Return of the haunted '68 radicals

1968Anniversaries are anniversaries and several tumultuous events of 1968 have already been rehashed (see here) by reporters this year. You can bet that more (such as this one) stories of this kind are on the way. What angles should reporters look for? Robin Shulman of The Washington Post gave the basic picture. In her story about the student revolutionaries at Columbia University, Shulman wrote about the students' tactics, motivations and current occupations.

Shulman noted that the tactics of student leaders were unusual. In her lede, she implied that they were downright violent:

Forty years ago, they launched a student protest at Columbia University that involved the occupation of five campus buildings, the hostage-taking of a dean, 712 arrests and injuries to scores of students, faculty members and police officers.

Shulman also showed that the student leaders were not fighting for the right to party or high student fees. They had larger concerns in mind:

In 1968, the students sought to end Columbia's affiliation with a think tank involved in Pentagon weapons research. They also wanted to halt construction of a gym in Morningside Park they thought would be segregated because of its separate entrances for Columbia students and Harlem residents.

Finally, Shulman implied that the student revolutionaries have not burned out or faded away but matured:

Now, they are lawyers, judges, playwrights, poets, professors and ministers. They gathered this weekend back on campus with former classmates to hear memories of those events and occasionally raise a revolutionary fist for old times' sake.

Shulman's thesis, in other words, was that student revolutionaries have become professionals. But might be there more to the story? As the title of this post indicates, the answer is yes.

Shulman's story contains a ghost. Nowhere does she mention the student's religious background and worldview. Do those elements deserve no mention in the story? After all, student leader Mark Rudd gave a speech about the leaders' religious influence, citing, in particular, the impact of progressive streams of Jewish faith.

I am well aware that anti-Semites might use this information to cast the student leaders as sinister radicals. Yet should reporters ignore the religious background, training and ideology of political figures? As someone who has written about the Catholicism of the post-war Democratic bosses, I say no. Overlooking or ignoring the role of religion not only marginalizes religion but also misses the truth.

Some of the radicals went on to become ministers. What kind? Are any of those professors in Christian or Jewish schools of theology? How about the poets? Are any of them asking spiritual questions? The '60s were, in part, about unconventional spiritual searches. It would be interesting to note where those searches have led.

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