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Chapter 4  from
Heretic's Heart:
A Journey Through Spirit and Revolution

(Beacon Press, Boston; 1997)

By Margot Adler

Part 2  (Part 1 is Here)

December 2nd , 1964, 9 P.M.

Dear Mom:

     This is a really incredible situation. I am sitting on the floor of Sproul Hall -- the administration building. You may remember, it's the place I slept in on September 30th. Well, here I am again.

     . . . I can't draw it, but it's one of those Greek style buildings, with white columns and three big windows in front. On each window is a big letter: FSM, so it looks like the building is really ours.

     Four students were threatened with further disciplinary action, and received letters threatening expulsion. We are sitting-in in protest of that, and what started as a demand for free speech and advocacy has changed to include the whole meaning of education. There is anger at being only an IBM card, anger at the bureaucracy, at the money going to technology. The main issue remains that students should have to abide only by the laws of the government and the US Constitution in matters of civil liberties -- they should not need to abide by special regulations.

     This afternoon, there was an inspired rally where all the FSM leaders spoke, end Joan Baez sang. Everyone called for a tremendous sit-in, and then Joan Baez and Mario Savio led about 2000 people into Sproul Hall. Charles Powell, the president of the student government, made a feeble statement which was hissed down, telling people to have faith in the administration.

     We went into Sproul Hall, and all the employees left. At 7 P.M., the police asked us to leave, but we refused. We were given instructions in non-violent civil disobedience, how to go limp when arrested. Then a truly extraordinary evening began.

     We sang songs. There were rooms available for studying. There was a Chanukah service and folk dancing. In another room, they showed the Charlie Chaplin film, The Rink. Professors and teaching assistants created "Freedom Schools", gave classes in non-violence, political science, mathematics, Spanish, and the history of the civil rights movement in the Bay Area. There's been more singing and speeches.Joan Baez is still here. Food and drink are being passed around. We may be here a long time. If we are still here by tomorrow morning, there may be a strike by students and teaching assistants.

     The press is here in droves: newspapers, LIFE, NBC, ABC, KPIX. A reporter saw me reading Thucydides and wrote it down. I swear it is the most stimulating experience I I've ever had. It s a pretty mixed group. There are even three Goldwater Republicans here who write for the conservative journal Man and State, although the tendency is definitely toward the left.

                                        December 3rd, 6:45 a.m.

     Things look quite different at 6:45 a.m. For one thing, I am tired. At 11 P.M., Mario Savio spoke and said it looked as if Clark Kerr was going to stall us out -- that is, not bring the police, and that we would have to stay a long time. So at 11:30, after more singing, a bunch of us went to sleep until 2 a.m., when I awoke to hear a complete change in the situation. We were sleeping near the telephone the FSM was using, so we heard all the important news. It seems the Alameda County Sheriff and police will come soon and arrest us. So we were given more instructions in non-violence, and all of us on the first floor went to the second and third and fourth. Then Chancellor Strong came, along with the Chief of Police, and gave us five minutes to leave the building, before being arrested. By five a.m., they had only arrested thirty people, but by now they have arrested about seventy-five, including all of those on the fourth floor. There are about 1000 of us altogether. Some people even managed to be hoisted up into the building on ropes, so we have thirty-five new people.

     Here's what we have heard: Students for a Democratic Society -- remember that's the organization I belonged to -- has promised sympathy demonstrations on l00 campuses. Governor Brown plans to come to Berkeley today. Many reporters are still here. Many employees are not going to work, there is a picket line in front of the Student Union and many people will not cross. The Teamsters Union has refused to cross the picket line and therefore the University is without food in the cafeterias. A strike has been moved up to today at noon. Many faculty are with us, including the entire math department which is the most radical department. They have started arresting people on the third floor. We are on the second floor. Dawn has come. Nothing like this has happened, I guess, since the thirties. The people here are really marvelous, and hopefully comprise the future. A great number of students seem vitally concerned with education, a true and meaningful education. And of course, this is an educational experience in itself.

