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How nonviolent protesting has evolved from '60s to now

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Berkeley's history of nonviolent protest extends all the way back to 1964 with the Free Speech Movement.


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APRIL 12, 2023

Over the past decades, protest movements ranging from the Free Speech Movement in the mid-1960s to recent protests like the United Auto Workers, or UAW, strike have shown trends of significant differences and similarities that have translated over time.

Several protests occurred in Berkeley, starting from the Free Speech Movement in the mid-’60s and the anti-Vietnam protest in 1965, according to campus library archives. These earlier protests used unconventional tactics in order to get their message across.

“May 5, 1965: Several hundred UC Berkeley students march on the Berkeley Draft Board and present the staff with a black coffin,” a campus library source by The Pacifica Radio/UC Berkeley Social Activism Recording Project reads. “Forty students burn their draft cards. Students also protest the April 1965 US military invasion of Dominican Republic.”

This immediately followed the Free Speech Movement in the mid-1960s, the movement that was the beginning of many movements to come and UC Berkeley’s history of protest.

The movement was under the leadership of Mario Savio, and there were sit-ins and marches. Unlike protests that have happened more recently, their demonstration would turn into parties, a departure from an earlier, more idealistic approach to protests.

“It was fun, it was cool, it was now the time of Haight-Ashbury and the hippies and drugs and rock-and-roll. Idealism — how it all began — was quickly forgotten when the first cast of characters were graduated,” a Bancroft Library project reads. “The student protests still had political purposes, of course — and powerful ones, at that — but the movement became increasingly radicalized.”

The “Fight 4 Spaces of Color” in 2016 was a protest led by the Queer Alliance Resource Center and the bridges Multicultural Resource Center, which were advocating for their relocation from the Eshleman Hall basement to spaces occupied by the student store and ASUC Senate. Their means of protest included chanting “students over profit” and “fight for spaces of color” and blocking Sather Gate to demand more space.

In 1984, UC Berkeley also protested to end apartheid, according to a university news article. Students demanded that the UC system pull out billions of dollars worth of investments in South Africa where a leader of the anti-apartheid movement, Nelson Mandela, was being held in imprisonment.

Activists of this movement utilized specific protesting tactics that were similar to the ones during the Free Speech Movement, such as hosting sit-ins and protesting in front of Sproul Hall.

“What was awesome was that a lot of people who hadn’t intended to sit down sat down and that day 38 of us got arrested,” said Andrea Prichett, an activist at Berkeley during the anti-apartheid movement, in a podcast featured in the article.

This movement at Berkeley started as a relatively small one. Prichett mentioned that, toward the beginning of the movement, she would host educational rallies that were meant to make people aware of what was happening; however, she said she remembered speaking on the microphone to “absolutely no one.”

While this eventually grew over time, its humble beginnings draw a contrast to the UAW strike, which had a significant number of students protesting from the beginning.

The Free Speech Movement and the UAW strike did have a similarity in the fact that both of these protests had lasted for significant amounts of time — the former spanned from October to December of 1964 and the latter from November to December of 2022.

However, the Free Speech Movement had Mario Savio as a face of their protest. In comparison, the UAW strike was a unity effort that no one person can be seen as the face of. Likewise, the “Fight 4 Spaces of Color” had no face to its movement, just groups of people fighting for their cause.

For decades, campus protests have both undergone many changes and retained some similarities, from the Free Speech Movement to the present day, but their main initiatives remain the same: to fight for their causes.

“We have occupied the streets of Berkeley for the last three nights, returning in the face of tear gas, clubbings, and arrests, feel that the causes and issues of our militance run deep,” reads a handbill from Berkeley campus chapter of Students for a Democratic Society, preserved in the Berkeley archives. “We cannot allow our struggle to be mislead into constitutional squabbles.”

Contact Emewodesh Eshete at 


APRIL 12, 2023