‘Engage the issue’: UC Berkeley marks 53rd anniversary of Free Speech Movement in all-day event

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Nikhar Arora/Staff

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Campus administrators, staff and students joined together Thursday to reevaluate the role of free speech online and on campus, marking 53 years since UC Berkeley’s 1964 Free Speech Movement took place.

At the “Reply All: Free Speech in the Age of Social Media” event in Sutardja Dai Hall, the main topic was the intersection of media and speech and how social media platforms have transformed free speech, particularly at UC Berkeley. Speakers, including Chancellor Carol Christ and UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy professor Robert Reich, offered their critiques of social media’s role in free speech as well as possible solutions.

Campus organizations BridgeUSA, Berkeley Center for New Media and the Graduate Assembly hosted the event, which opened with remarks from Christ and a speech from Reich, followed by various panels and open discussions. Members of the original Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley in 1964 also came to speak.

BridgeUSA external affairs vice president Manu Meel said the event was meant to kickstart the conversation on free speech and media. In order to have democratic deliberation, Meel said, all sides are needed for discussion. To Meel, free speech is not the end of the ideological gap, but a means to achieve a further goal.

“This event is meant to demonstrate that the campus, the chancellor and the student body can have this dialogue in a productive manner,” Meel said. “I would say the purpose is to alleviate tensions of free speech and demonstrate the importance of debate, discussion and dialogue, … figuring out different solutions. … People are so bitterly divided on issues.”

In his speech, Reich addressed some of the current free speech problems he saw online, including users’ fear of retribution for expressing controversial opinions as well as using online communities to “crowdsource violence.” Reich also said he believed the power of “big money” dominated what people saw on social media.

The solutions to these problems, Reich said, include reaching out to those with dissenting opinions on social media, continuing to invest in protecting events such as the now-canceled “Free Speech Week” and creating a right-to-privatize-information act in order to prevent personal ideas from being distorted.

Lynne Hollander Savio, a member of UC Berkeley’s 1964 Free Speech Movement and the widow of Mario Savio, said the limitations of talking and arguing with “real people” are gone due to social media.

“Many groups no longer consider it necessary to speak responsibly,” Hollander Savio said. “I agree with Reich. … We need to expand the laws that can keep the government or anyone from accessing our information.”

During her speech, Christ compared conservative writer Ben Shapiro’s appearance on campus to Milo Yiannopoulos’ canceled Free Speech Week, saying that in retrospect Yiannopoulos’ event seemed to be “fictional.” Christ added that the object of Yiannopoulos’ event seemed to be to create a large online presence, while the success of the event itself was less important.

In an email, Christ said “Reply All” was a better representation of free speech at Berkeley than the campus’s previous efforts, as it offered open dialogue and multiple perspectives on issues. Christ referenced her new commission to further examine the campus’s community values, policies and practices on free speech as a form of engagement.

“It is what we do every day, and should be understood as free speech,” Christ said in an email. “I will continue to support free speech; I think it is fundamental to our democracy and to our university. However, I also believe the university needs to have many occasions — like today’s symposium — to deeply engage the issue.”

Campus freshman Daryanna Lancet, who attended the lecture, believed being an active participant in bettering social media was key to free speech.

“Media can be used to divide or bring people together,” Lancet said. “I would urge people to look into it and become more active. If this is something that weighs on your mind, consider it.”

Contact Mary Kelly Ford at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @MaryKellyFord1.

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  • FreedomFan

    The moral midget Robert Reich is an AntiFA apologist, who deceitfully blamed the molotov cocktail party at Berkeley last February on the “right wing”. He is the perfect Democrat to represent the astounding hypocrisy of Berkeley claiming to honor “free speech” while having to spend millions to protect those who try to speak about anything other than leftist orthodoxy.

    AntiFA = Anti-First-Amendment

  • ShadrachSmith

    Your record is home of antifa, that’s your record.

  • SMH

    Lynne Hollander Savio is a **HYPOCRITE**.

    IF LOCAL OR NATIONAL ICONS AND OTHER PUBLIC FIGURES OF THE “LEFT” WANT TO CHAMPION FREE SPEECH, IT NEEDS TO START *AMONG* & *WITHIN* THE LEFT ITSELF! — i.e., WITHIN ITS OWN HOUSE!