                                               12:10 P.M.

     I feel sick -- inside and out. I feel depressed and ashamed of my society, afraid, sick and weird -- a feeling of half not feeling anything and half wanting to cry on someone's shoulder. I am sitting with fifty other girls in an Oakland police station. The arrests began on the second floor. Now you must understand that there were two police forces involved -- the Berkeley police, and the Oakland police. The Berkeley police were quite civil, even kind at times, and, as policemen go, understanding. The Oakland cops were brutal. They ran up and grabbed Jack Weinberg who was speaking over a microphone and dragged him down the stairs. For each arrest, an officer came up, asked us to leave, gave us a number, photographed us and asked if we would walk. We went limp and they (the Berkeley police) dragged us rather nicely to the elevator. The boys got dragged down the stairs. When we got to the basement, we refused to walk, and the Oakland police dragged us horribly. This guy twists my arm back in a hammer lock, and forces me up, so I have to give in and walk. Then came the most Kafkaesque part -- you get fingerprinted, photographed against a wall, and searched, they even undid my bra. Then we waited, singing freedom songs, until we were marched with our photos, a group of twelve, into a paddy wagon where, still singing, we were taken to a police station in Oakland where we are sitting, talking, singing, and studying.

     But the worst thing we saw was the brutality before our arrest. One boy was clubbed, several were treated brutally. One girl was dragged and thrown crying into the police wagon. The worst moments were when the police went after the PA system. The first time they got Jack Weinberg; the second time, they tried to get Steve Weissman, but he slipped outside and escaped down a rope. At that moment the place went into bedlam, and two or three students threw boxes and books, fortunately they didn't hit anyone and they were told to stop.

     I feel weird and scared. Even though I believe in what I did, I still have that weird feeling of being stamped for life, always having a police record next to my name. Of course I am in good company, but still ... I will write again when I know more about the future -- bail, charges, etc.

                                             2 P.M.

     I'm still in this room, only 23 of us are left. We have heard that at least 600 were arrested and there are rumors that the Santa Rita jail can't hold us and we will be put in navy barracks.

                                           9:45 P.M. San Leandro Armory

     Finally at about 4 P.M. we were put into this bus with barred windows. We were in that 20 by 20 room -- a shifting population of 20-55. But our group stayed longest. The facilities were deplorable. There was no toilet paper. We finally got some. There was one toilet which was open and in full view. We sat on the floor. By 4 P.M., people who hadn't eaten since last night were starved. Then, for the first time, even though I had only been arrested for several hours, I realized what lack of physical freedom means: the fact that I could not go out that door -- that I was completely at their power and mercy, that my world had become 20' by 20', and it was packed with others -- no room to move. I tried reading Thucydides, but I just couldn't concentrate. I was nervous and had no outlet, not even the usual escape -- food. Many of the people around me were smoking, but I had no way to calm myself. And worst of all, I had my period, and it had leaked and there was no way to change, and nothing to do.

     So finally we were taken in this barred bus to the armory -- it seems the jails were overcrowded -- so they created a jail here. We were finally given some tepid tea and a cold cut sandwich at 5 P.M. More people have arrived, but our knowledge of what is going on at the University is limited. Until a half an hour ago we had no contact. Now, after we have been booked for the second time, we can use the phone. My fingerprints will go to the FBI. I guess when the thought gets depressing one can always remember that conversation between Thoreau and Emerson when Thoreau was in jail: Emerson: "What are you doing in there?" Thoreau: "What are you doing out there? So now we are trying to go to sleep on the floor of the Armory with some thin blankets. It's 10:15 P.M., and I only had one and a half hours sleep on the floor last night. I will try to sleep until we go to Santa Rita and get our mug shots.

