Robert Roth (activist)

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Robert Roth
Known forActivism
Student activism
Leader, Students for a Democratic Society
Former Member of Weather Underground Organization

Robert Roth (born 1950),Was an active member in the anti-war, anti-racism and anti-imperialism movements of the 1960s and 70s, and key member of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) political movement in the Columbia University Chapter in New York, where he eventually presided. Later, as a member of the Weatherman/Weather Underground Organization he used militant tactics to oppose the Vietnam War and racism. After the war ended, Roth surfaced from his underground status and has been involved in a variety of social causes to this day.

Early years[edit]

Roth is the son of a middle-class family in Queens, New York, where he grew up in a progressive Jewish household.[1] He graduated high school in 1966, at the age of 16. That same year he was accepted to, and entered Columbia University in New York City.[2] In 1969, Roth withdrew from Columbia to focus his full attention to SDS.[2] [3]

Students for a Democratic Society[edit]

Roth was recruited to join SDS at Columbia University by Mark Rudd and John Jacobs during his freshmen year at Columbia University.[4] In 1969 he was elected leader of SDS when he decided he would not finish school at Columbia and would instead focus on fighting the revolution.[5] That same year he dropped out of school to avoid disciplinary charges and to commit himself to revolutionary organization. He spent that summer working with an SDS community organizing project in the Inwood section of New York City.[6]

Roth sided with black students that opposed building the Columbia University gym in Harlem [7] in 1968, which was intended to grant African Americans limited access to facilities and was clearly an act of segregation.[8] Roth also opposed the University's contribution to the Department of Defense in the form of research and military recruiting. These oppositions resulted in a series of direct actions, including strikes and building takeovers. He led building occupations at Columbia University.[6] SDS leader Robert Roth was the contact for the Low library occupation where he noted the "great communal feeling" of those occupying the library during the take-over.[9] The 1968 Summer session started with protests led by Roth, then a sophomore, Paul Rockwell and Stuart Gedal. On 116th and Broadway, at the university's gates, Roth led "liberation classes" in which he taught passing students about pressing matters.[10] In September 1968 Robert Roth held a meeting along with other students Josephine Duke, Stuart Gedal and Mike Golash to demand that the Morningside Gym construction stop.[11] Roth demanded Dr Andrew W. Cordier, Columbia's acting President, to end racist and militaristic actions at the university. Roth was part of a group who participated in attempting to force administrators of Columbia University to allow SDS members expelled from school to register for the following term. As a member of the SDS steering committee, Roth chastised Dr. Cordiers for refusing to lift the 42 suspensions for the expelled students, as he claimed it signified "an attempt to split our movement." [12] During his time with the steering committee, Roth, along with 200 other SDS members, participated in the capture of Philosophy Hall at Columbia University on April 17, 1969.[13] On April 17, 1969 and May 1, 1969 Roth participated in taking over and barricading the halls.[13] Roth asserted, "We are showing that University that every time it helps the war in Vietnam we will exact reprisals." [14] This quotation was in response to news that the university was accepting NASA research grants by allowing military recruitment on campus. A later FBI surveillance file from COINTELPRO confirmed Robert Roth was a participant in the Columbia student strike. He was also identified as a member of SDS and a negotiator for the Low library strikers.[15]

On May 2, 1969 they released control of two buildings: Fayerweather and Mathematics Halls.[16] In 1969, Roth led another Columbia strike.[13] He was arrested June 10, 1969,found guilty, and he served 30 days in prison [17][18] in New York City and fined $100 for disregarding the ban of disruptions on Morningside campus.[13]

Following his release from jail, Roth worked from August – October 1969 on the National Action Staff (NAS) for the SDS national office.[19] In this capacity,he helped plan for the coming National Action, also known as the "Days of Rage."

On September 15, 1969, Roth, along with seven other men and women, was arrested for refusing to stop passing out anti-war pamphlets to motorists.[13] Roth, then 19 years old, was charged with obstructing traffic and disorderly conduct. He was fined $100.[20]

After his release Roth resumed his work as a member of the NAS on September 17, 1969. He continued discussing plans for activities in Chicago. The Chicago demonstration was discussed as an opportunity to bring their politics to the streets in order to topple the system.

Weatherman had emerged from SDS by late 1969. They sent Roth to Chicago where he noticed the heavy police presence. SDS applied for demonstration permits for a demonstration and march on October 11 of 1969 and held a conference at city hall. Roth noted that the deputy mayor would not commit to providing a permit, but assured the people that this demonstration would happen with or without a permit.[21] In the fall of 1969 the 'red squad,' a plain-clothes Chicago police squad, formed and focused on Weather activity in Chicago. Multiple accounts say that they forcefully entered a Weatherman hide-out and hung Robert Roth out of the window by his ankles in a raid.[17][22][23]

Weather Underground Organization[edit]

The early months of 1970 saw great change for both Weather and Robert Roth. He recalled, "My sense of justice… and the person I wanted to be were inextricably linked to what happened with African Americans." [24] These sentiments display why Roth joined Weather; he was interested in joining a white movement whose goal was to defeat racism and American imperialism. The news of Fred Hampton's murder in December 1969 provided Roth with the feeling of personal responsibility to make a difference.[25] After his time in Chicago, Roth felt Chicago was a war zone which intensified the necessity of Weather's clandestine activity.[26] In response to Greenwich Village townhouse explosion,where Terry Robbins, Diana Oughton, and Ted Gold of Weathermen perished. Roth grappled with the morality of pursuing a revolution when it endangers peoples' lives.[27]

