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.”

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