Free Speech Movement Cafe celebrates 20 years at UC Berkeley

Brianna Luna/Staff

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On Friday, the Free Speech Movement Cafe, located in Moffitt Library, celebrated its 20th anniversary since opening in 2000.

For the first half of the day, the café, better known as the FSM, offered free drinks, stickers and t-shirts to anyone who stopped by. Daryl Ross, campus alumnus and owner of the café, said the event was a way for the café to thank the Berkeley community.

“It’s just super exciting that we’ve been around for 20 years and been a part of students’ lives and been commemorating the Free Speech Movement for that long,” Ross said.

The café is decorated with plaques commemorating key moments of the campus Free Speech Movement. One plaque mentions that the café is dedicated to the memory of Mario Savio, whose “leadership inspired thousands of fellow Berkeley students.”

In fall 1964, thousands of campus students protested at Sproul Hall after campus administration banned political expression on Sproul Plaza. Savio then made his famous “Operation of the Machine” speech on Sproul’s steps, calling for expanded free speech on campus. His acts of civil disobedience were pivotal moments for the campus Free Speech Movement.

Ross said he admired Savio’s actions when he was on campus majoring in philosophy, but felt the movement had died down by the 1980s. Those involved in the Free Speech Movement inspired him and others to establish the café because people like Ross wanted to publicly spread awareness of the movement to future generations.

UC Berkeley hosts the Mario Savio Memorial Lecture and Young Activist Award annually in memory of Savio. Ross said the café’s main donor, campus alumnus Stephen Silberstein, was a friend of Savio’s who also took part in the campus Free Speech Movement. Ross also mentioned that Savio’s son worked at the café.

“It was an amazing privilege to be able to run the place,” Ross said. “We have sustainable ingredients and we were the first independently owned place on campus to give people $15 an hour — two years before that minimum wage was decreed — because I believe in those ideals.”

Outside the café, near the end of the event, the Cal Band performed a set including the traditional campus game songs “Fight for California,” “Big C” and “Sons of California.”

Dorothy Bechler, campus junior and student director for Cal Band, said the band hoped to bring Cal spirit to the anniversary.

“(The FSM) is a big café on campus; it’s a fun staple to late-night studying,” Bechler said.

Campus sophomore Alya Wilkinson-Hayat was one of many students and community members who waited in line to get free coffee. She said she frequents the café about once every week because of its convenient location and diverse options.

“The FSM café is giving ode to the history of activism on campus,” Wilkinson-Hayat said.

Olivia Buccieri is the lead business and economy reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @obuccieri_dc‏.