Monday, October 25, 2004

The New Berkeley Woman in the 1960s

Jo Freeman has written a remarkable memoir At Berkeley in the ‘60s that is a wonderful ‘60s autobiography and also a fascinating history of a conflicted decade. Jo’s story is new, because the mass media exploitation of “hippie chicks” obscured what was really new about ‘60s young women. She gives us a New College Woman of the 1960s: one who has intellectual and political passions she follows. Freeman is the equal of any ‘60s young man in her devotion to being an agent of social change.

Freeman grew up in the San Fernando Valley suburb of Los Angeles, raised by her single parent schoolteacher mother, to whom she credits much of her early intellectual and political growth. Her remarkable mother Helen Freeman was an Anglo Southern woman from Alabama who emancipated herself by joining the Women’s Army Corps, settled in Los Angeles to raise her daughter alone, got a M.A. from U.S.C. on the G.I. Bill, and was a fervent Democratic Party volunteer. Helen, a pro-integrationist Southern liberal, took her daughter to Democratic political events for years including the 1960s Democratic convention held in Los Angeles.

Helen also idolized education, encouraging her daughter to do so well in high school that she graduated at fifteen. Helen chose UC Berkeley, the best college she could afford, as the school for her daughter. With Helen’s guidance, Freeman escaped the stifling conformity demanded of Valley Girls where popularity was valued over brains. In part this is a mother-daughter story where the daughter at college slowly escape the influence of her demanding mother to become her own person.

Throughout the book Freeman alternates chapters describing the historical evolution with autobiographical chapters. The historical chapters help set the scene: the 1930s student radical protests, the 1940s red scare that banned all student political activities at UC Berkeley and all campuses nationwide, and then the late 1950s- early 1960s rebirth of the student movement protesting McCarthyism as well as 1950s resurgence of liberal politics of the California Democratic Clubs. Then Freeman tells how as a sixteen-year old freshman in 1961 she explored the smorgasbord of political groups on campus from anti-nuclear to socialist to Young Republican until she chose to join the Young Democrats, still her mother’s daughter.

Freeman reminds us that personal change often happens in tiny steps when she describes how in 1963 as a junior she was influenced by Jacobus ten Broek’s class where she read the classics of free speech—Milton, Mill and Meiklejohn. She has a new identity: “radical civil liberterian.” We forget that the real impetus of the ‘60s was forged in extensive study and debate on civil liberties, civil rights and later the Vietnam War. Freeman tests out her new beliefs by joining SLATE, the main dissident campus group, and with the new campus rule inagurated by UC President Kerr lifting the ban on controversial speakers on campus, she as part of SLATE tested this new freedom by organizing a series of controversial speakers on campus: Communist Miki Lima; black power militant Malcolm X; and Captain Ralph Forbes, an American Nazi Party leader.

Jo’s real break with her mother came like it did in many Democratic families came over the issue of sit-ins. Like many Southerners, her mother had a strong sense of propriety: good people don’t get arrested. As students in the Bay Area began the civil rights sit-ins in 1963, Jo as well as hundreds of others wrestled with their consciences whether or not to sit-in; she reread her political theory and philosophy classics on the issue until she decided she could sit-in. Her mother was apalled. After Jo got arrested twice in civil rights protests, her angry mother cut all financial support, but Jo is now self-supporting at eighteen, working at a minimum wage job for the Democratic Party in Oakland. If you compare Freeman to almost any college girl in American fiction or autobiography from 1900-1960, Freeman is a New College Woman: she has at eighteen assumed the independence of a young man: self-supporting, making her own decisions, determined to finish her degree as well as to make history

The Berkeley Woman as Leader

Freeman argues in her autobiography At Berkeley in the'60s when the whole adult world including her own mother came down hard on the young civil rights protestors in the Bay Area in the early1960s, it helped her and her colleagues bond together as they went through the jails and then the lengthy trials. Jo also does something “good” girls never do: she hitchhikes alone across the country to participate as a foot soldier for the civil rights in a vigil trying to get black Mississipeans a vote at the Democratic national convention in Atlantic City in summer of 1964 and as she travels from Washington to Atlantic City to New York, her new friends in the civil rights movement put her up and feed her along with hundreds of others. How do you forge a leader: by making them go overcome obstacles.

