Student activists return to campus 50 years after Third World Liberation Front movement, reflect on their work

Davíd Rodríguez/Senior Staff

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Student activists who first organized 50 years ago returned to campus Friday and Saturday to discuss the 50th anniversary of the Third World Liberation Front, or TWLF, as part of the four-day-long event “Seeds of Resistance, Flowers of Liberation: Voices from 50 Years of Student of Color Activism at UC Berkeley,” hosted by The American Cultures Center and the Center for Race & Gender.

The program, which included an exhibit reception, performances and many panels, was also co-sponsored by 18 campus and outside organizations and was a culmination of about 18 months of work, according to Marcelo Garzo Montalvo, a graduate student researcher with the TWLF Research Initiative.

Black, Latinx, Asian American and Native American students on campus formed a coalition in 1969 — the TWLF — and began a strike whose goal was to create an autonomous Third World College for students of color with diverse representation, not only of the subjects taught but also of the faculty members who teach the courses. Their strike lasted several months, and the National Guard was called before campus administration agreed to the TWLF’s stipulations. The full wishes of the TWLF were never fully implemented, but a nonautonomous department of ethnic studies does exist on campus today.

“It was such an honor to be with everybody because I just felt so excited to be a part of it,” said LaNada War Jack, who was a prominent Native American activist in her time on campus. “We just want truth in history.”

Participants and panelists discussed the Third World Liberation Movement’s past, present and future and spoke about proposed changes at all education levels throughout the programming, from kindergarten to college.

At the Friday panel, many shared stories from their time during the strike at UC Berkeley, including their academic struggles in pursuit of ethnic studies and how they formed their coalition. According to organizer Lillian Fabros Bando, part of the reason the group was successful was because the members’ groups already had connections with each other before the movement.

The veterans of the movement who attended the event read aloud a written statement saying they did not consider the 50th anniversary a celebration.

“The programs in place are a mere token of what we planned and fought for,” said Floyd Huen, a campus alumnus who participated in the programming.

The programming ended Saturday evening with a collaboration with Decolonize This Place, a coalition of organizations fighting for the “Indigenous struggle, Black liberation, free Palestine, global wage workers and de-gentrification,” according to its website.

According to the movement veterans and several students of color who attended the programming, they plan to continue to fight to “fulfill the dream” of a Third World College for students and people of color. Garzo Montalvo said he plans to continue organizing and checking in with other communities of color.

“Support each other,” Fabros Bando said. “This is a lifelong struggle.”

Contact Kate Finman at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @KateFinman_DC.