On the 50th anniversary of the longest student strike in history, led by students who demanded the creation of a Third World College, veteran strikers, students and community members gathered to celebrate the Third World Liberation Front, or TWLF.
One hundred and thirty people gathered Saturday at the campus Multicultural Community Center to commemorate the TWLF strikes that first took place in 1968 at San Francisco State University and then at UC Berkeley in 1969.
According to the UC Berkeley Center for Race and Gender’s website, a multiracial coalition of campus students came together in 1969 to create the TWLF at UC Berkeley and set up strikes to make the university acknowledge the importance of the histories of peoples of color. The website said the protesters wanted UC Berkeley to create a Third World College, which would be dedicated to the histories of marginalized, underrepresented communities.
As a result of these strikes, the campus Department of Ethnic Studies, a compromise between the campus and the TWLF. In 1999, the TWLF protested again, this time against cuts to the department. As a concession, the Center for Race and Gender was created.
“The third world strike changed my life. It kind of made me go back to the community,” said original striker Miguel Fernandez.
Attendees were broken up into five discussion groups so people could better communicate and learn from the strikers. China Ruiz, one of the student organizers, said the organizers framed the groups around different hopes and visions for the ethnic studies department.
Within the breakout groups, some people discussed goals for the future, including renaming some of the buildings on campus, the creation of a Third World College, and spreading ethnic studies education outside the university.
“It’s super overwhelming to be around these revolutionaries,” said campus freshman Jennifer Kwon. “(Ethnic studies is) something I didn’t know I needed before I came here.”
In the final hour, everyone sat in a circle and recounted their discussions. Some talked about the need to keep student power and student voices within the department, while others discussed the previous decrease in funds to the department.
Former members of the TWLF who participated in the strikes of 1969 and 1999, including Harvey Dong, Jeff Leong, Nina Genera and Maria Ramirez, discussed the movement and how it connected them with their communities.
All of the former members of TWLF were asked to talk about their experiences during the protests and throughout their lives on camera for a short film so that their words could inspire future generations of ethnic studies students.
“It is a reminder that you are not alone … when we remember our own people, across all minorities,” said Clementina Duron, who participated in the 1969 strikes, to the crowd. “The next fight is for ethnic studies for your younger brothers and sisters … in the high schools.”