Jo was one of many summer ’64 civil rights foot soldiers who quickly became leaders on campus in the fall of 1964 when the Berkeley administration tried to end the political tables on campus. Jo is no longer like her mother, a volunteer following Democratic Party male leaders, but is now certified leader herself. What’s invaluable about the second half of the book is her description of the crucial Free Speech Movement (F.S.M.) from the point of view of a moderate leader from the Young Democrats.

The F.S.M. was always divided between the radicals (civil rights activists) and the moderates—Young Democrats, Young Republicans, young civil libertarians. Freeman shows in student politics the play of democracy, the fights over tactics, and the short-lived “right” revolt that she led. Further, she points out that the administration by threatening to expel seven students finally pushed the moderates to side with the civil rights radicals to have a sit-in and campus-wide strike. In the photo of the sit-in itself she includes two sit-inners: Don Castelberry of the Young Republicans holds up an American flag as he stands next to Jo, a leader of the Young Democrats, addressing the crowd. What Freeman shows so brilliantly is that moderate Democratic Party youth and even Republican Party youth made the ‘60s possible when they joined the civil rights and anti-war protests.

As Freeman says, the newspapers and other mass media did a terrible job reporting on the events in Berkeley saying that student mobs participate in riots and strike at Berkeley which were Communist led—all was untrue. She points out that UC President Kerr, even though he know the allegations about Communist influence was untrue, still redbaited the students in the papers. Given the blast of negative media, polls said 74% of Californians disapproved of the students in Berkeley, so the state legislature quickly rushed to punish the students with a host of bills and also two investigations, one led by State Senator Hugh Burns.

Burns issued a report slandering the Free Speech Movement saying that it was Communist-controlled and President Kerr was a Commie dupe. The next year after her graduation Freeman went to work in the South to register voters in Alabama and Mississippi where such activist had already been killed; leaflets in Alabama and a Mississippi newspaper cited the Burns report’s slanders as evidence that she was a Communist agitator. Further, the redbaiting against Kerr cost him his job as head of the University of California after Regan was elected governor. Thus Freeman showed that redbaiting slanders continued well into the 1960s still costing a few people their jobs and endangered their lives. As an historian looking back, she says that the early 1960s in Berkeley helped limit the McCarthyism redbaiting allowing democratic space to open up.

I hope she writes a second autobiography describing how she faced segregationists in the Deep South to register blacks and voters and then how she fared during the late 1960s during the Vietnam War and the beginning women’s movement. Freeman was indeed a trailblazer, so I’m interested to find where she went next.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Yaltah Menuhin and Willa Cather: the musician-novelist friendship

Los Angeles author Lionel Rolfe has written in The Uncommon Friendship of Yaltah Menuhin & Willa Cather a moving biography of his mother Yaltah Menuhin, sister of famed violinist Yehudi Menuhin, and her relationship with novelist Willa Cather. Yaltah like Mendelssohn’s sister Fanny and Mozart’s sister Nannerl showed brilliance as a musician early but was discouraged by family members and always overshadowed by her famous brother. Rolfe looks closely at what it takes for women to overcome the obstacles that family, husbands, and the larger society put in front of them having successful careers.

Rolfe’s mother Yaltah was actively discouraged by her parents Moshe and Marutha who were Russian Jewish emigres to San Francisco where Moshe was superintendant of city’s Hebrew schools. All three of their children-- Yehudi, the oldest; Hephzibah, the middle girl; and Yaltah, the youngest—were musical prodigies. At first the mother had decided the daughters wouldn’t have musical careers, but then mother relented, seeing that Hephzibah could perform well in the secondary role as accompanist on the piano when her brother played his violin. The parents then that Yaltah was too “fragile” to be a touring musician.

