Search this Site    --   FSM-A Home Page

FSM-A \ Free Speech Movement Archives FSM-A


The Free Speech Movementadler_heret_lg.jpg (10801 bytes)

Chapter 4  from
Heretic's Heart:
A Journey Through Spirit and Revolution

(Beacon Press, Boston; 1997)

By Margot Adler (FSM Bio here)

     It's a sunlit morning in 1964. My mother and I are traveling across the country on our way to Berkeley, and she is slowly coming to terms with the departure of her only child for college. I'm floating in a swimming pool somewhere in the Midwest, saying various syllables over and over, like "Oregon" and "all." I am trying to lose my New York accent; like so many immigrants, I am trying to remake myself.

     Living in New York City, I looked upon Berkeley as so many Americans have looked throughout history upon the West -- as an escape from everything that defined my past. For me Berkeley was not only an excellent school, and a place with a rich history of student activism; going to Berkeley meant fleeing New York, my parents, the memories of four depressing high school years during which I had few real friends. Most of all, I was fleeing from myself and from the large one-hundred-and-eighty-pound body that encased me. California, a place I had never seen, seemed a place of open space, infinite possibilities -- radicals, surfers, palm trees, the Beach Boys, and not necessarily in that order. I was determined to enter this mythical realm and to claim it as my own.

     Looking back, I realize now that I also wanted to free myself from being my mother's daughter. All during her life I felt in the shadow of this beautiful, theatrical, extraordinary woman. Although she never said so, my mother would have far preferred that I go to some fashionable college in the East, preferably Radcliffe, but I knew deep down it would never be. Although no one, including myself£ would admit it at the time, I was clearly the kind of applicant that gives college administrators pause. Visibly overweight and wearing dark, oversized tent dresses, with my hair short and shapeless, I was not the type to inspire confidence, despite an energetic, even bubbly nature. And I was absolutely sure every interviewer could see through my outer facade, into the dark, angst-filled, daydream-laden creature below who was secretly spending two or three hours a day living out various historical and science fiction fantasies.

     Many years later, having interviewed dozens of young college students as potential baby-sitters, I realize that I was probably exactly the kind of young woman I have occasionally rejected as too depressive or dour, preferring instead those lovely, confident, smiling types with pastel sweaters and circle pins, the ones who seem to know exactly where they are going and do not harbor dangerous dreams. In the end, I was clearly fated to go to a college that was interested only in my grades.

     Going to Berkeley was my own attempt -- which seemed feeble at the time -- to find a rich and interesting life of my own. And it worked: for the next eight years, everywhere I went I found myself mysteriously at the center of extraordinary events.

     True, my Berkeley was not the only one. It was a center of bohemianism, yet Ronald Reagan was the governor of the state when I graduated, in 1968, and his signature is on my diploma. Berkeley had the largest number of Nobel laureates and Peace Corps volunteers of any university, but also the largest number of federal contracts for nuclear weapons research.

     The 1968 yearbook portrays the conventional Berkeley I did not know: sports teams and glee clubs, cheerleaders, rally clubs, the campus newspaper, the humor magazine, a plethora of honor organizations, bands, theatrical and music groups, but not a single mention of anyone I knew. The student protests are relegated to one or two snapshots. The seven professors who inspired me are neither listed nor photographed. None of my roommates are listed in the index, nor are they to be found in the pages of class photos. All of my friends are missing. I am not there either. It almost seems as if the Berkeley I knew was purposely rubbed out by the official chroniclers of the time, its radical legacy denied. But it is also true that I chose not to have my picture taken for the yearbook (it seemed a silly ritual) and I did not attend my own graduation, something I now regret.

