Occupation of campus building follows FSM rally on Sproul for 50th anniversary

Michael Drummond/Senior Staff

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In an event to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement, FSM veterans rallied at noon in front of Sproul Hall on Wednesday.

They were joined by a number of groups in solidarity with the spirit of the FSM, including student organizations Cal Progressive Coalition, Fossil Free UC and Students for Engaged and Active Learning.

After the rally, about 10 to 15 people occupied the Architects and Engineers building at around 1 p.m. to protest a number of campus capital projects, calling for a halt to the development at the Gill Tract as well as a meeting with Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, among other demands.

The students disbanded at about 7 p.m. when two of their demands — the release of documents pertaining to the Gill Tract development and a scheduled meeting with the chancellor — were met. The meeting is scheduled for Nov. 14, and there will be weekly check-ins between student representatives and administration in the meantime. Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said the campus preferred “dialogue and discussion,” and moving away from “a language of demands.”

Development is slated for land historically part of the Gill Tract, which is a university-owned plot in Albany.

At the rally, speakers — including FSM veterans Jack Weinberg and Jackie Goldberg, among others — spoke on a range of topics such as the plight of Hong Kong protesters, wealth inequality, climate change and racial profiling. Speakers repeated Mario Savio’s famous words, “put your bodies upon the gears,” which he spoke in front of Sproul Hall in December 1964.

Lynne Savio, who was married to Mario Savio, said Wednesday was a glorious moment and if Mario Savio were present, he would be delighted that students are using the rights they fought for 50 years ago.

“What I want people to take away is that the powers that be try to make you feel helpless and hopeless, don’t believe it,” Savio said. “If we talk to each other, unite for a cause … We will prevail.”

Savio said the FSM veterans received tremendous support from the administration in organizing the celebration, and she hopes it will continue to support student rights.

Caitlin Quinn, ASUC external affairs vice president, told the crowd that UC Berkeley students should build coalitions to make themselves heard by the administration.

“Fifty years may have gone by, but our administration continues to dismiss many of our concerns,” Quinn said. “We have the freedom to speak, but are they listening?”

Gar Smith, a 70-year-old FSM veteran, said when he was hauled down the marble stairs for protesting during the movement, he went limp and did not cooperate with authorities.

“I refused to conspire in my own arrest,” Smith said, who added that he is happy to see that “robust” political activity at UC Berkeley has continued and cited the recent Israeli-Palestinian protests and counterprotests.

Several panel discussions featuring campus professors, FSM veterans and other speakers took place after the rally as part of the celebration. Panels included a discussion on campus activism, the university’s trajectory and its increasing reliance on private funding.

Maggie Downey, a UC Berkeley graduate student and spokesperson for the Cal Progressive Coalition, said that like the FSM veterans, the coalition has also been silenced by the university.

The coalition said in a press release that its members marched today to clarify that the university should not “congratulate” itself on the FSM.

“(It is) a time to recognize that each of the major student struggles over the past 50 years made gains in spite of repression by the university,” the release states.

UC Berkeley junior Michelle Yang, who passed by the rally, agreed that the university can do more to support students’ freedom of speech but felt that its participation in organizing the celebration was important.

“(The FSM) is really what makes us unique,” Yang said. “It’s a positive thing (that the university) is trying to celebrate.”

Contact Suhauna Hussain at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @suhaunah.