Nobody Gets Off the Bus:
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They changed the name of the Pillsbury Room at the Student Center to the War Room. All over campus bulletins were blowing in the wind. "Emergency Meeting On American Imperialism and Racism." I always went. I always stood near the back of the room.
It was Tuesday and it was overcast in Buffalo. Movies were going to be shown in the War Room. Yesterday's emergency meeting had to be disrupted because the main speakers, two guys who just escaped from Attica, got the message that the pigs were coming on campus to arrest them. The ex-prisoners gave rousing talks articulating the struggle. They talked tougher than anyone else at the University, but they made sense. The end of their talk contained a strong message.
"Black people have always been forced to man the barricades. If you don't want to swallow the shit you are forced to stand up and fight. I see many white faces out there saying, 'all power to the people,' and I see these white people shaking their fists and calling for a revolution. I'm going to be there in the fight and so are these bloods. When the fight comes I better see your white faces right behind me. Black people aren't afraid of being on the front lines because we always had to fight for anything we got and you white people are late learning what the world's about. Don't shout and scream for revolution today and run and hide when the big fight comes. Leave now, quit the struggle if you can't put your life behind the truth. All power to the people."
Our speakers escaped and the Buffalo police came with clubs and some of the canine corps. A few students got bloody faces and a few others pissed in their pants while a barking German shepherd held them down. One word from the cop and the dog would bite the kid's face off. I stayed with the radical leaders when the pigs came. I noticed the farther you were from the leaders the better your chances of getting your head busted. A horde of kids from Long Island, who could all quote Karl Marx, returned to their dorms or communes as retired radicals.
I wanted to see the two films that would be shown in the War Room. I walked up the east stairs in the union where the squatters lived. The dimly lit, less used stairwells were their homes. Their knapsacks carried all their worldly possessions and became their pillows at night. The squatters smoked grass to pass the time, and with great attention to detail, planned travels to stairwells in other universities. As I walked up the dark stairway one evening, I was approached by some grotesque beings carrying candles. Their heads and faces looked like they had been beaten with a shovel. They surrounded me and I got scared. I realized then it was just squatters who had melted wax over their features. My moment of fear made them happy. Most students avoided these stairs but I liked the show. The two funniest squatters looked like the Smith Brothers from the cough drop box. They walked around campus, each wearing only a wooden barrel held on with a leather strap over the shoulder and work boots. Oblivious to weather, the two black bearded barrel wearing squatters would trudge through the snow or would stroll in the sun.
The first film showed the North Vietnamese as a courageous people who were murdered because of American greed. The second film pictured ROTC training as a school for murderers. The crowd in the War Room was pretty worked up. After hearing yesterday's speeches, witnessing police violence, and watching today's movies, they had enough. They were ready to kick ass. Three white men, wearing berets, stood on the podium today. They dressed in matching military surplus clothes from the Army-Navy store. My jeans, sweatshirt, denim jacket and sneakers made me feel uncomfortable; I looked too much like a civilian. The three leaders each wore a different color beret. The man wearing the red beret began to speak.
"We have murderers just like we saw in the movie right here on campus. Some of them are murderers now and some will be murderers next year. They are members of the army of the United States of Oppression. They keep files over there in the ROTC building, the Murder Tower, files on people like us in this room. They take pictures of us going to movies like we saw today. They listen to what we say to each other and put it in their files. They spy on us. Who knows what the fuck they put in those files. You had better care, though, because those files are going to follow you your whole life. Let's go over to the ROTC building and tell them we don't want murderers in our classes. We don't want fucking spies crawling around campus. And we say
No to their imperialistic propaganda horseshit. We say No to their war and oppression. I say let's go over there right now and stuff those files down their throats. Let's throw the murderers out and let's destroy the records of deceit. Let's go."
The crowd was white hot and stormed the ROTC building. We were almost two hundred strong and we overwhelmed the cadets on the bottom floor. I stayed with the leaders. Directives were shouted out to head for the third floor, get the records and trash the room. Cadets and chairs bounced around the room. The chant, "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh" got our blood hot. The second floor became a more evenly matched fight as the cadets beat back many of the protesters. More cadets came streaming into the room from who-knows-where. "All power to the people," was shouted through the bullhorns. A few of us fought through the resistance and were soon in control of the third floor, "the beacon of evil." The chants were getting dimmer as the cadets were pummeling the radicals. First step was to kick open the file cabinets, then open the windows and set to flight the records of the murderers. The neatly typed papers disappeared into the overcast skies and I could imagine them floating like oak leaves in Lake Erie. The leaders said, "Smash the expensive Xerox equipment." I had my back to the room. I was mesmerized by the pattern of the windblown papers as they descended upon a squadron of pigeons on the ground. I heard the command and I was ready to smash anything. I picked up a trophy from one of the desks. I was about to shove it into the works of the largest Xerox machine on the floor. I looked up and saw the three leaders. They were still. They watched me. I saw it in their eyes. The three with the berets had set us up. I heard the sirens. I heard the screams of those trapped downstairs. The cadets were wiping up the bottom floors with the protesters not already locked away in the paddy wagons. One of the boys in the berets said to me, "Come here fool." I threw the trophy into the big florescent light fixture directly over their heads. The broken glass and sparks made them dive to the floor. I ran to the window from where I had watched the papers float away. I jumped out onto the roof and got from the fire escape to the other end of the building before the three of them could get to the third floor window. I found an empty window and I climbed in to an empty faculty lounge. I was dead if I tried to cross campus in the daylight. I'd wait out the massacre and arrests in one of the fine leather chairs in the lounge. I would get out of town tonight. All I had to do now was wait.
The student strike was ended after the ROTC affair. The three guys with the different color berets were Army personnel. They testified as witnesses against the protesters who damaged government property. The radical core of the campus was rotting in jail, hiding in fear or recovering from beatings sustained at the ROTC building. Final exams were to go on as usual. I wished I knew where the two escapees from Attica were. I was ready for the big fight. My reality now was watching a big snow storm in Oneonta. I spent the morning going to the market and buying Carmen Basilio brand Italian sausage. Each package had a photo of Carmen in boxing trunks from a time when he was middleweight champ; local boy made good. I was safe, no one knew my name. I was nobody.
William Knorr writes: I became politicized about Viet Nam when my friends died or became seriously injured in the war. I traveled and worked various jobs. I became disabled from job-related injuries and became a lawyer during rehabilitation. Currently I am writing a novel.