All photographs: Richard Hertzberg. All rights reserved.
We will be socializing with friends old and new, reminiscing, having fun, talking and arguing about the issues of the day with each other and current students, and nourishing the passion for free speech and social justice that fueled the FSM.
— Announcement for Free Speech Movement 50th Anniversary Reunion and Celebration
IN EARLY FALL, 2014, I flew to Oakland to participate in and document the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement (FSM) — the political drama that enveloped the UC Berkeley campus, and then the whole UC system, from September to December in 1964. It had been a little over five decades since I witnessed that drama unfold as a Berkeley undergraduate student in my sophomore year. While anniversaries of the Free Speech Movement have come and gone in the decades since, my sense was that this would be the most significant, and very well the last.
Approximately 350 participants showed up from September 26 to October 2 for a variety of activities to mark the 50-year milestone. The events were a mix of reunion, commemoration, and celebration, at times movingly intense and at others meditative. At certain points it felt like we had all taken a pilgrimage to a holy site, complete with testimonials, confessionals, and prayers to the secular gods of populist dissent.
What was consistently clear from statements, discussions, and conversations is that for those in attendance, FSM was a deeply transformational experience, one with enduring impacts that still reverberate today — although not always the same impacts, and not necessarily fully understood either. As one person put it during a group session, “I’ve spent 50 years trying to figure out what happened here, and to me, in the last months of 1964.”
The history of protest at UC Berkeley can be traced from the late 1950s and early 1960s, with the creation of an alternative student government organization called SLATE, to the movement to unionize in the late 1990s, the faculty walkouts against tuition fee hikes in 2009, and today’s Cal Progressive Coalition. The Free Speech Movement is one of many protest coordinates in a long history of progressive activism at the campus, which has had just as long a history of consistently conservative administrations. Often, the leaders of those administrations failed to understand the significance, or the scope, of those movements.
People came to FSM 50 to honor the experience, talk about how it made them cynical, hopeful, reclusive, committed, angry, compassionate, intolerant, understanding, resistant, accepting. In so doing, they manifested the power and persistence of historical memory, and how that memory is, at best, a graduated blend of reality and myth.
James Lerager, Gar Smith outside FSM Café, Sept 26
I lived in Berkeley from 1963 to 1971 while an undergraduate and graduate student, and also as a teacher at an alternative public school in Oakland. I’d been relatively sheltered and privileged until then, growing up in the Pacific Palisades section of Los Angeles and saddled with a myopia Berkeley soon fractured in a variety of ways. It’s amazing how quickly one’s prism can be inflected by sitting in a lecture hall with 800, 1,000, 1,500 other students hailing from their own respective “best and brightest” clubs. As we tried to adjust to college life, the world around us seemed to be tearing itself apart: the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, resulting in the deaths of four young girls, on September 15, 1963; the Hells Angels riding up and down Telegraph Avenue, which led directly to the main campus entrance, in an unrestrained display of rebellion; a contentious speech by Madame Nhu (Ngo Dinh Nhu), the infamous and politically connected “Dragon Lady” of South Vietnam, on October 29, 1963, at Harmon Gym on the Berkeley campus defending American support for the South Vietnamese government. And then of course, the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, with the subsequent murder of his alleged killer, Lee Harvey Oswald. UC Berkeley closed early for the winter holiday; I watched the president’s funeral procession on a black-and-white television sitting next to my mother, each one of us crying, while my father stood stiffly in the background saying not to let our emotions get out of hand.
More antidiscrimination protests in the South were met with increasingly violent reactions from both the police and enraged white people alike. When school ended in June, hundreds of white college students made their way to what at the time was a formidable bastion of segregation and racism — Mississippi — to participate in the “Freedom Summer” project registering black Americans to vote. One of those was an intense young man named Mario Savio. After his return to Berkeley, he soon became a central figure and spokesperson in the Free Speech Movement.
For three civil rights volunteers in Mississippi — James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner — the summer of 1964 was their last. They were murdered sometime between the late afternoon of June 21 and the early hours of June 22.
