they may not topple De Gaulle, or they may, but the old place won’t be the same again. Nor will Columbia.
So, on balance, I’m for SDS and I think the Establishment needs its shoving and I hope you’ll help SDS to survive—and to keep shoving.
P.S. Please make checks payable to “Students for a Democratic Society” and send them to: Students for a Democratic Society, c/o Macdonald, 56 East 87th Street, New York, N.Y. 10028.
June 20, 1968