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Sandwiches and Car Bombs
While I was at the University of Maryland during the 1974-1975 academic year one of the projects among the leftist counterculture community was supporting a group of students who wanted to start a food co-op on campus. These folks were constantly being threatened by an administration that had sold its soul to big business years before.
In this particular instance, the co-op workers had been arrested twice for selling food in front of the student union without a permit. Of course the reason they were selling without a permit was because the school wouldn’t give them one because it violated the standard exclusive contract that the Marriot Corporation had with the University. So, the University sent its cops out to cuff a bunch of hippies selling sandwiches. Such obvious corporate buttkissing eventually worked against the school and, after a spring of demonstrations and arrests, the trustees changed the food service contract, and allowed the co-op to operate legally, even giving it a room in the Student Union building and some money to bring their operation up to code.
Later on that year while the co-op struggle languished in officialdom, our cadre of the Revolutionary Student Brigade (RSB) set up a human blockade around a pair of Marines who were attempting to recruit a few good men from the campus. This was the first time since before the Cambodia/Kent State riots in 1970 that any type of military recruitment had been attempted on the University of Maryland campus. Our goal was to make them leave. Every day at noon a bunch of antiwar types would sit down in front of the Marines’ table in front of the Student Union building and link arms. Eventually there would be between fifty and a hundred folks completely surrounding the table. The Marines just stood there at attention, but occasionally right wing students, usually big white guys, would charge through the crowd. It wasn’t that they wanted to join the Marines –they just wanted to kick some commie butt. From what I remember, the only butt they kicked belonged to a woman with real long hair who attended RSB meetings. One afternoon, she threw her ninety-pound body in front of some guy who thought he was running through the defensive front line of the Washington Redskins football team and he trampled her. She ended up with some badly bruised ribs and a charge of assault. He ended up feeling like a man. After this incident the University had the Marines move inside the Student Union building to a room that was towards the back of the building. They left the campus when nobody cared enough to find them. Before that occurred, however, two of our cadre members from off-campus were arrested on trespassing charges for sitting inside the room where the Marines were. The rest of our cadre and some supporters took over one of the dean’s offices and held it until they were released.
One of our other projects was helping to bring down the Shah of Iran-a brutal dictator who was owned lock, stock and barrel by the CIA and the oil companies. His secret police the SAVAK were notorious for the regime of fear they had created in Iran and amongst Iranians around the globe. Lots of Iranian youth studied in the United States, and the DC area certainly had its share. I was one of the liaisons to the Iranian Students Organization ISA. We spent several afternoons together at a crowded office in downtown DC taking part in meetings planning for the upcoming visit to DC by the shah. In return for our support, local ISA members attending the University of Maryland helped us out as much as possible. Once when we were picketing the Administration building over a planned budget cut aimed at the Ethnic Studies department, two Iranian guys driving a black Mercedes pulled up on the sidewalk, jumped out of the car and attacked our Iranian friend whom I’ll call Rashif. They almost had him in the car before we realized that they were probably part of the Shah’s secret police (SAVAK) and trying to kidnap him. After a bit of a struggle, we managed to rescue him. Rashif was a very dedicated Marxist revolutionary and took it all in stride. It was his instruction that helped me to understand some of the finer nuances of Lenin’s treatise on imperialism. After the attack, he disappeared for a couple weeks and then reappeared. After the Iranian revolution I heard that he had returned to Iran. For all I know, Khomeini’s soldiers killed him.
While working on the co-op protests at the university, I was reminded that sandwiches had figured into a protest back in high school also. After the Department of Defense School System (which ran all schools on military bases overseas, where my dad was stationed as an Air Force officer) raised prices on all of the cafeteria food back in 1972, some of us asked why. The answer given by the school administration was that the pentagon had to cut expenses. Our immediate response was why not end the war instead of raising food prices? After all, one fuckin’ bomb cost a hell of a lot more money than a high school lunch. A fellow student, TW, and I got together with a few friends and printed a leaflet that asked that very question and announced a lunch boycott until prices were lowered. We gave away sandwiches outside the cafeteria for three days and had speakers talking about everything from the war to David Bowie. A local rock band attempted to give a free concert but was denied electricity by the administration. The boycott was successful for a few days and then lost momentum. People just got tired of making sandwiches and coffee. Prices never went down.
While we boycotted lunch, the revolutionary armed cells of the Red Army Fraktion (RAF) were blowing up U.S. Army buildings. I was at home the evening the first bombs of their campaign destroyed a good portion of the Officers’ Club and a part of the IG Farben office building in Frankfurt am Main where hundreds of military folks, including my dad, worked, killing an army colonel. The following morning the US military was very nervous and under a state of high alert. Military policemen inspected our bags before we left the school bus, and soldiers with small arms stood at several key intersections in the areas of the city where the Americans lived and worked. In the coming weeks, these areas, which had been relatively open, were closed off. Sentry posts were hastily constructed and concrete barriers put in place. Metal detectors were placed in the entrances to U.S. office buildings and military identification cards were scrutinized more closely before one entered buildings like the commissary and Post Exchange.
In the weeks that followed, other bombs were set off in other cities in West Germany. In Heidelberg two GIs were killed when their cars exploded. Apparently, the bombers had placed the bombs under the vehicles unbeknownst to the servicemen. Although I was sympathetic to the reasons behind the bombings, I did not understand or support the murders. It was too simple to blame anybody connected to the military for US imperialism and not take into account the reasons those individuals might be in the service. Of course, the RAF did not really concern itself with those reasons; they just opposed and hated the existence and presence of the US military on foreign soil. So they killed people, more for their own satisfaction than to further the revolution. Sometime around this period a group of friends and I went to a big demonstration in downtown Frankfurt opposing the intensified U.S. bombing of Vietnam and, in the United States, the Weather Underground set off a bomb in the Pentagon.
In mid-June one of the leaders of the RAF-Andreas Baader-was captured in an apartment near the building where Armed Forces radio was headquartered. This ended the bombings for a while. The buildup towards a police state continued, however. In their search for the remaining members of the RAF, German police set up unannounced roadblocks on the autobahn and stopped every vehicle. Leftist demonstrations were more tightly controlled and the police were freer in their attacks on such protests. In addition, the numbers of police outside rock concerts and festivals increased.
I’m not selling sandwiches these days, but the equation we considered back in high school still works. The cost of the latest imperial war is causing many US residents to go hungry. The rest of us are paying more for our sandwiches and everything else because of the money going to the war and occupation. Some of the costs are direct-less money for so-called safety net expenditures and more for the costs of war; and some are indirect-we pay more for fuel at home, in our cars, and at the grocery store because of shippers’ fuel costs rising. And car bombs have become a daily occurrence.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org