In his years within the Weather Underground, Roth participated in militant activities aimed against US imperialism and racism. While underground Roth participated in Osowatamie, the WUO's short lived newsletter beginning in March 1975. He served as the leader of editorial coverage.[28] Roth surfaced and turned himself in to authorities with Phoebe Hirsch on 3/25/1977. He was released on a $1000 bail on 9/13. He later pleaded guilty to mob action charges and received a $1000 fine and 2 years probation.[29]

After Weather Underground[edit]

After surfacing from the Weather Underground Organization, Robert Roth moved to San Francisco and joined Prairie Fire Organizing Committee.[3] In the 1980s Roth worked with the Pledge of Resistance, a movement dedicated to ending US intervention in Central America.[30]

In 1992 Roth was a founding member of Haiti Action Committee (HAC) and opposed a US supported coup against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.[3] In the ensuing years, his fight against the UN occupation of Haiti continued. He remains a member of Haiti Action Committee.[31] Roth spoke on Tuesday 9/18/2007 at a rally protesting the kidnapping and disappearance of Haitian human rights activist Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine, as well as the ongoing repression in Haiti.[32] This is a link to a video of Robert Roth participating in a rally held in San Francisco at the corner of Market and Montgomery on behalf of missing Haitian Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine. He also co-authored activist pamphlets: "Hidden From the Headlines: the US War Against Haiti,"[33] and "We Will Not Forget: the Achievements of Lavalas in Haiti." [34]

Currently Roth is a high school Social Studies teacher and community activist at Mission High School in San Francisco.[35] He can be seen in the groundbreaking film It's Elementary, which focuses on teaching gay issues in schools. The film aired on PBS and is a model for educators across the country.


  1. ^ Varon 28
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ a b c Berger 315
  4. ^ Wilkerson 206
  5. ^ Varon 30
  6. ^ a b Berger 98
  7. ^ Varon 29
  8. ^ Berger 47
  9. ^ New York Times 5/18/1968
  10. ^ New York Times 6/11/1968
  11. ^ New York Times 9/17/1968
  12. ^ New York Times 9/16/1968
  13. ^ a b c d e Subcommittee Report 1975
  14. ^ New York Times 1/22/1970
  15. ^ FBI 83
  16. ^ New York Times 3/3/1969
  17. ^ a b Varon 153
  18. ^ Berger 87
  19. ^ FBI 110
  20. ^ New York Times 2/20/1979
  21. ^ New York Times 9/23/1969
  22. ^ Wilkerson
  23. ^ Berger 274
  24. ^ Varon 54
  25. ^ Varon 157
  26. ^ Varon 154
  27. ^ Varon 193
  28. ^ Berger 209
  29. ^ Jacobs 181
  30. ^ Berger 316
  31. ^ San Francisco BayView 3/8/2005
  32. ^ by Ben Terrall 10/4/2007
  33. ^ "Hidden from the Headlines: the US War against Haiti". Haiti Action Committee. Retrieved 9/6/09. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  34. ^ "We Will Not Forget: the Achievements of Lavalas in Haiti". Haiti Action Committee. Retrieved 9/06/09. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)[permanent dead link]
  35. ^ Berger 315-316


  • Berger, Dan (2007). Outlaws of America: the Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity. Oakland, CA: AK Press
  • Jacobs, Ron (1997). The Way the Wind Blew: A history of the weather underground. London; New York: Verso
  • Fox, Sylvan. Columbia Opens Summer Sessions. (1968, June 11) New York Times
  • Fox, Sylvan. Radical Students See Cordier. (1968, September 17) New York Times
  • Fox, Sylvan. Student Rebels Disrupt Columbias Registration. (1968, September 19) New York Times
  • Kihss, Peter. Columbias Student Strike Led By Several Different Groups. (1968, May 18) New York Times
  • Ninety Fourth Congress (1975) The Weather Underground: Report of the Subcommittee to investigate the administration of the internal security oact ond other internal security laws of the committee on the judiciary United States Senate. (Stock No. 052-070-02727-4) Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
  • Scherr, Judith. SF rally calls for end of occupation. (2005, March 8) San Francisco Bayview Newspaper
  • Six war protesters fined. (1970, February 20) New York Times
  • Terrall, Ben (2007)
  • Thurgood Marshall Academic High School page. [1]. Retrieved 11/04/2008
  • Varon, Jeremy (2004). Bringing the War Home. Berkeley: University of California Press
  • "Weatherman Underground" (PDF). FBI (20 August 1976) Pages 83, 110. Retrieved on October 20, 2008.
  • Wilkerson, Cathy (2007). Flying too Close to the Sun: My life and times as a weatherman/ Cathy Wilkerson. New York: Seven Stories Press
  • York, Anthony (2000). Wanted: A real criminal. Retrieved 10/21/2008
  • Aging Radical Comes Home.(1977, September 26). Time,9171,879762,00.html Retrieved 10/26/2008

External links[edit]