Thursday, September 25, 2008

Book Review: Take the Streets

Book Review: “Take the Streets” by Ed Felien, 2008. (See advertisement below review.)

According to reports, Eddie wrote this short chronicle of the local anti-war uprising at the University of Minnesota in May 1972 right after the events. The uprising was in response to Nixon’s escalation of the air war in North Vietnam, and the mining of Hai Phong harbor. It might have been sitting in a shoe box every since, but we’re glad he finally published it. It is on sale at May Day books, and Eddie will give an ‘author talk’ on Sunday, Sept. 28 at 3:00 p.m. at May Day. Be there!

Millions participated in the events of 1972 – they were the largest demonstrations against the war in the U.S. If you were here locally in 1972, or even if you weren’t, and you want to compare events then and perhaps events at the RNC in August, this is a useful book. While liberals and even some radicals pooh-pooh barricades and confrontations between protesters and police, events like this are actually crucial tests of power between opposing sides. Most people don’t think taking and holding an intersection or street is ‘much’ or should be valued, but it is actually a small form of ‘dual’ power – just as a factory, building, neighborhood and land occupations can be forms of ‘dual power.’ Blocking traffic is a small thing, but it nevertheless calls into question the PHYSICAL control of the society by the armed forces, starting with the police. At bottom, when everything else breaks down – bribery, propaganda, gradualism, inertia, etc. – physical control is all that is left to the ruling powers.

Felien and the radicals at the U in 1972 understood this instinctually. The anti-war movement took and held Washington and University Avenues for several days, ultimately using barricades. Felien details each confrontation - the throwing out of the Army recruiters in Dinkytown; the attack on Romney and the new Cedar Square towers on the West Bank; the occupation of Interstate 94 at rush hour; and the back and forth between the police, Guard and protesters over control of University and Washington Avenues, including the key building, the ROTC building. The most interesting event to me (I was a participant in SDS at the time) is the stopping by students of a delivery of crates of M16s intended for the Guard! After some confrontation and discussion, the truck turned around. The book ends with the large march of 12,000 to the State Capital, which included a sizeable SDS breakaway march, and then the occupation of Johnston Hall by the Attica Brigade, the last ‘action’ of the uprising. I hesitate to call it an insurrection, as Felien does, as that seems to be hyperbole. It was a ‘non-violent’ insurrection if you will, and certainly, like the RNC, the main sources of violence were the police and Guard.

Eventually the Tactical Squad and the bulldozers removed the barricades. However, anyone who was there saw a local police department and local political leadership which was over-matched for a time. And that is something you do not forget.

Various characters make an appearance in the book. Paula Giese, a professor at the U and a key activist, was constantly armed with facts to throw at the U administration. She played a leadership role at many key times. Malcolm Moos, the ‘liberal’ president of the University, who nevertheless allowed ROTC, military recruiters and secret military research on campus, and tried to pretend that he was against the war, but did not support ‘radical’ methods. Charles Stenvig, the right-wing Daley/Rizzo type mayor of Minneapolis, staked his fame, much like Fletcher, on his rough handling of protesters. However, his TAC squad finally got tired and had to retreat. Marv Davidov was involved in events, leading a march against Honeywell, manufacturer of weapons for Vietnam. The Clery and Laity Concerned also appear, mostly as advocates of abandoning the barricades. The YSA/Mobe, who Felien calls in typical Maoist terminology, “Trots,”, appear as the advocates of only one tactic – large peace marches to remote locations. SDS and folks like KK Washington are mostly praised, as are the VVAW and what Felien likes to call the “Richter Red Devils” – street kids who hung around the old Richter’s drugstore on the West Bank. He praises them for being at the heart of erecting and defending the barricades. Interlarded between the text are pictures from the Minneapolis papers, the Daily, old leaflets and photocopies of odd SDS stuff like “Moos Money” – which you could use to get a sip of Moos' own whiskey.

Felien also has a section on events that lead up to the agitation on campus, including left opposition to a U corporate agenda called “Toward 1985 and Beyond” proposed by the U administration. The plums of this plan? Increased tuition, liquidation of the Humanities department, cutting of staff, raising the bus fare – it was a forerunner to the land grant institution becoming a phony “Harvard of the Midwest.” This document would be familiar to anyone who goes to the U today.

This is a valuable and local history that could have been lost, except in our memories, and Felien is to be congratulated for finally publishing it. I only have one beef – Felien should learn how to spell the term Trotskyist. In a way, the national left was bifurcated by skills – the YSA/SWP knew how to have large peace marches, SDS/PL knew how to engage in more militant direct action, and organize unions, and groups like NAM had a more intimate, organizational approach that lead to things like the Constituent Assembly – the democratic organization that grew out of the student strike events. An actual revolutionary party would be able to carry out all these activities, and more. And that was, perhaps, one of the missing ingredients.

Participants in the events at the RNC will notice how polite and sometimes calm the Guard, administrators and even police could be in 1972. You might also notice that the numbers of protesters in 1972 were larger than the numbers at the RNC. Participants will also notice how the police and Guard in 1972 were nowhere near as well armed or numerous as they are now. 36 years and millions of dollars later, and our forces of repression are far … more … repressive. That is what the study of even local history teaches us.

--Red Frog, and I bought it at MayDay Books!


Renegade Eye said...

I wonder what became of KK Washington? I'd love to see him.

Ed is still mad that once when he ran for city council, the SWP put up a candidate against him. I think that is one reason for using the term Trots. In addition they were clumsy using democratic centralism.

Wow! Good for Ed, keeping the memories alive.

Red Frog said...

Saw KK at an 'ex-PLers' ex-SDS party a long time ago. Last time I heard of him.

SWP shouldn't have run against Felien - not tactically smart.

Forum was OK, Ed forgot a few things, but has remembered by writing them down, many others!