UC Berkeley Free Speech Movement at 50: Tuition protest planned

Students at UC Berkeley protest tuition hikes on Nov. 24.
(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

Fifty years to the day that the Free Speech Movement peaked with hundreds of arrests at UC Berkeley, students are set to occupy the university plaza.

This time, to protest tuition hikes.

A group calling itself the Open University will host a rally at Sproul Plaza on Tuesday afternoon, 50 years after student leader Mario Savio gave an impassioned speech protesting a ban on political activity.

“We will continue to speak out against tuition hikes that have continued to deny Californians the right to an affordable education and against privatization of our public education,” the group said in a press release.


Berkeley student activists have in the past occupied campus buildings to protest tuition increases. Coincidentally, the university is hosting its own event to commemorate the 1964 Free Speech Movement.

History students will read excerpts from statements made by movement activists during their mass trial. More than 700 students were arrested during the two-day sit-in, the largest mass arrest ever on an American university campus, according to the school.

The Free Speech Movement got its start in September 1964 after student political groups were told they could no longer use the plaza at Bancroft Way and Telegraph Avenue for “off campus” political action. Students rebelled. An alumnus and civil rights activist who was on campus was arrested by campus police and placed in a police car. Students swarmed the car, deflated its tires, and thousands took over the plaza. For 32 hours, the car was the center of a rally.

The movement peaked Dec. 2 with an overnight demonstration of about 2,000 people, including folk singer Joan Baez. Gov. Pat Brown ordered police to clear the administration building; 773 people were arrested.

Savio, one of the student leaders of the movement, gave a memorable speech: “There’s 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.”

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