Campus tours should retell more accurate history of Free Speech Movement

William Pan/Staff

Although, as veterans of the Free Speech Movement, we are gratified that at least one UC Berkeley ambassador sees its importance as a defining moment in campus history, we are writing to correct the errors that this ambassador makes in describing the Free Speech Movement on campus tours. The Free Speech Movement was a nonviolent protest against the campus’s closing down of the one place on campus (the Bancroft Way-Telegraph Avenue strip) where students were allowed to advocate for political causes, pass out literature, recruit members and raise money for political and social action. It was motivated largely by concerns about civil rights, not about the Vietnam War, which was still not on the radar of most Americans. There was no chaining of doors to any building — that was an event that happened years later — and no keeping the chancellor from his office. After a semester of fruitless negotiations, the struggle culminated in a massive sit-in at Sproul Hall, the arrests of almost 800 students and a faculty vote supporting the student demands. The resulting rules still prevail on campus: The campus shall make no regulations restricting the content of speech or advocacy, and the time, place and manner of political activities shall be regulated only so far as to prevent interference with the normal functioning of the campus.Our hope is that both those who train campus tour guides — and the guides themselves — will prepare by studying the history of the Free Speech Movement so as to give those who tour the campus an accurate account of this event and its importance in the struggle for a freer campus and a society free of racism. We would be happy to meet with UC Berkeley ambassadors to help them better understand this history.

Lynne Hollander Savio, Bettina Aptheker, Jack Radey, Anita Medal, and Steve Lustig were arrested during the FSM sit-in and are currently on the Board of the Free Speech Movement Archives.

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  • lspanker

    Yes, they need to mention how many of the same progressives who champion Berkeley as the home of the “Free Speech Movement” are now doing everything in their power to shut down speech THEY don’t agree with…

  • ShadrachSmith

    60’s protesters wanted power for students
    SJW protesters what power for the administration.

    See the difference?

  • M2000

    And yet…now we have “safe spaces” instead….

  • Dan Spitzer

    The FSM members who wrote this op-ed are right. Campus guides should indeed convey the history of the FSM, the bravery and integrity of its participants, and how it positively contributed to the freedom of speech on many campuses nationwide to this very day.
    Of course, there are other matters which also might be mentioned which on the part of some the ongoing members of FSM are less than praiseworthy and more than a little hypocritical. To cite a few examples: When members of SJP and the Muslim Student Association demanded that UCB rescind its invitation to have Bill Maher speak at commencement on campus, members of the FSM’s board refused to take a stand. In other words, the rights to free speech may, in the minds of the FSM Board, be contingent upon whether or not they find it politically acceptable.
    Indeed, I remember speaking decades ago with Bettina Aptheker and some other FSM participants who had also been members of the “Old Left,” in particular the Communist Party. While free speech on campus was deemed an imperative, they were supportive of suppression of free speech in societies which they believed fit their criterion of being politically admirable, such as the Soviet Union, its Eastern Bloc, and Cuba.
    And then there were the pronouncements of Gar Smith, who at least until recently was a member of the FSM board. Mr. Smith openly applauded the shouting down of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu in Atlanta a couple of years ago with comments not exactly reflecting advocacy of free speech.
    In sum, all of the above smack of hypocrisy and it would be appropriate for the campus guides to make mention of this as well, if they were to articulate more accurately the complexities attendant to those who still celebrate their contributions to “free speech.”

    • I don’t know how many guides would be willing to spit hysterical red baiting and randomly defame prominent Berkeleyans like that but it is a funny image.

      • Dan Spitzer

        “Red baiting?” IOW, you are using this loaded term to define honest criticism of hypocrisy. How inane…

        • Oh, my mistake. I was hoping your comment was a joke. Now I see that this beef with Gar Smith has some history. Is it correct what he suggests in passing in this article (linked) that you were one of the people discouraging advertisers from continuing to advertise in the Berkeley Daily Planet?

          “Disruptions and Pepper Spray Test the Limits of Free Speech in South Berkeley” by Gar Smith.

          • Dan Spitzer

            Indeed, at that very meeting of JVP-an organization who wishes to put an end to Israel as a Jewish State-Mr. Smith applauded his support for those who shouted down Prime Minister Netanyahu in Atlanta, keeping him from speaking. As for me, I did indeed exercise my rights of free speech by letting Berkeley Daily Planet advertisers know that they were paying their hard earned incomes to advertise in an anti-Semitic journal. I made nothing up and didn’t demand that they cease advertising in the Daily Planet. Rather I simply showed them what had been published and encouraged them exercise their own free will in deciding whether or not they wished to provide financial sustenance to a purely propaganda rag which became known in some quarters as The Daily Palestinian (to which I might add, Mr. Smith apparently continues to provide copy to its very little read on line edition).

            BTW, among the rubbish which the Daily Planet regularly published was an op-ed by an Iranian student who wrote that the Jews deserved everything they got in the Holocaust because of their “low character,” that it was “good karma” for three Oakland cops to be killed by a child abuser, and the absurd allegation that during WW II, Zionists worked with the Nazis to facilitate the murder of Jews so that other Jews would move to what was then the British mandate of Palestine. This is the sort of journal for which our fine Mr. Smith continues to write…

          • Dan Spitzer

            Addendum: Missing In Action is the criticism of the FSM Board when it came to a Muslim member of the Israeli Knesset being kept from speaking on March 7 by the Davis chapter of SJP. Ditto SJP’s successful screaming in shutting down the lecture last week by the Mayor of Jerusalem at SF State. For an organization dedicated to freedom of expression, the FSM Board’s silence on these sorry situations, among others, speaks volumes…

          • Now knowing some of the history I’m confident you won’t waver from your accusations towards the Daily Planet (and I suppose, by extension, towards me). I won’t try to argue you into a change of mind. I will here point out some factual errors:

            BTW, among the rubbish which the Daily Planet regularly published was an op-ed by an Iranian student who wrote that the Jews deserved everything they got in the Holocaust because of their “low character,”

            Perhaps your memory is not as good as you think because you seem to have conjured up a false quote and incorrectly summarized the op-ed to which you refer.

