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This Day in My History

George Washington's
Rules of Civility
and Decent Behaviour

45th:   Being to advise or reprehend any one, consider whether it ought to be public or private, presently or at some other time, in what terms to do it; and in reproving show no sign of cholar, but do it with all sweetness and mildness.

Yesterday's Entries

2000: A Walk in the Woods
 What a Bitch
2002:  Loud as a Whisper
2003:  "I Wonder What the Inner Brotherhood Recommends for Cramps"


by Patricia Cornwell


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Sometime some short people come into the park.  I kind of like them, but mostly I don't pay much attention to them.

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8 October 2004

I was amused to read in the San Francisco Chronicle that the University of California is holding a week-long series of events commemorating the 40th anniversary of The Free Speech Movement protests of 1964.   Who knew, when the police invaded the campus to drag students out of the administration building, that 40 years later the event would become, as the Chronicle puts it, "a crown of glory" in the University's history.

The Free Speech Movement began in October 1964, when three thousand students held hostage a police car in which was a civil rights worker who had been arrested for distributing political literature on the UC Berkeley campus.  It climaxed three months later when >800 students were arrested in the first campus sit-in.  10,000 more students went on strike and shut the campus down.

In a letter I wrote at that time (yes, I have a copy!), I said,

They have been picketing every classroom building on campus, in numbers varying from 4 or 5 (outside Birge Hall) to 20 or 30 (outside Dwinelle or Wheeler Hall).   Every entrance to campus, especially Bancroft, is picketed.  They have even covered the road to the Rad Lab.  On Friday, the Bancroft pickets extendedfrom the East Kiosk clear down past the new student office building.  You couldn't believe the mass at the Student Union plaze.  And the rallys which the FSM has been holding have gradually increased in size until today the mob, packed very tightly, extended from the south end of Sproul Hall steps to the road leading down to the cafeteria, near Sather Gate.  That's a mess of people!  There were also people 5-deep on 2 sides of the Student Union balcony, people on every rooftop on the cafeteria and connecting ramp, people jammed into windows on every floor of Sproul Hall. 

Five people from Newman Hall were arrested, as were a couple of people from the Physics Department and the manager of my apartment building.

Oh...and there are six students who have gone on a hunger strike and have camped outside the Student Union.  They have lasted three days so far.

The Free Speech Movement came to be seen as the start of the student movement.

At stake were not only the local Civil Rights movement, but fundamental political issues.  University of California President Clark Kerr long insisted that the University wouldn't interfere with student's lives off campus, but, by the same token, that students must keep their political activities off campus.  The students felt this was unfair.  Are students citizens? Do they enjoy basic political rights while on a public campus, as well as in their off hours--not only the right to vote, but to organize political action? The narrow issue was free speech. Did students have the right to advocate political causes, hold meetings for them, recruit members, collect funds? The Regents said no, the Constitution said yes, students went to jail, the faculty agreed with the protestors.

At the time of the Free Speech Movement, I was working for the Physics Department at Berkeley.  My bosses were members of the Academic Senate (one of them was the president).  It was a very busy time--we had just moved into a brand new building and I was trying to get our offices set up.  I was also in the midst of planning for a wedding six months later, and arranging for baby showers for most of my friends who were having their first babies. 

On top of all that, I was never particularly politically active anyway, so my "role" in the Free Speech Movement was to go down to the new Student Union, go up to the balcony on the second floor, and take movies of what was happening across the plaza in Sproul Hall, the administration building, and on the steps the building, and in Sproul Plaza itself.

The police car which was held hostage was the center of a lot of the action.  The roof of the car became a stage from which many people spoke. I remember Father Fisher, who was our friend from the Newman Center, getting on top of the car to address the students. (Later the students took up a collection to pay for the damage that had been done to the car.)

savio.gif (12062 bytes)But the center of all the controversy was Mario Savio who at one time was on the cover of Time or Newsweek as one of the country's most dangerous people.    (President Clark Kerr called him a "follower of the Mao-Castro line," i.e., a Communist.)

(It is ironic now to learn that the steps of Sproul Hall have now been renamed "Mario Savio Steps.")

Savio had been a member of SNCC, The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and had gone to Mississippi to help black sharecroppers register to vote.   Savio was one of many students to speak from the top of the police car but it was he who was almost immediately seen as the "leader" of the Free Speech Movement.

He was perhaps most known for his speech prior to the students entering Sproul Hall to stage the sit in. He said:

There is 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!

Then he led some 1,000 students into the building, while Joan Baez sang "We Shall Overcome." (Ultimately, 814 students were arrested.)

While the rest of the country was talking about this "communist" who was leading all the students astray, I was sitting quietly in my office in the Physics Department.

Mario had been a physics major who had switched to political science, but he had also been friendly with one of my bosses.  I remember that he wanted to do some work in one of the labs in the new building, and my boss left a key with me to give to him.

All I knew of Mario was the firey speeches I'd seen on television, the headlines in the newspaper. 

I looked up from my desk one day, and here this was this somewhat bushy-haired guy, in a rumpled suit, standing there.  I recognized him, immediately, of course--he'd been on the front page of the papers every day.  All I remember is how quiet he was as he said "I'm Mario Savio.  I came to pick up a key."

So my claim to fame is that I gave a key to a physics lab to "the most dangerous person in America."

Mario Savio died in 1996 and won't be around to "celebrate" the anniversary of the nation's first student protest, but those who were around at that time will certainly be absolutely gobsmacked to read the schedule of events. which include a lecture about Mario Savio by Molly Ivens, and a noon rally around a police car parked in Sproul Plaza.

I sure had no idea, in 1964, that the events I was photographing would ever be considered historic, or that they would ever be revered by the same University Administration that the students were fighting 40 years before.

Website of the Day

More information about Sgt. Jacqueline Frank, about whom I wrote two days ago--read her story carefully and think about what "don't ask, don't tell" does to the brave men and women who are protecting this country for all of the rest of us.

And read Joan's reaction to the vice presidential debate, and also about "Chicken Hawks and War Wimps"

Hamiltonian also has a good entry about Bush's Credibility Gap that everyone should read.


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Sproul Plaza, 1964

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