     Still, coming to Berkeley in 1964 was like entering a fantasy of what the agora might have been like in ancient Athens (forgetting for the moment that there were slaves in Athens and women were second-class citizens, expected to stay indoors). Much of Berkeley's social life took place outside, and except for the three-month rainy season, the sky seemed eternally blue, the sun was nearly always shining, and the manicured lawns were watered daily. The older structures on the campus, white buildings with Spanish terra-cotta tile roofs, glistened in the sunlight. At times, as dusk approached and the sky darkened into an intense and vibrant blue, the cedars and fir trees were tinged with a golden light and the entire campus seemed bathed in radiance.

     The campus buildings were a mix of classical, neoclassical, and beaux-arts structures competing with newer, concrete abominations. The administration building, Sproul Hall, with its four huge Doric columns, looked out on our agora, Sproul Plaza. At noon it often seemed that the entire population of thirty thousand students would pour into the plaza. No stranger to crowds and large city life, I found Berkeley an appropriate size -- like a Greek polis.

     As an only child I had lived alone most of my life, and unlike many students whose thirst for independence is symbolized by the quest for their own apartment, I had no desire to live on my own. What I desperately wanted was company. Living in a boarding house for young women, mostly freshmen, brought the comfort of neighbors and friends -- an entry into an instant and easy community I had never had. I privately exulted at this abundance of companionship.

     I also secretly enjoyed the most ghastly and shameful aspects of student orientation, watching the cheerleaders and learning the school colors and songs and the silly traditions of the football team. Since my New York high school didn't even have team sports and our senior prom had been canceled for lack of interest, I looked on such things with the fascination of an alien anthropologist or, at the very least, a tourist from another land, which perhaps I was. Even those things that irked radical students the most and were the seeds from which rebellion was already sprouting -- the machine-like quality of some of the education, the huge lecture classes with eight hundred students, the small sections led by bored and immature teaching assistants, the inadequate counseling, the invisibility of each person among a student body of almost thirty thousand -- those things, at least at the beginning, were liberating. "There is something wonderful about being able to lose oneself in a crowd," I wrote to my mother two weeks after school began. "Knowing that no one knows me . . . there is a beautiful feeling knowing that I am like a thousand normal people!"

     The part of campus life that quickly became confusing was the dizzying array of choices. "This school is beginning to overwhelm me," I wrote home only a week later.

"I want to try everything! But already I wonder if I am taking too much? I guess I am in a weird mood because a girl who lives in this house just had something akin to a nervous breakdown. I hear that this is a common enough occurrence in college ... so it makes you wonder ... "So here's the question. 1. Logically, I should enjoy my work. 2. I should do well enough so that if I want to continue in graduate school it will be possible. 3. I should be able to participate in many of the wonderful outside activities available. 4. I should enjoy myself to the utmost. But somehow, these things do not seem compatible, unless I forget about #2, which I am never able to do. I don't want to complain, but when you are assigned over one weekend 400 pages of reading from Plato, Sophocles, Epic of Gilgamesh, Homer and modern political analysis, it's fair to cry out, 'My God, give me a little time to do this, so that I can go folk dancing or go to a movie.' there are so many choices each night -- a party, a meeting, a movie, or realistically, getting some of this damn reading done."

     I realize only now, reading these letters from thirty years ago, that my mother's words had method and purpose. Like Auntie Mame, she always tried to entice me away from the predictable, to help me see the larger aspects of life:

           October 4th, 1964

"Dearest Margot:

     "Two letters from you! Joy, joy.... They both made me chuckle and hold back a tear or two. The tear not being caused by lonesomeness but by the picture of you weighted down by all those assignments, torn by your newly discovered (finally and thank God) possibilities of having fun, and your sense of guilt at not always plodding away at your assignments.

     "So at the risk of being a mother which I of course am, and a Jewish one at that, I want to talk out loud about just this point. I have complete trust in your good sense, Margot, so that fun will always be something truly enjoyable and not an extreme attempt to avoid your responsibilities to your work. However the choice you will have to make is to be a good average student with time to live life to the hilt, or an A student plodding away at the cost of missing the real purpose of college which is to make life More and not Less meaningful. The purpose of all those wonderful philosophers you are reading is to give you a sense of values to live by, a way of saying, Yes to life and not No.

