Fifty years ago today, UC Berkeley students surrounded a police car as part of a 32-hour protest after the arrest of Jack Weinberg, who had been tabling for the Congress of Racial Equality on Oct. 1, 1964 when campus police apprehended him. The protest — which combated a university regulation prohibiting advocacy, recruitment and fundraising for any sort of political activity external to campus — spawned a campuswide revolution that became the now-iconic Free Speech Movement. The movement became a key moment in the national civil liberties movement of the 1960s and permanently changed our campus culture. These students who stood up for their First Amendment rights 50 years ago have allowed students at universities across the country the political and academic freedom they deserve.
Maybe you caught a bit of yesterday’s commemorative rally and student protest and feel inspired, or maybe you just want to be more involved in UC Berkeley’s campus life but don’t know how. It’s not hard to honor that legacy today. The Free Speech Movement is such a crucial part of our campus history and atmosphere that it’s important that we do our best to pay what respects we can to it. There are a lot of things you can do in your everyday life to thank those who took part in this incredibly important movement and to make yourself a part of their lasting legacy.
1. Take fliers from people tabling on Sproul Plaza
People who table and hand out fliers on Sproul Plaza have something to say, and they would wholeheartedly appreciate you taking just a few minutes out of your day to listen. Many campus groups are only able to demonstrate on Sproul because of the Free Speech Movement, so this is one of the easiest ways to be an active participant in the movement’s lasting effects.
2. Register to vote
There’s a local election coming up, and Jack Weinberg and Mario Savio would like nothing more than if you voted in it. After all, they’re part of the reason student organizations can even register voters on campus. Look for registration tables on Sproul and Kroeber or at the Lorde concert at the Greek Theater on Oct. 2. It’s incredibly important to exercise your voice in this community that you spend eight months of the year in, so make the FSM proud and register.
3. Check out a politically based campus group, event or lecture
Maybe you’re passionate about LGBT rights. Maybe you’re a minority student who feels that your voice needs to be heard. Maybe you love “going green” and want to get more involved in environmental advocacy. Maybe you always wanted to participate in a protest but never had the guts. Or maybe protests terrify you, but you want to learn more about political happenings in Berkeley and around the world. Some quick internet research or a scan of the bulletin boards in Sproul Plaza can connect you to student-organized lectures, political coalitions, advocacy organizations and other campus political activity. You don’t have to become any organization’s number-one advocate, but educating yourself on this area of campus culture is a great idea.
4. Give the university’s FSM landmarks a visit
If you’ve never looked at the plaque engraved in the Mario Savio Steps or gotten coffee at the Free Speech Movement Cafe, now’s your time. There are definitely things you can do to more proactively honor the movement, but if this makes you feel more connected to our campus’s history, then go for it. The FSM Cafe in particular has a lot of of old pictures from the movement’s heyday and is a good way to learn more about the cafe’s namesake. A lot of people also don’t know that the hole in the middle of Upper Sproul Plaza surrounded by a granite ring is a monument to the movement as well. Go check it out and find out for yourself what the inscription on the granite says!
5. Make like Jack Weinberg and table on Sproul yourself
Nothing will give you an appreciation for how difficult it can be to table on Sproul than to try it firsthand, that’s for sure. This is what Jack Weinberg was arrested for 50 years ago, and he’s part of the reason you and your campus organization have the freedom to do it today. Thanks to the Free Speech Movement, the culture of Sproul Plaza is practically iconic — it’s practically a UC Berkeley rite of passage to table or hand out fliers for your club on Sproul.
6. Speak up
When you boil it down to its core, the Free Speech Movement was for just that: free speech. Thanks to alumni of the FSM, you can stand up for yourself, your beliefs and your ideals on campus without fear of being silenced. If you really want to honor Mario Savio and the other FSM greats, stand up for yourself. Use your voice. Be your own advocate. If the past 50 years of UC Berkeley’s history have proved anything, it’s your right — above all else — to speak.