The Birth of the Free Speech Movement
by Michael Rossman
I say elsewhere what I think the FSM signified for us collectively. For me personally it was a heavy turning, a re-beginning. It signaled the Tearing Loose—the active beginning of the end of my life within the old institutions, the start of my work as a man in helping make the seed of some Ways adequate and new. We lived a transcendent community into action for a few weeks, and in that light and intensity I just melted inside. I don't know how else to describe it. I had been so long split apart, so slowly and awkwardly trying to come together— mathematics, psychedelics, vocation, love, therapy, time. And suddenly . . . whap! an historical thunderbolt.
I stood there afterwards, stunned by a flash of some new reality, transient but firm enough to be really grasped. Undeniable. It took years for me to start to sort out what had come to fusion inside, years to figure out what kind of a man my stuff might become, in a place of shared longings. So slowly what has happened becomes real. For the moment of FSM itself, only this much was clear: I was involved to my deepest levels in saying NO to what I had known and was raised to become; and YES to an image half-grasped but at last enough shared that it might become real.
All that is a story for another book. Here is only a fragment, a precise slice out of time, the exact beginning of the FSM. It is as close as I've come to capturing in flight a moment beyond my private life. The day after we ended our two-day besiegement of the cop car, while people were busy meeting to formally declare the Free Speech Movement and condense its functional structures, I sat down alone with a tape recorder. Torn open, everything boiling in me, I had to get it out some way. It was the instant before we had even grasped the fact of our community, save in action. And the way I know it was a beginning is that it was like dying and being reborn, I felt despair and hope flicker in wild oscillation.
My name is Michael Rossman. I am a graduate student in mathematics at the University. I will say this, because I feel defensive, because of criticisms we have gotten: my academic qualifications are impeccable. I am a Teaching Assistant and a Woodrow Wilson Fellow. It is shortly after noon on Saturday, October 3. I am making this recording because some journalism is needed, of a kind we have never had. These last two weeks have been very strange. I would like to say what they were about. Not so much what they mean, because I'm not sure what's going to happen after this. I have tried to write about what led up to these weeks before. I have never been able to: the magnitude and complexity overwhelm me. I can talk about it now because last night, after it was all over, an ex-girl friend of mine who was in it with us and whom I had not expected to see, picked me up and took me like a tired kitten to her place And then she asked me what was going on. And I tried to tell her, and I broke down and cried. I cried because I was tired, because I was sick, because my heart was broken. If I show any "unseemly" displays of emotion, I should like it to be charged up to that.
[I talked about the McCarthy years, and how they had drained the spirit from a landscape.]
Then things started happening. It started when the young kids down South sat on lunch counter stools, got beaten off them, thrown into compounds, and hosed down in freezing winter nights. They were doing something for all of us. But the NAACP said, "Not so fast." [Martin Luther] King's organization grew out of this. But when the young students started sitting in more, his people said, "Not so fast; not so fast." And the NAACP said, "Why don't you do it like King did it originally?" Well, it's an old tale, and we'll hear a lot more of it. Everybody saying, "Not so fast." "Don't be radical; don't rock the boat; be nice." Meanwhile the sit-ins went on, and civil disobedience became the main tool. The NAACP had been fooling around with legal things for years; they never got anybody anywhere much.
The only life in the country in those years was in the South. And then it started spreading to the North. There were a lot of us depressed by the silence, by the injustice, by the fact that the generations that should have been leading us—our parents and our teachers—quite simply had the spirit kicked out of them. And meanwhile, there were all these terrible things going on. And it wasn't just the radicals or college kids. Even my secretary friends who never participated in political stuff would sometimes wake up screaming, dreaming of atom bombs.
[I sketched the early years of student activism here, the way it spread; and its first cresting in 1960, in the massive demonstrations against. the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and Caryl Chessman's execution, the public birth-cry of the New Left.]
Anyway, the conflict of these last two weeks began in the '50s. As the interests of students up North, and particularly in Berkeley, mounted at an accelerating rate, so did the repressive measures directed against them. I don't want to speculate about motives; when I say "repressive measures," I'm speaking purely phenomenologically, about the effect of the measures. Some of the motives were absolutely wretched, and some were in good faith, carried out by people who thought they were doing the best thing. Likewise I'm going to speak continually of the Administration here as a monolith, and I want to apologize. I know it's not; it's composed of individual men. One I've known for thirteen years, and I count others as friends; they have done me many favors. I think they are good men; they are honest, they are conscientious, they are concerned. But the effect of their work in the Administration is monolithic. And repressive.
I mostly remember the repressive things that happened here before late 1961, when I dropped out of politics. Like with the Daily Californian, the campus paper. In 1960 the Daily Californian was one of the four best college papers in the country and was perhaps the most responsible paper on the entire West Coast. Its people took Journalism seriously. They believed that a newspaper was a vehicle for issues of consequence to its readers. So they were very active in mobilizing support for things like the Chessman and HUAC demonstrations, and nuclear disarmament—not that they advocated these things directly, but they printed information. Just information. I can almost believe that all this business about free speech means something. These last years have almost beaten the belief out of me. I don't see that the First Amendment, all this nonsense, has anything to do with the reality I live in. And yet, the truth was that during those years, the Daily Californian was a good paper, and it printed good stories. It printed both sides of a question, and people read it and were moved to act. In fall of 1960, it endorsed the SLATE candidates for office.
