Founding members of the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley spoke Monday on the steps of Sproul Hall — referencing the campus’s past in political activism — to speak about the importance of voting and exercising free speech.
In an ongoing effort to register students on campus to go to the polls this November, committees from the California Public Interest Research Group, or CALPIRG, a political advocacy organization, hosted the event.
About 150 people were present at the event, which ran from noon to 1:00 p.m.
“We hosted this big event to educate students and to remind people of the history here and how that pertains to voting today in this upcoming election,” said CALPIRG campus organizer Patrick Jurney.
Lynne Hollander Savio, an activist and Mario Savio’s widow, spoke at the event about the past struggles that Black voters had when registering and tied these struggles to the latest inequities surrounding voting rights.
Savio noted in her speech that in North Dakota, for example, the state Legislative Assembly passed a law requiring street addresses in order to vote. She encouraged voters to not “relinquish out of apathy” the right to vote because so many have struggled for it.
Charlie Sellers, who in the 1960s was a U.S. history professor, recalled his experiences of working at a time when speakers could not speak on campus without prior approval by administration, and student organizations could not take positions on off-campus issues.
“(In) 1964, I was thrown into the tumultuous and ultimately victorious struggles of the Free Speech Movement,” Sellers said in his speech. “I was shocked to learn that Cal Berkeley was not the free speech bastion I had expected.”
Leon Wofsy, professor emeritus of molecular and cell biology, spoke in his speech about “assaults on democracy and free speech,” referencing attacks on immigrants and minority communities. U.S. history Professor Emeritus Leon Litwack, whose scholarship focused on slavery, also spoke at the event.
Campus freshman Allison Weber said she thought it was “cool” to listen to the original leaders of the Free Speech Movement at a time that “is so important for voting.”
Dean of Students Joseph Greenwell urged voters to appeal to friends, partners, family, and even those with opposing opinions to vote and help advocate for those who are unable to vote.
“I came to this campus because of the Free Speech Movement,” Greenwell said. “That (movement) has changed systems. That has changed the world and has given us a little bit of a better place that we live in, but it is not over — we have got to continue in this path.”