During the very busy fall of 1964, Barbara Gerson found time to write a series of very detailed letters about the Free Speech Movement. These are not for the casual reader, but to a reader who is seriously interested in the ins and outs of the FSM they are gold. I have left out the personal moments in the letters:
Early October, 1964
Once again I just couldn’t get arrested. And this time I really meant to. I turned off all the lights before leaving and arranged to have my books returned to the public library, but all to no avail.
What a fantastic action. I told you we had won the table fight. Well that wasn’t strictly true. Actually we came to no agreement with the University. We simply continued to man the tables for a week and we figured since Kerr could never “give in” officially, he would just let it pass unnoticed
However, at noon [on September 30, 1964] a dean took the name of five people at tables and three orators for the cause and asked them to come to his office for disciplinary action at three. During those hours four hundred and fifty some odd people signed a petition saying. “We jointly manned the tables against university regulations and we will all accept the punishment. So we went in altogether (450) for the disciplinary appointment.
The dean refused to see us so we stayed in the building.
At 11:30 (still in Sproul) numbers now grown to over 500, it was announced that the eight people were indefinitely suspended. (Imagine without investigation without confrontation with ther accusers)
The next day we manned tables. Jack Weinberg was arrested for trespassing and put into a police car. (NOW GET THIS) We surrounded the police car, to prevent the arrest. The police car, with Jack inside, remained in front [of] Sproul hall for 32 hours with never less than 2000 guarding it. During that time it was used as a podium for all speakers. (The roof is a little dented now)
Friday evening, the school was surrounded by at least 500 cops from Oakland, Berkeley, Contra Costa etc. We were all prepared to be arrested, I was sitting inside near the car.
The next Saturday was a football game and parents day (a university version of open school week.) So Kerr really wanted us moved. At the last minute a compromise document was announced. Up to that point, all decisions of the group had been quite democratic. Full discussion and vote before any movement or change of tactics. This time although our leaders did not accept the agreement for us, they urged us to move and (i.e. give up our tactical position around the car) and reconvene Monday on Sproul steps (now a free speech area) to discuss our final acceptance rejection implementation of the compromise. The thing said, “The students will stop their illegal activities.” “The boy in the car will be booked, released on his own recognizance and the university will not press charges.” “The discipline of the eight will be referred to the student faculty committee of discipline.” Unless Kerr pressures very strongly, which he now knows would be unwise, this means no penalty for Jack and mild action against the eight. “The university is already setting up a commission to see about ceding the area at the end of Bancroft and Telegraph to the city or student government.” Also some smucky stuff about a about a faculty student committee to advise the administration on all matters concerning free speech on campus.
The way the announcement was made and considering our high spirited preparation for imminent arrest, we were a bit let down. Personally I think it was an excellent agreement, not a sell-out, but considering the unversity’s dilemma with parents’ day, an arrestor literally hunderds maybe over a thousand would have been necessary to move the car, we could have gotten a time limit for ceding the B at area and the word “temporarily” about our agreement to desist.
As the action got more militant, our right-wing allies stopped coming or rather we’d be inside they’d be conducting a legal picket outside and sending notes saying, because of conscientious scruples against breaking the law etc… but the united front still holds.
There were sympathy demos at at least six other schools. Harvard, Columbia, U.CL.A. Reed, S.F. state, and Berkeley high school. Reed college raised bail money if necesary. (I started that part of the action, the calling outsiders part). Some people especially those expelled, wanted to see a continued martyr process whereby people sit at the tables and are expelled one by one. They envisioned the expelling of hundreds of students. I felt though that we would run out of martyrs sooner than they imagined and that the university could continue to be selective. The day it took the five names it refused to take the names of others actually sitting there. We therefore proposed and it was carried (by the whole group as usual) that tables be set up mostly around the times of mass activity and that those on the tables refuse to give their names but just say, my name is on this list (the 450 now grown to 600). This way they would have to arrest rather than expel. Something we would prefer and they would not want. That is how it happened that Jack was arrested, although his card could not have been taken anyway as he is an outside agitator. Not registered this term.
Now I must get down to studying. I had hoped to be suspended [and] going out in some glory instead of quietly flunking away.
At Monday’s meeting, as further concession, I am going to propose that a column be erected in front of Sproul Hall and “the cop car” be placed on top as an eternal monument to self rule and free speech.
I am now editor of the Free Speech Movement’s newsletter. The first issue thank god is out of my hands, being run off now on the SLATE press. It is much too much work. I can’t keep it up.