The Administration was hurting from SLATE. SLATE had been the major organizing force on campus. A lot of adverse publicity came on the University for the HUAC hassle in San Francisco, as well as the other activities that SLATE carried on. And the Daily Cal endorsed a SLATE candidate. Now in previous years it had endorsed fraternity candidates for the student executive board. No stink was raised. This time, a stink was raised, censorship was instituted, and the whole staff walked out. They printed the last issue of the paper with a black border: "They are wiping out freedom of the press, we resign."
They tried to set up an independent paper. [The Independent Californian, four years before the Los Angeles Free Press and the Berkeley Barb became the first underground papers.] It didn't work. Things like this never work; there are never enough people willing to give their support. That's just the way it is. That's what our world is like. The Administration recruited a scab staff, who started putting out the Daily Cal again. Well, nobody's read it much for the last four years; it's been a house organ. And so our main medium of mass communication was wiped out; we were left with occasional rallies. But you can't communicate things to people in twenty-four hours; it takes years.
The next thing that happened was the Administration says, "We've got to keep this place free from [political] influence." They give us the Kerr Directives [restricting student political activity on campus] , they reinterpret them and reinterpret them. They set up a completely artificial distinction between "on-campus issues" and "off-campus issues." And it was a big joke at the time. A big and very bitter joke. We said, "Well, the fallout falls on the campus too." But we didn't get anywhere. So all of a sudden, all these organizations that were on campus since the fifties, since the beginning, they're off-campus. They can't use the University's facilities. That practically wiped SLATE out. I was never a member, I hardly ever went to meetings, back when I was politically active. But SLATE was a vital educating force, a vital organizing force. It's staggered along, downhill all the way, and hasn't had much effect since then. And notice when the Administration says, "They have to be off-campus." It's when SLATE started being effective.
Then there were the graduate students. They thought the Associated Students, the ASUC, was a sandbox government. And it was: the Administration dictated the resolution it passed to affirm the Kerr Directives. Some graduates objected to being forced to pay the membership fee. So those in power sent out a questionnaire. Nobody knows how they picked the particular graduate students they polled. They asked, "Do you want to be in the ASUC, or don't you?" Of those who returned the questionnaire, most said "No." So, the Administration said, well, it's very simple, and they abolished graduate membership in the ASUC. They did not make it voluntary, you know, which is what we would have wanted. They abolished it by fiat.
The effect of this was to wipe out graduate leadership in campus politics. The undergraduates are transients. They start very young, they stay here at best four years. The only chance for responsible continuous leadership in student affairs lies with the graduate students, who stay here for years and years, because it takes a long time to get a Ph.D., whether or not you're involved in politics.
So the Administration wiped the graduate students out of the action. Then they finished re-organizing "our" student government and its Executive Committee, which activists were coming to control. They changed Ex Com to the ASUC Senate, in a way that put it back in the hands of the Greek system and dorms minority and minimized "off-campus" representation.
And the Administration fired good instructors, who had been active politically. I'll talk a bit about that later. There were other things that happened; I forget them. The point is that as the students' interest in things grew, repressive measures upon their involvement grew in proportion, to cut down communication, leadership, power. That's how it goes. Most of the measures were passed like in the middle of second summer session, when there was almost nobody on campus, no one to make a protest.
At the end of this time I simply divorced myself from student politics. I mean from politics entirely, because I was never able to draw a line between student politics and politics in the big world. I don't believe there is one, I have never believed that. And it got to be too much, they kept beating us down, pushing us off the campus where we belonged. Each time it was heartbreaking, and I just got tired of fighting. Over the past three years I've been in very few political activities, been involved in more private things.
But I know the surface of what's been happening. There was a relative vacuum for a couple of years after the paper got wiped out and SLATE was shoved off-campus. Then things started picking up again. I don't understand why, but they did. The long chain of sympathy picketing of Woolworth stores started. After that there were sit-ins at drive-in restaurants, shop-ins at stores, sit-ins at the Sheraton-Palace hotel, at Cadillac, at Bank of America, at the Tribune -- that was roughly the progression on the Civil Rights front. On the civil liberties front, there was [struggle] against the film HUAC put out, giving their doctored version of the 1960 "riot." There were protests for disarmament, and so on. Things started gathering momentum again, kept going, and kept growing.
These two weeks on campus, then, they were not two weeks. They were the culmination of six years.
When we get back to school this fall, Dean Towle of the Administration hands down this order. For years there had been these tables on the edge of the campus, at Bancroft and Telegraph, where organizations handed out literature, solicited members, and collected funds. They were there, because they used to be on campus—right in the heart of campus, Dwinelle Plaza—but the Administration pushed them off. We used to be able to stand up under the Dwinelle Oak and talk, and advocate things. They stopped that too.
So Dean Towle said, "No more tables. They block the flow of traffic." So we say—I mean the students, because I didn't get into this until later—so we say, "Gee, we don't think they block traffic. Tell you what, we'll put up the money to get an independent organization to make a survey of the traffic flow." The Administration doesn't reply to this. So we start to hold meetings. Suddenly, a week later, the reason changes. We can't have tables because of the Kerr Directives, which have always been there. Always for like three years! The tables had been on campus for at least fifteen! "They've always been there," they tell us, "and we're just getting around to realizing what they really mean." So just out of thin air, they give this additional thing—well, anyway, it becomes illegal, by the Administration's rules, to hand out literature there. Let alone advocate things, let alone collect money and members.
