THE FREE SPEECH MOVEMENT
I first heard about the Free Speech Movement from my lunch-mates at Oakland City College. We had already been following the Mel’s Diner, “auto row” and “hotel” sit-ins in San Francisco that brought on the FSM, and we were excited that these events meant that now one need not go to Mississippi or the South to participate in the Civil Rights Movement. When Jack Weinberg was held in a police car for 24 hours while a spontaneous sit-in prevented the car from leaving, it appeared to us that, now, one need not even go to San Francisco. I was very interested that the Civil Rights Movement had followed me from the South to the Bay Area. Now, I thought, the likelihood is greater than I can participate in some way. An open mic had been rigged at that sit-in and people had taken turns speaking from on top of the car, something I could not have imagined in my wildest dreams. After that, I knew that what was happening at Berkeley would at some point include me.
One day after the police car sit-in in Berkeley, my OCC friend, Charles, and I were talking about what was going on at UC. Charles said, “There are rallies pretty much every day, let’s go down there, let’s see what’s going on.” So we got on the bus, rode the mile or so to UC and went to a noon rally. It was the first time I ever heard Mario Savio speak and I was very impressed by him and by the other speakers as well. It was raining like hell. Charles and I stood huddled under his umbrella, listening to them and sympathizing with pretty much everything that was said. It was clear to me that they were like the people I had known at Florida State–intelligent, committed and courageous.
For me, the epicenter of the Free Speech Movement was the people involved, the leaders, more than it was what you might call politics. I saw it as a highly moral issue and was drawn to it because of that. It was about the principle of the thing. It was about civil rights, mine as a student and potential activist, to be active on campus on the issue of the civil rights of black people, the cause I most wanted to be active about. However, what finally encouraged me to join the FSM, insofar as anyone can be said to have “joined” anything, was the people themselves.
As Charles and I went to the rallies, and we went anytime we thought there would be a noon rally, I began to vet the leaders. Who among these people can I trust? Are any of them on what we later called “power trips?” Are they, as accused, working for the Communist Party? I had, by that time, been fed so much bullshit from all directions that I was very wary, but I had complete trust in my ability to judge people as individuals. And, I heard or saw nothing that worried me. When the San Francisco Chronicle ran an article asking “Who are the leaders?”, with pictures of some of them, I read it eagerly and felt utterly vindicated vis a vis my more conservative husband when I could point to their pictures and bios and say, just look at their GPAs. That was answer enough for me to the question being asked by commentators as to whether or not they were serious students or only there to make trouble. You cannot be an honor student if all you are doing is making trouble. You have to be a serious student to be an honor student. These were my people, of that I had no doubt.
I was very drawn to all of them. I had been looking for a group that could replace the people I had left in Tallahassee—and when I saw their pictures, I said to myself, here is where they are. It was a major encouragement to me to become involved in it myself. I also thought, “Now, these guys know what they’re doing. They’ve been in the middle of the real civil rights stuff. They’ve faced down the same bastards I did not do so well trying to face. Now, they’re saying that students are adult human beings, full citizens with a right to input on social issues and to do it where they live and work, on campus. They are asking for my support and, if I see a chance to support them, I will.”
One of the earliest accusations that surfaced regarding the FSM was that it was organized and run by the Communist Party and we were all their “dupes.” The implication was that mere students were incapable of generating and sustaining such a movement on their own. This incredibly silly and demeaning accusation never quite went away and continued into the anti-war movement and beyond. I had no concerns whatsoever on this score and, as far as I could see, the only possible ground for the charge was that one, and only one, FSM leader was a declared member of the Communist Party. Since it was manifestly clear that she, Bettina Aptheker, was only one among many leaders of the FSM and I was very familiar with the guilt-by-association technique, I wasted none of my precious time thinking about it.
A parable about the insidious effect of that slander, however, is the whole “Don’t Trust Anyone Over Thirty” flap that came up after the sit-in, soon after I transferred to UC. The story, as told in the documentary film, Berkeley in the Sixties, is that the remark was made in response to a reporter asking, “Are the Communists behind this?” Asked this question at an FSM meeting, Jack Weinberg said, off-hand and flippantly, “Of course not, you know we don’t trust anyone over 30.” It was a sarcastic remark, made in exasperation, by an FSMer in the presence of reporters who then brazenly took it out of context and presented it in print as a serious remark, purportedly reflecting the sentiments of participating UC students.
