How does a grassroots revolution come into being? What would motivate someone to commit his or her life to revolution? Activist David Gilbert, CC ’66, answers these questions in his new memoir, “Love and Struggle: My Life in SDS, the Weather Underground, and Beyond.”
Gilbert, who helped organize the 1968 protests and founded the Columbia chapter of Students for a Democratic Society, was sentenced to life in prison for his 1981 attempted robbery of a Brink’s armored truck.
Reflecting upon his experiences as a revolutionary both at Columbia and after, Gilbert wrote his memoir in prison with encouragement from his son Chesa and as a response to the issues raised by a new generation of activists.
But his involvement in the socially and politically turbulent protests of 1968 as a student at Columbia is only mentioned briefly in his autobiography. Instead, he focuses on his life as an activist post-graduation, describing his work in the anti-Vietnam war and civil-rights movements.
Gilbert structures his memoir thematically, ranging from the sectionalism of the Weather Underground organization, a radical faction of SDS formed in 1969, to the percieved gender discrimination within SDS. Each theme connects to a specific narrative moment in Gilbert’s personal history, and through his deep criticisms and reflections, he expounds upon the organization’s mistakes and conflicts that impeded its collective goal of fighting oppression.
Although Gilbert’s book is categorized as a memoir, it reads more like an analysis of his own political socialization and his transformation into a revolutionary, independent of an autobiographical time line.
It is not meant to be narrative page-turner, but an informative and sincerely thoughtful perspective on a tumultuous period of American history.
The most illuminating excerpts of Gilbert’s book lie in his assessments of how his own ego impeded his activism.
Gilbert admits to the “ways I had undercut [women’s] strengths and contributions as revolutionaries, the ways I had stunted my own growth by not learning more from women.” In his admission of his underlying sense of male superiority, he renders an honest picture of the internal issues of the activist atmosphere of his time.
In pointing out the divisional problems of Weather Underground, he writes: “We way overemphasized the role of individual genius … and we forgot the core value of revolutionary humility.”
In the end, Gilbert speaks with humility through his confessional analyses and demonstrates the necessity of collective spirit for modern activism.