Meetings go on, more students keep getting upset. A week later, suddenly, the Directives are reinterpreted again. The Administration tells us we can have tables at Bancroft to distribute information. Just information. Well, that suggested the tables hadn't blocked traffic in the first place. But the Administration never got around to admitting this.
But this wasn't enough, we still couldn't advocate things. There were so many contradictions. The University is spending quite a bit of money advocating Proposition 2, a bond issue, but they won't let us advocate against Proposition 14, a [racist] "fair housing" ordinance. Insurance men come into the card files, which are open to the public, and collect our names, and try to sell us insurance, but we can't collect names of people who want to help [Civil Rights work] in the South. The Peace Corps recruits members on campus to help overseas; we can't recruit people who want to help in this country. The University sends out United Crusade envelopes to employees—I've worked for it, your superior asks you for your envelope back. They keep check lists of who brings envelopes full of money and who doesn't. But you can't collect money on campus to send some clothes down to Negroes in the South who have been evicted.
So all this was rather upsetting, and people still weren't satisfied. So a vigil was held, all night, on the steps of Sproul, the Administration building. I finally got interested enough to go to a vigil again. It was the worst one I'd seen; I mean I didn't like the people in it at all. They seemed to be the young kids who hang out on Telegraph Avenue; there was a lot of wine, guitars, it all seemed pretty rowdy. I felt very alienated, so I went home at 2 A.M. Still, a hundred or so stayed all night. And the next day or so, the Administration got around to saying, "Well, you can advocate things." They reinterpreted the Directives again. They never gave a reason for these successive reinterpretations.
Well, this still wasn't enough to restore our effectiveness. The University had shoved all these organizations off-campus and then graciously permitted them these tables in the last three or four years. And this is how the organizations kept alive. What it meant for them to be denied the "privilege" to collect money and to recruit members on campus—a right that exists at every state and junior college in California—was that they'd die. And in particular this meant CORE and SNCC, [our main Civil Rights organizations.]
The attack on the tables seems to have been triggered by the Oakland Tribune, Bill Knowland's reactionary paper. We heard that Knowland got very upset during the Republican convention when Scranton supporters were being recruited on campus here. And he got even more upset when members of an ad-hoc Civil Rights coalition started picketing his paper every Friday night between five and seven o'clock. So someone from the Trib called the Administration, to inquire about the tables where the pickets are recruited. And the Administration decided they were illegal. Of course, the University is supposed to be free from sectarian political influence from the outside.
So the effect of the last little points that the Administration wouldn't grant us—to solicit money and membership on campus—would be precisely to wipe out the organizations causing the most active distress in the community, the most effective student organizations. I don't want to belabor the significance of this: to anybody who's followed the Civil Rights events in the city, it should be obvious.
These, I think, are the real pragmatic issues involved. I didn't feel this originally, but there are some theoretical issues involved too. Like freedom of speech. The Supreme Court says free speech alone is not enough. Like, fine, you can hand out literature, but you've got to be able to get the money to print it up to hand it out. In fact, you've got to be able to get the members to print it up too. So these two little remaining points are directly connected with the free speech issue.
For the first time ever, all the political groups on the campus united in opposing what the Administration was doing. Not only the various socialist splinter groups, and CORE and SNCC, and the Young Democrats, who have never been very radical. Also the Young Republicans, Students for Goldwater, and even the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists, whom my political friends think of as young fascists. It was really a United Front, very strange political bedfellows. Because after all, here was a Constitutional issue. And people said, "Don't be unreasonable, be moderate. Compromise is the central thing in a democracy. The Administration has come forward to meet your demands a bit; why don't you give a bit on these last two things?" But it wasn't a question of giving a bit on them. For six years they had been shoving us off campus, trying to knock down our leadership, our media, to knock down our organizations, to wipe them out completely. This was not a new thing, and these were not two minor points.
And I want to make a point about tactics. There are a lot of people around, even in this community, who look on the Civil Rights demonstrations in the City as very unfortunate. They say, "How terrible: these kids get a cause, and they rush in and they perform hasty actions." But every single civil disobedience thing that has happened was preceded by months, sometimes over a year, of patient negotiation. And it was like this here. We had been negotiating not for two weeks. We had been negotiating for six years.
In all those previous times, what we did, we negotiated. We did everything through the approved channels. We wrote letters to our Congressmen, letters to the local newspapers, letters to the Daily Cal, letters to the University administrators. We went in and saw them individually, and as group representatives, and in groups. Nothing happened. Nothing ever happened. We negotiated, we set up committees, we signed petitions, sometimes they had 5,000 signatures on them. We circulated petitions in the faculty. The faculty set up committees. We picketed. And what did we get for these six years, every time there was a repressive measure? We got nothing. We got back in those years not one inch of the ground that was taken away from us. We were nice all the way; we were very unhappy, but we were nice.
