I gave this the maximum of fifty claps because Medium wouldn’t allow me to give it any more than that. Aside from being beautifully written, it also brought me back to that same moment in history. I was then living at the edge of Harlem, going to college at CCNY, which is in the very heart of Harlem, and working at the New York Post, but what I remember most was the spontaneous march that burst out in Manhattan, beginning in Harlem, building up as it passed through Columbia University, which was only a few blocks to the south of CCNY, and rolling right down Broadway until we ran up against a cordon of mounted police, where a melee broke out and the marchers scattered in the face of the police onslaught. At least that’s how I remember it now.
Over the next three days, there were random outbreaks of violence across the three inner boroughs, Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn. Queens and Staten Island were relatively untouched, but that made sense since most of the city’s cops lived in those boroughs. The attacks against property centered on 125th Street, the wide East-West cross street that was rather like an inner city strip mall. No one attacked Columbia, which was just nine blocks south, or CCNY, which was just ten blocks to the North. As a white man, then just twenty years old, I walked around Harlem with impunity. People didn’t know who I was, but the fact that I was walking alone down those sidestreets gave me a certain immunity. They didn’t recognize me, but they knew I wasn’t the enemy. They probably tagged me as a college kid and therefore a likely ally.
That first night, I went to work in the city room at The Post, where I was then an editorial assistant. The city room was unusually quiet that night, with none of the banter. I looked around the room, and realized for the first time that there wasn’t a single black face present, except for the janitor, who went around the room emptying trash cans. We were all liberals, to a man, and we were all men that night, but we went about the business of putting out a newspaper.
The day shift had produced an “extra” edition covering the major events of the day, or at least that’s how I remember it, so we were doing follow-ups on those stories. After work, I went up to CCNY, and went to class, or tried to. There were meetings going on full of shock and outrage and that was when I noticed the breaking of the anti-war movement. Black people were suddenly absent from anti-war groups, and white people were no longer welcomed in black circles. The campus had suddenly become polarized, and with it the anti-war movement.
So, yes, A.J. is right. The world I grew up in died that day, and I found myself living in a different world the following day, a more realistic but less comfortable world. The so-called movement was shattered into a white fragment, a black fragment, a women’s fragment, a gay fragment, and there were probably others that I didn’t even know about. That was also when I started to withdraw from the movement, after watching the so-called leaders of that movement attempting to jump on every bandwagon that passed by, looking for the traction they needed to stay relevant. making it abundantly obvious how irrelevant they really were.
AJ writes that he became active in the movement again in the mid-seventies, then dropped out again in 2002. I put in twenty-five years as a community organizer from the early seventies through 1996, when I threw in the towel and became, of all things, a mortgage banker.
AJ and I know each other from Facebook. We’ve never met, but we are members of the same affinity group, the same cohort of activists, older now, but still pissed off. This is as good a place as any to start over again. The current Democratic party is impotent. It needs to be taken over by people who know what we know about how to organize outrage into action.