The business is very much complicated by the fact that the tone of the movement as set by the steering committee is hysterical, romantic and tomorrow is the revolution. No one slept for days on end both during the demonstrations (naturally) and then after during the negotiations with various university officials. Last night a meeting was called for organizing “independent students” so that they could have a voice on the steering committee and exec which now consisted of representatives of off-campus groups. Hundreds showed up at Stiles so the meeting was moved to a church which held 600. It was jammed and many were turned away. Various sub-organizations, grad students, T.A.s, non-students (Interfaith Council), have been set up.
On the other hand, the Daily Cal is strictly against us, and Clark Kerr is on a whistle stop tour denouncing the rioters as 40% non-students led by a hard core of Maoist-Fidelistas. Our steering committee is botching up the business of making our legal and technical case clear after the agreement and they are overly involved in negotiations with any and every faculty committee that declared itself an impartial or friendly negotiator.
The steering committee decided that because of its role as negotiator it had to have a rule binding all members to its decision. The first vote they took after that was to order Mario Savio to get to sleep.
After a week of waiting for the administration to keep its agreements in good faith, we will be returning to direct action next week. I might as well be expelled or suspended because its quite obvious I’m not going to make it through the term this way.
Many many people have come out in favor of our cause, and many in recognition that some direct action was necessary. However, of full professors speaking at our rallies and with us 100% there are only [John] Leggett and Sellers.
There are many many details now that this thing is getting organizational.
Approximately October 20, 1964
Enclosed you’ll find the second issue of the FSM.
The front page is dull because the events of the week are intrinsically dull. For the first week after the dramatic pact (surrounded by cops etc.) Kerr went back on the agreement. (I really didn’t expect it. Since he had already lost face by signing with a bunch of “maoist communists,” I expected him to carry things through in the quietest manner. However, he would not send the students to a faculty committee and a whole lot of other guff. Throughout the second week after the agreement, the F.S.M. concentrated its energy and propaganda on demanding a fair committee to make recommendations to the chancellor, as outlined in article two of the agreement. I thought this absolutely nonsense. It bogged us down in a morass of bickering. All our demands were procedural… Absolutely nothing substantive on the free speech issue. However, even though Kerr could easily accede to such procedural demands, (after all what could be better for him than a study committee, with long mandate to investigate, and only consultative powers) he gave us such a run-around that by Friday we had scheduled another demonstration. That was set to go in the second newsletter. (all photographed etc.) Then he sent over a secret negotiator and I received a call from Jack Weinberg saying stop the newsletter, Kerr “has agreed to all our demands.” It turned out that “all” our demands were demands for procedural points having to do with the investigating committee and the process by which the students suspension would be determined.
I felt that we had been unwittingly drawn into a morass of negotiations. In a sense we were more honest with the university administration than with the students. Every time dean so and so would call to say that in five hours we could have an appointment with Dean thus and such to see about making an appointment with Kerr to present our case at a regents meeting, we continued to act as though something was being done and we couldn’t take action ’til all channels were exhausted.
I consider the whole thing a snag, but Jack and others are saying that we took an essentially vague agreement and turned it into a real victory. They are thrilled at the prospect of negotiating (we are the recognized negotiators they say) in private with the administration.
In my opinion they have been very unpolitical. By turning to this complicated and boring if not futile course of “procedural demands,” they have turned away from all the students. Months of negotiations are in store.
The FSM steering committee is very elitist. I suggested that we hold mass meetings, that is membership rather that representative meetings, to discuss substantive matters like a law suit against the university, putting tables up etc. The steering committee seems to think they can call on people to come to occasional rallies and then tell them, Tune in
I’m afraid these boys have become very arrogant because of all the hero worshipping girls who flock around to feed them, and put them to bed and nurse them back to health.
In addition the graduate students associations of FSM were hastily set up, I wouldn’t say they were rammed through but there was little attempt to bring in new people. Therefore the grad student reps on the exec and steering committes are Bob Starobin, Bob Kauffman, and a couple other “Progressive” elitists.
Now that they’ve allowed things to take this course, some of the more militant people, Jack, Mario etc. seek adventurist ways to get the action going again, however, they reject the suggestions of the good hard work it takes to really involve the rank and file at the current stage. Remember, there are hundreds of students who were willing to get arrested on this and literally thousands who have asked to help. (On the other hand interest would be diminishing over time even if the process was not being speeded by decisions of the executive committee.) I have very little influence with them because I am working too hard. I guess I made a bad mistake. Anyone who sells newsletters on the corner, who types, who makes chain phone calls, is written off as a peon.
