The UH NEWS Liberated Press and the
Student Revolution at the University of Hartford
by Benedict M. Holden
As the Vietnam Summer Project ended, Michael Keane, Bob Brody, Bill Walach, and I put together the Bounce Tube, and we produced our first free concert in Bushnell Park. I would bet we had The Quiet Ones and Some Dead Bears. The Bounce Tube would add Richard Brody and Larry Tauro over the years and promoted free concerts till 1972.
Prior to the school year starting, John Barber's march for open housing was broken up by the police, instigating a riot that would result in about a hundred arrests. I had been invited to their planning meeting; they would walk four-by-four to the South Green for a rally. Ought to be legal it is a public sidewalk.
I wore my press pass and carried a tape recorder in my pocket. They stopped the march down Main Street at the bridge over I-84. A police Lieutenant was in charge. Mr. Barber explained their plans to walk peacefully down the sidewalk. Someone threw a bottle; it hit no one. Now if I may explain "cop-ese" for a sec... If ten police officers see a bottle thrown they will write in their reports that said bottle was aimed specifically at them and they were in fear for their lives. And since ten police officers were duly targeted there must have been ten bottles.
The Lieutenant told them to put down all bottles and rocks and line up in their four-by-four lines and he would allow their march and provide an escort. I recorded his words. John went thru the crowd: "No bottles, no rocks, get in line." Ten minutes later a Captain and 20 helmeted pigs arrived in a hurry. He read the riot act and they just waded into a peaceful crowd all lined up on the sidewalk. I gave my tape to the public defender; many charges were dropped.
The Cauldron appeared as an independent publication for sale and failed after three issues. My coverage of the police riot ran there. The paper wasn't big enough to sell well and cost too much to print too few copies.
Our SDS chapter had a table at freshman orientation: Throw away those foolish beanies. Join us. We had signs: "Where will you be October 22?" "Exorcise the Pentagon." We did sign up about a dozen new members including Dan Hazelton, Claude Schleuderer, and Linda (Gabby) Goldfarb. We sent about two hundred folks from UHa to the Battle of the Pentagon. We had three charter buses; many took the train, and some drove. Nick Eggleston from the SDS national office came to say hi. He also helped start an SDS chapter at Trinity that week.
The Battle of the Pentagon. I was on the MOBE committee, and with my background I should have realized that "encircle the building for an exorcism" would mean "surround my fort" to military people. As our guys got to the driveway near the north entrance they encountered the 82nd Airborne mostly young kids our ages. Young ladies offered inducements to the boys to desert and run away to Canada. Tears in soldiers eyes. They backed off after about an hour and the US marshals moved in helmets, gas masks, no badges, no name tags, no unit insignia. No arrests, just beatings. Brutal, indiscriminate violence. Then tear gas to move the crowd back to the parking lot. And then a gauntlet to get to the buses.
I gave up my student deferment from the draft. I was prepared to be a draft resistor tie up a federal court for a couple years and go to jail. It was white-skin- and class-privilege I couldn't live with.
I also traveled to Washington to help out with Liberation News Service. LNS was Ray Mungo's new big thing: a service like UPI or AP for college newspapers and the emerging underground press. I met Cathy Wilkerson, the War Resisters League folks, and the two brothers who owned the Washington Free Press. Slept on the floor or a couch in a lot of places: Washington, Philly, New York, Boston.
Two carloads of our SDS people went to the year-end meeting in Bloomington, Indiana. The first report from the women's study group was, um, not well received. I went to see The Fugs on New Year's Eve in New York.
I should mention marijuanafication of American colleges and universities at this time. It was everywhere, universally used and available, and cheap. LSD too.
Chronological order and logic are suspended here. It's all a fog of action.
I saw, heard, and surrendered to Jefferson Airplane in New York for the first time along with Glen McKay's "Headlights." The loudness, impact, and lights were an immersion into Paul Kantner's "alternate quantum universe," with lyrics by A. A. Milne in an opus called "Poohneil." They played till four in the morning.
That next morning the Vietnam war was won by the Vietnamese. The Tet Offensive was a call for a general revolt, and there were uprisings in every province and every city. The US Marines were defeated in battle in Hue. The US Embassy in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) was infested by the Viet Cong.
U of H sent "Clean for Gene" folks to New Hampshire, where McCarthy challenged LBJ in the Democratic Primary for president. Johnson got 48% of the vote; McCarthy got 42%... a moral victory with portents for the future.