     "Talking of philosophy, there is something about Zen that just touches that. The business of so freeing the mind from facts and pressures so that you have a state that they call emptying the mind, if I have it right, and I may very well have only superficially understood it, by empty it really means being sufficiently open and uncluttered so that you are sensitized to receive all the things around you, be they people, activities or that highest of reactions to life -- the world of art.

     "All of which, darling, leads me to tell you your biggest problem is that which plagues imaginative people all their lives -- CHOICES. You will have to decide of three equally exciting things which one to go to, even if all three are equally intriguing -- after all you only have one ass. Also you will have to decide that no one but yourself is pressuring you to be a top student. I only want for your sake that you just get the necessary grades not to be kicked out, that's all. I don't give a damn if you get one A. So my darling sit down and have a good talk with yourself, and know that your mother loves you even if you fail every goddamn subject -- I hope for your sake you don't. . . . But if college is pressuring people so they crack, we had better say the hell with college and look into what is wrong. The purpose of the humanities is to be able to live a rich, intellectual and emotional life, to be able to embrace life in all its colors, joys and tragedies, but never to be so overburdened that one's senses become deadened and unable to receive the gifts college offers in the first place."

     My mother echoed what many students at Berkeley believed in 1964, but what is very hard for today's students to fathom in this era of downsizing and burdensome student debt. The purpose of school was to enlarge oneself, to discover the path to a rewarding and interesting life, to get a liberal education and ponder the meaning of existence; it was only secondarily to get a career. Although living well did not mean having the kinds of material possessions it does today, America was prosperous. Jobs were available and we assumed that we could get them when the time came. Tuition was low at Berkeley, even for out-of-state students; it was easy to live cheaply, and students only paid back loans when they were able. Later, in the 1970s, tuitions would rise, scholarships would be cut, and regulations governing loans would be tightened, all of which would undercut student activism and force many to choose money over meaning.

     But we were a generation determined to mine experience for its riches. And my mother, despite her own experiences during the Depression -- experiences which made many other parents unable to accept their children's seeming aimlessness -- was eager to hear about our artistic and philosophic journeys.

          November, 1964

"Dear Mom:

     "I read The Stranger. Absolutely absurd, fascinating. Do you think life has any meaning? JoAnne (one of my roommates) and I have decided that it only does on a lower level: in other words, individuals have no meaning at all in the larger universe -- we are just ants, or specks of sand, meaningless in the grand scheme of things. However on the lower level, where we make man the center, life has the meaning we give it. Perhaps we live because of an instinct for survival, but once we have decided to live, life can have meaning, and can be as wonderful, and beautiful as possible. But in order to live, we must forget about that upper level where man and life and the earth and Bach and art are all meaningless, because were we to keep our mind on that, it would be too painful."

"Dearest Margot:

     "So you're head deep in the meaning of it all and very much under the influence of the "Existentialists." I think it is wonderful that you are questioning the meaning of it all. And I believe that it is only because we are a tiny speck in the total universe that we can develop true values and say, Yes to life for the short visit we humans are on this planet. How tragic that so many waste it in the jungle of competition and petty shit level concerns.

     "... Even I, a middle aged woman, still examine the why, and it only makes me go into life more, wanting to extract the most succulent juices from it.... If all we can know is our human condition then this is what is most important, and only by realizing this, and how small we are in the total cosmos do we realize the need for extending our hand to our fellow man who is just as alone as we and needs to extend his hand in our direction as much as we his. So soul search my darling, for when you stop you are sterile and dead."      

           Within my first weeks at Berkeley I was involved in a buzz of activities in addition to my studies. I had gone to a fraternity party, had sat behind a table for Students for a Democratic Society, had gone to a meeting of the W. E. B. DuBois Club, had seen films by Eisenstein and Leni Riefenstahl.

