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Reprinted from Campus CORElator, January 1965, by permission of Jack Weinberg.

Over the past several months the relationship between the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the civil-rights movement has become almost a cliche. Those who view the FSM merely as an extension of the civil-rights movement, merely as a battle to enable student civil-rights groups to maintain the campus as a base for their operations, have a very incomplete understanding of the FSM, and probably an incomplete understanding of the student civil-rights movement. In this article we discuss the student civil-rights movement and its relation to the FSM, the FSM as an on-campus protest, and the implications of both the FSM and the student civil-rights movement for American society.

I. FSM and the Civil-Rights Movement

Over the past few years, there has been a change, both quantitative and qualitative in Bay Area student political activity. Until 1963, only a relatively small number of students had been actively involved in the civil-rights movement. Furthermore, until that time, student political activity of all kinds was quite impotent in terms of any real effect it had on the general community. Organizations such as peace groups raised demands which were so momentous as to be totally unattainable. Civil-rights groups, on the other hand, often raised demands which were attainable but quite inconsequential; a job or a house for an individual Negro who had been discriminated against. In no way was student political activity a threat, or even a serious nuisance to large power interests. In early 1963, a new precedent in the Bay Area civil-rights movement was established, civil-rights organizations began demanding that large employers integrate their work forces on more than a mere token basis. Hundreds of jobs would be at stake in a single employment action. In the fall of 1963, a second important precedent was established. Starting with the demonstrations at Mel's Drive-in, large numbers of students became involved in the civil-rights movement. And as they joined, the movement adopted more militant tactics. Thus with more significant issues at stake and with more powerful weapons available, the civil-rights movement became a threat, or at least a real nuisance to the power interests. Not only was the civil-. rights movement, "a bunch of punk kids," forcing employers to change their policies, but it was also beginning to upset some rather delicate political balances.

Attempts were made by the civil authorities and the power interests to contain the movement: harassing trials, biased news reporting, job intimidation, etc. But the attempts were unsuccessful, the movement grew, became more sophisticated, and began exploring other fronts on which it could attack the power structure. Throughout the summer of 1964, Berkeley Campus CORE maintained a hectic level of continuous and effective activity. The Ad Hoc Committee to End Discrimination planned and began executing a project against the Oakland Tribune. Since those who wished to contain the civil-rights movement found no effective vehicles in the community they began pressuring the university. Because a majority of participants were students, they maintained that the university was responsible. After initially resisting the pressure, the university finally succumbed and promulgated restrictive regulations with the intent of undercutting the base of student support for the civil-rights movement. The reactions to these regulations should have been predictable: immediate protest and a demand for their repeal. Since the civil-rights movement was responsible for the pressures applied to the university which led to the suppression of free speech and free political expression and their interests were the ones most seriously threatened, the civil-rights activists took the lead in protesting the suppression, and many concluded that the FSM is an extension of the civil-rights movement.

II. The FSM as Campus Protest

But if we view the FSM simply as an extension of the civil-rights movement, we cannot explain the overwhelming support it has received from students who have been indifferent to the civil-rights movement and even from some who have been hostile to it. Civil-rights activists, those whose interests are really at stake, make up a very small part of the ardent FSM supporters. The vast majority of the FSM supporters have never before had any desire to sit at tables, to hand out leaflets, or to publicly advocate anything. The Free Speech Movement has become an outlet for the feelings of hostility and alienation which so many students have toward the university. Early in the movement, one graduate student who was working all night for the FSM said, "I really don't give a damn about free speech. I'm just tired of being sat upon. If we don't win anything else, at least they'll have to respect us after this." Clearly, his was an overstatement. Free speech has been the issue, and virtually all the FSM supporters identify with the FSM demands. The roots, however, go much deeper. The free-speech issue has been so readily accepted because it has become a vehicle enabling students to express their dissatisfaction with so much of university life, and with so many of the university's institutions.

The phenomenon we describe is not at all unprecedented, even though the FSM may be an extreme example. There have been wildcat strikes which in many ways are quite similar to the free-speech protest. The following pattern is typical: there is an industry in which the workers are discontented with their situation. The pay may or may not be low. There is hostility between the workers and the management, but it is hostility over a great number of practices and institutions, most of which are well established, and none of which have been adequate to launch a protest over the abstract issue. One of the greatest grievances is likely to be the attitude of the managers toward the workers. The union has proven itself incapable of dealing with the issue. Then one day a work practice is changed or a worker is penalized over a minor infraction. Fellow workers protest and are either ignored or reprimanded. A wildcat strike is called and the protest is on.

The same kind of forces which create a wildcat strike have created the FSM. Alienation and hostility exist but are neither focused at specific grievances nor well articulated. There is a general feeling that the situation is hopeless and probably inevitable. There is no obvious handle. No one knows where to begin organizing, what to attack first, how to attack. No one feels confident that an attack is justified, or even relevant. Suddenly there is an issue, everyone recognizes it; everyone grabs at it. A feeling of solidarity develops among the students, as among the workers.