At the time — 1964 was a presidential election year — the San Francisco Bay Area was the heartland of West Coast American liberalism and progressive populism. Lyndon Johnson presented himself as a moderate, cautious, experienced politician in contrast to Barry Goldwater’s bellicosity. In a stroke of fate and irony, the Republican Party set their nominating convention in San Francisco. For years prior to 1964 there had been demonstrations in the region (marches, pickets, sit-ins) against the House Un-American Activities Committee, the execution of Caryl Chessman and more broadly the death penalty, nuclear weapons proliferation, military recruitment on college campuses, loyalty oaths required of professors, and discriminatory hiring practices in businesses. Progressive activists at Cal challenged the official student government — ASUC (Associated Students of the University of California; referred to derisively as ASUCK) — by running groups of opposition candidates, who formed an organization appropriately called SLATE (not an acronym).
This was the background to the 1964 fall semester at UC Berkeley and the free speech controversy that erupted there almost from the first day of classes. Contrary to many accounts, FSM did not just materialize miraculously out of a void. According to Max Hierich and Sam Kaplan (“Yesterday’s Discords,” California Monthly, February 1965, Vol. LXXV, No. 5, available at www.FSM-A.org under “Chronologies”):
Against this backdrop, the student revolt of the fall of 1964 seems less like a sudden and surprising explosion […] but rather the natural outgrowth of eight years of expanding student political involvement, and of an increasing conflict over the proper limits of student rights to express their views, listen to the views of others, and finally take action for the causes they favor.
Two primary concerns triggered what would come to be known as the Free Speech Movement at the University of California at Berkeley: spreading civil rights protests in the South, and American involvement in Vietnam. Students expressed these concerns by affiliating with groups and recruiting members, speaking about them at meetings on and off campus, organizing rallies and demonstrations, distributing statements and manifestos. In other words, engaging in the kind of civic political expression that democracies like the United States are supposed to exemplify.
While UC Berkeley and the City of Berkeley have a tradition of progressivism, most generations of its administrative body — the Board of Regents, the President of the University, the Berkeley Chancellor and Deans — have not shared this perspective, especially where the relationship between the University, students, and political activism is concerned. Ever paternalistic, they frowned upon efforts to use the Berkeley campus as geography for student protest. Students were expected to attend lectures, study, pass exams. Administrators did not view political behavior involving students within the campus as a legitimate part of the curriculum.
In September 1964 the entrance to UCB at the intersection of Bancroft Way and Telegraph Avenue presented a problem for the University and campus administration. It is a narrow rectangular area, the property of which, it was widely believed, belonged to the City of Berkeley. Just inside is University property, with the Student Union building on the left, Sproul Hall (the main administration building) on the right, Sproul Plaza and Sproul Steps (open space) going into Sproul Hall. Farther on, Sather Gate gives way to the primary campus classroom buildings.
For years the entrance to UCB had been a kind of open political bazaar and forum, marked by card tables, folding chairs, handwritten placards and signs, leaflets, handbills, and flyers run off on mimeograph machines or basic printing presses, all distributed by people spontaneously advocating, speechifying, preaching, arguing, and debating. There was a carnival atmosphere that prevailed, and it was lively, vivid, and stimulating. This was in direct contrast to the lecture halls a short distance away where thousands of students sat silently taking notes.
As the civil rights crusade accelerated in the South, the possibility of large-scale demonstrations in the San Francisco Bay Area orchestrated by student activists returning to campus from the South became a greater — and to some, a threatening — reality. UCB Dean Katherine Towle issued a letter dated September 14, 1964, announcing, to the surprise of many, that the Bancroft and Telegraph rectangle was University property and subject to University rules and regulations like the rest of campus. It would henceforth be closed to organizational tables, fundraising, recruitment, speeches — in other words, any form of political expression. There could be simple distribution of informational materials — but no advocacy.