If you compare the three Menuhin prodigies with Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn, the parallels are striking. The Mendelssohns of Hamburg, Germany, like the Menuhins of San Francisco, California, were an extremely intellectual Jewish family and both mothers were music teachers. Both Fanny Mendelssohn in the 1830s Yaltah Menuhin in the 1930s had family members telling them to give up before they started.

In fact, the Menuhins were on the 20th centuryCalifornia version of a Jewish tradition of producing prodigies going back the shtetls of Eastern Europe. So in many ways this is a western Jewish story. Moshe was a descendant of the Lubavitch Schneersohn dynasty, one of the great Hasidic religious dynasties of Eastern Europe. Rolfe’s descriptions of the Menuhins in Los Gatos, California, in the later 1930s having intrigues over who their three teenager children would be allowed to court and then marry almost sound like the intrigues of a Hassidic or European court, but music was at the center rather than politics or religion.

What’s critical in his mother’s life, Rolfe argues, is her relationship with this independent older woman novelist Willa Cather. Though the two were together only in the last decade of Cather’s life, Rolfe shows this short but intense relationship was important for both. Rolfe retells the fascinated story how his grandparents educated all three children at home, and in New York Cather was the Shakespeare tutor for the three Menuhin children.

Rolfe gives a fascinating argument that the short-lived Cather-Menuhin friendship was inspiring for both Willa and Yalta. He argues that Yaltah was the inspiration for the heroine of the novella Lucy Gayheart, which Willa Cather was writing at the same time she regularly saw the Menuhin. Further, Rolfe argues that Yaltah thought Aunt Willa was the mother that her own mother had never been. Yaltah got from Aunt Willa the image of an independent woman artist, not controlled by her parents or a husband. Yaltah alternated between obeying her dominating parents and rebelling against them. It does seem likely that the rebellion was in part inspired by Aunt Willa. While Yaltah was at first like Nannerl Mozart, Mozart's sister, letting her father choose her first husband in a marriage which lasted only six months, then Yaltah rebelled, chosing as her second husband a man her parents couldn't stand.

Yaltah and FannyMendelssohn were unlike in another way. Fanny Mendelssohn did get the support her husband William Hensel to publish her composition and performed in the weekly family musical salons. In contrast, Yaltah Menuhin, despite lack of support from all her three husbands, performed in public concerts. Though Yaltah Menuhin never had the stellar musical career of her older brother Yehudi, she did perform piano in concerts from aged 30 to 80 in North America, Europe, and England. In Los Angeles during the 1950s where Yaltah lived with her second husband and two sons she regularly took part in the “Evenings on the Roof” series performing the work of many new composers. Again, she was a woman who stood on her own two feet like her Aunt Willa. Rolfe’s book is a moving story of a fascinating Californian Jewish woman who in order to become a musician overcomes numerous obstacles.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

FSM@40 at Bekeley: Our Democracy Movement

What was remarkable about joining the Free Speech Movement in 1964 at UC Berkeley was to leave the silenced repressed atmosphere of my high school years to join the great conversation that innundated the Berkeley campus--from silence to speaking up in a democracy movement. I rejoined the conversation by attending the 40th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley Monday October 4th-Sunday October 10th, 2004, which included a noon rally that attracted 3,000 students; over 15 workshops on different aspects of civil liberties; films, a folk song night, two poetry readings, and a rock concert.

As a seventeen year old freshman I looked up to the older (ninteen and up) civil rights activists having sit-ins in the Bay Area to end job segregation, so it was walking into a old dialogue to listen to the panel “Berkeley and the Black Freedom” October 7. The five speakers all shared their histories in the ‘60s civil rights struggles that gave rise to the FSM: Taman Moncur (Traci Sims), a leader of the Bay Area sit-ins at the Sheraton-Palace Hotel to get blacks jobs in 1963; Mike Miller, the Bay Area organizer during the 1960s for Students for a Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the group who went to Mississippi to challenge the segregationists; Hardy Frye, a SNCC organizer in Sacramento and Mississippi from 1964-1967; and Cassie Lopez, an Anfrican-American civil rights organizer of jobs, education and housing in Detroit. Frye told us the lessons he learned: how to make political coalitions; how to change Mississippi and Alabama politics as well as how to challenge the national Democratic Party; and how to bring these ideas to the rest of the county.

