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    Empowerment and the FSM

    by Suzanne Goldberg


This talk was presented on the panel "The Story of the Free Speech Movement" during the 1984 FSM Reunion.


Nancy Skinner: The next person I'd like to introduce is Suzanne Goldberg. Suzanne served on the Free Speech Movement Steering Committee. She is currently a clinical psychologist in Washington, D.C. and is involved and very active in the public schools there. Suzanne Goldberg. (Applause.)

Suzanne Goldberg: This is for my son -- I can't take it away. This is actually much briefer than Michael's speech. I thought we had ten minutes, but you'll probably be relieved, so that's fine.

          I remember walking across Sproul Plaza, coming from a philosophy class and into Dwinelle Hall, encountering Mario standing on a chair at Sather Gate, urging everyone who passed by to sign their name, declaring that they too were manning -- and that was a pre-women's liberation term -- tables on the campus. EM(Laughter.) Brian Turner and Sandor Fuchs had been cited for violating the new campus rules prohibiting political solicitation on the Berkeley campus, but they were not to be singled out for punishment. A primary rule for protest movements of the Sixties, was not to let our people be isolated, and in numbers we were strong; alone we were weak.

          I was a graduate student and teaching assistant, secure with regular pay and the prestige -- such as it was -- of a teaching status. And the prospect soon after of getting on the professorial track at some university. To join the larger undergraduate students in their efforts to stop the university administration from cutting off the students' main source of power -- which was the opportunity to speak with fellow campus members, to convince them to join their causes -- was to risk my future.

          Mario was exercising that right to speak; he was effectively gathering support for these several active political groups to survive on a campus presumably dedicated to teach its students to think for themselves.

          I had read existentialist philosophers and felt suspended in an existentially significant moment, in which I had to chose to go on about the relatively risk-free business of graduate study ignoring these students' troubles, and thereby silently supporting the administration's right both to abuse its power and to disempower these groups. Or -- to risk my position and my career to join these fellow students; to say "No, you cannot do it; we will try our darndest to stop you!"

          Another important part of the choice I then made, was to recognize that these students' interests were my interests; that although I was not a member of their groups, and although I was a graduate student with interests in pursuing an academic career, I had also an interest in the university as a place that allowed people to express their ideas. Where I could go about my business and ignore these student's plight, I would be participating in the administration's repression, and something of the way people who walked by and ignore a crime participate by their silence in that crime. To walk by and to say to myself, "I hope they succeed," but not to join them and share in their risks, felt hypocritical. What value would my belief in the justness of their cause mean then? Words without substance.

          At the moment I chose to join, I gave myself power -- the power to say, "I will no longer cooperate as long I and my comrades are denied a basic right." As the FSM progressed, another important issue emerged: the right to be included in the decision-making processes that directly affect one's life-business. The administration -- acting under the philosophical excuse where all arbitrary power, quote, "in loco parentis," whereby an academic institution has the power of a parent over a child -- decided to take away political rights because the students' activities were counter to the administration's political interests. The students had no say in this decision; they had no power until they refused to cooperate. I must add some words here about the way students took power. The FSM was an entirely non-violent movement. I had been amazed to hear from a faculty member here during the '60 s, and very sympathetic to the students' views, that the impression is prevalent that students used violence. For instance, that the car at Sproul Plaza was over-turned. This faculty member also assumed it was common for slogans to be spray-painted on buildings. And I must say I don't particularly agree with Michael's example -- not that these (applause) people should be penalized, but I don't really believe in defacing property unless necessary (applause) -- and -- laughter.) During the Free Speech Movement, in its entirety, I never once witnessed any abuse of personal property on student's parts. Slogans in support of the FSM were routinely hung on banners or posted on placards; never permanently affixed to any private property.

          Let me switch my perspective for a moment to the federal government. Today in the White House we have a president who believes in disempowering large numbers of American citizens. Regulatory agencies, under Reagan, can cooperate with corporate business and do whatever possible to exclude the consumer. His Vice President believes that government should be a partner of business; his administration demonstrates this in every agency.

          Reagan further disempowers Americans when he belittles and character- assassinates those who disagree with him, calling them, "purveyors of doom and gloom, whiners and complainers"; and implying that they're un-American. I recall vividly during the trial of the FSM defendants, the two prosecuting attorneys, Lowell Jensen and Edwin Meese. Both ((laughter) are in important government positions today. [Meese was then Attorney General.] Lowell Jensen, though by no means on our side, treated us with respect, and we respected him. He was intelligent and a gentleman. Edwin Meese treated us as "scum," people with values he disapproved of (laughter and applause) -- were not to be treated with respect; he never greeted us day after day in the courtroom and he passed us by with disdain. Edwin Meese was not someone whose life demonstrates a fundamental tenet of a free society. (Applause, laughter.) But free speech is a vital guarantee of democracy. If we cannot respect and protect our citizens' right to say whatever they wish, we no longer have a free society.

          Edwin Meese is the adviser closest to President Reagan. Their behavior encourages totalitarianism; the hatred of those who disagree with us; the stamps of the bully who proclaims that his is the majority point of view, and those who won't go along are poor sports. Theirs is an ideology of demagoguery -- not of democracy. It is as dangerous as Hitler's was, not so very long ago. (Applause.)

          Now let me go from the national political scene to a more personal one. I'm a psychologist. One of the most important goals I have in therapy . . . (laughter) O.K.? One of the most important goals I have as a therapist is to empower people; to show them that they can respect their feelings and beliefs enough to say them, not to keep them down in their guts, silent. And it is this respect for their own power to say, for their own free thoughts and free speech, that enables people to change their lives; to grow from a limited world view in which they are stuck as victims, to a view of the world in which they can effect change and affect others. Too often, people in their personal lives make the existential choice to remain silent; to remain, as they see it -- "safe." In the workplace, people choose to keep their mouths shut when they see an injustice or moral infringement taking place; they perceive their jobs to be at risk should they cause trouble. Would that they perceived that the safety of their lives is at risk when they fail to speak; for in so doing, they participate in creating and maintaining an environment of fear that keeps their jobs at risk, should they say the wrong thing.

          Our lives, personal and as well as political, are not safe so long as we silence ourselves. Then we take away our power to influence, to be heard, to be considered. When we speak our feelings and our beliefs, we demonstrate respect for ourselves. When we speak up, we give ourselves power.

          The 50's were known as the era of the "silent generation," the era of "McCarthyism." The '60's and early '70's, were noisy. The era of the Vietnam War; but also, of a profound and powerful anti-war movement which contributed significantly to the ending of that war. Let us not become silent again. Let us not fall back into the safety of our jobs; our professions, where we watch the rights of others erode. For when that happens, our own rights erode. Our right to live in a democracy. Thank you. (Applause.)


Copyright 1984, 1998 by Suzanne Goldberg. This work may not be reproduced in any medium which is sold, subject to access fee, or supported by advertising, without explicit prior consent by the author.

 

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