A crowd of over 50 people gathered in the cozy Cowles Library Reading Room on Monday night to hear activist Mark Rudd recount stories of his 1960s experiences and his reflections since then.
Jumping right into the height of his experiences, Rudd began the speaking engagement by reading two passages from his book “Underground: My Life in SDS and the Weathermen.”
The first passage took the audience back to April of 1968 when Rudd and his Columbia University classmates threw security protocol to the wind and smashed through campus building windows until they made their way to the university president’s office.
In the book, Rudd focuses on the newness of the experience of exhibiting civil disobedience and the awe the students felt at what they did: they took over five campus buildings to protest what he refers to as Columbia University’s pro-war and racist policies.
The second passage Rudd read detailed a reunion and a reflection of sorts that took place on Columbia’s campus 40 years after the 1968 protests. It was during this reunion that Rudd realized how deeply segregated the university was and how much turmoil African-American students went through during their time at the institution.
Rudd quotes one African-American alumnus in his book as saying: “The time I spent at Columbia just about destroyed me. The only thing worse was watching my wife die of breast cancer.”
Through the African-American student’s perspectives, Rudd gathered that they viewed Rudd, who characterized himself as an upper-middle class Jewish kid from the suburbs, and his classmates as disorganized when it came to resistance.
Also from the African-American student’s perspectives, Rudd said it seemed as though he and his counterparts were rebelling against their own parents, whereas the African-American students were carrying on their parents’ burdens.
“What they told us humbled us,” Rudd said.
After the book reading, Rudd opened the room for conversation, during which music, capitalism, grassroots movements, power realignments, historical milestones and Rudd’s life on the lam were all discussed.
Throughout the entire speaking engagement, Rudd placed special emphasis on the importance of community organizing and its role in the major movements of American history.
“I would eventually like community organizing to be a subject, a major, much like business management, only this would be a social utility,” Rudd said.
The biggest message Erin Schroeder, junior, received from Rudd’s visit was, “If you want to make a change, organize.”
Photos: Tad Unruh