The Spring of 1968 marked a change in the tactics of both Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and Students' Afro-American Society (SAS). Both organizations embraced a more confrontational approach to politics and demonstrations at Columbia. In the Spring of 1968, Mark Rudd was elected chairman of SDS while Cicero Wilson was elected chairman of SAS. Previously, SDS was under the leadership of Ted Kaptchuk whose approach was more conservative: he practiced a dramatization - politicization style of politics which came to be known as "praxis-axis". Rudd and others attacked Kaptchuk for having only conducted peaceful demonstrations and having limited SDS activity to merely building a base on campus. Around the same time, SAS' leadership under Wilson became more confrontational as well. The Tuesday, April 22 protest was the first time an alliance between SDS and SAS was made. They were able to combine their individual grievances with the university to form a united and, therefore, more potent front. President Kirk and the administration of Columbia got a taste of the new more confrontational tactics of SDS at the March 27, 1968 protest and also in a letter Mark Rudd wrote to President Kirk on April 22, foreshadowing the next eight days:
Your cry of 'nihilism' represents your inability to understand our positive values...You are quite right in feeling that this situation is 'potentially dangerous'. For if we win, we will take control of your world, your corporation, your University and attempt to mold a world in which we and other people can live as human beings. Your power is directly threatened, since we will have to destroy that power before we take over. We begin by fighting you over your support of Vietnam and American Imperialism--IDA and the School of International Affairs. We will fight you about your control of black people in Morningside Heights, Harlem, and the campus itself. And we will fight you about the type of mis-education you are trying to channel us through. We will destroy at times, even violently, in order to end your power and your system--but that is a far cry from nihilism...There is only one thing left to say. It may sound nihilistic to you, since it is an opening shot in a war of liberation. I'll use the words of LeRoi Jones, whom I'm sure you don't like a whole lot: 'Up against the wall motherfucker, this is a stick-up.' Yours for Freedom, Mark. (Up Against the Ivy Wall, 26-27)
"Up Against the Wall, motherfucker" came to be the logo of the Columbia SDS "revolution". Rudd explained later that it defined the terms of the revolt: "It put the administration and the interests they represent on one side, leftist students and the interest of humanity on the other. Those undecided in the middle are forced to choose sides" (Symbols of the Revolution, 293). Confrontational politics, SDS, believed would eventually lead to moderates "radicalizing" and siding with the leftists because the opponent would eventually use force to try and end the conflict:
The tactical elegance of confrontation politics lay in the fact that the radicals had a good chance of winning whether the administration gave into their demands or overcame them by repression. The use of coercive force on the part of the adversary--whether it came in the form of university discipline or police violence--could be a powerful force to 'radicalize' liberal or moderate students (Up Against the Ivy Walls, 33).
For more information on the national chapter of SDS and its founding, see
The Port Huron Statement of 1962
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