                                              December 4th, 12:45 A.M. -- Santa Rita

     Nine of us were awakened. We got packed into a car to drive to the Santa Rita jail. I felt sicker than ever, woke up cold, shivering with spasms of cold tiredness. I had only slept an hour and the blanket was thin and the air freezing. We walked out into the cold air and a shivering fit really hit me. I just couldn't stop shaking. We were packed into a police barred car, very tight, which was good because it warmed us and we joked about such things as, "misery is a stone cold floor" and talked about "The Brig" and "Mario, Mario my Savio," until laughter threw off the cold and we were heated by each other's bodies and by the car itself. We arrived at Santa Rita and filed in to be mugged. Funny, I always associated the word "mugging" with the antithesis of police -- something that happens in Central Park, for example, but they seem to use it for those pictures, you know, those front and side shots with the numbers below, that make you look like a criminal no matter what. I figured out why. They don't let you smile, and by then we were all so miserable looking anyway. So then we were put in some kind of cell, then taken to another regular room, although it was locked, and now there are rumors that we will get out soon, or that we won't get out soon and will have cold showers. But now it seems we may get out.

                                                  December 5th

     Eventually we were released and taken in a bus to the gates of Santa Rita; there, a faculty-student carpool was waiting to pick us up. These supporters had raised our bail, and were now driving us home. I finally got home at 2:30 A.M. and managed to get five hours of sleep.

     I couldn't sleep well, nor do I seem able to study effectively. I keep thinking about the past few days. Last night I was terribly depressed. Everything I had been thinking about the two levels of existence -- how at the higher level we are ants in a meaningless universe -- seemed true. At the moment, I feel so insignificant. It seems as if the truth will never conquer and that it was of no consequence that there were 800 of us and that the majority of the faculty supported us. The press still shouts, "communist," and there are calls for the FSM to be investigated by a committee like HUAC.

     Sometimes I think that I could become an anarchist, if law means the action of the police. Jail affected me. The loss of physical freedom was a shock. The frisking was humiliating; the fingerprinting feels weird. It all has the feel of forever. You feel trapped and powerless. The police have the power to do anything they want to you for 48 hours -- after that they must book you. You have practically no rights, and after a while, the police seem to be an evil power, because by this time you no longer associate them with law and order, but with hitting nonviolent students, wrenching, throwing, dragging people down stairs, and you realize that they have the backing of the society and you have nothing but your convictions.


     The feelings I experienced inside Sproul Hall and later, in jail, were a complex mix: an ecstasy of community bonding and collective power, followed by a sense of total powerlessness. There were moments where all potential and possibility opened, and moments of utter futility, when a thousand students seemed nothing more than a thousand grains of sand. A few years later, when I would enter the imposing court buildings in lower Manhattan for political trials -- first as a journalist, later as a juror, but never again as a defendant -- I was still close enough to the events of the sixties that I retained a clear understanding of the true meaning of the massive structures I was entering: the towering columns of the federal court building; the barred windows rising so high at 100 Center Street, the seat of the criminal courts. And I understood that the rooms within, with their thirty-foot ceilings and the judge sitting many feet above ordinary citizens, had been carefully designed to show the insignificance of the individual human being in the face of government power.

     But as a participant in this demonstration and arrest, what I could not see was the view of this event from the outside, a view which did much to increase faculty support for our cause. While we rejected the notion of the university as an ivory tower, our teachers still embraced it. The professors who walked onto campus that morning found their lovely sanctuary ringed with police. It was this shock that caused many a professor to make a final break with the university administration and support the FSM's demands. David Lance Goines writes that this was "the first time in American history that the German academic tradition, barring civil authority from the University campus, had been disregarded" [8], and that the faculty felt the administration had treated them with contempt and so, in the end, had allied themselves not so much with the students as against the administration and the government of California.

     Back on campus, the atmosphere was electric. Most classes were canceled and there was a very effective student strike to oppose the policies of the administration. Graduate students picketed many buildings and the almost eight hundred who had been arrested returned to the campus wearing black armbands with a V emblazoned on them. You could see their armbands all over the campus. The time felt incredibly special, as if my own action was part of something that had caused a shift in the world.

