This is a paper I wrote for my History of Cal class, a class offered through the Democratic Education at Cal (DE-Cal) class. I recieved a B+ on this paper. I am rather proud of it, and so I offer it to you all on the World Wide Web.

The Free Speech Movement and its impact on Berkeley.

1996. It's the week of the UCLA game and I have volunteered to hand out flyers for the bonfire rally that weekend. I am standing down at the edge by Sather Gate at the peak of the noontime rush.

All sorts of different groups, from Rally Committee to Hong Kong Students Association, are "tabling" on Sproul Plaza that day. To a non-UC Berkeley student, "tabling" might be a strange verb, but a UC student can tell you what it means right away: to sit on Sproul Plaza and display your groups and activities.

Today is a lucky day, for a protest against Proposition 209 has been organized. As I stand in my spot handing out flyers, I listen to the rally and think, "How forgetful we are of the very struggle to have this freedom to assemble on Sproul Plaza and state what we believe in--whether it be political or not."

For it was barely thirty years ago that students at this university fought to gain the right to speak for what they believed in, whether it was the university believed in or not. The Free Speech Movement (FSM) was fought for all of us. Freedom of speech is something that we all should value, for we almost never had it. But why was the battle fought and what effect does it have on the University today? To answer that, we must go back to the sixties.

A Little History of the FSM

Pictures from the 1930s and 1940s show politicians standing on the Telegraph Avenue side of Sather Gate. They stood here because they wanted to appeal to the students but they were not allowed on campus. There were rules preventing the University to allow any politicians or talk of politics. This rule was in effect to keep the University of California from being eaten up by the political interests in Sacramento and keep their funding. This worked well to save the university until things start going crazy.

In 1964, Barry Goldwater took offense at the fact that University property was being used to support his opponents, as students were passing out literature on campus for Goldwater's opponents. This was against University policy, but the University had relaxed the policy.

As there was an important UC bond measure on the November 1964 ballot, students returning to the campus were told that they were no longer allowed to set up tables on Sproul Plaza or anywhere else on campus to promote social or political goals. Unfortunately for the administration, what seemed to be a simple solution to a pressing problem blew into something bigger.

Of the many students reporting for Fall Semester 1964, some had come back from a summer filled with civil rights demonstrations in the South. They fully intended to keep their work up on campus. The students pointed out that if they were allowed full protection of the law under the First and Fourteenth amendments, then why should they get any less as students of the University of California?

The University would not do anything to change its long standing policy of neutrality. The Policy was designed to keep the University from appearing too partisan, so that when the other party achieved a majority, it would shut UC out of the picture for state funds. However, the students protested by manning their tables on Sproul Plaza.

One day the administration decided it would get tough with the students. One of the deans went out and started citing people who were sitting at the tables. As one person was cited, another would sit down in his or her place. Students also protested that eight students had been cited for refusing to leave, but the rest of them were not. The eight students were to be suspended. To the students, this was an unfair punishment.

On October 1, 1964, a student who was not currently by the name of Jack Weinberg was asked to leave a table that he was manning. He refused and the police were called.

The police came in the middle of the noontime rush. The students quickly swarmed the cop car and prohibited the car from leaving. They began yelling, "All of us! All of us!" Barbara Garson later wrote a friend describing what happened:

"The next day we manned tables. Jack weinberger [sic] was arrested for trespassing and put in a police car. (NOW GET THIS) We surrounded the police car, to prevent the arrest. The police car, with jack inside, remained in front of Sproul hall for 32 hours with never less than 2000 guarding it. During that time it was used as a podium for all speakers (the roof is a little dented now)"

One of those speakers was a philosophy student (by some accounts a junior, by others a graduate student) named Mario Savio. Savio encouraged people to stay until three demands of the students had been met. Those three demands were that Weinberg should be released; the eight suspended students should be reinstated; and Chancellor Strong would meet with the students concerning free speech.

The protest lasted over thirty-two hours with over seven thousand demonstrators at the peak of the conflict. The hood and the top of the police car were banged up from all the people wanting to make speeches. However, the students did take up a collection to pay for the damages to the squad car.

This was the start of the Free Speech Movement. Over the next couple months, the original protesters would attract about five thousand supporters to their vigils and rallies.. Even the socially conservative fraternities and sororities supported the Free Speech Movement. The student body was united in a way that it had never been united before.