The last speaker, Josie Heinman, a senior now at UC Berkeley and activist with the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights (BAMN), in a powerful speech told the 1960s generation is now sharing the torch with her generation. She related how BAMN helped organize 50,000 students to go to Washington, D.C. April 1, 2004, to demonstrate for affirmative action at the Supreme Court. Concerned that too few students of color are enrolling in UC Berkeley, BAMN is trying to restore affirmative action to UC.

In Thursday evening’s panel “Focus on the FSM: Its Genesis, Meanings and Consequences” Ken Cloke, former chairman of SLATE which was a leading dissident student group at UC Berkley, said he was afraid during the McCarthy ‘50s he would never get a job if he signed a petition, but he like all the others overcame this fear. Jo Freeman, a leader of the Young Democrats in the 1960s at Berkeley, argued that, although FSM clearly came out of the civil rights movements, it’s main accomplishment was helping to end McCarthyism and redbaiting.

Michael Rossman, mainstay of FSM for 40 years, told how “I learned the difference between a ‘mob’ and a ‘public,’’ Rossman said. “We were called a ‘mob’ but we really were the first democracy that we had ever experienced.” Rossman added the UC President Clark Kerr, who saw himself as a liberal, told the newspapers that Communists heavily influenced FSM though he knew it wasn’t true. Kerr’s redbaiting boomeranged, since he gave ammunition to such right-wingers as Ronald Regan who, when elected governor in 1966, quickly fired Kerr for being too soft on the student striving for democracy.

At the noon rally on October 8 3,000, mostly students, on Sproul Plaza sat around a police car. They were reenacting the October, 1964, student capture of the Berkeley police car which had just arrested civil rights activist Jack Weinberg for sitting at an allegedly illegal political table near Sather Gate. Three months later the UC Berkeley faculty voted 8-1 that all we had asked for around the police car should be given to us as our contitutional rights. Now in 2004 speakers spoke from a wooden stage over the police car. Now student body president Misha Leybovich said that “seeing the strength of the ‘60s gives me hope and confidence for my generation…. It’s a fallacy that we’re no longer passionate. It’s a fallacy that we’re no longer active.” He apologized that the Daily Cal, the student newspaper; the administration; and the ASUC were all against FSM in 1964 but was happy that all three groups supported FSM in 2004.

As if to underscore his point, Leybovich introduced UC Berkeley’s new Chancellor Birgeneau who said that while doing civil rights work in South Carolina in 1965 he received his political education from two FSM leaders. He now warned that we need to defend free speech from censorship coming from the left as well as the right and especially guard against attempts at “political correctness.”

It wasn't "political correctness" that the next two young women speakers, Rosha Jones and Hiraa Khan, from campus Berkeley ACLU were concerned about but about government attacks on civil liberties. They said that the students had gotten the ASUC, the student government, to pass a resolution condemning the Patriot Act. This next year students will focus on ending racial profiling, defeating the Patriot Act, and restoring affirmative action.

It felt like being eighteen again for me to sit on the steps in front of Sproul Hall listening to FSM leader Bettina Aptheker remember the love and respect in FSM that has lasted 40 years. Another FSM arrestee, poet Julia Vinograd read her splendid poem “FSM Sit-In” describing how at the sit-in “Nothing went as we planned. I hadn’t planned to be there;/ part of me hasn’t left. "

Yet another FSM arrestee, State Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg told the crowd of students that she had paid nothing for her Berkeley education in 1964 and that “if all eighteen year olds and older registered and voted, you wouldn’t pay tuition either. People are working 24/7 to make you feel powerless and apathetic.” Goldberg condemned as hogwash the 30-year war on state taxes by “the wealthiest people in the world.” As she asked the crowd if they were going to keep out of politics, they screamed back, “No.” She ended her speech with a rousing “Tax the rich” which the crowd applauded.