     Two faculty groups, a group of two hundred that supported FSM goals and a council of department chairmen that didn't, met to plan strategy, and President Clark Kerr announced that a university-wide meeting would take place on December 7, at the large Greek Theater. The FSM met as well and determined to have its own speaker at the gathering.

     At the Greek Theater, President Kerr spoke before a huge crowd. His words about order and "lawful procedures" and the continuation of classes seemed curiously detached from -the electric reality -- reverberating in the amphitheater like dead language from an ancient world. But Kerr did announce an amnesty in the cases against the four students and said that the university would not initiate disciplinary action against those who participated in the sit-in, but would simply accept the action of the courts. In addition, rules for campus political activity would be liberalized. When Kerr finished his announcement, Mario Savio walked slowly up to the front to speak. To my stunned amazement -- and the amazement of thousands of others in the crowd -- two campus policemen grabbed Mario before he could reach the microphone and dragged him off the stage. The effect was sensational Shocked, we all rose to our feet and roared our disapproval.

     Goines believes that this one "lightning-lit instant in the history of the FSM did more to gain support for the movement than anything else. We all heard stories of older professors who had escaped Nazi terror," Goines writes, "and who, stunned by what the police had done before their very eyes, expressed shame and rage that they had condoned an administration which resorted to Storm Trooper tactics to prevent one student from speaking to a crowd." [9] Moments later, when the administration realized its mistake and released Savio, the damage was done. Ten thousand people attended the rally in Sproul Plaza later that day.

     Meanwhile, a group of more liberal faculty members -- the Committee of 200 -- drew up its own proposals, which essentially supported the FSM's demands: that there be no disciplinary measures taken by the university for events prior to December 8, and while campus activities might be subject to reasonable regulations as to time, place, and manner, their political content would not be restricted nor would restrictions be placed on the political activity of off-campus groups.

     The next day, December 8, the Academic Senate met to consider the faculty's proposal. Somewhere between three and five thousand students listened for three hours as the meeting was broadcast outside over loudspeakers. When the Committee of 200's resolution in support of the FSM's demands passed by a vote of 824-115 and all amendments that would have weakened or diluted the force of that resolution were roundly voted down by large majorities, the students outside roared their approval, and many of us stood holding each other as tears flowed. Then the meeting ended and moments later the applauding students backed away on either side, making a path for the professors, who walked out through the auditorium doors in an almost formal procession. It was, Bettina Aptheker noted some twenty years later, "one of the courageous moments in the history of the faculty, which had not always been courageous.... Many of them and many of us were crying. Many of them and many of us came to believe that the oppression of the 1950's was finally at an end." [10] A week later, the California Board of Regents voted that political activity would only be regulated by the First and Fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution. From now on students would be judged as citizens. The Free Speech Movement had won.

           We were jubilant. As I wandered through the fogbound and rainy campus, I found my soul open and ready to receive on all levels. As I inhaled the pungent smell of eucalyptus trees and walked the charming wooden bridges over Strawberry Creek, I kept pinching myself that this place was real. The world seemed deeply good.

     Later, the coldness of the law and the brutality of the Oakland police sank in. And as I read the biased reports of our struggle in the newspapers (in which we were portrayed as communist dupes or outside agitators -- accounts which bore no relation to the events we had witnessed), I felt, as if for the first time, that the society around me was a place of distortion, lies, and evil. The Free Speech Movement gave me a profound understanding of the unseen institutions of this country -- the courts, the jails, and the police -- institutions which had never before touched my life, and which remain hidden for most white, middle-class people.

     But more importantly, the FSM gave me an experience of a new kind of freedom, not to speak, to act, or to buy, but to claim the power to come together with others in community to transform and to change. And the FSM was also emotionally powerful because it seemed to be a battle to wrest the control of our lives away from the clerks, the files, and the forms that seemed to be increasingly dominating our lives as students -- in other words, from the seemingly invulnerable giants of technology and bureaucracy. In my own life, I had gone from a small private school filled with liberty and creativity to a high school where creativity was mixed with bureaucracy and rigidity, to a huge university where the most popular slogan referred to students as IBM computer cards ("Do not fold, spindle, or mutilate!"). The Free Speech Movement gave me and many others a sense of personal power and control over our lives.

