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SDS Re-revisited

  SDS imae

The reflections of Maurice Isserman ’73 [“1968 and All That,” Winter 2007] on the failure of the Reed student masses to follow the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) banner in the late ’60s, omits an important consideration. SDS sought to build a collectivist society benevolently guided by intellectuals and others who were appropriately enlightened. It was also on occasion an apologist for the totalitarian regimes founded earlier in the century. While many Reed students were merely indifferent, some were paying attention, and they rejected the goals of SDS on the merits.

The violence espoused by SDS’s visiting deputations, acknowledged by Isserman, certainly didn’t help its cause. However, at bottom, more than a few Reedies concluded that their futures really were better entrusted to the wonders of the free market than to the decisions of the latest field secretary, commandant, or central committee. To their credit, some Reed faculty members of that era quietly affirmed this opinion.

Bennett H. Goldstein ’72
Portland, Oregon

I take issue with some of Maurice Isserman’s perspective on the hippies/politicos dichotomy in his fascinating article.

Maurice states: “. . . we discovered to our dismay that most of our fellow Reedies failed to show much interest in joining us at the barricades in a replay of the 1968 Columbia strike. Reed SDS neither enrolled nor spoke for most students. One problem was that the campus harbored many more hippies than it did politicos. To the outside world, the two groups may have been indistinguishable, but at Reed each knew how they differed from the other camp . . . for the hippies it was a revolution in consciousness and spirit, as in ‘you’d better free your mind instead.’”

If, as Maurice says, many in the “youth movement” of that time looked indistinguishable, it was not just that they (we) dressed similarly and wore long hair, beards, and so on, it’s that there was a significant gray zone between what it was to be a “hippy” vs. a “politico.” Was Arlo Guthrie a political or a hippy? Alan Ginsberg? And don’t throw Tim Leary at me, okay? That’s not fair.

Just because one did not join SDS or PRYM [Portland Revolutionary Youth Movement] did not make one not political. If you wore the hippy/left drag of the day, it could be safely taken as a rather reliable a priori statement about your political convictions. At that time and place, you were pretty much on target in believing that most of us who were called “hippies,” whether members of the above or related political organizations or not, were indeed actively against the war. The marches and day-to-day protests were fueled by many more people than the relatively small faction of “activists” that Maurice refers to.

Many years back, Marlena Smith (political commentator on radio-free KBOO, 90.7 on your FM dial in Portland), did a broadcast in which she read an article about the world’s debt to hippies (not SDS, hippies). I found it to be a very moving, concise, and articulate statement. I just want to step up to the plate and say that the politico-social matrix was more complex than what Maurice describes.

Whether one was more on the “hippy” or “political” side of things was the result of a complex of social phenomena. Social background, class, and education affected which end of the spectrum people settled into (then as now). But one thing is for sure: self-identified “hippies” like myself didn’t just sit around smoking banana leaves and worshiping George Harrison.

SDS did not stop the war. Hundreds of thousands of frustrated, angry, peace-loving, militant, druggy, non-druggy, long haired, short haired, outraged, G.I. Joe’s-clothes-wearing, paisley-clothes-wearing young people, plus many from earlier generations, marched, fought, and went to jail and stopped the war. These same people promoted and advanced every other progressive issue that we still deal with today.

Furthermore, if more people did not identify with the politics of SDS and related organizations, it may be because they did not have to wait 30 years to be disaffected by a lot of the attitudes, beliefs, and narrow-mindedness of “The Left.” If “The Left” traditionally factionalizes over nothing, the perception that Maurice espouses—that many were called but few were chosen—is an example of why leftish politicos were and are so ineffective so often: they preach to the converted, unlike say, the Black Panthers.

P.S.: No doubt this letter will be edited for space. For those who would like to read the whole megillah, go to http://frankpoliat.blogspot.com.

Frank Poliat ’70
Portland, Oregon

I enjoyed seeing my 1971 Willamette Bridge cover illustrating Maurice Isserman’s history of Reed SDS. I have a story to share.

As Maurice wrote, we were enthusiastic supporters of the local Black Panther Party. At some point several of the Panthers were arrested when some kid being chased by the police ducked into the Panther headquarters. The next day, we joined the remaining Panthers in front of the county courthouse to protest the arrests. The 16-year-old Black Panther “Minister of Information” led the chants. Soon we were chanting, “Multnomah County, burn it to the ground! Multnomah County, burn it to the ground!”

As we marched, Maurice leaned over and said dryly, “I don’t think this program will have mass appeal.”

Jim Beller ’70
Albany, California

John Sterne Re-remembered

  John Sterne ’70 image

John Sterne 70 (19482006)


Every now and again I’ll look at every page of Reed magazine, reading some of it and scanning the rest for familiar names. I did this with the Winter 2007 issue and was richly rewarded when I got to the back page. There was John Daniel’s (’70) rich description of the life of my buddy John Sterne ’70, with a simple picture of him standing in the desert. My first reaction was denial—that couldn’t be the John Sterne I knew. But the years fit, and a closer look at the picture quickly made me realize it was indeed he.

My memories are vague, but we must have shared some classes our freshman and possibly sophomore years, and I know we did a lot of giggling. I do remember finding him in commons having coffee and cigarettes for breakfast. He claimed his mind worked best in the morning on two cups of coffee, one cigarette, and no food. After reading John Daniel’s description of his friend, I realized that was just another example of his experiments with his brain. I respected him for that. It was never boring to chat with John.

Another time I bumped into him when he was the chef in a macrobiotic restaurant. He was busy, but took a few seconds to teach me the secret of cooking brown rice. “Rinse the rice. Put in twice as much water as rice. Boil it down until the water is level with the rice. Turn the burner on low, cover the pan, and wait 45 minutes. No peeking. Well, maybe you can peek once” (said with his wonderful grin). It’s many a pot of rice I’ve cooked since, grateful for the recipe and reminded of that grin.