So it's Tuesday, I guess, that they say, "To hell with it. We give up. We're going to set up the tables on campus. We're going to set up the tables, and we're going to ask for money. We're going to ask for members." So they set them up, and some people sat down at them. And the Administration came along and took their names, and sentenced them to indefinite suspension. By some coincidence, the five students were CORE and SNCC members. By some coincidence they were precisely the leaders in the movement. There were a lot of people sitting at the tables, but the Administration picked these to suspend. It happens, and there's not much you can say about it. You learn to expect it. You learn to expect to get beaten every step of the way.
That afternoon, the Dean of Men wanted to see the five students. But by this time over four hundred students had signed a piece of paper that said, "I sat at the table too. I want equal treatment. Suspend me too." And somehow the five got into their heads that they weren't five any more; they were four hundred. And they all went and said this to the Dean, and asked him about all the other people who had been sitting there when the five leaders' names were taken. And he said, "Well, I'm sorry. We can only deal with observed violations, not unobserved violations." They said, "How can we negotiate if our leaders have been suspended?" So he canceled the negotiating meeting that had been set up for 4:00.
Well, what can you say? They stayed in Sproul Hall and began a small sit-in. There were a hundred there at midnight when they got word that the five had been suspended from school, "indefinitely," and three more too. The three weren't even notified; they didn't know why, people thought it was for helping organize the afternoon protest. It was very confused, and after a while everyone went home.
So the next morning I was sitting around on the Terrace, wondering what was going to happen. Everyone felt sure something would. Lo and behold, they bring the tables out again and set them up right in front of the Administration building. And they sit down at the tables again and put out membership lists and start collecting donations.
This time, there's a "non-student" sitting at one of the tables. He's a member of one of the organizations, he graduated last year, in mathematics. And the University police come along and arrest him. He goes limp; what else can you do? And so four cops carry him to this police car that's sitting in the middle of the Plaza. And a crowd starts gathering, and some people sit down in front of the police car, and behind the police car. The police don't like this. Luckily at this stage it was only campus cops, and as cops go, campus cops are pretty nice. As cops go. In a while it is noon, there are three thousand people around this police car in Sproul Plaza. Around the car hundreds are sitting down; they don't want it to be moved.
Then somebody gets on top of the car—the cops let him—to talk to the crowd, it was unhappy. And then this incredible dialogue began. People got up on top of that car from before noon Wednesday, they were talking until two in the morning. All different points of view were offered. The top of that car was a platform thrown open to anybody who wanted to come up and say what he had to say. I have never heard anything like this in my life. It was a continuous dialogue that went on for fifteen straight hours.
And people stopped and listened to it. And people voted. If you've never seen three thousand people voting, it's a very strange thing; three thousand people in, as the newspapers described it, "a mob scene." So many people on a political issue had never been seen on campus, a large political demonstration on campus is maybe three hundred. Several faculty members told me that the Chancellor became absolutely hysterical —they used those words—and complained "he would not listen to reason." It seems to me that the rest of the Administration was pretty hysterical too.
Around three, some of us went into Sproul Hall and sat down in the corridor. We were going to block the Dean of Men's office. Why the Dean of Men? Well, he couldn't do anything, and the Chancellor said he couldn't and wouldn't do anything, and the President said he couldn't and wouldn't do anything. And you know, after six years of hearing this, you get tired of hearing it. And you say, by God, there has to be somebody around who can do something. So we sat down.
And crammed in in this hallway, we conducted a four-hour dialogue on who we should bar from the office and who we shouldn't, and what tactics to use, and what we were asking, and so on. Our general consensus was the following demands, which we considered very moderate: That the arrested ex-student be released; that the suspended students be reinstated, because they were our leaders and we couldn't negotiate without them; that while the negotiations were being set up and while they were in session, nobody else be suspended, before some final decision about on-campus politics had been reached. That was all we asked. And they wouldn't listen, they wouldn't grant us any of it.
While we were sitting there, some faculty members came and talked to us. The faculty got upset when they saw three thousand people sitting in Sproul Plaza, and when they realized how hysterical and how intransigent the Administration was. So they formed a committee, and they went negotiating with the Administration, and they kept sending people back to us, reporting that they were not getting very far. And they told us, "Look, we're trying to intervene in your behalf, and we think it would be best if you'd clear out of Sproul Hall."
Well, I got very upset by their tone. I mean, their hearts were in it and all, and some of my best friends are faculty members. But why was it now that they were trying to intervene? What had they been doing for the last two weeks? And the last six years? It upset me incredibly. Whose fight did they think this was? We felt that the faculty and we were in this together. That this was free speech, academic freedom, things like that. And where were they the last six years while we were getting cut off?
But the faculty have always been like that, except for some rare courageous individuals. At best sometimes some get concerned and try to "moderate in our behalf." They're always unsuccessful. But all along, we felt that we were fighting for the both of us. These are the men who should have been leading us for all these years. Instead, these were the men who have been saying, "Cool down, go slow."
They've been like this for a long time. I don't know when it started. During the fight over the Loyalty Oath, in the early '50s, a bunch of faculty got thrown out. Most eventually crawled back in, and some couldn't get back in, and a few fought it out. And why it all happened was, in my opinion—and I really do think that the time for being polite is past—that the faculty hadn't the balls to stick up for its own, and the students hadn't the balls to stick up for their faculty.