     In contrast, my "Introduction to Government" course was decidedly at odds with the budding ferment around me. In the early 1960's, most political scientists in the United States -- men like Wildavsky, Greenstein, Dahl, Polsby, and McCloskey -- believed that American democracy worked only because most Americans were apathetic. Most Americans, we were told in readings for the course, did not care and did not participate in political activities; they placed their dreams and hopes in the private sector instead. The authors argued that this apathy toward the political prevented extremes and promoted stability. (Why, if Americans truly cared about politics, these experts assured us, our country would be as politically unstable as Italy!) When I asked the professor to suggest readings that took a different view, I was told that there were none. Confused and angry, I began to look for other authorities.

     Outside the classroom, politics was the breath of life. Standing around the political tables set up in the plaza, students were talking about politics and philosophy, gesturing, shouting each other down. Clusters of students discussed events and ideas for hours. Groups would form and dissipate and form again. Here politics was seen as a life-and-death struggle, and argument was ecstasy. Caring intensely was not only good, but would surely change the world for the better.

     While politics bid for my soul, another model, totally at war with the active political life, also beckoned. Gilbert Rose, a teaching assistant in ancient Greek, was enticing me into the classical world. One day Rose put the first three lines of the Odyssey on the blackboard and then, layer by layer as if he were peeling an onion, he uncovered strata of hidden meaning, until we were awed by the mysterious nature of the Greek language in the same way a person is awed when they cut an apple horizontally and see inside, for the first time, the hidden pentagram or star. Rose was a model totally at odds with the image of activism at Berkeley. He would sit in his home, surrounded by walls of books, contentedly poring over ancient Greek texts, while his wife sat at her desk quietly studying Anglo-Saxon. I wondered if they were outside the main energy of our era or if they were investigating the only questions anyone would find interesting a hundred or a thousand years from now.

           But while the myths and gods of the past were calling to me, the call of the present was stronger. The Free Speech Movement had just begun when I arrived at Berkeley in the fall of 1964, although it would be another month before there was an organization with that name. Earlier, in the summer, students from Berkeley had organized demonstrations at the Republican National Convention in support of liberal Republican William Scranton and against Barry Goldwater, the convention's ultimate nominee. It's still unclear whether conservatives actually put pressure on the university, or whether the university, worried about its budget and needing to appease its conservative board of regents, simply felt the need to discourage student political activity. Whatever the reason, on September 14, shortly before classes began, a dean notified off-campus organizations that all student political activity was henceforth prohibited on campus.

     When I was growing up in the fifties my family possessed two recordings that came to symbolize for me the fight for political freedom. The first was The Investigator, a devastating satire about Senator Joseph McCarthy, in which he dies in a plane crash and goes to heaven. After passing through the pearly gates with barely a question asked, he decides that heaven is too lax and convenes a committee of inquisitors, witch-hunters, and hanging judges from across history, to interrogate the population of heaven. One by one he deports every freethinker to hell: Thomas Jefferson, James Joyce, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Wagner, Socrates, Beethoven,John Stuart Mill, and Karl Marx. Each notable has a hearing and says his most stirring words in defense of liberty. As a teenager I would listen to this record and pace around the living room, pretending I was these famous men, mouthing their speeches.

     In the end, Joseph McCarthy causes such a mess in the other world that God and Satan both throw up their hands and agree that Joe is ruining both of their realms, so they send him back to earth.

     The other recording I listened to over and over was The Sounds of Protest, a documentary about the House UnAmerican Activities Committee Hearings in 1960, in San Francisco, and the protests against them. Three thousand people picketed the committee's hearings at City Hall. With few exceptions, only those friendly to the committee were allowed inside, and demonstrations outside became tense. On May 13, 1960, suddenly, without warning, police used fire hoses on the demonstrators and dragged them down the stairs, the spines of the protesters bumping on every slippery step. I was mesmerized as I listened to the speeches of those who were subpoenaed by HUAC. They argued that they were unable to confront their accusers, that they were being defamed and pilloried not for what they had done, but simply for what they believed. The speakers were stirring and courageous: "If you think I am going to cooperate with this collection of Judases, with these men who sit there in violation of the U.S. Constitution. If you think I am going to cooperate in any way, you are insane." [1] Even more mesmerizing were the civil rights songs of the students and their chants and screams as police turned on the hoses and the students linked arms and were dragged down the stairs. Sixty-four people were arrested; more than thirty of them were Berkeley students.