It was taken up, printed, circulated around, critiqued, used to ridicule every student movement thereafter and became so connected with 60s activism and then 60s counter-culture that, in my own 60s, I received a Hallmark birthday card once more taking that nyah-nyah, now YOU’RE over thirty tone that so incensed us all at the time. When an article appeared in McCall’s magazine some years after the FSM, about four FSM women, including me, I was ready to physically attack my good friend, Richard Cowan, co-author of the article, for allowing that very phrase to be used as a title and then referred to as both the “battle-cry” and a “taunt” of the FSM. He protested mightily that he was not allowed to write the title, only the text, of the article, and my later career in journalism validates him on that point, but it pretty much cut no ice among us bustees at the time.
I actually did not know exactly where the phrase came from until I heard the story told in Berkeley in the Sixties, but we all knew at the time that no one but a fool would have said such a thing straight-faced and that, taken seriously, it was manifestly untrue that we trusted no one over 30. We never saw any of the movements in Berkeley to have been generational and the closest we ever came to ageism was dissing hippies when they first appeared and affectionately referring to our younger activists as “teeny boppers.” Everyone I knew, certainly, deeply respected certain faculty members–our advisors, faculty members who supported us and, indeed, the Faculty Senate, which voted to publicly support the FSM. I deeply respected and loved my bosses at the Lowie Museum, as well as the public figures whose works had helped lead me into my political action at Berkeley.
When, during one of the first noon rallies after the Sproul Hall sit-in, telegrams from supporters from around the world were being read, I could not contain myself with joy when the congratulatory telegram from Bertrand Russell was read. My mother had been called into a conference with my high school principal about my attitude when I had been caught reading Russell’s Marriage and Morals behind my (ahem) Home Economics textbook in study hall. To get 1/800th of a pat on the head from Bertrand Russell was, for me, an undreamed of validation that I was on the right track. He was probably in his 80s at the time. To say that any of us did not trust anyone over thirty and to insinuate that we were so stupid and naive that we did not know that we would someday be over thirty is just the very height of insulting mendacity, almost as bad as the insinuating question about Communism that started it.
The most memorable FSM leader turned out to be Mario Savio, though I hasten to stipulate that at all FSM rallies, there were many, many speakers other than Mario. It was clear to even those of us who were not actively involved, aside from getting busted, that the movement was a model of participatory democracy, and one that I never lost sight of after that. I also never forgot Mario. Although it violates chronological order, I will say what I know about Mario and other leaders all at once, since it is who they actually were that is important, not what I knew of them at the time.
I was very impressed that Mario was a philosophy student. I thought, “Who better than a philosophy student to question deep moral and ethical issues of society?” It is true that he had great charisma, but not in the way that word is sometimes used. He was nothing like a guru or a pedagogue. He seemed more like JFK to me, my emotional response to him was similar to my emotional response to JFK. And, in the same way that it was JFK’s voice as much as his words that drew me in, it was also something in Mario’s voice more than his words that drew me in. Every single thing he says, I thought, hits home with me.
It was Mario, I am pretty sure, who was most responsible for my actually going into Sproul Hall. When I first heard his voice, I heard something in it that touched a place in me no one else had touched in a long time. It was the place that had led me to vow to become a missionary when I was 16, the place I sang from when I had sung solos in church and the place that got so trampled at the Georgia Bible college. When Mark Kitchell, director of Berkeley in the Sixties, told me during the making of the film that Mario, like me, had a religious background and had gone to a Jesuit school, I thought, “Uh huh, that explains it. He’s coming from the same place I am,” even though his “place” was Catholic and mine was Baptist.
It was hearing this truth in his voice that finally did it for me. I believed that there was no way he could be using me or lying to me or power tripping me. I would have heard it if he had been because, after Georgia, I figured I was an expert. He was just asking me to help him do good in the world and, atheist though I thought I was at the time, I might not have been able to walk up those steps if I had not heard that deep moral, righteous (in the finest sense of that word), committed, courageous sound in his voice. Paths of righteousness, I’ll say. I cheerfully count Mario among the top half-dozen people who influenced my life.
