The destruction of SDS [Students for a Democratic Society] was probably the greatest mistake I’ve made in my life (and I’ve made quite a few). It was a historical crime. The war was far from over – hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops were still in Vietnam, and we had yet to invade Cambodia and Laos. It would continue for five more years. We should have tried to use SDS to build a broad and powerful movement to end the war as possible. Yet my friends and I chose to scuttle America’s largest radical organization – with chapters on hundreds of campuses, a powerful national identity, and enormous growth potential – for a fantasy of revolutionary urban-guerilla warfare. None of us in the Weather leadership, to my knowledge, were police agents either. We did it all ourselves. For decades I’ve been contemplating the wonder of this fact.
But Rudd’s book contains more than just laments. There are many lessons to be drawn from what he called “organizing” and today is known as “activism.” In one passing detail, he describes coffee houses that anti-war organizers established near U.S. military bases in the Vietnam era as a way to engage soldiers. Is anything like that happening today?
As I got off the plane in Copenhagen with my head full of this history, I met up with the film distributor Richard Lorber also traveling to CPH:DOX. When I mentioned what I was reading, Lorber surprised me by divulging that he had written his own book in 1968, as a Columbia student, called THE GAP. Lorber recalled the disorienting days in May ‘68 of traveling between penthouse book parties and campus clashes with police.
As our sleep-deprived New York crew assembled at Copenhagen’s airport, I met Adella Ladjevardi, grants manager of Cinereach, who told me she’s looking forward to the second STF presentation next week of BASSIDJI (Tuesday, Nov 17). Even though the title was only announced last week, she assured me that word is spreading in the Iranian community who came out to STF in strong force last spring for THE GLASS HOUSE. In BASSIDJI, the director Mehran Tamadon seeks to interview members of the Iranian militias who rose to fresh prominence this summer as they were employed to crack down the reform movement. Tamadon had the foresight to be filming them two years ago. The film is also playing here at CPH:DOX as part of an Iranian sidebar.
In September, I met Tamadon in Toronto where I programmed his film at TIFF. As we walked down the main drag of Yonge Street on a beautiful weekend day, we encountered two small groups of student marchers. One group was carrying signs advocating for age restrictions on admission to films that depict smoking; the other group coincidentally was rallying for the legalization of pot-smoking (with Canadian flags that replaced a marijuana symbol for the Maple leaf). Tamadon laughed in disbelief. “In my country,” he said, “people are risking their lives on the street for freedom. Here it’s all about smoking…”