     Having already taken part in many political activities in New York City, I thought the right to political advocacy seemed obvious, and I was soon handing out leaflets, attending rallies, and sitting behind tables filled with political literature -- activities that were forbidden under the new campus regulations.

     In the beginning, the Free Speech Movement focused exclusively on campus free speech, but eventually it went much further: it demanded that students be treated like citizens, subject to regulation only by the courts. I embraced that goal since I had become enraged at California's paternalism within days of my arrival. (When my mother and I tried to enter a San Francisco cabaret to see a show we were told that since drinks were available and the drinking age was twenty-one I was too young to attend, even though a parent was accompanying me. I was livid. In those days the drinking age in New York was eighteen, and I was accustomed to being treated as an adult.)

     Later, the Free Speech Movement also mounted a blistering critique of the university as a "knowledge factory" turning out corporate drones for industry. In 1964, with a student body of nearly thirty thousand, resources at Berkeley were strained; it was easy for students to feel they were being pressed out like so many pieces of sausage. And this idea of the university as a factory that would train bureaucrats, engineers, and politicians to keep the establishment going seemed the absolute antithesis of any real quest for knowledge. (It still does.) Twenty years later, Michael Rossman, one of the theoreticians of the FSM, would bring an audience of Berkeley students to hysterical laughter by framing the FSM critique this way: "We were being prepped to run the society for the students at Harvard and Yale, who were being prepped to own it."

     But even if the student argument made intellectual sense to me, I felt anything but alienated. I was out on my own. I floated through my first semester, did well in everything, and even defended the large lecture format in letters home. "Are your classes as formidable as everyone I meet thinks?" queried my ever-vigilant mother, who worried about "classes of five hundred and more where you are fortunate if you get a glimpse of your professor once during the semester." "Remember," she advised me, "it will be the intimate connections and contacts with stimulating people on the faculty through whom the important part of your academic life will have real meaning. I'd hate for you to be swallowed up in a mass of bigness and impersonalness."

     I was quick to reassure her. "It's really a myth about how terrible these large lecture classes are," I wrote home. "If you have a really great professor his classes will be stimulating, no matter how many students are in the class." I felt a new sense of freedom and an almost Edenic sense of bliss, and it was a bit hard to see myself as the soulless IBM card depicted in FSM leaflets.

     The Free Speech Movement was also deeply influenced by the civil rights movement. In the early 1960S, Berkeley students had begun to picket local Kress and Woolworth stores in protest of their discriminatory hiring practices, in actions very similar to the protests I had joined in New York during high school. By 1964, students were joining civil rights protests at Lucky supermarkets, Mel's Drive-in, and the Sheraton Palace Hotel, and many of these businesses subsequently changed their practices.

     Then came the Mississippi Summer Project of 1964, in which almost a thousand students went south to register black voters and set up "Freedom Schools" to teach the history of the struggle for civil rights. The death of three civil rights workers brought the world's attention to Mississippi. Between thirty and sixty students from Berkeley traveled to that state that summer, and they returned to the campus, according to Mario Savio, the Free Speech Movement's most eloquent speaker, as different people. When Savio himself returned to Berkeley from the South he said that civil rights was not only the most interesting thing that was going on in America, it was the most "unsullied" thing. [2]

     For the students and former students who would lead the FSM, their civil rights work provided a sense of morality, purpose, meaning, and community. They returned from Mississippi, and from work in the Bay Area, with a belief that confrontation often succeeds in bringing about needed change. They also brought with them skills they'd gained -- experience in civil disobedience and knowledge of how to confront recalcitrant authorities.