On December 2, 1996, Mario Savio delivered what was probably the most famous speech made in Berkeley's history--the machine speech. Inspired by his words, fifteen hundred students rushed into Sproul Hall and took it over. Employees were dismissed and the doors were locked. Different things were happening on different floors, but the atmosphere was supercharged. What would the administration do next?

At 3:00 A.M., governor Pat Brown ordered the police to move in and arrest the protesters. The students knew that their fellow students must see what was going on, so they went limp, civil-disobedience style, to slow down the process. Twelve hours later, all the students were taken from the building and booked.

Students came on campus that morning to be confronted by FSM advocates asking that they support the arrested students by striking classes. At noon, a rally was held and ten thousand people jammed into Sproul Plaza to hear it. An anonymous person wrote in the FSM newsletter:

"At the beginning, we did not realize the strength of the forces we were up against. We have learned that we must fight not only Dean Towle, Chancellor Strong, and President Kerr, but also the Board of Regents with their billions of dollars and Governor Brown with his army of cops.

"But neither did they realize the forces they were up against. At the beginning, they thought they had only to fight a hundred or so 'beatniks,' 'Maoists,' and 'Fidelistas.' But they put eight hundred of the 'hard core' in jail and found they still had to face thousands of other students and faculty members.

"The source of their power is clear enough: the guns and clubs of the Highway Patrol, the banks and corporations of the Regents. But what is the source of our power?

"It is something we see everywhere on campus but find hard to define. Perhaps it was best expressed by the sign one boy pinned to his chest: 'I am a UC student. Please don't bend, fold, spindle, or mutilate me.' The source of our strength is, very simply, the fact that we are human beings and so cannot forever be treated as raw materials--to be processed."

Faculty had watched the campus being turned into a war zone. They decided it was time for them to start taking back their campus. On December 8, the faculty held a meeting and one thousand members showed up to vote. The proceedings were broadcast to the thousands of students outside Wheeler Hall. The faculty voted overwhelmingly to support the students. The turnout for the ASUC elections was twice as high as normal and the FSM took control of the student government.

The regents began backing off and giving the students the freedom of speech. They also fired Chancellor Strong. Governor Brown fired Clark Kerr. Faculty stayed a campus power and students gained more say on rules and policies that would affect them. This is the legacy that the Free Speech Movement gave to every one of us.

The legacy at Berkeley and Across the Nation

The Free Speech movement started Berkeley's activist tradition. Students here are not afraid to speak up and be heard. Every day around noon, if you walk down Sproul Plaza, you will see the results of this movement. All sorts of different clubs are trying to get their message across. The Sproul Hall steps are a popular rally staging place.

There was another, more insidious result of the movement at Berkeley. Ronald Regan ran for governor of the State of California, promising specifically to "clean up the mess in Berkeley." When the furor over People's Park emerged, Regan did not listen to the advice that the faculty gave him and ordered a helicopter to fly over during a rally and drop nerve gas on the students. That was a tragic moment in the history of the University of California.

But it was not only bad things that came out of the Free Speech movement. Later protesters would also ask that an Ethnic Studies Department be added to the curriculum and students be allowed to teach some classes. Out of these protests came an Ethnic Studies department and the De-Cal (Democratic Education at Cal) program. If it were not for these protesters, I would not be writing this paper right now.

It is sad to note the passing of Mario Savio. It happened when things at this campus were not too stable because Proposition 209 passed, but it reminded us all of the legacy of the Free Speech Movement and how important it is to have this right. Even though I did not agree with the protesters' methods of getting their point across, I contributed in a small way to the impromptu memorial that sprung up for Savio on Sproul Plaza. I put something back that had blown slightly away.

Q: How many UC Berkeley students does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: 76. One to change the lightbulb, fifty to protest the lightbulb's right not to change and twenty-five to organize a counter-protest.


Free Speech Movement: Do Not Fold, Bend, Mutilate or Spindle. Published on the Internet. Document can be found at

Letter from Barbara Garson to Marvin, found in the University of California Archives, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

Resourse: A Reference Guide for New Berkeley Students Regents of the University of California, 1996

The Free Speech Movement: Twenty Years Later, National Public Radio, 1984

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