On Jan. 20, 1961, President John F. Kennedy said in his inaugural address, “Let the word go forth from this time and place … the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.” Throughout history, students have been the inspiration for changes in the world. Whether it was the Free Speech Movement started in 1964 on the UC Berkeley campus, the ones who defied the tanks at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, or the recent surge of activism at Ohio State, students have been the brave, courageous and idealistic individuals who have defiantly dared death to strike them down in their fight for justice.
The Free Speech Movement began on campus in Berkeley as a protest where studentsdemandedthe administration acknowledge their right to freedom of speech, academic freedom and allow political activity on campus. The movement was informally led by UC Berkeley students Mario Savio, Bettina Aptheker and others.
Years later on May 15, 1969, student activists from UC Berkeley reached a crisis called “Bloody Thursday. ”On this day a crowd of 3,000 Berkeley students marched to People’s Park upon hearing it was going to be destroyed. Then ASUC President Dan Siegel shouted, “Let’s take the park!” The crowd then marched to People’s Park grew to about 6,000 strong along the way.
A student, James Rector, was killed and a carpenter, Alan Blanchard was permanently blinded. More than 128 protesters were injured by police and admitted to hospitals suffering from gun shot wounds and other serious injuries.
What is important to realize now is, as in the 1960’s Free Speech Movement, the conflict gripping the world today in the Wall Street Occupation movement was started and supported by the idealism, courage, fortitude and defiance of students.
According to Associated Press reports, the Occupy Wall Street movement was started by just a few college students camping out in lower Manhattan — they tried to pitch tents in front of the New York Stock Exchange.
Since then, hundreds of students have set up camp in nearby Zuccotti Park and have become increasingly organized, lining up medical aid and legal help, getting on face book, the Internet and printing their own newspaper.
Today’s students have led the nation as well as the world in London, Paris, Caracas, Madrid, Montreal, Athens and other places.
Students are leading the way as they did in the Free Speech Movement, the Anti-Vietnam War movement, the Women’s Liberation movement, the protests in Tiananmen Square in China and the Paris riots.
This is a legacy today’s students at UC Berkeley should not find hard to follow, as you walk in the shoes of those who have led the way before you. We will be there to support you, to stand toe to toe with you and offer advice.
We must be ever vigilant to continue the fight to eliminate poverty and equalize the wealth held by 1 percent of the wealthiest Americans and others throughout the world in the face of the other 99 percent of us who are exploited, left homeless and in poverty, without employment, and seemingly without hope.
The torch of the world’s fate has been offcially passed to you.