The faculty got crushed in '52, and they haven't had the guts to do anything since. They've registered nice respectable protests, while they watched the students get wiped off campus, and watched their own men get wiped off too. For example, Professor [Richard] Drinnon in History. He came, because he believed that students and faculty were political animals too. He took a very active part, he and his wife, in the Chessman vigils, and he cheered us up an awful lot. After that, they decided they couldn't rehire him. They said something about not enough money, and he hadn't published enough. He had two books out, and a third at the press. In the opinion of students and many colleagues, he was a brilliant teacher and a sharp historian. Did anybody stick up for him? The faculty circulated a petition, we circulated a petition, that's what it came to. Nobody walked out on a class. None of the other faculty up and quit or anything. Two years later, it happened again [in the Eli Katz case.].
Very few faculty were ever seen with us in public. One [Tom Parkinson, Professor of English] walked the line with us at HUAC, many of us studied with him and loved him. Sometime later, after all the press about the "riot," Goldwater stands up in Congress to give people ideas about it being the duty of redblooded Americans to go and kill Commies, and an anonymous hate pamphlet appears on campus about him. A couple of days later somebody comes along with a shotgun and shoots him. Shoots him, and kills somebody else in his office at the time, a poet, a friend of my friends. One of the few men who had the guts to walk with us, and they shoot him. We're all alone; we've always been all alone, all alone on all these things. Nobody has the courage to stand up with us, nobody has the courage to say, "This is enough. There is a right and wrong, and you've got to go all out for it, or you've had it."
So anyway, the faculty came and said, "Look, why don't you get out of Sproul Hall; the Administration is hysterical; they absolutely refuse to budge. They won't even grant the most reasonable demands as long as you're in Sproul—in fact, as long as this whole demonstration persists."
Well, we didn't want to get out, even after sitting packed to the gills with people walking over us. But we said, "Look. Okay. We don't believe it's going to do any good, but as a gesture of good faith, we'll make a unilateral withdrawal from Sproul. As soon as we hear that the faculty and Administration are negotiating together, we'll withdraw for an hour and a half. Or until quarter of 7:00, whichever comes first." And they go away.
Now, the Sproul Hall doors have not been closed before 7:00 p.m. since 1942, supposedly by University law. So we sit there waiting for word. And no word comes. Outside two thousand students are [still] sitting around this car. So at 6:20, the Administration tells the campus cops to lock Sproul Hall, so we can get out, but so no one else can get in. It was a grievous breach of good faith. A handful of guys said, "You shouldn't lock the door," and then sat down in the door. The cops started dragging them away, to lock it, just as we started coming downstairs from the Dean's Office. We saw what was happening and went and sat down in the door too.
At first people are sitting there individually, and the cops are dragging them away, and then we start linking and locking. And there's this human lacework built into the doorway. There's maybe sixty of us in the doorway and extending on both sides of it. We're not just linking arms. We're holding onto each other for dear life. And we keep trying to contract the lace, to plug up the doorway. And the cops are grabbing people under the chin, with their fingers dug in, and pulling them.
There was this one girl; I counted, thirteen of us were holding onto her. And this cop has both of his hands in her hair, pulling as hard as he can. And she's screaming. And between screams, she's saying, "Hold me tighter! Hold me! Hold me!" and then she screams, and then she says, "Hold me!" I don't want to make a big thing of it, but this is how it happened.
And we're lying on our backs twined like an immense octopus, singing The Star-Spangled Banner, maybe because it's the first thing that comes to mind, and women are screaming, and the cops are kicking people and hitting people in the face. And this one cop comes jumping over, like last down, one yard to go for a touchdown; the two lines crash up, and the fullback tries to pile his way over the top. This cop comes jumping over, boots first, and goes out. Then he starts coming back, to go in. Like fools, you know, we say, "Take your shoes off." And then we take his shoes off for him.
I admit it was a very stupid thing to do, because almost the only pictures that come out of all this day are of the cop with his shoes taken off. And we get these big headlines about how we pulled this policeman down a flight of stairs and took his cap and shoes off. But we wanted he should take his shoes off so he wouldn't step in people's faces. It's not nice, that's all.
So somehow we hold the doorway. Sometime later we vote—of our own accord, mind you—to leave. Because it was an empty position at that point: they had us blocked out from the upper floors. So we left and joined the main crowd.
So it's Thursday night, and there are still well over a thousand of us. And by this time we realize simply that we have to hold that car. That car is the only thing we've gotten in six years. It's our car; it isn't the cops' car any more. And so we start bringing sleeping bags. And the dialogue on top of the car continues. People are getting up there and talking, and people are listening. And people are voting on this, and people are voting on that.
It's almost enough to make you believe that if it were given a chance, the democratic process might work. It just might work. People quoted books as if books were relevant. They talked about the Greeks, and they talked about theories of politics, as if it all meant something. And listening to them, I almost believed for the first time in years that it did mean something.
And we're sitting there near midnight when this kid Mario Savio—he's twenty-one, I'm twenty- four, a kid too—comes running up; I had never seen him before the last few days. He was one of the leaders, one of the suspended students. He talked pretty good; I gather he's a junior in philosophy. He's got a heart of gold, he talks straight sense, and he's got an infinite amount of patience. Anyway, he'd been up and down on the car during the day, and now he comes running up because some people jumped him, right off campus. It turns out, this huge flood of fraternity boys has come down. The paper says there were two hundred of them. But there were not two hundred, there were over a thousand. I have been estimating crowds for a long time. We're seated, packed in, and they surround us and stand around, yelling and throwing tomatoes and eggs. And throwing dozens of lit cigarettes into our ranks. When you're sat down like that you can't move, and they're trampling people at the edges. Some of their own people got up to the car and spoke to calm them down, and they threw eggs even at their own people, and Jew-baited them. And they were screaming at us, "Get off the car, get off the car." They wanted the car , and I think they wanted blood. And they were calling us Communists, and, you know, we should go home and take a bath. God, would we have loved to go home and take a bath. A bath and a shave, and sleep. But you can't. Because if you go home, there'll be nobody there. And always before, we've gone home, and there's been nobody left.