The students at Cal have united. To discover the basic issues underlying their protest one must first listen to the speeches made by their leaders. Two of the most basic themes that began to emerge in the very first speeches of the protest and that have remained central throughout have been a condemnation of the university in its role as a knowledge factory and a demand that the voices of the students must be heard. These themes have been so well received because of the general feeling among the students that the university has made them anonymous; that they have very little control over their environment, over their future, that the university society is almost completely unresponsive to their individual needs. The students decry the lack of human contact, the lack of communication, the lack of dialogue that exists at the university. Many believe that much of their course work is irrelevant, that many of their most difficult assignments are merely tedious busy work with little or no educational value. All too often in his educational career, the student, in a pique of frustration, asks himself, "What's it all about?" In a flash of insight he sees the educational process as a gauntlet. undergraduate education appears to be a rite of endurance, a series of trials, which if successfully completed allow one to enter graduate school; and upon those who succeed in completing the entire rite of passage is bestowed the ceremonious title, Ph.D. For those who cop out along the way, the further one gets the better the job one can obtain, with preference given according to the major one has selected. All too often, the educational process appears to be a weeding-out process, regulated by the laws of supply and demand. The better one plays the game, the more he is rewarded.

To be sure, there are some excellent courses at Cal; some departments are better than others. Although a general education is difficult if not impossible to obtain, in many fields the student is able to obtain an adequate though specialized preparation for an academic career. Furthermore, successful completion of a Cal education is quite a good indication that the student will be agile and adaptable enough to adjust to a position in industry and to acquire rapidly the skills and traits that industry will demand of him

When viewed from the campus, the Free Speech Movement is a revolution, or at least an open revolt. The students' basic demand is a demand to be heard, to be considered, to be taken into account when decisions concerning their education and their life in the university community are being made When one reviews the history of the Free Speech Movement one discovers that each new wave of student response to the movement followed directly on some action by the administration which neglected to take the students, as human beings into account, and which openly reflected an attitude that the student body was a thing to be dealt with, to be manipulated. Unfortunately, it seems that at those rare times when the students are not treated as things, they are treated as children.

III. The Implications for American Society

It is inadequate, as we have shown, to characterize the FSM as a purely on-campus phenomenon, as a protest stemming from a long overdue need for university reform, or as a response to a corrupt or insensitive administration. Invariably when students become politically and socially active, one can find that at the root, they are responding to their society's most basic problems.

Let us first consider why students have become so active in the northern civil-rights movement. The problem with which the civil-rights movement is trying to cope, the problem of the effect of our society on the Negro community, is exactly the problem of our entire society, magnified and distorted. Unemployment, underemployment, poor education, poor housing, intense social alienation: these and many more are the effects of our way of life on the Negro community, and these, to one degree or another, are the effects of our way of life on all of its members. When taking a moral stand, when doing what they can in the struggle for equality for all Americans, students invariably find that as they become more and more successful they come into conflict with almost all the established interest groups in the community. Students have turned to the civil-rights movement because they have found it to be a front on which they can attack basic social problems, a front on which they can have some real impact. In the final analysis the FSM must be viewed in this same light.

The University of California is a microcosm in which all of the problems of our society are reflected. Not only did the pressure to crack down on free speech at Cal come from the outside power structure, but most of the failings of the university are either on-campus manifestations of broader American social problems or are imposed upon the university by outside pressures. Departments at the university are appropriated funds roughly in proportion to the degree that the state's industry feels these departments are important. Research and study grants to both students and faculty are given on the same preferential basis. One of the greatest social ills of this nation is the absolute refusal by almost all of its members to examine seriously the presuppositions of the establishment. This illness becomes a crisis when the university, supposedly a center for analysis and criticism, refuses to examine these presuppositions. Throughout the society, the individual has lost more and more control over his environment. When he votes, he must choose between two candidates who agree on almost all basic questions. On his job, he has become more and more a cog in a machine, a part of a master plan in whose formulation he is not consulted, and over which he can exert no influence for change. He finds it increasingly more difficult to find meaning in his job or in his life. He grows more cynical. The bureaucratization of the campus is just a reflection of the bureaucratization of American life.

As the main energies of our society are channeled into an effort to win the cold war, as all of our institutions become adjuncts of the military-industrial complex, as the managers of industry and the possessors of corporate wealth gain a greater and greater stranglehold on the lives of all Americans, one cannot expect the university to stay pure.

In our society, students are neither children nor adults. Clearly, they are not merely children; but to be an adult in our society one must both be out of school and self-supporting (for some reason, living on a grant or fellowship is not considered self-supporting). As a result, students are more or less outside of society, and in increasing numbers they do not desire to become a part of the society. From their peripheral social position they are able to maintain human values, values they know will be distorted or destroyed when they enter the compromising, practical, "adult" world.

It is their marginal social status which has allowed students to become active in the civil-rights movement and which has allowed them to create the Free Speech Movement. The students, in their idealism, are confronted with a world which is a complete mess, a world which in their eyes preceding generations have botched up. They start as liberals, talking about society, criticizing it, going to lectures, donating money. But every year more and more students find they cannot stop there. They affirm themselves; they decide that even if they do not know how to save the world, even if they have no magic formula, they must let their voice be heard. They become activists, and a new generation, a generation of radicals, emerges.


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