           By September 28, the ban on political activity had become so divisive that all classes stopped at 11:00A.M. for an address to all students by President Clark Kerr and Chancellor Edward Strong Chancellor Strong was introducing new student officers and giving his views on the controversy -- words that seemed turgid and bland. All the while, about four hundred students paraded through the aisles carrying signs: "Vote for X (Censored)" and "Ban the Ban." To many of us in the audience, the protesters, unlike the speakers, seemed to radiate life.

     On September 30, five students were cited by campus police for sitting at "illegal" tables. After being told to come to the dean's office, they entered the administration building, Sproul Hall, surrounded by three hundred supporters, an event which developed into the first FSM sit-in. The five students, along with three other leaders of the protests, were suspended.

     The next day the protesters determined to test the rules again.Jack Weinberg brought a huge door onto the campus, to create a table for the civil rights organization CORE. The demonstrators set up their tables right in front of Sproul Hall. Weinberg was told he was violating university regulations, and just as lunchtime crowds began to gather he began to give a passionate speech about the "knowledge factory" but was arrested before he finished. Using a tactic from civil rights demonstrations in the South, he went limp and was carried to a police car. Students, now gathering in the hundreds, soon to be thousands, spontaneously began to shout "Sit down!" and soon hundreds were sitting down in front of and behind the police car. (Weinberg would sit in that surrounded police car for some thirty-six hours.)

     Like many students, I wandered over to Sproul Plaza for the noon rally and arrived just after the arrest took place. It was extraordinary to see this police car immobile, surrounded by a growing crowd. As time passed, students, faculty, clergy, and members of the community began to climb on top of the car to make speeches to the throng, while underneath, Jack Weinberg, this intense-looking young man with dark tousled hair and a dark mustache, his brow furrowed, his eyes blazing, sat calmly next to a policeman, seem

     As a freshman in my first semester, I felt too timid to make a speech, although I thought of several as I listened; I felt excited by the growing sense of community among the protesters. It seemed ridiculous that Weinberg had been arrested for sitting behind a table covered with civil rights literature, something I had been doing myself just days before. It seemed easy and appropriate to sit down on the ground with the other students. I felt almost no fear, perhaps because the police car, usually such a powerful symbol of authority, seemed tiny and helpless in the face of our growing numbers.

     As we sat around the car, blocking its movement, preventing this arrest from occurring, I felt a sense of exhilaration. But there were moments of fear and terror as we wondered what action the authorities would take. Most of the protesters had never participated in any political demonstration before. Many cried or laughed, or were uncertain what to do. We had turned the world upside down, stopped the machinery of the state. There was a feeling of instant community and internal power. We had no name for the power that we felt. Years later, spiritual feminists would call it "evoking power-from-within."

     At the height of the demonstration some three thousand people gathered in the plaza. Ministers called for peace, fraternity boys threw rotten eggs, and the students sitting around the car sang, talked, and passed out food and cigarettes. I remember that after many hours someone finally gave Jack Weinberg a coke bottle to pee in.

     Bettina Aptheker, in a book on the student rebellion, writes that while the demonstration was motivated by principle, something more than a principle was needed to "evoke such a display of courage."

     "There was a shared, if not yet articulated sentiment that the authority of the university itself had to be challenged; that many things about it were wrong: that the world stood on its head, that everything was upside down and inside out; and that somehow, somebody, everybody had to straighten it out before we all died for no plausible reason -- just as we all seemed to be living for no plausible purpose. There is no other way to explain the presence of that quaking, still joyful, mass of people, clinging to each other." [3]

     The moment was what the author (and Witch) Starhawk would call magic: "the art of liberation, the act that releases the mysteries, that ruptures the fabric of our beliefs and lets us look into the heart of deep space where dwell the immeasurable, life-generating powers." [4] It was unplanned and spontaneous, and the thousands of students who sat around this symbol of external authority, of the state, could not help but be affected and could not help but begin to think that their cause was more than a simple fight for free speech, that it encompassed a battle to change the nature of power and authority.