In response, a broad coalition of 18 groups formed a United Front to oppose UCB’s policies, ranging from Students for a Democratic Society and the Young Socialist Alliance to California Students for Goldwater and University Young Republicans. Students and supportive faculty (not many at first) argued that UC Berkeley, indeed the entire UC system, was a public institution and, therefore, the freedom of speech and assembly rights guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution, and the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment, were completely applicable to University property and students on campus.
So began the conflict between the Free Speech Movement (FSM) and the decision-makers who governed the University of California and its Berkeley campus.
The University will not allow students or others connected with it to use it to further their non-University political or social or religious causes […].
— UC President Clark Kerr, speech on May 5, 1964 (as quoted by David Lance Goines in The Free Speech Movement: Coming of Age in the 1960s)
On September 30, representatives from the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) set up tables at Sather Gate, just north of Sproul Plaza. Eight students were cited for this action and suspended by Chancellor Edward Strong. They included Sandor Fuchs, Art Goldberg, David Lance Goines, Mario Savio, and Brian Turner, all of whom quickly became closely identified with the inner, highly committed core of FSM strategists. UCB administrators were particularly concerned about organizing on campus for off-campus direct political and social actions, especially those that might be illegal and result in arrests and destruction of property. UCB had a narrow view of student First Amendment rights on campus, and made it clear that those violating the newly revised rules and regulations defining permissible political activity could be subject to disciplinary action.
The stage was set for the first major defining moment of the FSM.
October 1–2: The Man in the Police Car
On October 1, Jack Weinberg, who had been a graduate student but was not registered as such at the time, set up a table for CORE in the Sproul Plaza/Sproul Steps area. This was seen as a clearly defiant move and UC police were dispatched to arrest and remove Weinberg. Like Mario Savio, he had gone to Mississippi for the Freedom Summer Project. It was close to noon and students were converging for a rally to protest the eight suspensions. They were drawn, of course, to the commotion as the police arrived to arrest Weinberg and place him in a car that had slowly rolled into Sproul Plaza.
Weinberg did not cooperate with the police but he did not resist them either. He just went limp — a tactic of civil disobedience from Southern antidiscrimination demonstrations now being applied at one of the most prestigious universities in the country. More students soon sat all around the police car to prevent it from leaving — not quite a sit-in, more of a sit-down. If there was ever uncharted territory for nice white college kids from good middle- and upper-class families, this was it. The crowd swelled to the point where it filled Sproul Plaza. By this time it was clear Weinberg wasn’t going anywhere. The University police report noted dryly, “The prisoner could not be removed from the car as the mood of the students had become ugly. He was left in the police vehicle […].”
As Weinberg settled into the back seat of the police car it quickly became a platform for impromptu speeches and comments on the free speech controversy. Mario Savio and others emerging as FSM leaders or principal participants like Jackie Goldberg, David Lance Goines, Brian Turner, and Steve Weissman stood on the roof or hood of the car and spoke spontaneously. This scene continued through the night of October 1 and then into October 2 as the crowd grew with the new day. Hundreds of police from different law enforcement agencies soon converged on Sproul Hall. With the encouragement of some faculty members, United Front representatives were brought together to meet with Clark Kerr and Chancellor Strong.
After a lot of haggling, some of it between the United Front representatives themselves, a tentative agreement was reached to disband the demonstration, charge but not arrest or prosecute Weinberg, temporarily desist from protests that violated University rules/regulations, review the status of the eight suspended students, and reconvene in the near future to determine what “free speech” actually meant on the Berkeley campus. Weinberg had spent 32 hours in the back seat of the police car.
The main result of the tentative agreement was pointedly this: The President of the University and the Berkeley Chancellor had sat down at the same table with the United Front and negotiated, essentially recognizing their legitimate role in defining free speech conditions for students.
Power, Policy, and Personality Struggles
Shortly after the police car protest ended, the United Front members met to define the meaning of free speech on campus. The battle with the administration had actually just started, and a new organizational identity and structure was needed. It was at this point that the Free Speech Movement was officially created along with two leadership bodies: an Executive Committee and a smaller Steering Committee.
