The Berkeley Student
Rebellion of 1964
by Mario Savio
are quite a few students who have attended school at Berkeley who went South to work with
the Student Non-violent Co-ordinating Committee, and who have been active in the civil
rights movement in the Bay Area. At the end of last summer, some of these students
returned from Mississippi, having taken part in the CORE Summer Project. I was one of
these returning students. We were greeted by an order from the Dean of Students' Office
that the kind of on-campus political activity which had resulted in our taking part in the
Summer Project was to be permitted no longer.
is a lot easier to become angry at injustices done to other people than at injustices done
to oneself. The former requires a lower degree of political consciousness, is compatible
with a higher political boiling point. You become slowly, painfully aware of those things
which disturb you in the ways society oppresses you by taking part in activities aimed at
freeing and helping others. There is less guilt to suffer in opposing the arbitrary power
exercised over someone else than in opposing the equally unjust authority exercised over
yourself. Thus, the order banning student politics on campus was an ideal locus of fierce
protest. It combined an act of bureaucratic violence against the students themselves with
open attack on student participation in the Bay Area civil rights movement. The seemingly
inexhaustible energy which the Berkeley students had so long devoted to the struggle for
Negro rights was now turned squarely on the vast, faceless University administration. This
is what gave the Free Speech Movement its initial impetus.
the new restrictions were not aimed so much at curtailing activity which would result in
civil rights work in the South as at halting the very active participation of students in
the civil rights movement in the Bay Area. The University was apparently under
considerable pressure to "crackdown" on the student activists from the
right-wing in California business and politics. William Knowland. who has become symbolic
of this pressure, managed Goldwater's statewide campaign; the reactionary Oakland Tribune,
which Knowland publishes, has played a major role in creating the myth of Berkeley, the
"little red school house." Last March when about 160 demonstrators, including
many University students, were arrested at the Sheraton-Palace Hotel while protesting a
discriminatory hiring policy, Don Mulford, conservative Republican State Assemblyman from
the University district, was severely critical of the Berkeley administration for not
expelling the then arrested students. Student pressure on Bay Area business resulted in
business pressure on the University; the University responded by trying to restrict
student political activity.
liberal University of California administration would have relished the opportunity to
show off in the national academic community a public university enjoying complete
political and academic freedom and academic excellence. And if student politics
had been restricted either to precinct work for the Democrats and Republicans, or to
advocacy (by public meetings and distribution of literature) of various forms of wholesale
societal change, then I don't believe there would have been the crisis there was. In any
case an accommodation between the bureaucrats and the students could more easily have been
achieved. The corporations represented on the Board of Regents welcome Young Democrats and
Young Republicans as eager apprentices, and sectarian "revolutionary" talk
can be tolerated because it is harmless. The radical student activists, however, are a
mean threat to privilege. Because the students were advocating consequential actions
(because their advocacy was consequential): the changing of hiring practices of particular
establishments, the ending of certain forms of discrimination by certain concrete acts --
because of these radical acts, the administration's restrictive ruling was necessary.
is easy to understand. The First Amendment exists to protect consequential speech; First
Amendment rights to advocacy come into question only when actions advocated are
sufficiently limited in scope, and sufficiently threatening to the established powers. The
action must be radical and possible: picket lines, boycotts, sit-ins, rent
strikes. The Free Speech Movement demanded no more -- nor less -- than full First
Amendment rights of advocacy on campus as well as off: that, therefore, only the courts
have power to determine and punish abuses of freedom of speech. The Berkeley Division of
the Academic Senate endorsed this position on December 8, 1964 by declaring against all
University regulation of the content of speech or advocacy -- by a vote of 824 to 115.
the most meaningful opportunity for political involvement for students with any political
awareness is in the civil rights movement. Indeed, there appears to be little else in
American life today which can claim the allegiance of men. Therefore, the action of the
administration, which seemed to the students to be directed at the civil rights movement,
was felt as a form of emasculation, or attempted emasculation. The only part of the world
which people could taste, that wasn't as flat and stale as the middleclass wasteland from
which most of the University people have come, that part of the world was being cleanly
eliminated by one relatively hygienic administrative act. The student response to this
"routine directive" was outraged protest.
civil rights action in the Bay Area has been significant and will become increasingly so,
I am sure we haven't seen the last of the administration's attempts either to limit, or,
if possible, to eliminate activity of this kind. On the other side, I think last semester
has shown that such attempts, if drastic enough to be effective, are bound to end in
disaster. So, what we have to fear is not some extreme act, such as was attempted last
September, but rather petty harassments of various sorts, and the not-so-petty exclusion
of "non-students" from the campus, toward which legislation recently passed by
the State Legislature is directed. I believe it unlikely for the students to rally in
opposition to such harassment; probably we shall have to be content with opposing
decisively only gross provocation, which probably now the Administration has learned not
the civil rights movement is only one aspect of the dual motivation of FSM support. And
this is so because people do find it easier to protest injustices done to others:
even adverting to injustice done oneself is often too painful to be sustained for very
long. When you oppose injustice done others, very often -- symbolically sometimes,
sometimes not so symbolically -- you are really protesting injustice done to yourself. In
the course of the events of the fall, students became aware, ever more clearly, of the
monstrous injustices that were being done to them as students.
