On the Edge of Radicalism… Berkeley’s 1965 Free Speech Movement

A major confrontation erupted on the UC Berkeley Campus in 1965 known worldwide as the Free Speech Movement. At stake was the right of students to be actively involved in the Civil Rights movement and other political issues of the time.

While I was playing in Puerto Vallarta, my nephew, Wayne Cox, posted the video of a Campus Cop using pepper spray on students at UC Davis. The students were involved in a nonviolent protest supporting the Occupy Wall Street movement.

It was a strong indictment of the policeman, a bully using his power of position to intimidate and physically strike out at the protestors.

Those who oppose the Occupy Movement rushed to classify the incident as a random act of a disturbed individual. It was bad PR and the video had gone viral. But the use of violence to counter protest movements has a long history in America, dating all the way back to the Revolutionary War and the Boston Massacre.

I was to experience incidents similar to Davis during student protests at UC Berkeley in the mid 60s. I’ve already written a two blogs about the roots of the protest (see below).

I returned to UC in the fall of 1965 excited about my senior year. Two of my former dorm mates, Cliff Marks and Jerry Silverfield, had agreed to share an apartment. Prices were high. Landlords had a captive student population to exploit. We ended up with a small kitchen, bathroom, living room, and one bedroom. Things were so tight in the bedroom that Cliff and I had a bunk bed. I would later wonder why this was superior to dorm life.

Jerry (on the right), Cliff and I in our small apartment.

We christened the apartment by consuming a small barrel of tequila Cliff had brought back from his summer of sharpening Spanish skills in Mexico.

While we were recovering from our well-deserved headaches the next morning, UC’s Administration moved decisively to eliminate off campus political activities from being initiated on campus.

There would be no more organization of Civil Rights demonstrations and no more money collected to support political candidates or causes. Controversial speakers would not be allowed on campus without tight administrative control.

The Bancroft-Telegraph entrance free speech area was out of business, closed down, caput. That incredible babble of voices advocating a multitude of causes would be heard no more.

The Administration’s actions were a testament to the success of the 1960s Civil Rights struggle taking place in the Bay Area. It wasn’t that the activists wanted change; the problem was they were achieving it.

Non-violent civil disobedience is a powerful tool. Base your fight on legitimate moral and political issues; use the sit-in and the picket line to make your point. When the police come, don’t fight back; go limp. If they beat you over the head, you win. Sing songs of peace and justice; put a flower in the barrel of the weapon facing you.

It is incredibly hard to fight against these tactics. People tend to get upset when they see nonviolent protestors being beaten with nightsticks in national and international media. It gives power to the powerless.

Major businesses being targeted for their discriminatory practices in the Bay Area, the Sheraton Hotel, United Airlines and Safeway, blinked. Each would alter their practices.

One business that didn’t back down was the Oakland Tribune, owned by William Knowland, a conservative Republican, former Senator from California and leader of California’s Republican Party.

As the protests in the surrounding community became more successful, the power structure being attacked struck back. Calls were made to the Regents, the President of the University system and the Chancellor at Berkeley. ‘Control your students or else’ was the ominous message.

The Regents, President and Chancellor bowed to the pressure.

Some members of the Regents and Administration undoubtedly agreed with the businesses being challenged and saw the protesters as part of an anarchic left-wing plot. Others may have believed that the students’ effectiveness would bring the powers that be down on the university. Academic freedom could be lost. Some likely felt that the activities were disruptive to the education process and out-of-place on a college campus.

One thing was immediately clear; the Administration woefully underestimated the reaction of the leaders of the various organizations and large segments of the Campus population to its dictum. Possibly the administrators believed they were dealing with a small, unpopular minority, or maybe they just needed to believe: the outside pressure was so great it didn’t matter what the students believed or how they reacted.

Next blog: I become involved in ‘civil disobedience.’

Proud to be a UC Berkeley student, I display my sweatshirt.

The Revolution of the 60s and the Occupy Wall Street Movement

“If you can remember the 60s, you weren’t there.”

Robin Williams

“We have to be careful not to allow this (the Occupy Wall Street movement) to get legitimacy. I am taking this seriously in that I am old enough to remember what happened in the 1960s…”

Peter King, Congressional Chair of the Homeland Security Committee

“Don’t trust anyone over 30.”

Jerry Weinberg during Berkeley’s Free Speech Moment in 1965

The forgotten 60s of Robin Williams is a legacy of the hippie era. Tune in and drop out became the rallying cry. Flower children flocked to San Francisco, Timothy Leary became the high priest of LSD and the Grateful Dead emerged out of the Bay Area. Ken Kesey, Neal Cassidy and the Merry Pranksters hopped on their psychedelic bus and toured America. “It is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius,” the Fifth Dimension sang and some 500,000 people trekked to Woodstock to see if it were true.

I skipped the drug-induced haze of the hippies, for the most part. I assume Peter King did as well. Our similarities end there. While he worked his way through private colleges in the East, became a lawyer and joined the National Guard, I went to UC Berkeley, majored in International Relations and joined the Peace Corps.