There was another time when I made this Christian connection, even though I did not know at that time that there was one. Sometime long after the FSM, I believe Mario had by then been expelled and/or other hard times had fallen upon him, I was at the Steppenwolf, the “in” bar in Berkeley at the time. It was crowded, smoky, loud, there were people everywhere. I looked up from my table, where I was drinking with several companions, and saw a tall man with a familiar face and a backlit halo of curly blonde hair, arms outstretched, head to one side, as if he had just stepped down from a Salvadore Dali painting of the crucifixion, a pitcher of beer in each hand, held above the heads of the crowd. When I saw that it was Mario, I felt my heart dropping through the floor. I thought, “It can’t be Mario, he is way too good for this. Can this possibly be what happened to him?”
I had to struggle with the impulse to jump up and grab the beer away from him and do his job for him, even though I surely could not have held two pitchers of beer at the ends of my arms like that, over people’s heads, even had I not been so short. When I asked someone later if that could have been Mario, hoping that I was wrong, I was told that it was. When Mark told me about Mario’s Christian past, he also told me that Mario hated being compared to Christ, so I feel compelled to stipulate that I am certainly not doing that. It was only a mind-snapshot, a weird thing I saw that weirdly echoed real events. He may have hated being compared to Christ but there can be no doubt that he was professionally crucified for leading people in helping the downtrodden. I would go so far as to say, risking his posthumous disapproval, that I am sort of glad to share that particular historical background thing with him, along with some others, if only because it validates me as a free-thinking person from a Christian background. I do suspect that our sharing it had something to do with why I was able to join him in getting busted.
Much, much later, during a meeting called by Mark to discuss where the film should go from where it was, kind of a large meeting, couple of hundred people maybe, I made so bold as to stand up and express an opinion. When Mario got up a few rows behind me, immediately after me, and said, “Jentri’s right, ….” followed by his own opinion agreeing with me, it was one of the really high points in my life. “By God,” I thought, “Mario Savio not only knows who I am, but he agreed with me about something.” I take my validations where I can get them.
As it happens, I was actually introduced to Mario during the buildup to the Sproul Hall sit-in, when I went with some OCC SLATE people to some kind of an unofficial gathering, but it went by very quickly. He was on a couch at a meeting held in someone’s home and the back of the couch was turned toward the door. So, I just saw his head when he turned it and nodded in my direction, acknowledging the introduction. He then went quickly back to the heated discussion that had been taking place when we entered the room. That was as close as I ever got to the workings of the FSM, except for the bust and attending meetings related to that.
When Mario died, I was teaching anthropology at the main campus of College of the Redwoods, Eureka. I had been having a hard time with my class. I had been called in to teach it only a week before classes started, replacing someone who had dropped out suddenly. Although it was a class I had taught many times before, Physical Anthropology, I had not taught it in 10 years and was somewhat behind the textbook. I was also teaching a new class at Humboldt State University, Arcata. It was a class of my own devising, “Preherstory,” and it had also been arranged at the last minute, so I was scrambling to invent the HSU class as I went along and simultaneously keep a chapter or two ahead of the anthro textbook, which I had not been allowed to choose and with which I was unfamiliar.
There was a little cadre of smart alecs in my CR class who delighted in catching me in any discrepancy between the textbook and what I said in lectures and I had begun to be a little snide to them and to the smarty pantses who liked to point out that their computer program for this course never mentioned this, that or the other thing I had mentioned in lecture. Such are the travails of community college instructors, as opposed to university lecturers. Community college is much like high school. My students felt that the least important part of the course was my lecture and the most important part was the textbook or their computer program, both of which seemed to be aimed at squeezing every last drop of relevance from the subject matter. It was very trying.