found we were being denied the very possibility of ``being a student" --
unquestionably a right. We found we were severed from our proper roles: students
denied the meaningful work one must do in order to be a student. Instead we were faced
with a situation in which the pseudo-student role we were playing was tailor-made to
further the interests of those who own the University, those vast corporations in whose
interest the University is managed. Time past when the skills required of laborers were
nowhere near so great as the ones required now, bosses built schools for their own
children. Now the bosses build schools for the children of their workers. They build
schools to further their own interests.
the schools have become training camps -- and proving grounds -- rather than places where
people acquire education. They become factories to produce technicians rather than places
to live student lives. And this perversion develops great resentment on the part of the
students. Resentment against being subjected to standard production techniques of speedup
and regimentation; against a tendency to quantify education -- virtually a contradiction
in terms. Education is measured in units, in numbers of lectures attended, in numbers of
pages devoted to papers, number of pages read. This mirrors the gross and vulgar
quantification in the society at large -- the real world -- where everything must be
reduced to a lowest common denominator, the dollar bill. In our campus play-world we use
play money, course units.
is understandable that resentment should develop among the students. However, it was not
always so easy for the students to understand the causes of their own resentment. It is
not as easy to see what is oppressing the subject as to see what is oppressing the others.
Nevertheless, we students did become more and more aware of the factory education which we
were being provided.
is significant that the President of the University of California should be the foremost
ideologist of this "Brave New World" conception of education. President Clark
Kerr dreamed up the frightening metaphors: "the knowledge industry," "the
multiversity," which has as many faces as it has publics, be they industries of
various kinds, or the Federal Government, especially the Pentagon and the AEC. He also
invented the title "the captain of bureaucracy," which he is, by analogy with
earlier captains of industry. He is the person directly charged with steering the mighty
ship along the often perilous course of service to its many publics in government and
industry. Not to the public, but to its many publics, the Kerrian whore is
disciplines with a ready market in industry and government are favored and fostered: the
natural sciences, engineering, mathematics, and the social sciences when these serve the
braintrusting propaganda purposes of "liberal" government. The humanities
naturally suffer, so that what should be the substance of undergraduate education suffers.
The emphasis is given to research instead of to teaching undergraduates. Teaching graduate
students is less effected by this prostitution since such teaching is intimately bound to
research. But the undergraduate has become the new dispossessed; the heart has been taken
from his education -- no less so for science students -- for the humanities are no longer
accorded the central role they deserve in the university.
of course there are whole areas which never see the light in undergraduate instruction.
Who takes undergraduate courses in the history of the labor movement, for example?
Certainly no one at the University of California. Likewise, American Negro history is a
rarity and is still more rarely taken seriously. To be taken at all seriously it would
have to be seen as central to all American history.
a healthy university an undergraduate would have time to do 'nothing.' To read what he
wants to read, maybe to sit on a hill behind the campus all alone or with a friend, to
'waste time' alone, dreaming in the Eucalyptus Grove. But the university, after the manner
of a pesky social director, sees to it the student's time is kept filled with
anti-intellectual harassment: those three credits in each three unit course, those
meaningless units themselves. The notion that one can somehow reduce Introductory Quantum
Mechanics and Philosophy of Kant to some kind of lowest common denominator (three units
apiece) is totally irrational, and reflects the irrationality of a society which tries to
girdle the natural rhythms of growth and learning by reduction to quantitative terms, much
as it attempts to market the natural impulses of sex.
my experience, I should say the result is at best a kind of intellectual cacophony. There
are little attractions in various places, philosophy in one corner, physics in another,
maybe a bit of mathematics every now and again, some political science -- nothing bearing
any relationship to anything else. Everything requires too many papers, too much
attendance at lectures, twothirds of which should never have been given, and very few of
which resulted from any serious thought later than several years or earlier than several
minutes before the lecture period. It is easy to see that there should be real resentment
on the part of the students. But it is resentment whose causes are, as we have seen, very
difficult for the student to perceive readily. That is why what occurred last semester
gained its initial impetus from the very different involvements of what are mostly
middle-class students in the struggles of the Negro people. Thus, it was both the
irrationality of society, that denies to Negroes the life of men, and the irrationality of
the University, that denies to youth the life of students, which caused last semester's
Reprinted from The Free Speech Movement and the Negro
Revolution, News & Letters, July 1965.
Copyright © 1965 by Mario Savio, © 1998 by Lynne Hollander.
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This page last changed 02 December, 2000