I went to a MOBE meeting in New York where plans for a national demonstration at the Democratic Party Convention in Chicago were discussed. Abbie and Jerry had a commitment from the Jefferson Airplane to play every day for a week-long music festival north of the city; they also agreed to pay for a PA system for the event. Political stuff would happen at the convention site and in the Grant Park area. No permits had been issued; the city and its Mayor Daley refused to issue any. There would be a court fight for permits... I suggested that if there were no permits we should not go. I argued that you can't lead innocent lambs to slaughter. Dave Dellinger bowed his head and abstained. I was the only no vote.
Meanwhile, with no student deferment, the Selective Service System came calling. I had an order to appear for a draft physical in New Haven. They handed out a list of subversive organizations so out-of-date it included the IWW. I checked off 16 or 17 names and handed it in. The sergeant-in-charge pulled out my form and ordered me to stand. "You belong to all these groups?"
I answered, "This is the recruiting office. I thought you could sign me up. I'd like to join them."
"Sit down and shut up. If you say one more word you will be in the army and in the brig in New Jersey tonight."
I went thru the inspection/detection, leaving-no-nooks-or-crannies-untouched process, and then they sent me to the shrink. I would not speak; had to be a trap. I wrote on a piece of paper, "What is your rank?" He responded that he was a civilian. "Get an officer, you're nothing," I wrote. "I cannot speak."
He brought back a guy with twin silver bars on his collar, a captain. I wrote, "Do you outrank the sergeant?" and "May I speak freely? Put it in writing."
To the shrink I said, "Aren't you ashamed to send kids off to be slaughtered or to become war criminals, to kill women and children, to destroy crops, dams, and villages? How can you sleep at night? You're complicit in all this. What about First, do no harm? Pure evil, how do you sleep? Guilty, guilty, guilty."
He said he'd classify me 1Y and the nation would be in very bad shape before I was called. I told him I'd already be on the other side and under arms.
At the end of the month, Dan Hazelton, Jackie Hilt, Paula Peterson, and I drove to Lexington, Kentucky for the quarterly SDS convention. SDS was coming apart a Maoist faction arrived early, left late, and voted in a block. I declined invitations to go to a gym for unarmed combat and self-defense classes. Yet again the women's group had a rough reception. I could not believe a group with the smarts of SDS could be so insensate and unaware.
LBJ made his "I will not run for re-election" speech as we were driving home. Dan was behind the wheel in the early AM when a front tire caught the lip of the shoulder in ice and snow on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and we spun around backward across all three lanes of traffic and into the median. A trucker stopped and put on his flashers; he helped push the car back to the shoulder.
There was a big MOBE meeting to OK plans for the convention demonstrations. There were about a thousand people in a ballroom of a hotel near Times Square. It was a very bellicose group: confront the war-makers, strong language. Pow! Pow! Pow! Pow! Pow! Pow! About a dozen loud bangs sounded like gunshots. A pause, then some more. Bang! Bang! Bang! People hit the floor. People ran for the doors. Everyone ran... no meeting. Out on the street, folks escaping the gunshots were greeted by cops on horseback with clubs.
Back home. Since the dorms had opened I had spent time in small, informal conversations about student life in the lounges of the dorms. I would talk about powerlessness and the plantation mentality. Find friends and new SDS members.
One night a young lad had some sort of seizure in the elevator of the student center. One of our security guards and then another showed up. One of them slapped the young lad across the face and shouted, "Knock off that hippie shit." The kid was foaming at the mouth, unconscious, and flopping around the elevator.
Eventually one of the guards called an ambulance and the kid was transported to St. Francis Hospital.
I arrived at school the next morning to find a couple hundred students in the lounge making signs and getting ready to go invade North House. I tried to discover the truth about the past evening. Asking around: Who? Did you see the slapping? Did you hear the "hippie shit" comment? The story had been repeated so many times. Students were pissed off about dorm life, rude security guards, the food, the rules, and healthcare. I had not thought about an infirmary and neither had they. My high school had a school nurse; the summer camp where I had worked had an infirmary and a nurse.
It is a lot easier to get in front of someone else's parade than it is to start your own. So as our nothing protest got to North House I asked if they wanted me to see what I could get before they trashed the place and got arrested and everything. "They all hate me it's time for demands."
