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Arnie’s Saga (2)

February 23, 2009

Note: I’ve received two emails with more details about Arnie Zaler, which I reprint here in full, both from people who knew him in his SDS days at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Jay Jurie and Paul Roasburry.

I inclued their comments below.

Jay Jurie writes…

When I first arrived at the University of Colorado in the late summer of 1969 to start my first year of college, my only acquaintances were a handful of high school classmates who had likewise just moved to Boulder. Aside from my hometown roommate, the rest of us were scattered across a large campus and only saw each other occasionally.

Though I did make a couple new friends, I felt isolated and lonely. One day when I was seated at the fountain area near the center of campus, a fellow student sidled over and struck up a conversation. In a while, it dawned on me he wasn’t seeking to befriend, but was attempting to recruit me into the Campus Crusade for Christ. After telling him to get lost, I felt even more isolated and lonely, and somewhat cynical and distrustful.

A week or two later, I encountered a couple dozen students marching across campus. One of those in the lead waved his arm inclusively and said as he went past, “join us.” This turned out to be Arnie Zaler.

Though wary, I was curious about what was happening, and walked along, learning the group was SDS, and was on its way to the nearby “Hill” shopping district and student ghetto to protest the mistreatment of Hispanic students by merchants and police. Once we reached the Hill, I was struck by the concern, commitment, and sincerity of Zaler and the others who spoke. This was not my first encounter with SDS, which I had first read about in early 1966, but as there was no SDS in my hometown and I was still in high school, I didn’t directly encounter the group until 1968. From my earliest awareness (circa 1964) of a country called Vietnam I was opposed to the war the U.S. was waging there. I was also very sympathetic to the civil rights movement and both the war and civil rights were major issues for SDS.

In the summer of 1968 my parents rented an apartment in Boulder as they continued their own studies. They told me I could live in the apartment all summer on condition I take a summer school class at Boulder High. My parents we re in town only a couple days a week, and the rest of the time I was on my own. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven, and it’s still one of my most memorable periods of my life.

Unbeknownst to my parents, but as I was fully aware, at that time Boulder was “the place to be.” 1968 was Boulder’s “summer of love” with the counterculture in full flower. Mind-expanding “happenings” sometimes lasted all night. There were frequent “be-ins” at Boulder’s downtown park, and SDS members from the University would frequently circulate, handing out fliers opposing the war and with information about local events and alternative community services. For a time, SDS ran a free store in downtown Boulder which I visited and thought was infinitely cool. I did not get to know any of the SDSers personally at that point.

When I ran into Arnie and his compatriots on the march to the Hill a little less than a year later, from what I already knew about SDS, I found they lived up to my expectations. They were not operating under any pretense to suck me into their organization, they were quite “up front” and genuinely friendly. In a word often used those days, they were “authentic.”

Not long after the march to the Hill I again ran into Arnie. I was impressed that he remembered a young kid from nowhere like me. He mentioned he was going with a couple carloads of SDSers to the Rolling Stones concert in Ft. Collins, and I was welcome if I wanted to come along.

When we arrived in Ft. Collins, we met up with SDSers from Boulder and from Colorado State University in Ft. Collins. One of those I remember meeting was Marilyn McQuerrey, who along with her husband Brian, were among the leading lights of the Boulder chapter (earlier that summer, Brian was one of two Boulder SDSers banned from campus for a protest at a military think tank). Several of us bought tickets (impossible to imagine in today’s world of advance-only “Ticketmaster” sales) and we snuck several people in. At the concert, we were among the most spirited audience members, going bonkers when the Stones played “Street Fighting Man.”

Aside from being called upon to “join us” at the Hill march, no one ever attempted to recruit me into joining SDS. Participating in SDS was all very casual and organic, one could either take pa rt in what was happening or not. For me, being part o f it came quite naturally.

This was a very busy period. Besides protesting the merchants and police on the Hill, Arnie was among the SDSers who organized a campus demonstration against armed security guards on campus when one of them fired a “warning shot” that “accidentally” killed someone in the parking lot the guard thought was “acting suspiciously.” No charges were ever filed in this case. Without the SDS protest, this incident would have gone virtually unnoticed.

