NEW YORK -- Her hair was gray and frizzy. She wore a pink chamois shirt with peace signs stitched into the sleeves, and what appeared to be the last surviving pair of Earth Shoes.
She clutched a half-finished needlepoint seascape, and as she stood to speak she peered out at the audience over granny glasses. Rose-colored.
"I just feel I have to ask this," said this participant in Thursday night's Columbia University Faculty Teach-In on the Meaning of the Gulf War. "Beyond attending teach-ins, marches, demonstrations and protests, can anyone suggest anything that would stop this continuous, imperialistic routine of murder?"
Tough question. But that's what teach-ins are all about. Or were all about. Born in the mid-1960s out of burning opposition to the Vietnam War, teach-ins -- the intellectual community's version of marathon dancing -- helped a generation form and express its opinions about the war.
They were despised by the Right, who saw them as a campus cabal to organize impressionable youth to oppose the interests of the United States.
Well, it's a new generation and a new war, so naturally it's time for a new round of teach-ins. At Columbia, where a 20-year-old revolutionary named Mark Rudd once brought down a university president, it didn't take anybody long to get back in the groove.
Ever since the war began, but particularly on Thursday night, traveling to the campus in Morningside Heights has been a little like slipping into a time warp. There are babies in backpacks, petitions from a women's group in Germany trying to get the entire world to call for a vote on the war, and honest, soul-searching discussion of where this painful moment in U.S. history might lead.
The speakers referred to the current president as George Herbert Walker Bush, and one sign seemed to some up the prevailing sentiment: "OK OK YOU'RE NOT A WIMP."
This teach-in, in an auditorium seating 300 people, was packed. Hundreds of students were turned away or forced to wait outside and listen on a stereo sound system. Veterans of the 1960s were out in force too, this time mostly as faculty members.
"We're back," said Michael Klare, the defense correspondent of the Nation and a professor at Hampshire College, who recalled with joy that he was a student at Columbia during the last age of the teach-in.
He and a procession of uptown radicals, all opposing the war and most viewing it as the last desperate grab of the world's final superpower for preeminence, marched onto the stage in the Altschul Auditorium. The aim was to educate and to provide a countervailing influence to what one speaker described as the "imperialist propaganda that has dominated the discussion." The evening was studded with references to everything from "The Strawberry Statement" to the cultural history of ancient Baghdad.
"George Herbert Walker Bush has done more for the cause of Arab nationalism than anyone since Nasser and maybe since Mohammed," thundered Roger Hilsman, a former assistant secretary of state for Far Eastern affairs under President Kennedy.
"Is this what it was like back then?" asked Joia Yarro, 21, a Columbia student clearly mesmerized by the energy and excitement of the six-hour evening. "Did everyone agree then too?"
The anti-war movement may be disjointed in the United States, but at Columbia, where there appear to be far more kaffiyehs than there are strings of love beads or platform shoes, the gulf war has never been in vogue.
"The immense ridiculousness of this thing sort of continuously washes over me," said one young man in an M.C. Hammer T-shirt. "I mean, can anybody tell me what we are there for? I mean, is there any vital interest or any real permanent goal other than the vindication of George Bush?"
The forces of opposition, at least on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, are moving with speed to their side of this war into the open.
"We are in an extremely bloody moment in our history as a superpower," said Columbia University English Prof. Edward Said, a Palestinian and perhaps the country's most prominent Arab American intellectual. As he often does here, Said spoke to an audience spellbound by his passion and erudition.
He denounced America's simplistic and unsympathetic portrayal of Arab nationalism, and wondered why the television networks never linger on the suffering of Arabs the way they linger on the pain of the Jews.
"When it comes to Arabs," he said, "the words the media loves are 'fanatic,' 'intolerant,' 'possessed.' ... The disquisitions in print or on the air are ludicrously unfair."
Nobody disagreed. In fact, nobody disagreed with anything on Thursday. When Said mentioned the name of conservative columnist George Will, the entire audience hissed.
Polemics dominated the evening, but it was also a night to learn about the rise of the Baath Party and to ask questions about the Kurds. Human rights were discussed and so was the ominous future for U.S. soldiers.
"If things go reasonably well American casualties will be in the tens of thousands," said Roger Hilsman. "Hussein will become a hero to the Arabs. For every one we kill, five will emerge more committed. It is a lesson I thought we learned in Vietnam."
Then there was the discussion of nuclear weapons, and "no nukes" signs were in abundance.
"Could we actually use them?" asked one student with dismay. "Could we have settled our fears of the Soviets only to use them on a country nobody has ever heard of?"