    Lynne Hollander Savio wouldn’t even let the two 2002 Mario Savio Memorial Young Activists Award winners for that year, Harmony Goldberg & Genevieve Gonzales, morally question the Lynne Hollander Savio invited **WARMONGER** Christopher Hitches that Lynne Hollander Savio invited to be that year’s keynote interviewee (as opposed to a lecturer format): PEACE AND ANTI-WAR ACTIVIST MARIO SAVIO MUST HAVE BEEN TURNING OVER IN HIS GRAVE! This is where Hitchens also called a silent Black ant-war protester “a monkey” and, Hitchens further said, against that Black person, “He probably doesn’t even know how to read!” Both Lynne Hollander Savio and the largely white liberal Berkeley audience said *nothing* to/against Hitchens about those obviously racist remarks.

    Then, in 2014, at the ending plenary session of the “FSM at 50” conference, Lynne Hollander Savio, for whatever reason other than that she thinks her liberal white words are far more important than anyone Black, tried to cut off a Black person from being able to address a question to, at the time, the Black chairperson, Ben Jealous, of the NAACP, on stage during Q&A — because Lynne wanted to just purposely cut in front of that Black person. Can you imagine what would have happened if a man had purposely cut off Lynne Hollander Savio or any other woman, if it had been Gloria Steinem on stage, during Q&A, because a man thought his words were far more important than a woman’s question &/or comment and he even just blatantly cut in front of the woman?: ALL H**L WOULD’VE BROKEN LOOSE BY LYNNE HOLLANDER SAVIO AND ALL THE OTHER WOMEN IN ATTENDANCE.

    Also, at the “FSM at 50” conference, UC Berkeley Visiting Lecturer & NYU Professor Robert Cohen — who wrote a book about Mario Savio — but Cohen missed the most important principles that Mario Savio stood for — (Cohen) made remarks that almost exactly ended up mirroring then Chancellor Dirks infamous campus email widely regarded as trying to squelch or limit criticism of Israel & Zionism and Israel as an apartheid state — Cohen with the same purpose as Dirks.

    And, aside from that, Amy Goodman of the premier, national, leftist radio program, Democracy Now, won’t let — from the *left* — (even Jewish) critics of the Israel lobby on her show, won’t let (even Jewish) critics of Zionism on her show, won’t let critics of Chomsky on her show, won’t let critics of at least the government’s version of 9–11 on her show, won’t let critics of the Democrat and Republican party establishment’s view of aspects of the U.S. government’s permanent war in the Mideast (and more recently specifically about the U.S. government line on Syria and “Assad’s [U.S. government-purported] poison gas attacks”) on her show, among other critics from the left — *within* the left.

    And, in general, for years now, at KPFA public lecture events, KPFA event organizers hands out little tiny index cards for Q&A questions to then group and purportedly “summarize” bunches of questions at a time — to give the *ILLUSION* of Q&A, devoiding it of any real substance, instead of setting a time limit for each questioner and letting questioners speak in their *own* words and voices. The KPFA moderator, of course, discards any questions and especially any questions the honestly and sincerely might intellectually, factually or morally might be deemed too challenging — from even the *left* that essentially composes the audience — that the KPFA moderator personally doesn’t like regardless of the value of the question.

    So, I’m not particularly concerned about the political right’s free speech, because the political right has highly financed and powerful media organs of its own — and often right from the White House itself!

    I’M MUCH MORE CONCERNED THAT THE LEFT GETS IT *OWN* HOUSE IN ORDER — INTERNALLY — WHEN IT COMES TO PRINCIPLES & METHODS FOR FREE SPEECH — INCLUDING, SADLY & *IRONICALLY*, PEOPLE & WARMONGER INVITERS AND RACIST TOLERATORS LIKE LYNNNE HOLLANDER SAVIO.

  • Rollie

    Well, this is a good next step. But the message should more strongly emphasize that when free speech is respected, and when protest is truly peaceful, then controversial events cost very little, do not disrupt classes and other campus functions, and attract relatively small attention from the outside. They come and go quite easily. Part of the reason this concept is lost on so many students is that the University itself, and some of its educators, are teaching the exact opposite. The institution itself needs to be a little more introspective.

  • thompson_richard

    Many of the issues during FSM — mostly responses to Chancellor Strong’s action — were voted upon by an audience of thousands (of students, I hastily add). How do I know that they were students? Because we held up our REG CARDS while voting. Certainly Lynne is Sui Generis, and Robt Reich was right there with my man Bill Clinton in 1992. The current Chancellor was married to another English Prof and she became Chair of that Dept, too. Great people!

  • roccolore

    Berkeley hates free speech.