Sunday, 8 February 2009

NSA's David Ifshin -- a so-called radical who weighs his words - 4

He organized counter-orientation for freshmen, student government workshops, protests against Food Service and ROTC, student-owned businesses, a town meeting on university governance, hearings on discrimination int he construction trades, a grape boycott.

Ifshin, the politician and agit-propter, remembers those days clearly. "We would sit up all night discussing 'crises,' issues to have in front of the student body. We'd always have one good one out front--(like demanding a second piece of pie from the Food Service) and three or four on the back burners, ready to go."

He recalls this undergraduate manipulation with a smile on his face--and justifies it with an even-tempered ideology.

"Most students," says Ifshin now, "don't realize their relationship to the university. It's simply a question of self-determination. Take Food Service, the two pieces of pie that you couldn't get before. We make it the same with the war: the kids find out they're just too good for this kind of thing."

He activated blacks to press for "cultural enrichment," women for a campus gynecologist, students for a liveable environment. And he made the war a campus issue, gathering support for the October Syracuse Moratorium, the November Mobilization in Washington, a shut-down of the Syracuse draft board and the May student strike, a "spontaneous" reaction to Cambodia--before Kent State.

These were standard student issues. But in reacting to contemporary gripes like Food Service and discrimination, Dave says he tried to define them in a larger sense: through discussion and analysis, students could be made aware of an overall pattern inhibiting student freedom of choice.

"Walking seven or eight hours on cold morning and evening picket lines at school, I was affected more profoundly than at the Chicago convention. In the evenings, everyone would pass by, going home or out to have fun. The few students handing out leaflets were practically ignored." Says Dave Ifshin: "You do a lot of thinking out there."

Dave's father was a first lieutenant in the Army Air Corps in New Guinea during World War II. "We had a feeling of defending our country then," he says, "nobody ever questioned it. I don't want my sons in this war, I'm violently opposed to it. The kids have made us aware of how wrong it is."

Dave's sister Barbara, 24, information director for a Maryland advisory group to regional governments, brother Mark, 19, an electrical engineering major at the University of Maryland, both more conservative in thinking, marched with him in the Mobilization--"he galvanizes everybody around him." Sister Vicki, 12, is "very aware, going in David's path."

In his sophomore year, Dave's parents moved to a red brick rambler with a garden, two-car garage and white picket fence in Potomac, an affluent community of well-spaced houses, manicured lawns and cul-de-sacs. Says David: "It's a place where they can retire and give Vicki better schools and a better neighborhood to grow up in.

"My folks worked extremely hard for 15 years trying to make money to give us a better life. I wouldn't say they got rich off the black community. My father bought the store long before black power became a concept. They are innocent people trapped in an inequitable system. It's the snotty rich kids of banker parents out protesting for equal rights who get me mad."

Dave's campus politics hurt him academically--but not much. He was enrolled in the honors program with a triple major in English, religion, and political science, won the outstanding English major award of $1,000 and still graduated with a 3.6 average. Yet he failed to win election to Phi Beta Kappa (Faculty friends admit to him privately it was because of his activism.)

The student strike effectively closed down Syracuse for all purposes except graduation. Dave attended the ceremonies in corduroy pants and a checkered shirt, which was formal for him.

He is 6 feet, 170 pounds with an athletic build and looks wrong in a suit so he rarely wears one. "They had to get sophomores who weren't graduating to wear caps and gowns and fill up the seats," he says.

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