There was ample reason for concern: the agreement had not altered the Administration’s position as stated by Chancellor Strong and President Kerr, which all but prevented students from politically organizing on campus. FSM Executive and Steering Committee members wanted key questions resolved: Could students advocate, recruit, and raise money for off-campus actions and causes on University property? Could they promote activities where illegal acts or arrests might occur? Could the campus be used, in effect, as a launching pad for such activities? What was the scope of students’ constitutional rights on campus? Did students need to get “permission” from University officials to exercise these rights? Did the UCB rules and regulations constitute “prior constraint” on student free speech?
Within the Berkeley faculty, and certainly the campus administration, were traditionalists who viewed the University as a sanctuary where contemporary issues should be debated and discussed rationally and dispassionately in an apolitical, intellectual environment. They wanted to keep the campus and the wider community and world separate — indeed believed doing so was crucial to the definition and role of a university in society. Student free speech should take place in an academic realm as part of a formal college education. Citizenship came after graduation.
There were some faculty who took a more expansive perspective on student free speech rights, but at least initially could not bring themselves to support what they perceived as aggressive, confrontational methods of securing those rights — like deliberate violations of rules and regulations proscribing allowable political behavior and expression in the form of rallies, marches, pickets, sit-downs, and sit-ins. Others said the rights in the First and 14th Amendments to the Constitution apply equally on and off the campus to students. If they choose to carry out acts of civil disobedience in exercising those rights and accept the consequences (disciplinary procedures such as probation, suspension or dismissal from UCB, arrest, jail) then that is appropriate in a democracy.
Like many political movements, various layers of activism characterized FSM, with a core group of highly committed people at the center (at first the United Front organizational representatives, then the FSM Executive/Steering Committees). Surrounding the committed core group were concentric circles of participants whose involvement varied over time and circumstances. Presenting the conflict as a matter of constitutional freedom of speech, assembly, and equal protection under the law was a strategic way to generate wide student support. But it did not mean that somebody who attended a rally or a planning meeting had the same set of beliefs as, say, Mario Savio. “The FSM” more accurately refers to the committed core group (the two committees), even though people moved in and out of this group as well. It is they who were meeting formally and informally during October and November with faculty and administration trying to resolve the unanswered substantive questions about free speech on campus.
What is a college or university for? This was a key topic underlying much of the thinking and analysis of the FSM activists.
Many years after 1964 — 50 years to be precise — here is how Steve Weissman put it:
[…] [O]ur victory opened the campus to become a staging ground for a growing anti-war movement. While most FSM leaders saw ourselves protecting the right to use the campus to organize civil disobedience against racist businesses in Oakland, San Francisco, and other nearby communities, Lyndon Johnson’s escalation of the war Eisenhower and Kennedy had started in Southeast Asia forced us to change our priorities. We would now use the campus to organize teach-ins, stop troop trains, march on the Oakland Army Terminal, and disrupt the draft.
Within the central FSM leadership there was general agreement that, under the First and 14th Amendments, the University could not limit the content of speech and could not prevent students from organizing on campus for off-campus actions. However, there were other differences between the leaders that made it difficult at times to say who actually spoke for FSM; this threatened to dissolve the amorphous structure of what was in actuality a fluid movement rather than a formal organization. David Lance Goines, in The Free Speech Movement: Coming of Age in the 1960s, reports tactical and strategic quarrels over whether to be confrontational or accommodating in dealing with University officials. There were also other, basic human factors that disrupted the cohesion of FSM: ego, personality, character, style, and of course sex, or more accurately sexism displayed by men toward women.