The next speaker, Howard Dean, like many others during the weeklong events, compared assaults on civil liberties in 2004 from Bush’s Patriot Act with McCarthyism in the 1960s, but he said that the lesson of 40 years ago is that ordinary people can make a difference. In a speech that electrified the crowd, Dean launched into a tirade against Bush and also the national Democratic Party in Washington that didn’t stand up to the radical right. He then asked the members of the crowd to run for office, reminding them that Jackie Goldberg had done that. He was met with cheers. This was a Dean crowd.

A three-person 20-foot tall puppet of the Statute of Libery walked up behind the last two speakers—Tony Serra, a 1962 Boalt Hall graduate and radical lawyer, and Northern California ACLU Executive Director Bill Kearn. As both men added to the chorus of voices condemning the Patriot Act, the tall Statue of Liberty puuppet stood with a hood covering her big puppet’s face and a gag saying “Homeland Security" tied across her mouth;” the gag was untied as Kearny read the Bill of Rights.

Twice during the 1960s I was very moved to hear speakers at rallies as these very same steps to read from the Declaration of Independence. As one 1960s Berkeley student said, we were the kids in junior high school who believed in the U.S. Constitution and thought it would be part of our lives. I was amazed that after Kerr and others redbaited us and slandered our reputation in the mass media, Berkeley in the 1960s has not been seen as the democracy movement it was but as the work of rioters, outside agitators, Communists troublemakers etc etc etc. The lies never die. These lies are tiresome repetitions repeated decade after decade.

In 1964 as I had once organized at the FSM sit-in December 3rd classes on everything from Spanish to civil rights to philosophy; now FSM had three workshops on civil liberties to be held on three different areas of Sproul Steps. For hours during the sit-in students met with T.A. studing history, Spanish, political science. Now I joined the workshop on Internet and civil liberties with Dave del Tortom, who is a cyber cryptologist (maker of secret codes for the Internet) and works with Cryptorights; he told how his group helps human rights group secure privacy in their Internet communications. In the evening I sat in Pauley Ballroom in the Student Union to hear Seymour Hirsch, the reporter who broke the My Lai massacre story in 1969 and had been recently writing a stunning series of articles on Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. He spoke to over 800 people revealing that Bush and Secretary of Defense Rumsfield knew for two months about Abu Ghraib but did nothing, revelations which propelled Hirsch onto the 11:00 Bay Area news.

The next day there was conversation continued through nine more civil liberties workshops in the Student Union from "The Media and Civil Liberties" where stalwarts from Bay Area alternative radio and media dissidents on the Internet shared ideas to "Racial Disparities" where African-American civil rights activist and professor Hardy Frye discussed how after the elections progressive could organize around health to reach a diverse number of people. Then Pakistani-American Samina Faheem of American Muslim Voice talked about how Muslim Americans, totally silenced after 9/11, were beginning to use their free speech.

Before I left I visited the FSM CafĂ© in Moffit Library. When I attended Berkeley undergraduates had no library but were second-class citizens of the main library which catered to professors and graduate students. Now Moffit Library was for undergraduates. I looked at the one whole wall on the FSM Cafe covered with photos of thousands of students seated around the police car in 1964. We were the children of Tom Paine and Thomas Jefferson. We were the children of Thoreau and Martin Luther King--all had done allegedly illegal acts but were later vindicated. FSM has indeed freed students in the nation from McCarthyism in order to be free citizens enjoying the Bill of Rights on the campus and in the world. I feel exactly as Michael Rossman does in his poem “Remembering the Police Car Siege that Jump Started the FSM”: “I remain a true fool/for the spirit of liberty/exercised in democratic union.”