The 1960s put Berkeley on the map as a center of political activism in the United States. Counterculture and radicalism emerged on the steps of Sproul Hall as students took part in a political awakening that would shake the nation and define the spirit of UC Berkeley. In a scene reminiscent of the heyday of Berkeley’s protest era, hundreds of students spilled onto screening of “Berkeley in the Sixties,” a documentary focused on UC Berkeley’s history of activism.
“Berkeley in the Sixties” (1990) tells the story of UC Berkeley students’ involvement in the political activism of the era as experienced by several alumni. Director and producer Mark Kitchell examines a wide range of movements but focuses on the Free Speech Movement of 1964, the protests against the Vietnam War in 1965 and the fight for People’s Park in 1969. In addition to commentary from alumni who were active in the movements, the documentary also includes black-and-white footage of some of the era’s key figures, such as student leader Mario Savio, former California governor Ronald Reagan and former UC Berkeley president Clark Kerr.
The EAVP’s showing of the film could not have come at a better time. With 2011’s Occupy movement and the ongoing dispute over the Gill Tract — as well as a slew of other political protests — it is clear that the spirit of advocacy is still alive and well in Berkeley. The militancy of the 1960s may be gone, but the passion for political involvement and the fearless pursuit of social change remain hallmarks of Berkeley student life.
Sophomore Jason Fauss, the EAVP’s chief deputy of the international affairs department, explained to The Daily Californian that the idea to show the documentary ties into the need to encourage responsible student lobbying on campus.
“This documentary is part of a larger social movement at UC Berkeley in which we’re trying to get students engaged in advocacy,” Fauss said. “This is like the kickoff event of the whole student protest idea.”
“We want students, like Mario Savio said, to be responsible about what they’re protesting,” Fauss continued. “With the student advocacy events, we’re saying to students, ‘Whether or not your idea is popular, whether or not it’s something that’s federally endorsed, you should be able to give your view.’”
The legacy of the 1960s fight for civil rights and free speech still has a tangible presence on campus. From the encampments in People’s Park to the Free Speech Movement Cafe and the tables on Sproul Plaza, symbols of the campus’s political history have come to define the Berkeley experience. “Berkeley in the Sixties” challenges students not only to remain conscious of the campus’s past but to take an active role in determining its future.