Then, I accidentally overheard a conversation about Mario’s death. I took to my bed for three days and never stopped crying, though I should mention that I was seriously ill with Lyme disease at the time and that can make you cry uncontrollably for reasons that do not seem so important to others. On the third day, it was time for my CR class and I was unprepared. Taking my career at CR and throwing it solidly into the wastebasket, I came to class that day and told them about Mario. I told myself it was a teach-in. I told them about Berkeley, about the FSM, about what we thought we did there. I told them the last lecture in the present class–textbook and computer programs be damned–was to have been how dangerous a point we have reached in our human evolution, that we now change or we die off like the dinosaurs, but, I said, I’m giving you the “change” part of that lecture now. I said I was sorry to have become so sarcastic and snide, that Mario’s death made me realize that I was allowing myself to be changed by what he called “the machine,” into the kind of educator against which we had protested. On the other hand, I said, its hard to fight the machine alone.
There were a few sneers on the faces of my students when I finished. All of them were stunned, such a thing never having happened to them before. But, there were also some tears and a few who needed a hug and a few who went immediately to the college library to see if they could check out the faculty copy of Berkeley in the Sixties. We finished out the last few classes in the semester in a different, I hope better, frame of mind. I was berated soon after by the Dean and never hired again, but I have never been sorry I did it.
I was also very impressed by Bettina Aptheker. Fresh from the Deep South, I had never seen a woman like Bettina. To get up there in front of thousands of people and speak confidently, so clearly and rationally, to be so articulate, so forthright–I knew, or believed, I could never be like her. At that point in time, I only spoke out in small groups of people I knew, though I held my own pretty well in those situations. What attracted me to Bettina as well, was her bearing as a woman. I could see, just by observing interactions between speakers at the rallies, that, short as she was, female as she was, she was in no way as cowed as I would have been outnumbered by all those highly confident men.
I could see that they respected her and I could also see that she engaged in none of the female mannerisms in which I had been so thoroughly trained. When she spoke, there was no deference, no false sweetness, no punches pulled, no effort to conceal her razor-sharp intelligence. It was matter-of-fact and directly to the point, no matter how controversial the point might be. Whereas I later heard male activists complaining that she sounded “hard” or “harsh” or “abrasive,” I knew even then, long before the women’s movement, that she was no more so than any of the male speakers and that the complaint I was hearing was pure sexism, though that word had not yet been invented. You just cannot bear to hear a woman speaking as confidently as a man, I thought, and resolved to emulate her tone and demeanor as much as possible in the future, which I did.
Although Michael Rossman was one of the people I accepted in my head as one of “my people,” I never met him until I had already dropped out and moved to Humboldt County. I met him then because I knew his little brother, Jared, who had also moved to Humboldt County and become quite a leader himself there. Jared and I met through political actions as well as mutual friends.
I was pleased to spend some quality time with Michael on various occasions when he came to visit Jared, all at social gatherings and all before the making of Berkeley in the Sixties, in which we both appear. One conversation I remember, one you would pretty much expect, was whether t’was better to have stayed in Berkeley, in terms of effecting culture change, or whether t’was better to have dropped out and joined a community of hippies. Our positions are pretty obvious. Michael stayed. I dropped out and so did his little brother. It could have been a very contentious conversation and, believe me, all my UC anthro friends were shocked to the core when I dropped out, had a baby and went to the country, heaping upon my head great scorn that I was betraying the movement and throwing away all my professional chances, for nothing. But, I have to say, Michael said nothing to me that qualified as scorn. I imagine he and Jared had already had that conversation by the time he and I had it. In fact, Jared told me once that it was a lifetime conversation for them.
We ended in a draw, respecting each other’s choices and agreeing that change can come from many directions. During the filming of Berkeley in the Sixties, Mark had told me he planned to include my little speech about the value of those who left Berkeley in the final wrap-up speeches. When he then dumped me in favor of Michael’s speech at the end, (I had seen the work in progress and it had ended with me) my delicate ego was slightly bruised. But, I got over it. Every time I see the film, and I avoid watching it by myself lest the film overshadow my own memories, I am struck again by how completely right-on is Michael’s wrap-up. When he says that a person could spend a lifetime working on the issues raised in Berkeley in the Sixties, including prominently the FSM, I imagine that he is talking directly to me and Jared, as well as to himself. That is what I think the three of us and a lot of other people, did. Of the FSM leaders, he is the one I got to share my thoughts with and I am so very glad I did.