The people who emerged during the first few days, the unplanned stages, as natural spokesmen and leaders of the action, have no heads to carry things on and are now swamped and flattered by the old guard. Certainly this has not been all a loss but still I am quite disappointed and embittered.
Oct 26, 1964
Tonight we picketed the White Citizens Council at their first meeting in Northern California.
There were about six or seven hundred of us up at the Hotel Clairmont. Quite a surrealistic setting. Enclosed is the leaflet we handed out. It wasn’t a strictly campus thing.
When I’m in a big good crowd singing those songs I really believe them. Singing is believing. I really think “We will Overcome”
We conducted ourselves well except for Professor [Charles] Sellers. While their meeting was in progress we had a rally, and Sellers as one of the speakers said “They are sick, when they come out just say to them ‘Sick sick sick sick.'” Lots of people took him up and on somewhat aesthetic grounds I didn’t like it. Rows of demonstrators lining the path from the door and making little old ladies walk the gauntlet while shouting “Sick Sick Sick.”
We’ve started a project by investigating hiring policies in Oakland restaurants. Jack London Square will make a fantastic site for protest. The project originated with a request from someone on the Central Labor Council who wants to put pressure on the Jim Crow union from his end.
The FSM steering committee has come around to my way of thinking. Now they want to figure out how to get things moving again.
Late October, 1964
I feel tremendously relieved since my decision to quit city planning. However, instead of being free to concentrate on my FSM newsletter, CORE work etc. I’ve gone loose with relief and am spending free time like beggar who just found a hundred dollars. You can’t imagine how I was working before. Literally every minute. Now I’m wasting it. Tomorrow campus CORE is playing Richmond CORE in Baseball. We are trying to disprove the stereotypes about negroes as athletes, or perhaps the stereotypes about Jews and non-athletes. We won a very complete victory against the Richmond Housing Authority. (Well as complete (we brought 70 kids from Campus down to see it) as these things ever are.) In the same week we single handedly freed a women from jail on very phony charges of fraud against welfare. (She had been cleared of the same charges by the state a day before, and ordered to be given many months back welfare benefits) then the county arrested her with ridiculous bail) Also this week we decided to hold an illegal rally on campus (New interpretation, Hyde Park areas (now extended to include Sproul steps) are available for individuals not groups). We made the university back down simply by showing our determination to go ahead. I wish the FSM could grasp how throughly afraid they are of any trouble before Nov. 3.
As an audience, we’ve become quite engrossed in our trial. We’re gleeful when the villains are overruled. We titter as the Keystone Cops trip over their own lies, falling flat on their faces. I’m sure there’ll be some glorious soliloquies when the heroes make their entrances in the next act. But let’s remember that this is just a play, after all. Though some of the scenes are improvised, the ending has already been written.
In his opening adress, District Attorney Coakley attacked us on strictly non-legal grounds. He characterized us as anti-authoritarian trouble makers. The District Attorney was called to order for these extra-legal accusations. But Coakley’s opening statement was much more to the point than anything that has happened since. You can be certain that all this fuss and furor is not about trespassing. We are indeed on trial for defying men of power and authority. In order to let the “rioters”and “agitators” off “scot-free” a judge would have to defy these same authorities. In the courtroom a judge can overrule the District Attorney and issue a subpoena to the Governor. In real life however, the Governor and the District Attorney help cast this play. They can decide whether a judge stays in the summer stock circuit or makes it to Broadway.
Courts can never be free from social and political pressure. Sometimes legal decisions give protection to the civil rights and liberties of the underdog. Taken over a period of time, these decisions recognize rulings pressures from the people who are fighting for freedom. Legal and constitutional interpertations reflect by adhering to, or repressing, the struggles and changing forces in the society. They are not the result of the random whims of liberal and conservative individuals. Nor do they represent the blind interpretation of technicalities. In the final analysis the courts, like other governmental institutions let you know you who controls the wealth and power of the world. To a lesser extent they reflect which groups are fighting how hard to get their say.
Some of us have become so absorbed by the drama presented for us on the stage that we forget what we ourselves have observed behind the scenes.
It is not for us to sit in court adding little twists and changes to their script, figuring out how to out-wit them in their game of technicalities.
We should sit there (since sit there we must) planning how to create greater and greater force for freedom. Keep your eyes on the prize.
KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE PRIZE—HOLD ON.