Meeting representatives of Berkeley’s College Republicans in the Trump era, you learn that courage is not limited to men in uniform on foreign battlefields.
In 1964, the Free Speech Movement came to the University of California, Berkeley. It began as a protest against Berkeley’s extremely strict rules regarding political speech. Wikipedia has a good rundown of those rules:
In 1958, activist students organized SLATE, a campus political party meaning a “slate” of candidates running on the same level – a same “slate.” The students created SLATE to promote the right of student groups to support off-campus issues. In the fall of 1964, student activists, some of whom had traveled with the Freedom Riders and worked to register African American voters in Mississippi in the Freedom Summer project, set up information tables on campus and were soliciting donations for causes connected to the Civil Rights Movement. According to existing rules at the time, fundraising for political parties was limited exclusively to the Democratic and Republican school clubs. There was also a mandatory “loyalty oath” required of faculty, which had led to dismissals and ongoing controversy over academic freedom. Sol Stern, a former radical who took part in the Free Speech Movement, stated in a 2014 City Journal article that the group viewed the United States to be both racist and imperialistic and that the main intent after lifting Berkeley’s loyalty oath was to build on the legacy of C Wright Mills and weaken the Cold War consensus by promoting the ideas of the Cuban Revolution.
On September 14, 1964, Dean Katherine Towle announced that existing University regulations prohibiting advocacy of political causes or candidates, outside political speakers, recruitment of members, and fundraising by student organizations at the intersection of Bancroft and Telegraph Avenues would be “strictly enforced.” (This strip was until then thought to be city property, not campus property.) (Hyperlinks omitted.)
By October 1964, the matter came to a head when police arrested a former student for setting up a political table on campus and students began a mass protest. Again, from Wikipedia:
On October 1, 1964, former graduate student Jack Weinberg was sitting at the CORE table. He refused to show his identification to the campus police and was arrested. There was a spontaneous movement of students to surround the police car in which he was to be transported. The police car remained there for 32 hours, all while Weinberg was inside it. At one point, there may have been 3,000 students around the car. The car was used as a speaker’s podium and a continuous public discussion was held which continued until the charges against Weinberg were dropped.
On December 2, between 1,500 and 4,000 students went into Sproul Hall as a last resort in order to re-open negotiations with the administration on the subject of restrictions on political speech and action on campus. Among other grievances was the fact that four of their leaders were being singled out for punishment. The demonstration was orderly; students studied, watched movies, and sang folk songs. Joan Baez was there to lead in the singing, as well as lend moral support. “Freedom classes” were held by teaching assistants on one floor, and a special Channukah service took place in the main lobby.
As it did often during the 1960s (and continues to do today), the campus administration backed down before the students’ wrath. What made the free speech movement different from all the other student demands over the decades since then is that, in 1965, the students had a valid point: Academic institutions, especially those that accept government money, cannot shut out the First Amendment.
Sadly, this righteous movement quickly became a Leftist cause — which is ironic, really, given how deeply opposed the Left is to free speech. The Leftists channeled that student energy into anti-war demonstrations and the usual Marxist pap. It also took the genuine civil rights concerns about the way blacks were treated in the United States and morphed it into all of the ills bedeviling race relations today, including support for militant black nationalist movements such as the Black Panthers (which reappeared in 2015 as the Black Lives Matter movement). (For more on the way the Left manipulated well-intentioned and true Civil Rights activism, especially in and around Berkeley, I recommend David Horowitz’s Radical Son: A Journey Through Our Times from Left to Right.)
Still, despite its sad Marxist decline, Berkeley continued for decades — indeed, right up until 2017 — to be associated with free speech. When I was a student there in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the campus definitely tilted Left (as evidenced by students celebrating the attempted assassination on Reagan in 1981), but you could still voice ideas inconsistent with McGovernite Democratic principles.
My, how Berkeley has changed. [Read more…]