     In the end, with almost a thousand police amassed on the campus and protesters negotiating with the administration, an agreement was worked out. Students would end the demonstration: Weinberg would be booked and released and the university would not press charges. The cases of the suspended students would go before the student conduct committee of the Academic Senate, and a committee of students, faculty, and administration, including leaders of the demonstration, would meet to discuss all aspects of political behavior on the campus and make recommendations to the administration.

           Perhaps it was an oversight, perhaps it was a trick, but there was no student conduct committee of the Academic Senate; instead, the cases were brought before a committee appointed by the chancellor, which was unacceptable to the student protesters and fueled our paranoia. Negotiations and rallies resumed. It was at this point that the Free Speech Movement adopted its name and really began to organize, creating a steering committee, an executive committee with representatives from all interested campus political groups, and various centers for press, communication, work, and legal affairs. The FSM published a newsletter, and it put out two different recordings (including a very funny Christmas spoof, "Free Speech Carols ) as well as more serious papers attacking the university's paternalistic ideology, arguing that students were citizens and that political expression on campus could only be governed by the United States Constitution and the courts.

     Negotiations with the administration had been lengthy and nonproductive and students were debating whether to engage in new confrontations. The FSM steering committee, led by civil rights organizers, took the more radical position, but although the steering committee made many of the day-to-day decisions, most issues had to be brought before the larger executive committee. A group of moderates led by a leader of the Young Democrats tried to pack an executive committee meeting with a half dozen inactive organizations, so that the moderate position -- a vote against renewed civil disobedience -- would win out.

     "I am now on the Executive Committee of the Free Speech Movement," I wrote home. I was representing a college civil liberties organization that didn't seem to do much of anything, and that I had never heard of. I had been asked to represent this group by a leader of the Young Democrats. When I had been invited to represent this group it had felt wonderful, but I soon realized that I was being used. When I realized that I was siding with the radicals over the issue of renewed protests but had been placed on the executive committee in order to support the moderate position, I left before the vote.

     On Monday, November 9, the FSM and eight other off-campus organizations set up tables in front of the main steps of Sproul Hall. Seventy-five people, including me, had their names taken by various administration officials. On November l0, we all received letters and were asked to appear at the dean's office.

     "Don't Worry, Mom," I wrote in mid-November,

"it looks as though everything will be fine. I still don't know what will exactly happen to us, but it looks as if it will be nothing more than a reprimand or social probation which is no more than a warning. I met with one of the deans and she was a lovely woman. She asked me no questions about my FSM involvement and only wanted to know if there were any individual circumstances that made my case different from the rest -- in other words was I unwillingly involved. I said, "no." She asked me how I was doing in school, how I liked "Cal" and even said that if I was aware of the responsibilities I was taking, then "more power to you." Some of the other deans had intimidated students.      Anyway, the past week has been terribly exciting. We have constantly set up tables and the administration has done nothing. How many can they cite, after all? There have been rumors about police, but so far nothing. "

     Eventually the seventy-five cited students were sent letters of formal reprimand. We were warned that future violations would subject us to more serious discipline.

     On November 20 there was a large march of several thousand students. Everyone wore dresses or suits and ties. Looking at a picture of that demonstration, like looking at early pictures of the Beatles, reminds me how positively "straight" we looked, even at Berkeley, at the end of 1964. The styles that would give the decade its look were still a few years away. We would not have recognized ourselves a mere four years later

     Soon after this, the University of California Board of Regents passed resolutions that students be required to obey state and community laws, and that political activities would be permitted in certain campus facilities, as long as they were legal. Four days later the administration announced new rules allowing organizations to get permits and set up tables. Students could solicit donations and advocate political action. Many believed the university had given as much as it could, and that the FSM was dead, having won a partial victory. But the movement, led by its civil rights activists, now understood that its primary demand was that only the courts of law could judge the content of speech and impose punishment. Achieving that goal seemed as elusive as ever.