And then there was “participatory democracy.” The phrase and concept was advanced in the June 1962 Port Huron Statement, the foundational manifesto of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), one of the main radical activist groups from the ’60s. Participatory democracy meant achieving decisions through consensus rather than a simple majority vote. It was viewed as a way to avoid hierarchy and elitism by extending the responsibility of leadership equally to a broad range of participants. This approach, while admirable, also produced stalemate and paralysis, and many long, exhausting, and frustrating meetings, leaving only the committed core left at the end to make a decision, or not. It tended, at times, to magnify personal differences and produce group interactions that were neither participatory nor democratic. It is ironic that those whose strong commitment to FSM pulled them toward leadership roles were also the most concerned about maintaining it as a populist movement, and not one dominated by a few assertive individuals.
Meanwhile, during October and November, factions within the faculty continued to be divided about how to react to FSM. The UCB administration issued conflicting messages about whether students would be disciplined for past or ongoing political activity. The Governor and Board of Regents — the ultimate authorities of the University system as a whole — became increasingly irritated with the inability of President Kerr and Chancellor Strong to resolve the free speech conflict. National media began covering the story. Recognizable entertainers and civil rights figures made appearances at rallies. And Mario Savio, through his public eloquence and passionate articulation of issues and positions, emerged as the principal spokesperson for FSM.
December 2–3: The Occupation of Sproul Hall
There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free the machine will be prevented from working at all!
— Mario Savio, Sproul Steps, December 2, 1964
It is likely these remarks, among others, that prompted The New York Times to characterize Savio as “an incendiary student leader” and “a fiery, inspiring orator” in their obituary marking his death at age 53 on November 6, 1996. His speech defined a broader context or framework for the free speech controversy, elevating it to that of a generational assault on institutionalized power in the public and private sectors. Joan Baez followed Savio’s words with a more soothing sound, singing “We Shall Overcome” as they both led students into Sproul Hall for a historic sit-in protest.
The protesters occupied the main administration building. The letters “F, S, M” were hung from the front of Sproul Hall, and the floors and offices quickly reflected the populist carnival of Bancroft and Telegraph, with political discussions, debates, and meetings reverberating throughout this citadel of bureaucratic authority. There were serious questions being asked, and not just of a political or philosophical nature, but of the practical kind: Now that we are here, what is going to happen next? How long are we staying? What are we demanding from the University? How are we going to get food? What is the protocol for using the bathrooms?
There were pleas from administration officials for the students to leave, but it became clear that they weren’t going anywhere, at least not voluntarily. That being the case, early on December 3 liberal Democratic Governor Pat Brown (father of the current governor) made the fateful decision to have the Sproul Hall demonstrators arrested. And so throughout December 3 that is what happened — hour after hour of students being escorted or dragged down stairs and then outside, in full view of other students and the media.
The number of actual “arrestees” varies depending on the source. The Berkeley Daily Gazette said 769. David Lance Goines tallied 826, while California Monthly (February 1965) counted 814.
The FSM leadership and the University/UCB administration soon realized that the faculty would have to intervene and serve as negotiator between the two sides. An aggressive behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign took place over which faction would prevail and speak for “the faculty.”
December 2 and 3 decisively tipped the scales toward the liberal, pro-FSM faction. The passive nonviolence of young students was seen as admirable compared to the presence of hundreds of police on campus from multiple law enforcement agencies, which was viewed as authoritarian.
Two other developments propelled the faculty to act. Immediately after the arrests of the Sproul Hall demonstrators, a strike organized by graduate students and teaching assistants went into effect starting December 4, with picket lines of chanting students encouraging their classmates to strike. UC Berkeley was effectively shut down.
Then on December 7, an “extraordinary convocation” was held at the UCB Greek Theatre. Between 14,000 and 16,000 students listened to President Kerr and Professor Robert Scalapino talk about the terms of an agreement that department chairmen supposedly supported for permissible free speech activity on campus. However, that support was far from universal, and the agreement did not deal specifically with the pivotal issue of regulating the content of speech and advocacy. Instead, Kerr intoned about the need to end anarchic conditions at UCB and the necessity of returning Cal to the pursuit of knowledge and scholarship.
Mario Savio then got up on the stage and started walking deliberately toward the podium. He had a few comments of his own to make. He never made them. Two UC Berkeley policemen grabbed him and took him rather forcefully to the back of the stage, out of view.