Meanwhile, the Alameda County Sheriff's Department men are standing in the background in their nice blue uniforms. And some of them are egging the fraternity boys on. We appealed that they should form a line between them and us, they should stop this, because it was an incredibly explosive situation. And they yelled back, "We don't see that it's explosive." Faculty members appealed for the same thing and got the same answer. So it stayed on being explosive.
It was like out of a fairy tale. Mario and a girl named Jackie Goldberg were standing up there on top of the car and trying to reason with them. Mario in particular, who'd been up I don't know how many hours and had been talking all day, is trying to explain to them our position. And they keep yelling and throwing things at him, and then he starts talking, and they start chanting, "Get off the car," so nobody can hear him. And he waits till they're done, and he tries again, and again, and again. This goes on for hours. To explain; to explain; to ask them to come up and talk.
And meanwhile we're sitting there, scared to death. I'm not particularly cowardly, but they grow them big in the fraternities, and there are an awful lot of them. Somehow, tension bleeds away a little, and then this priest comes and for the first time there is silence. He climbs on top of the car, and some of the fraternity kids yell at him. But others silence them. And he says, roughly, "This is a bad deal. There's a lot of hate here, and hate is bad. If you hate enough, it means murder. I want you to think of that." Then he gets down, and an Administration representative comes and says, "Go away."
After that, after hours and hours of speaking, we just shut up. They would yell, "Get off the car," and this little ruffle of "Shhh!" would go through the thousand or so of us. We sat there with our mouths shut for half an hour, and finally they just went away. Next morning, of course, the papers recorded a lot of conviviality between them and us; talked about panty raids and such things. I just want to say, it wasn't like that.
There was very little chance for sleep after all that. There were few fortunate enough to have sleeping bags. Some of us tried to sleep on the lawn, and got sopping when the automatic sprinkler system went on at five [a.m..] Most got an hour and were grateful. I went and got my recorder and played with some guitars on the steps. When the sun came up people folded their blankets, picked up leaflets, and swept up all around the Plaza and the steps; it's a thing with us.
It's eight in the morning and it's a beautiful day; it's a beautiful Friday. And the sun starts coming up. And the sun keeps coming up. And the sun keeps up there all day, and we melt like wax. There's just nothing to protect you, you sit there, and you stink; you sweat; you feel faint; and you just sit there, packed around the car, and there's nothing else you can do. By now there were maybe four hundred of us, and hardly any more all day who sat down. But by God, we had that car. It was all we had, and we were going to keep it until we were forced to give it up.
As soon as day begins the dialogue on top of the car resumes. Everybody gets up and talks about our three demands. And people give history; and people give facts. At noontime, when the crowd of onlookers swells to about three thousand, we ask them to come sit down with us. A few do. Meanwhile all this time Jack, the guy, is still in the cop car, they give him a beer can to piss in.
I finally leave for the first time I'd been away from this thing since Tuesday. So I come to class, and I say to my teacher, "Look, I was supposed to see you yesterday about a problem set I missed; I've been penned up in Sproul Hall all yesterday, I was there all night, I've been there all day today in the sun; can I have a stay of execution until Monday?" And he stands there with the NO ON 14 button on his lapel, which he very well might have picked up at one of our tables, and he says "No." Well, I was too tired to argue with him; I was too tired to say, "Why don't you come out in the sun too'" Because I knew he wouldn't.
But there were some good people in the sun. We were pretty tired and pretty grubby, but the cream of the University was there, a good part of it. Teaching assistants, people with fellowships, scholarships, the Department's prize undergraduates. I don't know if it's ever been done, but if you were to take the grade point average—an absolutely silly criterion—of people who stood on these bloody lines, you'd find it to be awfully high. Maybe there are some people who flunk out of school because they get too involved or are in these things for hung-up reasons. But a hell of a lot of the best students of the University were there.
So we sat in the sun, and the dialogue continues, and there's so much information: historical resumes, California State Supreme Court decisions, and such. And somebody who'd been active in the old days, a law student, Michael Tigar, got up on top of the car. Those of us who had been active with him were very glad to see him. And he tells us about this book that Clark Kerr wrote in the late fifties, called Tbe Managerial Revolution, and he gives us a summary of Kerr's thesis: There are the managed and the managers. The University is part of the managerial society. It's this big ship; and the ship has got a captain; and the captain is the President; and what he says goes. And Tigar says, "We thought the only place this kind of thinking was left in the world after the 1920's was in Mussolini's Italy." But he goes on talking about this book, as if it really meant something to talk about a book, as if these ideas and a rational counter-argument to them had some real use, which is very hard to believe after you've been around a University for eight years and gotten concerned about things, and had the spirit beaten down in you. At the end, Tigar says, "I don't want to be coarse, but there's one thing that's got to be said. People have been talking like this is just a little thing. But I want to say, even if they cut 'em off one at a time, it's still castration." And that's the truth, and it was good to hear someone say it in so many words.