     The Free Speech Movement was at war with a notion that was central to the thinking of many of Berkeley's faculty, and even some of its students, that the university was a place outside of space and time, with different rules from those of the society at large. Many university administrators couldn't honestly understand why students would want to give up the loving hand of paternalistic parents for the colder, harder justice of the outside world. English professor Charles Muscatine has said that the FSM revolutionized the idea of what a university was by overturning the medieval notion that the university was a special place, an ivory tower insulated from the rest of the world: "What the students achieved ... [was] a redefinition of the campus as the polls, or civic home of the students.... They forced that idea upon us, and it turned out to be right." [5]

     By November the university had agreed to all of the FSM's demands except one: control of the decisions that affected our lives. There was a new notion of politics in the air -- it wasn't about voting or political parties, but, in the words of the Port Huron Statement of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), politics was all "those social decisions determining the quality and direction of... life." [6] But this idea was subtle and difficult, it was not an idea that thousands would go to jail for. I am convinced -- and so are many others -- that the movement would have died, or have been doomed as a weak minority effort if, at the end of November, the administration hadn't made a huge mistake.

     On November 27 and 28, out of the blue, four students -- Mario Savio, Art Goldberg, Brian Turner, and Jackie Goldberg -- received letters from the administration. They were ordered to attend hearings before an administrative committee for illegal activities back in October, when thousands had surrounded the police car. When these letters became public, almost every student involved in the FSM felt personally betrayed. And when the movement demanded these charges be dropped, arguing that only the courts could regulate the content of speech and that this demand be met by noon on December 2, the stage was set for the extraordinary events that followed.

     At a huge demonstration in front of Sproul Hall, thousands of students heard Mario Savio, the charismatic spokesperson of the Free Speech Movement, give his famous "operation of the machine" speech. I found his words so powerful that thirty years later I still have most of them committed to memory:

We have an autocracy which runs this university. It's managed. We asked the following: if President Kerr actually tried to get something more liberal out of the Regents in his telephone conversation, why didn't he make some public statement to that effect? And the answer we received -- from a well-meaning liberal -- was the following: he said, "Would you ever imagine the manager of a firm making a statement publicly in Opposition to his board of directors?" That's the answer! I ask you to consider: if this is a firm, and if the Board of Regents are the board of directors, and if President Kerr in fact is the manager, then I'll tell you something: the faculty are a bunch of employees, and we're the raw material! But we're a bunch of raw materials that don't mean to have any process upon us, don't mean to be made into any product, don't mean to end up being bought by some clients of the University: be they the government, be they industry, be they organized labor, be they anyone! We're human beings!      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 tacitly 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! [7]

     How strange to think of these words today, when the idea of the university as handmaiden to industry and government is once again unquestioned. But as I stood in the plaza, hearing those words, they came to symbolize for me the life of freedom and joy and mystery I was seeking and I found myself moved to tears.


Part 2 of this Chapter by Margo Adler is HERE


[1] The Sounds of Protest. LP record produced by the political organization SLATE, 1960.

[2] David Lance Goines. The Free Speech Movement (Berkeley, Calif.: Ten Speed Press. 1993). 93-94

[3] Bettina Aptheker, The Academic Rebellion in the United States (Secaucus, NJ.: The Citadel Press. 1972),157-58.

[4] Starhawk, Truth or Dare (San Francisco Harper & Row, 1987), 6.

[5] Goines, op. cit., 188.

[6] Students for a Democratic Society. Port Huron Statement. second printing, December 1964, p. 7.

[7] Goines, op. cit./em>, 361.

Copyright © 1997 by Margot Adler. 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.


Search this Site    --   FSM-A Home Page