Remembering the Free Speech Movement On its 45th Anniversary
By Raymond Barglow
Thursday December 03, 2009
I walked onto the UC Berkeley campus today, Wednesday, to attend the
noon rally, in commemoration of the Free Speech Movement. On this day
45 years ago, I also came to the campus, and got arrested along with
800 others because of our occupation of Sproul Hall. This was the day
that Mario Savio gave his famous speech from the steps of Sproul:
"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
passively take part ..."
So I was thinking about Mario and wishing he were walking alongside
me this morning. I knew him only as a fellow student in the Cal
philosophy department, not as a friend. We took several courses
together and would talk sometimes about philosophical matters: Is the
mind identical to the body? Can ethical value judgments be rationally
justified? One of the philosophers whom Mario admired was Immanuel
Kant, whose ethics enjoins us to always respect others as ends in
themselves, never merely as a means to the satisfaction of our own interests.
In his recent biography of Savio, Robert Cohen writes that Mario and
the FSM "embodied a mass movement rooted in moral principle rather
than in political calculation or opportunism, standing up for freedom
despite the odds of succeeding against a powerful university
administration." That sounds right to me. And although I'm mostly an
observer these days, no longer an active participant in campus
protest activities, I recognize in talking with this generation's
activists a similar moral impulse. "No cuts, no fees; education
should be free!" they chant. At issue today is whether everyone has
the right to an education. Forty-five years ago, the issue was
students' rights to organize on campus on behalf of the civil rights
and anti-war movements.
The Free Speech Movement didn't win all of its demands, but we made
substantial progress. Students and workers on campus are now
permitted by the UC administration to organize support for political
causes. Can today's campus community win its demands? Can we throw
open the gates to a college education to every qualified high school
graduate who wishes to enter them?
The social forces that we face today tell us that money for higher
education simply is not there. We're up against not only a
self-serving Board of Regents and Governor, and overpaid
administrators reluctant to bite the hand that feeds them, but also
against a federal government that starves public schools at the same
time that it provides a banquet to the weapons manufacturers. And now
the President aims to escalate the war in Afghanistan, costing many
more hundreds of billions of dollars and many lives.
Forty-five years ago was, it seems to me, a more hopeful time in our
nation's history. Can today's protest movement on college campuses up
and down the state keep hope alive? I don't know. But I'm encouraged
when I perceive the Kantian community-mindedness that links the
generations. My guess is that Mario would have appreciated that too.
It's 1964 No More
Campus Issues: On the anniversary of the Free Speech Movement, it's
time for the campus to create a new legacy of productive protest.
By Senior Editorial Board
Daily Cal Staff Writer
Friday, December 4, 2009
Forty-five years ago this week, Mario Savio made an impassioned cry
for awareness and freedom of expression that awoke a powerful
movement on this campus. Today, references and comparisons to the
Free Speech Movement are inescapable. But in the midst of another
struggle on this campus to challenge the status quo, are Savio's
words still relevant?
The struggle, this time around, is vastly different. Protesters are
attempting to tackle a complex problem which affects not only this
campus, but institutions of public higher education throughout the
state. And the root of this problem--money-has left our educational
futures inextricably tied to the preferences of Californians and
their elected representatives, who may or may not believe they have a
real stake in the university's success. Not to mention the serious
structural shortcomings that hamper our state's adequate
functioning-over which no one on this campus has contro-like
Proposition 13, the supermajority requirement and the ballot
For the current activists to be successful, it's critical that they
understand these differences. We shouldn't be discouraged, however,
from aspiring to Savio's ideals. As the awareness of our student body
shows, the Free Speech Movement gave us a living legacy of student
activism. UC Berkeley students strive to question and challenge the
status quo, and the current protests have continued this legacy, for
better or worse.
Campus activists against fee hikes lack a clear strategy, unified
membership and a specific goal. But that spirit, which motivated
Savio in speaking those words, has continued on this campus, and if
it's channeled properly, we're hopeful about the prospects for change.
What's clear is that the old methods-like sit-ins and building
occupations-aren't sufficient to bring about the change that's
needed. Until now, the protests have successfully drawn attention to
the campus, but the actions must evolve if we want to find a real solution.
We don't know where the protests are going. If we continue to have an
open discussion about the future of public higher education, this
could just be the start of something new and something momentous.
Maybe this can be the start of changing the structure of higher
education through a new way of protest, the creation of a new legacy
for UC Berkeley to carry on.