I was ready to drop, everyone was. I went to lie down on a lawn for a while, but I asked a friend to wake me because the word was that something was going to happen that night. The next day was Parents' Day at the University. And, wow, publicity for the University was bad enough without all the parents coming along and seeing a crowd of four hundred beatniks sitting around a cop car and this guy still in it.
But I couldn't get to sleep, because I was too keyed up. Because the only way you can keep going after you've been going like this for a couple of days, is on nervous energy. And the moment you let loose of it you're dead, and so it takes hours to unwind.
Forty minutes later, a friend comes over and says, come quick, something's going to happen, and I go to the car. There are very few of us, and slowly other people start collecting around us, but they're standing. We're the only ones who are sitting. And we scrunch up close to the car, because the word is that they're going to come and try to take Jack away. Meanwhile all day there've been these negotiations maybe going on; we've heard nothing, we figured they'd break down. We sit there for two hours. People are passing out sandwiches; both days we collected money and outside people made sandwiches and brought them in, and offered other help. And people bring us reports of sympathy demonstrations in other colleges. All this is very nice when you feel very much alone.
Comes 6:30, 7:00, there's this incredible scene. There are five hundred of us at most seated around the car, and maybe three thousand spectators. Some of them are with us but afraid to get arrested, maybe another three hundred, we can't tell. But the great majority are the kids who were heckling us the previous night, the Greeks and others. They fill the steps of Sproul; they're clustered in the Student Union; they're on the roof of the cafeteria; they're perched in trees. I have never seen so many at one time. And they want blood.
Meanwhile, in back of Sproul Hall, there are five hundred policemen, with boots, with night sticks in hand, and with steel helmets. And the hecklers are there, screaming for blood. "We want blood," they yell. I'd seen this sort of thing before, but never in such magnitude, never five hundred cops gathered together. And we're there, and we're singing. There are four hundred people willing to go to jail; we're singing because we're scared to death.
Well, the jail part doesn't so much bother me. I mean, I've got a teaching assistantship to lose and a career and things like that, but these are minor points. And they really are. Somebody was going to get killed. This is not a melodrama. Somebody was going to get killed, if the cops came in. That's why I was there. I didn't realize at first how many they'd have. Then when I found out, I figured—somebody's going to get killed.
Because there were all sorts of people sitting there, these ninety pound girls and pregnant women, no kidding, pregnant women, packed in, unable to move. And we try to tell them what it's going to be like: "If you're wearing rings or you're wearing pierced earrings, take them off. Don't leave buttons pinned to your chest. When they get to you, go limp. If you lock arms they'll club you apart." In between the fraternity boys are yelling to bring on the cops. If that had started, I do believe we would have had not only five hundred cops on our backs, but two thousand fraternity boys.
But what can you do when you're in one of these things but lie there and take it? You tuck your chin to your chest so they can't get you under it, and you pray very selfishly that you're not going to be the one that gets hurt. And you hold on to the guy next to you for dear life. But you don't feel anything. You don't even feel hate. You know you dare not raise a finger to them.
It's sort of symbolic of the whole thing, these last six years. They take away everything, your papers, your rights, your fnends, and you put up a polite protest, but you've just got to lie there and take it. And you walk a picket line clad in the same clothes that you went to your fellowship interview in, and they taunt you and spit on you. And you smile. And you don't get mad at them. Not because you're such a nice guy. You don't get mad at them because you can't afford to, because if you let what they're saying reach you, you'll crack in half. You can't do a damned thing about it. You've just got to sit there and take it, lie on the ground and let the cops tromp on you with their boots.
So anyway, like the eleventh hour plus, Mario comes running up to the car, and he's got this agreement, and he says, "I feel like I've betrayed you; it's the first thing that's been signed; you haven't got a chance to vote on it." How ridiculous this is, to talk about three thousand people in this situation voting! And yet we'd been voting. We got some of the things we wanted. The arrested student wasn't arrested. The suspended students weren't reinstated, but they were remanded to the faculty for discussion. [We were deceived in these beliefs.] And there's some sort of mechanism going to be set up that may produce something about freedom of speech. We may possibly get a piece of land—and we probably won't. I don't know what's going to happen.
But it was very far from what we wanted, and from what we started with at the beginning of the semester. Which was far from what we started with six years ago. I don't know about Mario, I feel sorry for him, he's a lovely guy. I don't know how he took the responsibility that was thrust on him, how he didn't crack during this whole period, and kept talking sense, from a good heart, and with a good tongue. I've been around for years, and I would put myself in his hands again. Though we didn't get what we wanted.
If we had had three thousand sitting down there, I think our representatives might not have signed the agreement. Things are worth doing for three thousand that they aren't for three hundred. I don't know if this makes sense. I would never sit down alone. Not because I don't believe in it, but because looking at how America has been running, one man sitting alone just doesn't come to much. Maybe I'm wrong on this. But we tried sitting alone, or nearly alone, on this capital punishment thing; it's one of the things that nearly broke my heart. We sat and we sat and we sat, many times and many places. And not a goddamn thing came of it.