I always presumed that student life was so poor because we were powerless, had no access or input, and were not doing much to improve our lot.
The Administrative Council was seated in the Boardroom when I entered.
"I have a list of demands some of which you will have to work on and some you will say 'yes' to within the next half hour because you hold contradictory positions on student-life issues and you can't defend your positions on either side."
You just can't defend whatever did happen last night. First off, anyone on the elevator has a key for access because of an existing health problem. You all defend the propriety of your dorm rules and visitation policy because you think in loco parentis (in place of the parents) but then with almost 500 students in the dorms, you are pretty lousy parents if you can't hand an aspirin to someone with a cold or put a bandaid on a boo boo.
You may not know that girls sneak out of the dorms thru the first-floor back windows and walk thru the construction debris in the dark because they can't walk out the front door. You'll agree to the infirmary now because you have to. And you'll change the dorm visitation rules now because you have no control over this, and they ought to be able to go in and out the front door.
I had them at "bandaid on a boo boo." There was discussion about the Regents and the state legislature. They never said the security guard would apologize for the "hippie shit" comment. The black-student thing was from out of left field (more anon). The crowd cooled off a bit and went home pleased about the dorm rules and the infirmary.
At the end of March our SDS chapter sponsored the first on-campus social event a concert by the Fugs. First time anyone used the new gym.
On April 4, Dr. Martin Luther King was murdered. I was in Al Triedel's office for some reason when a call came from the Hartford Seminary. King dead; we're looking for people of conscience to blockade the Hartford police station to prevent beatings when they arrest kids for rioting.
I got to the police station by about 6:45 p.m. There were about 50 or 60 people in the lobby waiting for a chance to speak personally with the Chief, and about an equal number already lined up on the sidewalk behind the G. Fox garage with an open view and access to the station's sally port/garage.
The Hartford Courant reported that a small market had been looted and burned by 6:45. A package store would be looted clean later, and a pharmacy broken open and looted.
I and several others spoke to the officer on duty. We are peacekeepers. We are here to prevent and stop any beatings of people mourning a great tragedy. We will intervene and stop beatings if necessary.
The Courant reported that the police called in their midnight shift early, set up a blockade at both ends of Barbour Street and near the junction of North Main and Albany Avenue. There was a street bonfire on North Main Street and dumpster fires elsewhere. The Courant reported that three Black Panther members entered the police station at 10:45 p.m. to protest potential beatings, and said not a word about the 150-or-so white folks already there for the same purpose. The Panthers also did a great job on "Don't burn down your own damn house." The streets were pretty clear by three in the morning. The police made 22 arrests. There were no beatings.
There were counties in Maryland under martial law for five months. In Hartford, with a little restraint never shown before, it was over with little damage in a night. The link with Hartford Seminary was solid. My predecessor Al Triedel was religious eventually became a Rabbi. He was a close friend of Al Lowenstein.
By April, Jack and I decided he would take the paper and I would take the government... and that came to pass.
I negotiated a new financial base for the SFA with Hector. Previously the University would make a grant to the SFA of $35,000-$39,000 per year and approve their budget. Any income (like tickets to Homecoming) went into the University's general fund. I told him: Keep your money.
We will be funded like most governments: by taxes. Twelve dollars per semester per student, and you're going to collect the tax just like any other fee. We want autonomy over expenditures. We will retain any income we generate, and we want carryover from one fiscal year to the next.
Hector said he had a fiduciary responsibility to make sure you're not buying guns and ammo. I said we were Americans and already had guns, and we had no plans to buy weapons with SFA funding: We're going to buy paper and ink and a lively campus. Hector said we had to have a balanced budget and that we could have autonomy over line-item allocations. We had to deposit income in their bank account, and they would not censor purchase orders. "Yes" to retaining income, "yes" to annual carryover. The "tax" had to pass a popular vote. (It did.)
And regarding the infirmary: We want a general practitioner to give us a half day a week for office hours and a women's doctor for a half day also.
I won the election to the A&S at-large seat and then the Presidency. Jack was appointed the new editor of the paper by our new Publications Commission.
U of H did the smartest thing: They had a goal-planning conference at an out-of-state resort. Forty students, a dozen faculty and administrators and regents. They found out I was a moderate revolutionary. There was an open bar and much weed smoking. We all agreed on a "teaching school" with high standards, open to all.