     This is true for me even though I was just a grunt, a foot-soldier in this battle. I was a lowly freshman and few people knew my name. I made no speeches from the steps of Sproul Plaza, and I was never quoted in the newspapers. I sat at tables, picketed, went to meetings, listened to speeches, handed out leaflets, marched, sat-in, and went to jail.

     I resisted some of the activities of day-by-day political organizing -- the staffing of offices, the cooking of food. In part, this was because I knew that I was a person of ideas, not of day-to-day action. I was fascinated by theory and philosophy, but I found many political meetings deadly dull. And I also intuitively knew, without benefit of feminist analysis, that it was the female students (then called coeds) who were generally making the coffee and running the mimeograph machines. The FSM retained, as did all left movements of the day, its sexist baggage, and few were the women who made names for themselves on their own. Most of the movement" women leaders were some man's sister or some man's lover

     Bettina Aptheker was the one woman who stood entirely on her own, and many years later she would say that she was accepted into the inner circles partly because her father was a famous communist theoretician. I was certainly in awe of Mario Savio's and Jack Weinberg's oratory, but it was not to them that I looked for a model. If there was anyone whom I sought as my mentor, a leader whose style I wished to emulate, it was Bettina. Although she was described again and again in the press as an avowed communist -- and was, in fact, the only actual Communist Party member in the FSM leadership -- Bettina actually functioned then, as she did throughout the sixties, as a peacemaker between all factions. She was down-to-earth, optimistic, direct and unpretentious. She could cut through any argument and find the common ground. She radiated goodness, was egalitarian in style despite her party affiliation, and seemed to be without even a drop of adolescent angst. She remained for me a model of righteous politics wedded to good spirits and psychological wholeness. And she became an illustration of an important and recurring lesson in life: outward political affiliation or ideology is never the measure of a human being and it should never be the basis on which you choose your friends.

     Reading Goines' book The Free Speech Movement: Coming of Age in the 1960s has made me understand how different my own experience was from his, and how different was the experience of women from that of men in the movement. For Goines, political activity was part of his total rebellion against his parents. He hated school and gloried in a kind of young man's liberation: he writes that he quickly saw that radical politics brought him sex and the adoration of young women.

     I was a virgin when I arrived on campus in the summer of 1964, and I was still a virgin when the FSM achieved its victory in December. For me, unlike Goines, radical politics had little to do with sex; instead, it was about ideas and, secondarily, about friendships. I weighed a hundred and eighty pounds, a fact that I now understand was in part a deep feminist protest. My weight was a suit of armor I wore to maintain control of my life, so as to be taken seriously for my ideas and never seen as a sexual object. And I wasn't. Looking back, I realize that I also protected myself by not putting myself in situations that would be dangerously intimate, like the day-to-day running of a political organization. It was much safer to act from the outside, where I was always in control.

     In 1984, twenty years after our victory, Bettina Aptheker addressed several thousand people at a Free Speech Movement reunion. It was the first time I had seen her in many, many years. Her words brought tears to almost every woman FSM veteran in the room. She started by saying that she was often known as the daughter of Herbert Aptheker, the communist theoretician, but she was also the daughter of Fay Aptheker, and that she would now like to introduce herself by naming herself back through her female line. She noted that most of the histories of the sixties have been written by men, and so our history of that era is partial, since the ideas and articulations and reflections of women have been excluded. Because of this, she argued, the histories have emphasized power and control, whereas the women's stories might have emphasized the dailyness of struggle, connection, and the long slow process of meaningful change. She noted that women in the sixties staffed the offices, while it was the men who held the press conferences and did the publicity. This reflected the sexual division of labor in the larger society, "but if we are a radical movement about the business of making change, we need to change how we go about our business of making change."

