Mark Rudd, the Lenin of the Columbia Uprising


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September 19, 1968, Vol. XIII, No. 49

Columbia Gets Ready For Who Knows What?
by Steve Lerner

On the eve of registration, Columbia is a nervous place. Hints that the university has been subtly preparing itself for possible disorders at the opening of school are everywhere.

During the summer, the iron gate which commands the Broadway entrance near Ferris Booth Hall lost the rungs which once made it a cinch to scale; brickproof, shatterproof, plexiglass windows were installed in Low Library; one of the cobbled causeways which furnished last year’s combatants with a convenient ammunition depot has been repaved; the addresses of incoming freshmen were unavailable for the first time this year to radical groups which wished to send them propaganda; and a new breed of rent-a-cop, with big shoulders and gray uniforms, appeared on campus to oversee computerized registration.

Undaunted, Mark Rudd, commonly hailed as the Lenin of last year’s uprising, saunters through the campus vaccinating his friends with red armbands as he goes. At each little cluster of “longhairs” he pauses, hovers, greets the veterans of last year’s campaign, wraps the revolutionary electrical tape around the left arm of a handy denim jacket, and then takes off for the next group. Stopping at a table full of leaflets (some of which he himself authored) he confronts a T-shirted freshman with curly red hair. Stumped for a moment on how best to decorate this sleeveless recruit, he bends down and begins scotching the chevron to the boy’s leg.

“I’m Mark Rudd,” he says matter-of-factly, looking up into the boy’s face from behind the sunglasses.

“I gathered,” the boy smiles.

Everywhere Rudd goes faces brighten: to be talked with is to be beknighted. No one crowds around him, that would be too crude, but wherever he goes the focus of attention shifts…

Whether or not the radical movement at Columbia will be able to overcome the “back to school” psychology which prevails on its campus today will be a true test of its resolve. The university is an ideal set-up for radical activities in that there is a concentration of idealistic students, an encompassable and highly visible authority structure, and plenty of grievances to attack. On the other hand, building a student revolution is made difficult not only by administrative opponents, but by the transient nature of the student population and the manner in which vacations seem to cut into the movement just when it is getting up momentum. This is largely the problem that Columbia students are facing this year.

“The revolution will have to wait for spring,” a candid Columbia senior admitted recently. “Most people here want to get in a full semester of courses before the whole strike business is started again.” There were others who also felt that it might be poor timing to try to pull off a strike at the beginning of the year. “The first half of the year should be devoted to radicalizing the students, indoctrinating the freshmen, and getting ourselves together before we try to go off on some half-baked plan,” he continued. “It will be a lot easier to get support for a big demonstration in the spring because by then everyone will be bored with classes and looking for an excuse to skip exams,” a survivor of last year’s strike confided…

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