Arnie and Hope Shivrick, later his first wife, were arrested for spray painting anti-war graffiti on campus. Arnie faced university disciplinary charges for that, and also after he and several others attempted to block the media from attending an SDS meeting. Earlier that spring SDS had been banned from campus, so there was additional friction with the University administration as the chapter held surreptitious meetings around campus. Contrary to the ban edict issued by the 20 Board of Regents, Student Government President Pat Stimer, sympathetic to SDS, assigned the chapter an office in the University Memorial Center (the student union, or UMC). SDS operated out of that office until the chapter collapsed later that fall.

As a banned organization, SDS could not legitimately post flyers, and the University administration would send an employee around to rip down anything the chapter had put up. We learned when this guy would make his rounds and would follow discreetly behind, putting back up everything he had just torn down.

Later in the fall, as part of a national anti-war mobilization, a moratorium was organized. At the University of Colorado, this took the form of a massive evening rally on campus after which people formed a candlelight procession to downtown Boulder. It was an impressive sight, with an estimated 4000 participants carrying candles stretching over a mile from campus to downtown.

As students neared the edge of campus, there was a small knot of SDSers who denounced the marchers for being “liberal” and “bourgeois” and not doing enough to oppose the war or imperialism. I do not remember Arnie being present that night. Participating in the march, I felt conflicted. By this time I knew these SDSers well and felt myself one of their compatriots. I understood their argument and agreed with their analysis, but not how they were expressing it. On the other hand, my perception was that the anti-war movement had expanded far beyond the ability of SDS to direct or control, and if students less radical than SDS were now joining the movement in huge numbers, they should be welcomed and encouraged, not chastised or berated.

Not until the middle of the fall of 1969 did it become clear SDS was irrevocably split. Those castigating the anti-war movement were ideologically affiliated with what later became known as the “Weather” tendency, though to my knowledge no one from the Boulder chapter actually went underground with that group (several affiliated with the Ft. Collins chapter of SDS at Colorado State University were indicted for planting bom bs at power towers leading into the war-related production facilities of Coors Ceramics, a precursor to the Weather Underground).

Ho Chi Minh, President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, died September 2, 1969. In conjunction with others who had formed a pre-Weather collective in Denver, the Boulder SDS chapter reserved the Glenn Miller ballroom in the UMC and organized a memorial service for Ho Chi Minh. This event, which Arnie helped organize and at which he spoke, caused a sensation. Local and state-wide right-wing groups and elected officials called for investigation of the University and persecution of student radicals. In retrospect, the memorial s ervice can be viewed not simply as the celebration of the life of a third world liberation leader with whom the U.S was at war, but as a masterful piece of guerrilla theater.

Perhaps the most lasting legacy of Arnie Zaler at the University of Colorado was in conjunction with an effort spearheaded by the Student Peace Union (SPU) chapter, a somewhat less radical and less militant anti-war organization. SPU had campaigned for months prior20to the fall of 1969, calling upon anti-war students to target the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program as the major expression of the campus war machine.

During that period, ROTC would hold weekly parade drills on one of the major campus fields. This was seen as a great affront by anti-war students, given the ongoing carnage dominating the news day after day.

Deciding in September 1969 to partner in this campaign, SDS put out a simple leaflet with two demands: 1) an immediate end to ROTC, 2) full reimbursement for all students on ROTC contracts. At the edge of the field where ROTC was parading a debate ensued, with SPU arguing for a peaceful protest presence, and the more militant SDS arguing for disru ption of the drill. Some SDS members had brought flags of the National Liberation Front (NLF) of Vietnam, and with SPU lending support from the sidelines, set off with flags flying across the field and through the ranks of marching cadets, resulting in chaos and disorder.

At the next drill, campus police set up a skirmish line to prevent marchers from going on to the field, but determined SDSers simply did an end run around the line, with the confused police in futile pursuit. Once again the drill was disrupted.

The third time, SDS started off marching from the fountain area toward the field. Not wanting to be caught off guard again, a strong contingent of police accompanied the marchers from the outset. However, at the edge of the field, where more police were amassed to keep protesters away from the drill, SDS veered off and headed to the nearby stadium, where ROTC had its offices. Running to keep pace, police caught up and formed a cordon to protect the offices and block a return to the parade field.

