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The Tragedy at the Greek Theater
Ralph J. Gleason

San Francisco Chronicle
December 9, 1964
On the Town
The Tragedy at The Greek Theater
Ralph J. Gleason

"I AGREE WITH YOU that this may seem to be a rather theatrical performance today. " President Kerr said at the tragedy presented by the University of California Monday in the Greek Theater. And then he added "thanks to the audience, not to those of us up here."

And what he said had the sad ring of a truth greater than he knew because, as it has since the beginning, the dynamic of the whole tragic-comedy, the whole farce, the whole incredible sequence of events has, indeed, come from the students and not from their elders.

* * *

"INDEED I LIVE in the dark age," Berthold Brecht wrote 30 years ago, ". . . a smooth forehead betokes a hard heart." And it is obvious that the students and the student leaders are not the smooth-forehead IBM products their elders want them to be (and in so wanting have become themselves). It is, really, a continuing contrast in styles.

"There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part; you can't even tacitly take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears, and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machines will be prevented from working at all."

Those were the classic words of Mario Savio as he led the sit-in at Sproul Hall last week, later heard on the magnificent KPFA documentary.

* * *

AND THEN the next morning-Berkeley's Black Thursday-the armed, booted and helmeted police infested the building and dragged the students down the stairs, carefully covering the windows of the stairwell with newspaper so they could operate unseen.

"Don't drag 'em down so fast," one cop said to another. "Take 'em down a little slower, they bounce more that way."

It has been a contrast and a confrontation in styles all along, a struggle between a C. Wright Mills-Paul Goodman-Catch 22 generation for whom the bomb dropped before they were born and a generation where cleanliness is next to godliness and you don't make waves, just ride on them.

And the ultimate tragedy is that the older generation will never see how wrong it is, how deeply it has misjudged these youngsters, how sadly it has maligned them and how deviously it has taken refuge in rhetoric and in legalities when the youth has been speaking in plain moral terms.

* * *

"WE HAVE BEEN betrayed by articulate intellectuals, we have been betrayed by men who know better," the Graduate Student cries in Lawrence Ferlinghetti's playlet, "Servants of the People in his new book, "Routines" (New Directions). "We have no media, we have no person of prominence in our country who will lead us in any sort of campaign. There is no dialogue," and, he adds, "this is the true sadness of our position."

But the bright side, the redeeming feature of the adult tragedy whose most macabre moment came when the policeman slammed his arm across Mario Savio's throat, not only to remove him from the stage but to keep him from speaking (and what was it all about but the right to speak?) is what these students have done.

In the face of a university which abandoned its nerve center to armed police, on the first university campus outside Mississippi to be taken over by the cops, dragged to jail by the cops who removed their badges so as not to be identified, in the face of a torrent of apoplectic outrage from the elders of the tribe who felt their positions threatened, this generation has stood up and continued to speak plainly of truth.

"When you go in, go with love in your hearts," Joan Baez said. Those words, and Mario's eloquent speech, remain the only rhetoric of these ten weeks that history will remember. Literature, poetry and history are not made by a smooth jowl and a blue suit. They are made with sweat and passion and dedication to truth and honor.

* * *


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