The more I thought about it and went to the rallies with Charles and then spent hours discussing what we had seen with him and other OCC students, the more it became obvious to me that the FSM was truly an extension of what had been going on in the South for sometime before that. I always saw it as a civil rights issue concerning both black civil rights and student civil rights. I also knew that, because I was about to transfer to Berkeley, whatever came of it would certainly affect me. I was only a few months away from being a UC student myself.
It had a particular relevance to me, personally, because of my history. I had just been thrown out of two institutions of higher learning in the South and I was mad at those institutions because I knew that, dorm rule infractions notwithstanding, I had really been thrown out for my values and opinions. It had been based in large part on my political sympathies and I had felt very powerless because of that. There was nothing I could do about it. There was nothing I could say about it. I had just been thrown out with no due process or even a lip service to due process. I had not really even been told what the specific charges were against me at Florida State. Both administrations had reinstated me, one with the proviso that I never show my face there again, but my emotional balance had not been reinstated. My faith that I lived in a just society had not been reinstated. I still felt keenly the injustice of it all. There was no way I could see what was going on at UC and not connect it to my experiences in the South.
It was also clear to me that this was my chance to rectify any failures I had been guilty of by not being part of the Civil Rights Movement in the South. I had had the right instincts and I had been punished for having them, but I had done nothing that might have had some kind of an effect, nothing that might have really caused a change in the situation. I had not really consciously decided that I was going to do something concrete and then taken the consequences for it. Being a white southerner had eliminated me, in a way, from having anything to do with the Freedom Rides or Mississippi Summer or the lunch counter sit-ins. Group actions were taking place, but they were group actions organized and led by black people and happening nowhere near me. As one white individual surrounded by racists, I could only bring down upon my head all kinds of trouble and what little action I had done as an individual had done just that.
I had a pretty good excuse, I thought, but, somewhere deep inside I suspected, nevertheless, that I had been to some degree, chickenshit. I was not entirely sure that, had I had the opportunity, I would have had the courage to participate. But, I knew that my friends in Tallahassee had done so and I told myself that if they could do it I could do it. I knew that if I did not take this chance that was happening right in front of me I would never be able to look at myself in the mirror for the rest of my life. And, I guess, there was just a little tiny bit of a feeling that I wanted my friend, Roy, busted in Tallahassee, to be proud of me. In response to my queries in the semester preceding the sit-in, he had written from the depths of the South, where he was then a geography professor, and more or less advised me not to get busted, but I knew he was only trying to protect me and I knew that he knew it probably would not work:
My going to jail was, it would seem, a bit different from what you contemplate. I/ we demonstrated then with a clear idea that I/ we would do nothing illegal. We knew, of course, there was a danger of getting arrested, but not legitimately arrested under any reasonable interpretation of the laws of the land. . .
I still think in almost any circumstance only legitimate protest (i.e., legal) is right in the USA today, 1964. If your picket is legal, constitutionally (not counting rinky-dink unconstitutional ordinances of the Sovereign City of Oakland), I think you should do it. But also, it is legitimate, I think, for you to consider whether or not you can afford to miss classes, post bond, pay fines, etc. And I suppose it is legitimate to consider the possible disadvantages of having a jail record—though I hate to say so and have never, myself, worried about that.
Of course, I would not much like the idea of your being in anyplace as unfortunate as a jail, but neither would I want you to avoid it for reasons you don’t subscribe to yourself. Like Thoreau, arrested for refusing to pay taxes to the government that tolerated slavery—Emerson walked by, saw him in jail, exclaimed, “Why Henry, what are YOU doing in there?” Quoth Thoreau, “Ralph, what are you doing OUT there?” That story is tired but I still love it. SO—you must do what you must, of course. And, of course, I hope you don’t have the bad luck to get jailed for a legitimate protest. Please send bulletins at FREQUENT intervals. . . I’ll be worried, rather. November 1964, Huntsville, Texas
The Free Speech Movement, for me, was both a chance for power, a chance to be part of a larger group that was going to have an impact and a chance for me personally– a second chance, to do something moral about segregation and racism. It was my chance to put my body on the line. I decided that if there should be a sit-in, I would participate and if there were arrests, I would be arrested and that is what happened.