While Arnie denounced the war and ROTC, the campus police chief noticed smoke arising from20the parade field, and immediately grasped what had happened: the march to the ROTC offices was a diversion while a couple of cadre smoke-bombed the drill (no one wa s injured by this act). In the spring of 1970, after both Arnie and SDS were long gone, what they helped initiate still reverberated. Again the anti-war movement picked up the campaign against ROTC and Rob Prince and I were arrested as part of that effort. If nothing else, ROTC was compelled to move their drills inside the football stadium where they could be protected from student anger.

Late in the fall of 1969 Arnie announced he was dropping out of school. His father in law had arranged a job for him at a factory he owned that made “Snoopy” dog toys. Some of us found this simultaneously amusing (sort of “bourgeois” if nothing else) and perturbing. Arnie wrote a farewell letter that was printed as the lead article in an underground paper on which I worked, dismissive of Boulder as “Baghdad by the Rockies.”

Though I always thought of Arnie as a bit of a “smooth operator,” he remains one of the most amiable and affable persons I’ve ever met. Among other talents, he possessed considerable charisma and charm. It’s not difficult to imagine how he could0Atransition from being persuas ive in one venue to another.

For several years I saw nothing of Arnie, then one day in 1974 while I was a grad student at the University of Colorado at Denver, he turned up staffing a table for Gary Hart. We recognized each other, and I sat down with him for a pleasant conversation. On some levels he was the same old Arnie, still attracted to politics, still a “people person.” On other levels his life and beliefs had shifted substantially, but that wasn’t different from a lot of people in the aftermath of the Sixties.

That’s the last I saw him.

I knew Arnie lacked the rigor and fortitude of previous Boulder SDS leaders. He was not among those who’d read Merleau-Ponty or Karl Korsch. I knew he was unwilling to disregard serious consequences as had one member of Boulder SDS who went to prison for draft refusal. Or as had two others listed as “unindicted co-conspirators” in the Weather-instigated October 1969 Chicago “Days of=2 0Rage” federal indictments.

Still, in 1969 A rnie was very much a product of the times, and at that particular moment, he did better than many. Was I “taken in” by Arnie? Maybe if he did con me, he was so good I didn’t notice; I certainly didn’t brush him off as I had the Campus Crusade for Christ. Knowing Arnie 40 years ago didn’t cost me anything and I’d say I was enriched by his acquaintance.

In hindsight, I’d say Arnie was more prone to act in accord with circumstances than on a core set of convictions. When I came across Arnie in 1974 he’d become a product of the 1970s. Perhaps aware of his tremendous people skills he then sadly became a product of the “greed is good” 1980s.

I cannot defend what he’s accused of having done since I last saw him. I can only conclude by saying if accurate, like many others that litter our political landscape, or inhabitour jails, what a waste of talent and potential.

Jay D. Jurie

Paul Roasberry writes…

Holy shit.

About three years ago I located Arnie on a Google search. We talked once or twice on the phone and made vague plans to meet up, but I never followed through. The website for his business, “Zaler’s Meats,” was filled with references to the fact that his father had been in the Navy in WWII, and the walls of the establishment were decorated with photos and memorabilia of his father’s Navy experiences, which seemed to me a bit weird at the time (my own father was at Iwo Jima, but I don’t make shrines to him).

I’d known about his Zionism. The last I saw Arnie was in 1972, during the summer, right after George McGovern had been nominated. He invited me to his house for a party, and I recall how saddened I was at his quick conversion from radicalism to mainstre am politics, as though the entire corrupt political system had somehow overnight become palatable.

He was filled with immense charisma, and on a certain plane, I think he genuinely liked and cared about most of his friends at C.U. But his radicalism was shallow, consisting primarily of the usual formulaic slogans and posturing. It was the fashionable thing to do, and Arnie, ever wanting to be the center of attention, graviated to the Movement because that’s where the action was.

I am saddened, but not altogether surprised, to learn of his present misfortunes. Thanks for the “heads up.” Incidentally, I ran into Bob Prince about ten years ago at a school board meeting in Jefferson County, where some little high school prick was trying to get “creation science” on the curriculum. I’m glad to learn of his blog and I’ll check it out.
Roasberry

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