            The op-ed does crudely and poorly argue that anti-semitism is provoked by wrongs committed by Jews against non-Jews in the name of Jewish chauvinism. He does not seem to me to argue, as you put it, that “Jews deserved everything they got in the Holocaust” or that Jews have “low character”. He does tauntingly refer to the religious concept of a “chosen people”. Here is a link to it to refresh your memory but I caution everyone that it is a pretty stupidly written and (in my view) mildly offensive op-ed:

            “Zionist Crims in Lebanon”

            The Planet was, of course, a free speech print publication that tried to make room, within practical limits, for all kinds of reader-contributed speech, including the slightly crazed. A floodgates of critical letters opened up about that op-ed and the Planet was perfectly happy publishing contributions aimed at crushing that guy’s poor arguments.

            The Planet also, as I recall, often carried sharper critique of Israel’s actions and US complicity in those actions. It seems to me that that is why some people falsely defame the editor and some staff as anti-semitic.

            You also assert that the Berkeley Daily Planet published an op-ed which said:

            it was “good karma” for three Oakland cops to be killed by a child abuser

            That is also false.

            The op-ed in question speaks of “karmic justice” not “good karma” and the substance of its argument is that with the killings of those officers, some chickens had at last come home to roost. Joseph Anderson’s piece “The ‘Karmic Justice’ of Lovelle Mixon’s Act”, written in 2009, is in retrospect prescient with regard to today’s Black Lives Matter movement:

            “This perspective might be very hard for many sociopolitically naive white people to read. But it’s very important to understand the sheer depth of negative feelings that many people of color (even those with no criminal record) have against the police. This is due to lifelong and often unpredictable, almost always potentially life-threatening, negative experiences (from petty to lethal), that they or their loved ones and friends, as people of color, have had from the police.”

            Perhaps you misremember the op-ed because of something written on the “dpwatchdog” web site? Richard Brenneman reported in the Daily Planet, on June 4, 2009:

            “Kill the cops, Kill the Jews,” screams the dpwatchdog headline, adding “The First Amendment as the Last Refuge of Scoundrels.”

            The target of John Gertz’s attack, prompted by a reader commentary appearing in the Daily Planet on April 11, 2009, is Joseph Anderson, an outspoken African-American activist who says Gertz has relied on a misinterpretation of his essay and a fabricated quote.

            Lastly, you wrote:

            allegation that during WW II, Zionists worked with the Nazis to facilitate the murder of Jews so that other Jews would move to what was then the British mandate of Palestine

            The ADL more accurately records the offending letter as saying:

            “Zionists collaborated in sending the bulk of Hungary’s Jews to the gas chambers in exchange for allowing your relatives and a few rich Jews to leave and go to Palestine as the basis for a Zionist state.”

            Presumably the letter referred — no doubt in an overly simple-minded way — to the difficult case of Rudolf Kastner (regarding whom I would refer others to the Wikiepedia article about him).

          • Dan Spitzer

            Mr. Lord, that you would attempt to justify such patently anti-Semitic commentary to say nothing of justifying such lunatic ravings toward some genuinely fine murdered law enforcement agents with ridiculous rationalizations speaks in considerable measure of who you are.
            I suspect you would be better off continuing your defense of the fecal catchbasin known as Peoples Park. On second thought, since you are running for the rent board, it might be better to keep your justification of that sewage stream under wraps or those whose property values have suffered thanks to the vermin who inhabit it will make certain that your electoral possibilities will be nil and void. Which truth be told they already are–the only locals who would support your archaic lefty collectivist sensibilities are the ideologues who live and die listening to KPFA’s incessant ideological besmirching of America. And their numbers thankfully diminish daily…

          • Mr. Spitzer, if the commentary in question were “patently anti-Semitic” then you would not need to misrepresent it in the way you have done.

            Now I see you you are resorting to scatological references and ad hominem. It’s an odd style but I thank you for reminding Cal students that Sunday, April 24th from noon to 6PM there is a free concert in People’s Park in celebration of the the 47th anniversary.

            Alas, Cal students who are concerned with outrageous rents in Berkeley might instead want to come to the Berkeley Tenants Convention that same day, Sunday, April 24th starting at 1:30 PM. There you can help pick the pro-rent control slate for Berkeley’s Rent Stabilization Board. Mr. Spitzer has mentioned my own candidacy. In addition there is one current Cal student running, more than one former Cal students, and many others. (See today’s Daily Cal op-eds for a piece from student-candidate Matthew Lewis.)

            KPFA’s incessant ideological besmirching of America

            When I get to the sekrit club house I’ll pass along your incisive and withering criticism so that everyone knows just to disband the big commie conspiracy of your fever dream.

          • Dan Spitzer

            When someone is so lacking in integrity to justify the publication of the rantings of both anti-Semites and a lunatic advocate of the murder of cops, it’s time to pull the plug and not dignify with any further rejoinders addressed to someone who is so clearly ethically challenged.
            As for Peoples Park, good luck getting students to attend anything celebrating that rathole. Moreover, it’s not likely you will find any votes from those pathetic few who hold their noses attending the “anniversary.”

          • I suppose you’ll be sore if I refer to that as your endorsement of both events? ;-)

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