Maybe I give up too easy; but how long can you keep going on having your heart broken? Sometimes I think what we need are more martyrs; sometimes I wonder if it helps us in the end. I feel very pessimistic about all this. But it was damn good to see those three hundred there last night. Because the least thing you can say about them is that they believed enough to sit there if there were three hundred. And we've never seen that before. If we had had three thousand . . .
But we didn't because of the last six years, because everything that helped us learn from each other was beaten down. You can't communicate things to people in twenty four hours; it takes years. There's very little dialogue that goes on; that's one of the troubles of the country: nobody talks to anybody else. That's what was so nice about that car. It was our car; we fought for it; and while we had it we stood up on top and we started a dialogue.
The university in America is a very bad scene. There's no communication. Nobody will say anything. I mean, you can point to incidents where people do, but when you draw a line under it and add it all up, what do you get? You get that there's no communication between students and faculty, between faculty and Administration, between Administration and students—it's all totally disjointed. And by and large, no communication between faculty and faculty, or between students and students. And the Administration only communicates with a tiny section of the "outside world." We've got no communication, and we're all alone.
And all you can do is hope that next time a few more will be aware that there are some issues around, and be willing to sit down for what they believe. If you don't know there are issues around, that's your tough luck; the "powers that be" try to keep you from learning. But I know enough to make me so sick at heart, so that for a long time I wasn't interested in learning any more. I couldn't take it. That's all there is to say. I know why there weren't three thousand sitting down. I'll be damned if I know why even three hundred were there waiting to get mashed.
I'm not even sure why I was there. I was there because I couldn't not be there, but that doesn't explain it. We were sitting there, they were shouting for our blood, and people were being very nice to each other, holding each other's things, handing each other sandwiches, bucking each other up. And I suddenly remembered, in the last three years I've walked maybe five or six picket lines, one of them was not too long ago, in Oakland, around the Tribune's building. There were maybe seventy kids, not particularly well-dressed. The cops were there, giving them a hard time, and so were the hecklers.
And these goddamned kids were singing; they were singing, "There is love in that land." Did they believe it? I don't know. Then they sang, "There's free speech in that land." We sang that last night. God. These are maybe the only people around who believe anything. But can they really believe there is love in that land? After reading the Tribune's editorials?
There's so much hate around. There was so much hate yesterday, and so much last night. We were sitting there surrounded by hate, and singing about "There is love in that land." And after you've been at it two or three days, after you haven't slept, after you've sat there in the goddamned sun, with people yelling for your blood, knowing that you've been getting the boot steadily for the past six years—you get delirious. You honest to God get delirious. And you can almost believe what you're singing. You can almost con yourself into believing that these things mean something. That there is love in that land. That there is free speech, and all those other crazy abstractions, in that land.
3 October 1964
During the next nine weeks we developed the momentum, apparatus, and discipline to complete what was begun around the car. Finally the Administration did one outrageous thing too many, and a thousand of us marched into Sproul Hall "to bring the machine to a grinding halt." Our sit-in was broken by arrests the next day, whereupon ten thousand went out in the first mass student strike. This did in fact bring the University to a standstill, and the faculty into a panic in support of our demands. We got our tables back, and more besides. And one rare moment of clear victory, before the long struggle of Movement went on.
Already we are deep into the years of Nixon and Reagan. Repression is old news now, and we grow forgetful of its Liberal antecedents. The FSM shook the political structure of the State and unmasked the benevolent facade it wore during the Kennedy years. By the second month, University officials were phoning to threaten to have us indicted on felony conspiracy charges. That tactic didn't become popular for three more years. Still, it's worth remembering that the first man who ordered State troopers onto a white college campus to bust and beat students was not nasty old Ronnie Reagan, but that kindly Liberal, Governor Edmund G. "Pat" Brown (Dem., 1958-66)—the same fellow who refused clemency for Chessman, in both cases choosing to act "against [my] conscience."
But before the Governor's order and an army of cops jerked us back into reality, we brought to a first completion the image begun around the car. Into Sproul Hall we trooped, with all the threat-and-promise weight of what we were doing, and all the bag and baggage of our selves—with Mario's words about the Machine now spoken for us, and singing, so help me, about the love in our hearts.
Once inside, we set up projectors to show Chaplin movies on the walls. A Chanukah service was held. After it the folk-dancers wound their way through bedding, study lamps and candles, down corridors to the stairwell niches where musicians and singers clustered. They avoided the study hall into which the top floor had been converted, and also the improvised infirmary and the kitchen. Eager hands hoisted food-flow through the windows. We ate terrible baloney sandwiches and then established the first Free University, conducting some of its dozen classes cross-legged atop the Civil Defense disaster drums stored in the basement. People smoked grass in the corners (1964, mind you), and at least two women had their first full sexual experiences under blankets on the roof, where walkie-talkies were broadcasting news to the outside through the local radio net and coordinating with Emergency Command Central. The Steering Committee met in the women's john, spontaneous organizing proceeded in the corridors, mimeographed bulletins passed around, and we went up to the roof to look for the moon, wonder whether they would use tear gas on us, and speculate about how to sabotage computers and power lines.
In those fifteen hours before the cops came to drag us off to jail and into the confusions of history, in that quarter-acre of territory liberated by our presence, we acted out our universe in miniature. An icon came to flower—the compact panorama of our community, newly revealed in the bud of its growth.