This scene was so astounding that it seemed to unfold in slow motion. The crowd stood in stunned disbelief with some shouting to let him speak. Savio was released and allowed to speak — he simply announced a rally at Sproul Plaza, and then we dispersed.
December 8: The Faculty Stands Up
On December 8, the Academic Senate met. The faculty had certainly been profoundly influenced by the events of that first week in December 1964. They voted overwhelmingly — 824 to 115 — to support the FSM position of unrestrained political speech and advocacy on campus, meaning no regulation or restriction regarding the substance of speech or advocacy.
“Extra!” the front page of a newspaper said, “Powerful Academic Senate Backs FSM.”
On December 18, the Board of Regents, while not explicitly endorsing the Academic Senate vote, did affirm the primacy and applicability of the protections of the First and 14th Amendments to student on-campus political activity.
Above: FSM Café sign
Below: Commemorative plaque, Mario Savio Steps
I walked onto campus the afternoon of Friday, October 26, 2014, and stood for a few moments in Sproul Plaza. I then walked over to Sproul Hall to see, in its stunning simplicity, the small plaque imbedded in the bricks indicating that these were the “Mario Savio Steps.”
I made my way over to the “get re-acquainted” dinner. The current UC Berkeley Chancellor, Nicholas Dirks, was supposed to drop by and, through his presence and a few words, emphasize that FSM was an honorable and valuable part of UCB’s history. (Talk about times changing.) Commemorative T-shirts were available, thankfully in many sizes, since some of us are not as slim as we were in 1964.
The dinner was held at the FSM Café next to the Moffitt Undergraduate Library. (It should be noted that a substantial monetary gift from Stephen Silberstein was instrumental in constructing the café.)
While this older generation of student protesters congregated, today’s generation of students were leaving the library. Some approached to ask what we were doing there. When we told them we were there for FSM 50, several indicated they knew what that was, and thanked us for what we did.
At the FSM Café there is a large photographic montage of various FSM scenes on one wall. On other walls there is a big photo of Mario, and an inspirational homage to his “passion, moral clarity, and democratic style of leadership.” There is even this, announced on letterhead from the UC Berkeley College of Letters & Science:
In not so many years, the number of people who have a living memory of what the Free Speech Movement accomplished will slowly begin to dwindle. Thus, as the 50th Anniversary approaches, with the full support of the University, we have set up The Mario Savio Memorial Lecture and Supporting Fund to permanently honor the memory of Mario Savio and the moral courage, critical spirit and vision that he and countless other activists of his generation exemplified.
I pondered this official remembrance and embrace of Savio and the FSM. Was this a form of belated recognition and respect, or some kind of sly co-optation strategy to “rebrand” UCB for marketing purposes?
And what about those “countless other activists,” people like Bettina Aptheker, Lee Felsenstein, Barbara Garson, Suzanne Goldberg, Bob Mundy, Jack Radey, and Mike Smith, who put their bodies on the line? Who performed critical but less visible leadership roles throughout FSM on the Steering and Executive Committees? What about FSM supporters I knew like Harvey Lehtman, Steve Maizlish, Korey Mandel, Ira Ruskin, and Bob Schnider? Or the 800 Sproul Hall arrestees? I didn’t see their names preserved on a wall for posterity. Then there was the first person to sit down around the police car. Who was that?
This was, after all, the Free Speech Movement, and it was supported in one fashion or another by thousands of students. Where is the dedication or memorial to them? If it had just been Mario Savio talking to the Steering Committee members talking to themselves in Sproul Plaza, there wouldn’t have been an FSM.
And then there’s Mario Savio himself. There’s no question he was the public voice of the FSM, and should be remembered as such. I never met or knew him, but my guess is this kind of lionizing would make him a little uncomfortable. No populist movement can or should be reduced to the story of one person. These kinds of simplifications can easily distort or eradicate the dynamic, multifaceted character of such movements in a misguided attempt to remember and celebrate them.