The last time I saw John was at a Reed reunion a decade or so ago. He found me and we chatted for a while. I was so glad to see him, but I would have had a tough time recognizing him with his “meditator’s physique,” as John Daniel described. We had both become software engineers, so enjoyed shooting the professional bull for a bit. I knew enough to realize John’s brilliance hadn’t dimmed. He had grasped the richest complexities of object-oriented programming and was cheerfully creating “objects.” I keep hoping I’ll bump into one of his objects out there in cyberspace, and be reminded once again of my brilliant, fun, delightful college buddy.

My thanks to John Daniel for his robust and loving description of the life of our mutual friend.

Loie Drew ’72
Portland, Oregon

Another Story of Love

I must have missed your call for “Love Stories” [Winter 2007], but I’d like to add one to your collection. Different from the others, in that we married after our sophomore year (1962) and are still married!

Ray was a chemistry major who wanted to go to veterinary school. Judith was an English major who thought maybe she would teach. After moving from Portland to Pullman, Washington, to Davis, California, to Boston, to Ithaca, New York, to Rochester, New York (where we settled for 28 years), Ray is now the attending veterinarian at Oregon State University and Judith is senior associate dean for academics at the School of Nursing at Oregon Health & Science University.

Judith Gedney Baggs ’64 and Ray Baggs ’64
Aloha, Oregon

Slavery Defined

While I found Professor Darius Rejali’s essay, “From the Inside Looking In” [Winter 2007], both enjoyable and informative, I cannot make sense out of his two paragraphs explaining that the meaning of the word “slavery” differs from country to country. Is this not just a case of inaccurate translation from other languages? To express in English the notion of “lack of community,” one should say just that and not use a word that standard English dictionaries agree means “lack of freedom.”

John G. Fletcher
Livermore, California

Honor is Dead, Long Live Honor!

Thank you for publishing the article “Is Honor Dead?” [Winter 2007]. Student self-governance has always been not only a distinguishing feature of our community, but also a highly valued one. Reed is one of the very few colleges that entrusts students, rather than staff, to set and enforce community standards. Without the honor principle, or with an honor principle that exists in name only, the Reed student body cannot self-govern. Diffusion of responsibility, fueled by the rapid growth of the student body and the changing role of campus security, presents external challenges to the system. However, it is what the students value that will determine whether the honor principle survives. I caution those who view the honor principle as inadequate, that control does not come from entrusting enforcement to others.

Beth Trittipo ’96
J-Board member, 1994–95
J-Board chair, 1995–96
San Francisco, California

It is always fun reading Reed (^_^). Such refreshing well-intended naïveté. “Is Honor Dead?” is the perfect example. Reedies sincerely believe the whole world would be nice, like they are, if only they had the advantages Reedies did (^_~).

This is the classic “map and territory” confusion. The “map,” being the ideal world, is without potholes, detours, etc., and the “territory,” being the real world with its actual defects. Research shows that approximately 5 percent of the population is without conscience, and will do whatever it takes to gain their advantage. They will be nice, but only if there is something in it for them (*_*). Now, Reed may be atypical and have less than 5 percent antisocial people, but trust me, they are at Reed; yes, they will cheat, lie, and steal.

C. Norman Winningstad
Newport, Oregon

Singing of Reed

  songs of the griffin image

What happened to the Reed Song, which begins, “Hail, Alma Mater Reed”? Each time—and I’m talking about years—Reed students have phoned me re: “contributions,” I’ve asked them if they knew the Reed Song. Without exception, no one had heard there was such a song.

Ames B. Hendrickson ’48
Huntington Beach, California

Gay Walker ’69, special collections librarian at Reed, responds:

The Reed Song probably fell into disuse by the 1950s, although it was often sung at student events from the founding of Reed until then. It was given a boost in its more abbreviated form in the late 1940s when a booklet, Songs of the Griffin, was published by the college, and edited and illustrated by students John Gleason ’48 and (William) Karl Riley ’51.

There are several versions of the Reed song. Originally titled “Fair Reed,” and written by Reed’s first president, William Trufant Foster in 1910–11,the full text of the school song reads as follows:

All hail, Alma Mater, new born of the West
Where the mighty Columbia flows,
Thou fortunate heir of the pioneer’s quest
All hail to the griffin and rose. Thou wilt cherish thine own thru woe and thru weal,
Thou wilt throw on the pathway a light,
Never dimming the truth thru a partisan’s zeal
Never doubting the triumph of right.
Thru the joy and the stress of the years by thy side,
Thou wilt watch, thou wilt wait, thou wilt pray,
But thy dear mother heart in the faith will abide,
That thy children will bless thee alway;
For we love thee, we love thee, we love only thee,
With a love that none other hath known,
And we’ll strive for thy honor, undaunted and free,
Till our striving hath made thee our own.
When our steps have o’ertaken the beckoning years,
Tho we’ve wandered afar from thy halls,
Returning we’ll share all thy hopes and thy fears
And give heed to thy summoning calls.
In the strength of maturity then we shall bring
Grateful hearts and forget not thy need,
Worthy tribute we’ll lay at thy feet as we sing,
To thee, Alma Mater, Fair Reed.

The much more abbreviated form, “Hail, Alma Mater, Reed,” in Songs of the Griffin, contains the following simple verse:

Hail, Alma Mater, Reed. Stand and sing in tribute; Honor and truth our creed, Pledg’d in faith as we salute. The bond of her colors, Red and white forever ours. All hail, Alma Mater. In praise of Reed all hail.