reed magazine logowinter2007

1968 and all that - radicals, hippies and SDS at Reed

1966

Ronald Reagan elected governor of California

Martin Luther King Jr. stages open housing demonstrations
in Chicago

Black Panther
Party founded

1967

Pentagon demonstration

Six-Day War

Haight-Ashbury “Summer of Love”

Willamette Bridge underground newspaper begins publishing

Muhammad Ali
stripped of
heavyweight crown

Beatles release
Sgt. Pepper album

1968

Tet offensive

Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy assassinated

Black power
protest at summer Olympics

My Lai massacre

Chicago Democratic convention

Nixon elected
president

Unfortunately, just as those of us at Reed were beginning to figure out what it meant to build a campus radical movement, SDS itself collapsed as a national organization. The leadership faction known as the Weatherman (including Mark Rudd, Bernadine Dohrn, Bill Ayers and others) gained control of the SDS national office in the summer of 1969—with well-known results. About a half dozen Reedies dropped out of school over the summer of 1969 and joined the local Weatherman collective—some of them were arrested during the “Days of Rage” that fall in Chicago.

Above: Reed students march for civil rights in downtown Portland, in response to racist bombings in Mississippi in 1964.That same year, the Reed chapter of SDS was founded. Right: By the time students were marching in response to the U.S. Justice Department visit to campus in 1971, styles had changed.

 
   

The rest of us decided the weathermen had gone crazy, and hoped, forlornly, that they would be succeeded in time by saner leaders. But in late December, the leaders of the Weatherman decided they no longer had any use for the mass student movement they were supposedly at the head of.
They shut down the national office and took a few followers with them underground. Students for a Democratic Society was killed not by its enemies but by its own leaders.

After the wave of anti-war strikes in May 1970, there was a larger than usual wave of drop-outs from Reed, including many of the SDS veterans. That summer, some of us moved into an old Reed house on Southeast 23rd and Division (a crumbling brick edifice formerly known as “Orthanc”). Reed SDS was dead, but we were determined to fight on, this time off-campus.

SDS’s successor was something we called the Portland Revolutionary Youth Movement collective (our acronym “PRYM” rhymed with “prim”). Prim we were not, but activist we were, working on the local underground newspaper, the Willamette Bridge, volunteering at the local Black Panther dental clinic in Albina, the women in the collective helping found a women’s health clinic, and all of us continuing to work against the war. PRYM lasted about two years, and somewhere along the way I returned to Reed and finished my degree. By the mid-1970s many of us were moving on, to graduate school or jobs in other cities. Of the Reed SDS veterans I stayed in touch with in the years that followed, several went on (as I did) to academic careers, several became lawyers, one became a union organizer, one a rabbi, one a carpenter. Almost all remained, to one degree or another, active on the Left. When I see them (not nearly often enough), I feel grateful for the chance to have lived through memorable times with some really smart, decent, and generous companions.

Photos: Special Collections, Eric V. Hauser Memorial Library