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The FSM at 50: Old Activists Never Say Die

October 3, 2014
by James Lerager and Gar Smith

October 1 marked the 50th anniversary of the birth of the Free Speech Movement in 1964. Following Jack Weinberg’s arrest for political and free speech tabling on campus–Jack’s the famous Guy in the Police Car–some 3,000 students surrounded the police car that had driven onto Sproul Plaza. Mario Savio and other student activists mounted and spoke to the crowd from the car’s roof. They stayed for 32 hours.

To mark the anniversary, more than 100 FSM participants returned for a week of reunion events, lectures, dinners together, workshops. Now aging in body but undimmed in spirit, voice, eloquence, and commitment, many continue to be fully engaged in human rights and environmental activism.

Lynne Hollander Savio, Mario Savio’s widow, MC’ed the noon rally on the Mario Savio Steps (as they are now known) fronting Sproul Hall. Dolores Huerta, noted civil rights leader and cofounder of the United Farm Workers Union with Cesar Chavez, keynoted the event. FSM veterans Bettina Aptheker, now a professor of Feminist Studies at UC Santa Cruz, Jackie Goldberg, and Jack Radey spoke eloquently and movingly. Radey read out a letter from Edward Snowden to the FSM gathering.

Among those addressing the crowd was Caitlin Quinn, ASUC external affairs vice president: “Fifty years may have gone by,” she declared, “but our administration continues to dismiss many of our concerns. We have the freedom to speak but are they listening?”

Maggie Downing, a UC Berkeley graduate student, spoke for the Cal Progressive Coalition (CPC). The CPC issued a statement advising the UC administration not to “congratulate” itself on the FSM’s legacy because, in fact, “each of the major student struggles over the past fifty years made gains in spite of repression by the University.”

The rally’s final speaker, Jack Weinberg himself, spoke out about the relevance of the FSM to today’s struggles to give students voice and to remove the shackles of student debt. Jack called the Umbrella Movement, which is behind the current student and civil protests against suppression of free speech and democracy in China, “the FSM of the 21st century.”

The rally closed with clips from Mario Savio’s Fall 1964 speeches, including his most famous words: “There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!”

Lynne Hollander Savio speaking to a crowd of hundreds

Mario Savio’s widow, Lynne Hollander Savio, takes the microphone to welcome a crowd of hundreds—including a contingent of students from the Cal Progressive Coalition, Fossil Free UC, and Students for Engaged Learning who marched to the rally and filled the steps with banners and hand-held posters.​

former California State Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg

FSM veteran and former California State Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg addresses the anniversary crowd.

Jack Radey reads a statement of support from Edward Snowden

FSM veteran, military historian and author Jack Radey reads a special statement of support from former National Security Agency employee and whistleblower, Edward Snowden.

United Farmworkers champion Dolores Huerta

United Farmworkers champion Dolores Huerta offers a keynote speech on the legacy of the FSM and the power of collective action.

Jack Weinberg

Jack “The Guy in the Car” Weinberg recalls the arrest that triggered the FSM revolt. After saluting the students demonstrating for democracy in Hong Kong, Weinberg challenged the audience to address the threats of corporate power, government surveillance and climate change.

All photos by James Lerager. Lerager, a graduate of UC Berkeley’s Goldman School, MPP ’98, is a photographer and author of the forthcoming Nuclear History : Nuclear Destiny.

Gar Smith is an FSM veteran (BA, English ’65) and a member of board of the Free Speech Movement Archives.

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