The Free Speech Movement
Chapter 4 from
A Journey Through Spirit and Revolution
(Beacon Press, Boston; 1997)
Part 2 (Part
1 is Here)
December 2nd , 1964, 9 P.M.
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.
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.
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.
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" , 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."
 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
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."  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.
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
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
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
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
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
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." 
Six months later I went to
Mississippi as a civil rights worker.
 Goines, op. cit., 410.
 Goines, op. cit. 429.
 Bettina Aptheker, in a speech at the twentieth-year
reunion of the FSM. December 1984.
 Aptheker, FSM reunion speech, December
 W.J. Rorabaugh, Berkeley at War
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 47.
Copyright © 1997 by Margot Adler.
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