Historical reminders

By David Bulla

Last week was a time to remember a man whose words changed a nation and a group of students who changed universities in America.

In India, citizens observed the 140th birthday of Mohandas K. Gandhi, and in Berkeley, Calif., they celebrated the 45th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement.

Gandhi’s nonviolent direct action chased the British from India and led to the birth of the world’s largest democracy. The man from Gujarat used every peaceful means of communication to push his ideas, which inspired other civil rights movements around the world — including Martin Luther King Jr.’s attempt to desegregate the American South. The Mahatma gave speeches, published grassroots newspapers, wrote letters, penned books, led marches, and used fasts to make points with the authorities.

The Free Speech Movement began Sept. 30, 1964, when a few University of California students set up tables at Sather Gate on the Berkeley campus to promote two civil rights groups, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). At the time, Cal had banned off-campus political organizations from having such exhibits on campus. The two groups were unable to get a permit to assemble on campus.

University officials ordered the five students who sat at the SNCC and CORE tables to appear at a disciplinary hearing before the UC dean the next day. The students were Mark Bravo, Brian Turner, Donald Hatch, Elizabeth Gardiner Stapleton and David Goines.

At Sproul Hall (the UC administration building), students began vocally protesting this hearing, and a grassroots sit-down movement began. The assembled avowed to return the next day for a free speech assembly. As that rally started, police arrested a student named Jack Weinberg and took him to a squad car. Students surrounded the car, asking for Weinberg’s freedom. Weinberg had to stay in the car for 32 hours before being released.

Eventually, the university administration and the leaders of the movement met and ironed out an agreement. They agreeed that students would be part of a committee to recommend changes to university policy involving freedom of political expression on campus. The committee would include administration, faculty and students.

By the next January, the Movement began holding legal rallies in front of Sproul Hall. Joan Baez, the folk singer, performed at the very first legal rally.

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