     And then she entered deeper waters: "It was also the case that there were women who, one way or another, found themselves in situations of performing sexual favors for important movement men. That happened. It is also a fact that women activists were more seriously abused, physically and sexually, both by the police, which is to be expected, and also by men within the movement, which is something that is no longer tolerable."

     Then Bettina spoke even more personally and her words began to illuminate my own reflections as a woman who went through this experience. She said that as an only child, very cherished by her parents, she was not "gendered female." Baseball was her passion, and she was totally crushed when she could not play in Little League. She was taught that she was intelligent and she was encouraged to speak out publicly. And when she came to Berkeley, as Aptheker's daughter, "I was ushered into the inner circles of the revolutionary movement in Berkeley despite my sex." She said she was treated as "one of the boys," neutered sexually. The very few times she was looked upon as female she was seen as "an object of sexual prey.

     "I also internalized certain aspects of the oppression of women. I believed there were men, there were women, and there was me. I didn't want to be like other women, because I saw the women as being subordinated and unable to speak and unable to present their views, so I participated in the oppression of women in the FSM" -- and here her voice dropped to a deep whisper -- "for which I apologize." Many women in the audience sat with tears streaming down their faces. Bettina ended her speech by saying that despite the humiliating roles women were forced to play in the movement, "we did march in the morning, and in apprehending the sound of those streets flooded with people we heard the echo of our own liberation. What we learned in the sixties, the great secret as it were, is that people have the inherited wisdom and the collective strength to change the conditions of their lives." [11]

     Like Bettina, I was an only child who had not been programmed as readily as others into a female role. For me, as for her, politics was a place I came to through inheritance and tradition, not through anger and rebellion.

     At least a hundred former activists attended the twentieth anniversary of the Free Speech Movement. As we looked around the room at those who had come to this reunion, we realized what we were not: we were not burned-out, drugged-out sixties radicals, the lost generation described so often in studies of this period. We had emerged from the storms of the era for the most part deepened and reasonably unscathed. Most of us had experienced a kind of radiance. Most of us were leading full and interesting lives and doing more good than harm. Among us there were few regrets.

     Many people have attempted to describe the energy that people felt, the intense sense of possibility, the feeling, almost universally shared, that we could change not only our own lives -- in itself an amazing idea, for even that seems a fantasy to so many young people today -- but the conditions of the world. And because we experienced a victory, most of us have never lost that feeling, despite the inevitable setbacks, tragedies, and changes that may have taken place in our individual lives. Most of us remain incurable optimists and most of us have been able to continue working, in some form, toward efforts of personal and political transformation.

     Jack Weinberg, the activist who'd once coined the phrase "Never trust anyone over thirty," explained it this way: We had not only experienced a great battle, we had experienced what it was like to win a great battle, and it was the experience of victory that had changed our lives. Unlike the generation that followed, who only experienced the maddening and frustrating battle to end the Vietnam War, our fight, like the civil rights activism that went before and after it, left a trail of positive change.

     At the university, we had demanded our rights as citizens, argued for self-directed education, and helped to usher in a whole decade of experimentation. We'd done something to transform the world around us, and we were forever marked by the belief that change was possible. It would affect us for life, making us deep optimists about human possibility and influencing every choice from then on. As W.J. Rorabaugh writes in Berkeley at War, "The Free Speech Movement unleashed a restless probing of life." [12]

     Six months later I went to Mississippi as a civil rights worker.


[8] Goines, op. cit., 410.

[9] Goines, op. cit. 429.

[10] Bettina Aptheker, in a speech at the twentieth-year reunion of the FSM. December 1984.

[11] Aptheker, FSM reunion speech, December 1984.

[12] W.J. Rorabaugh, Berkeley at War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 47.

Copyright 1997 by Margot Adler. This work may not be reproduced in any medium which is sold, subject to access fee, or supported by advertising, without explicit prior consent by the author.


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