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The legacy of Berkeley's Free Speech Movement

The legacy of Berkeley's Free Speech Movement
Mario Savio gestures during a 1964 Free Speech Movement rally at UC Berkeley. (Associated Press)

To the editor: The article looking back 50 years to UC Berkeley's Free Speech Movement and the specific focus on Mario Savio brought back powerful memories. ("Graying activists return to Berkeley to mark '64 free speech protests," Sept. 27)

My campus activist days did not come until 15 years later, when the issues of the day included admissions policies, affirmative action and university divestment from South Africa. Still, our movements were very thankful and conscious of the contributions of the Free Speech Movement. And that iconic, historical image of Savio standing atop the police car and addressing a crowd is etched in my memory.

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"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." Yes, I remain conscious of those rallying words from Savio, but perhaps those words are in my subconscious too. As I typed this letter, I was wearing a faded green T-shirt of one of my favorite rock bands: Rage Against the Machine.

Stand up and speak out.

Stan Seidel, Rancho Palos Verdes

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To the editor: The author of a book on Savio compared the reunion of some of the Free Speech Movement protesters to Thomas Jefferson coming back to explain the Declaration of Independence.

At the time, UC Berkeley was not a bastion of fascist thought, but a liberal university that merely restricted the time and place of some speech. The protesters loved to compare themselves to the Freedom Riders, which some had been. However, the Battle of Berkeley did not pit them against Bull Connor and the Alameda County Ku Klux Klan.

Unlike Jefferson, they did not have to "pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor," risking death if they failed.

The easing of rules on where protesters could set up their tables was not a revolutionary change in the course of human history comparable to that rendered by Jefferson and company.

David Goodwin, Los Angeles

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To the editor: UC Berkeley officials and perhaps staffers at The Times should be put to work cleaning up all the graffiti in L.A. What a sanitation job they do on the protests of the 1960s.

The free speech movement was contagious — you got that right.

I lived down the street from the "Berkeley of the East" — the State University of New York, Buffalo — as a grade-schooler. At the height of the protests, thousands were involved as the tear gas canisters flew and bank windows were smashed. The culture of our country was in a second civil war between hard hats and hippies.

There's nothing to be gained by sugar coating the history of America's freedom.

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Gerald Walsh, Redondo Beach

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