The challenge to become involved was what captured my passion in the 60s. “If you are not a part of the solution, you are part of the problem,” Pogo asserted.

John Kennedy kicked off the decade with his “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Later, his perspective was broadened by Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream,” Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” and Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” as well as others.

Like tens of thousands of young people across America, I felt that the times were changing, that we could make a difference, that there were solutions to international relations beyond endless war, that America could live up to her dreams of equality, that we could reverse and repair the damage we were doing to our earth, and that there were motivations to action beyond greed.

In other words, what was happening then with the civil rights, human rights, environmental and anti-war movements of the 60s, bears a strong resemblance to what is happening with today’s Occupy Wall Street Movement.

Then, like now, a massive, nation-wide grass-roots movement was founded on the concept of creating positive change, young people played a major role, and the establishment fought back. Those with wealth and power saw us as a direct threat to their ability to gain more wealth and power.

We were labeled as leftists, radicals and communists even though the vast majority of us were not. We were told we were anti-American bent on destroying the nation. And the police and the National Guard were called out to ‘restore order.’

Thus it is when the Peter King’s of the world describe participants of the Occupy Wall Street movement as “anarchists” who are “a bunch of 1960 do overs trying to create chaos” and that “ they have no sense of purpose other than a basic anti-American tone,” I feel compelled to respond.

What happened in the 60’s is relevant to what is happening today.

But the relevance lies in the vision of creating a better nation, not in Peter King’s McCarthy like posturing. I am proud of what we able to accomplish in the 60s.  I am proud of how so many young people of the 60s and 70s would go on to create positive change throughout their lives. And I am proud of the folks who are now participating in the Occupy Wall Street Movement.

Over the next two weeks I will revisit the early to mid-60s and reflect on how these years impacted my life and thousands of others who shared my experiences. And I will strive to make those experiences relevant to today.

I will start with how a small community college in the Sierra foothills changed my world-view and then move on to look at UC Berkeley in 1963. Next I will provide an inside look at Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement in 1964 and give an overview of the nation’s first major anti-Vietnam War protest at Berkeley in 1965. I will conclude with my thoughts on how the Berkeley experience reflected and influenced what was happening in the nation.

Is Occupy Wall Street an Anarchic Plot to Destroy America? Peter King Thinks So.

“If you are not rich, blame yourself.”                                                                                                                                                                    Herman Cain

I’ve been watching the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement with fascination. Like another recent phenomenon of American politics, the Tea Party, it has a strong grass-roots element and is concerned with the direction America is traveling.

Similarities stop there.

The right leaning Tea Party is concerned with excesses in the public sector and wishes to limit government and taxes. OWS is tilted the other direction and is primarily concerned with the private sector. Its message: Excessive greed is bad for America.

Not surprisingly, many of America’s most wealthy people find the OWS movement disturbing. The above quote from Herman Cain is his response to the protestors. While the quote might slip by in Cain’s former role as CEO of Godfather Pizza, it seems inappropriate and unintelligent coming from a leading contender for the Republican nomination for President.

Whether you agree with Cain or not, one thing is certain, you won’t get rich by working for Godfather Pizza. I checked the Pizza giant’s online job application at http://www.myjobapps.com/godfathers-pizza-job-applications-online. As a ‘team’ member you can expect to be paid between $7-9 per hour. A cook can earn an extra buck. And the Assistant Manager, who’s job it is to supervise the whole shift, can earn a whopping $8 plus.

I found the statements on Occupy Wall Street by Peter King, chair of Congressional Committee on Home Land Security, to be even more disturbing, particularly the last quote:

“The fact is that these people are anarchists. They have no idea of what they are doing out there.”

“(They are) a bunch of 1960 do overs trying to create chaos.”

“They have no sense of purpose other than a basic anti-American tone and anti-capitalist.”

“We have to be careful not to allow this (movement) to get legitimacy. I am taking this seriously in that I am old enough to remember what happened in the 1960s when the left wing took to the streets and somehow the media glorified them and it ended up setting policy. We can’t allow that to happen.”

I, too, am old enough to remember the 60s. Just what policies that received their impetus from the 60’s would King eliminate? How about Civil Rights? Does King believe that black people should be forced to sit in the back of the bus? Or what about the equality of women? Is it wrong for women to earn equal pay for equal work or be allowed into higher levels of corporate management or the White House? Or what about the environmental movement? Does King believe our water and air should be clogged with deadly pollutants or that the last of the ancient redwoods should be cut down?

And the list goes on and on. The majority of people protesting in the 60s and 70s were patriotic Americans concerned about the future of the nation, just like the majority of people protesting in the Occupy Wall Street Movement.

It’s the Peter Kings that I worry about.

In my next blog I will travel back in time to UC Berkeley in 1965 where I participated in the beginnings of the 60’s struggle for human rights.