I pondered these thoughts while walking past the FSM photographs toward the dining area, where a joyful and energetic scene was unfolding. Amidst the gray beards and hair — or the absence of the latter — a few canes, plenty of wrinkled faces, some unwanted, extra weight, FSM veterans greeted and treated each other as close friends, affirming the bonds of a shared history.
Above and Below: Discussion session, Sept 27
Lots of Talk
There happened to be a Cal football game taking place on Saturday after the dinner at the FSM Café. As the FSM vets made their way to a day of “Carrying It On: Panels, Debates, and Discussions,” they were passed by thousands of football fans. The stark contrast between the two groups was striking. I guess we were moving toward what we hoped would be a kind of victory too, in the form of answers. What did FSM accomplish? What are the lessons of FSM and the ’60s for today? How do the ’60s echo through contemporary America?
Themes of the sessions included “Building a Movement Against Economic Inequality”; “How Did We Get There: Campus Activism Before the FSM”; “Applying What We’ve Learned to the Environmental, Social and Economic Crises of Today”; and “Assessing the Radical Legacy of the Sixties: Wins, Losses, and Some Monday Morning Quarterbacking.” I was attracted to the broad historical viewpoint offered by that last session, and especially the comments of Leon Wofsy, Professor Emeritus of Molecular and Cell Biology:
FSM did win. Against stubborn and violent resistance from a paternalistic Administration and a corporate dominated Board of Regents, it won recognition that the First Amendment applies and is binding within the University. […] And “free speech” turned out to be more than an abstraction. It sparked challenges to arbitrary authority; it soon merged into a powerful upheaval in opposition to the war in Vietnam. […] In the aftermath of the upheavals of the 60s, the women’s movement and the historic fight for gender and sexual equality burst through traditional restraints. […] FSM turned out to be an important part of many lives, my own included. We have every reason to be proud of what happened at UC, of the spirit that added to the University’s greatness.
Above: Bruce Africa, Seth Rosenfeld, Steve Silberstein outside FSM Café, Sept 26
Below: Barbara Stack, Art Goldberg outside FSM Café, Sept 26
“Checker”, Oct 1 rally
Wednesday, October 1, 2014 — 50 years after the police car sit-down — was blazingly hot thanks to California’s severe drought. Some FSM vets sought whatever shade there was to make it through a commemorative rally. The man in the police car — Jack Weinberg — was there and spoke, as did Bettina Aptheker, Jackie Goldberg, and Lynne Hollander Savio, all FSM arrestees from the December 2–3 Sproul Hall sit-in. The venerable Dolores Huerta of the United Farm Workers, who was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom, also addressed the crowd, which received an infusion of youth by the arrival of a clapping, chanting contingent from the Cal Progressive Coalition led into Sproul Plaza by FSM vet Mike Smith. There were banners and placards about lots of causes and issues. Very appropriate, since the Coalition is the contemporary manifestation of the UCB activist tradition. Mario Savio was present also with a recording of his December 2, 1964 speech from the steps that now carry his name.
The rally took place as student-led, pro-democracy demonstrations were rocking Hong Kong, and some of the speakers emphasized the historical connection to FSM. Others talked about how movements for political, social, and cultural change can be personally transformative as well. Challenging powerlessness by being involved with a community of the committed was another theme. The letters “F, S, M” were hung from the front of Sproul Hall as had been done when Savio spoke and Joan Baez sang 50 years ago.
After the rally I met up with old friends who were fellow students with me at UC Berkeley, some of whom I had not seen in many, many years. We spent a very pleasant and satisfying afternoon talking and reconnecting. The next day I flew home, knowing that while we all would go our separate ways, we also were united in having a common, core experience whose strong and lasting influence bound us together.
As young students, Berkeley — the city and the campus — was an exciting, huge new world full of possibilities for us — changing and redefining reality. Now, 50 years later, well on into middle age, Berkeley seemed oddly small, still important, but not the encompassing, comprehensive framework of meaning it once was. That, it seems to me, is the way it should be.