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The cover of Jerry Rubin's
1970 book, "Do It."
I met Jerry Rubin In late 1965 when he was the leader of the Vietnam Day Committee (VDC), which consisted of anybody who walked into headquarters. Dropping in were many students from campus and a few former students like Rubin who were now activists, and a few Black activists and some white from nearby Oakland and a few leaders from activist organizations in San Francisco. There were also Trotskists, a few Communist Party people and three or more spies from I don't know how many organizations concerned about communism and law and order. One I worked with was undercover from the Berkeley Police Department. There were no happy-go-lucky dropouts or so-called hippies. They were not yet in Berkeley in great number and more into just living rather than serious anti-war organization.
The everyday nuts and bolts manager within the VDC was Mike Delacour. Rubin worked as the recognized egalitarian leader, networking with people outside the organization. Other than this there was no hierarchy or officers that I was aware of, just people who dropped in during off-hours for occasional "steering committee" meetings.
I wandered into one such meeting, sometime between September and November, 1965. Bob Scheer, the future columnist, was there, sitting up front, if I remember correctly, facing the others with Rubin. I remember the U.C. professor of mathematics who was there. The discussion was an invitation to appear on a television program to be broadcast by an Oakland commercial station. The broadcast was to discuss the VDC plan to march to army base in Oakland. Rubin and others were talking about not accepting the invitation because only one from the VDC was invited and there would be other guests hostile to the VDC. I spoke up and told them a debate was not a game of volleyball, there was not much of a disadvantage in having an unequal number on either side, that one good argument was enough. After a moment of silence Rubin responded with enthusiasm. He said that I should be the one to represent the VDC on the program. It was Rubin's style. He liked chutzpah and spontaneity. I failed him on both counts. One of those on the broadcast was to be an Oakland city official taking part in denying permission to march through the city. There had been discussions between lawyers for the VDC and the city regarding the VDC's right to march. I knew nothing about the content of these negotiations or law regarding a right to march, and I was not into making speeches about matters I knew nothing about.
But Rubin was a friendly guy. In the weeks that followed he made a maiden speech of some sort at a rally in deFermary Park in Oakland, alongside State Assemblyman John Burton. Rubin's speech was drab and serious, and mostly read. Stepping off the podium he walked over to me and asked with serious concern how he had done.
The marches in late 1965 never made it to the Oakland army base. Rubin became Bob Scheer's campaign manager for the June, 1966, Democratic primary. Scheer ran against Jeffrey Cohelan, a Democrat representing Berkeley and northern Oakland, and lost by something like 5 percent of the vote. Rubin that year ran for Mayor of Berkeley as an independent and won 20 percent of the vote. After that I occasionally saw him sitting alone in front the building where I worked, Tolman Hall, waiting for his student girlfriend. There he always looked a little depressed.
I had had Rubin's ear in late 1965. Seeing my faded Marine Corps tatoo he expressed respect for my military experience, which I detected to be genuine. I regret to this day that I did not have brains enough to talk to him about speaking against treating men coming home from Vietnam with disrespect, or brains enough to tell Rubin that he should communicate with North Vietnam's leadership about the primitivity and stupidity of mistreating prisoners. Rubin was a big name in the anti-war movement, and North Vietnam's leadership was paying attention to that movement. Rubin might have had some influence on them. And I can see Rubin agreeing with me with some enthusiasm.
Rubin had been in Cuba and believed in a new kind of social revolution, but I know first hand that he was not a Marxist. He was a former sociology student, like me, and must have had some exposure to Marxism. I had witnessed his expression of disdain for Marxist ideology and his reluctance to have an outspoken ideologue, a Maoist, representing the VDC. I don't think Rubin was one of those who assumed that the U.S. was in Vietnam motivated to plunder Vietnam's natural resources – the position of Bob Scheer. I don't remember everything he said in my presence, but my guess is that like me he thought that the Russians messed up regarding Hungary in 1956. He was certainly not a Stalinist or an old party communist. He might have believed as I did that North Korea's move into South Korea was a mistake and that they United Nations was justified in siding with South Vietnam.
Rubin looked happy again in 1967. His appearance was changing. Pot smoking was becoming prevalent in Berkeley, and so too the longer hairstyle of the hippies. He was hanging with big name rebels, Abbie Hoffman and Paul Krassner, editor of the Realist, and he had a friend and admirer in Stew Alpert with whom he formed the Yippies. By now I was out of touch with Rubin. Their strategy in pushing their revolution was to do some attention-getting street theater at the Democratic convention – antics that Old Party people or Trostkyists were interested in.
Copyright © 2007-2910 Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.