It’s hard for a blind man in jail
On December 2, 1964, Charles and I got on the bus from OCC and went to UC Berkeley, knowing that something big was going to happen. I knew that there would be a sit-in and had gotten myself prepared psychologically to do it. I had left a message for my husband that I might not be home for a month or two. I thought I might be in jail for months in the same way that some of the freedom riders at OCC claimed to have been. The excitement was very tangible. There was electricity and anticipation and the joy of being in a huge crowd of people with similar feelings about something so important. There was not, as some have suggested, any hint of mass hysteria or mob psychology, no hypnosis, no mania, no manipulation, nothing but a sense of mature, rational, thinking, responsible students engaging in a peaceful demonstration in defense of their civil rights and the civil rights of others.
Mario was saying, “Let’s just go in there, if this is our building. This university is for the students, is it? We are going in there and we’re going to sit down and show these people that we have a right to protest the injustice in the world.” That is a paraphrase, but I think I am close. That is what I heard him saying. When Mario’s famous speech ended and the call came to go into Sproul Hall, I only hesitated for about two seconds, during which time I got a picture of my husband’s face in my mind and I thought about my hopes for an academic career. I thought, “What is this going to do to my life?” And then I just said to myself “to hell with it. I don’t care what it does. This is my chance to do something and I’m going to do it. I don’t care what happens.” And, I just went in.
Charles, who had been busted in the San Francisco HUAC demonstrations, was standing next to me. As I started away from him, he drew me back, hugged me and told me he was declining to get busted again himself because, “It’s hard for a blind man in jail.” I had pictured us getting busted together, but there was certainly no argument to be made to that statement, so I went on alone. I was among the first few hundred to go in. All of us were moving quietly but with determination. We knew that we were doing something right, that there was no question about it and that we were doing it together. I do not think anybody was even being very intellectual about it. No one was asking, “Will this really work?” The time was past for those kinds of questions. I felt that I was in a group of people who knew that, for that moment, at that particular point in time, we were doing something important and that, no matter what happened later, just the doing of this was important. And, that turned out to be true.
Once inside, I found that there were people urging us to keep moving to make room for those behind us, so I kept moving about as far as you could and ended up on the third floor. However, once I had established my turf by sitting against the wall for a while, until it seemed that there was no more movement on our floor, I left my coat and some belongings to hold my place and headed out to see what I could see. Since Charles had not come in with me, I was completely alone and had no hopes of finding any friends but I saw no one who alarmed me–no violence, no pushing, no loud voices except for the monitors shouting instructions. Everyone seemed calm and alert. If anyone there was stoned on anything, it certainly did not show. Much has been made of one person busted for having a joint in his jacket pocket, but I happen to know the truth of that story and that that person had borrowed the jacket from someone else who had forgotten about the joint. I later became friends with the jacket lender. It did not signify that we were drug-crazed and easily led.
People were talking quietly, sitting against the wall or studying or reading or sketching. I was nearby when students on the first floor began dancing the hora, and it did occur to me that I knew how to dance the hora and could join them but I was too antsy to dance. It was all too unfamiliar to me. After a while, I finished my walkabout and returned to the third floor, where I became engaged in deep conversation about social change with the people around me who were very interested in my experiences in the South. I remained there until I was arrested the following day.
We all knew each thing that happened, as it happened, because news was shouted up and down the hallways, but the police did not get to the third floor for quite a while. We knew when they arrived on campus and when they came in downstairs. We knew that people had been arrested downstairs and we knew when they were about to come onto the third floor. By then, the adrenaline from their arrival at Sproul Hall had abated somewhat. But, when I saw them coming out of the stairwells and elevators onto the third floor, I got a whole new shot of adrenaline. I was among those closest to them, so I got to experience the full blast of their entrance. They had helmets, they had batons, they had guns. I cannot remember exactly what else they had, but I seem to remember them as being loaded down with equipment, certainly as looking very large from my perspective from the floor. I was terrified and my first impulse was to run. I was holding onto the people next to me to keep myself from jumping up and running away. Then something very neat happened.
Whereas Mario had impressed me most during the buildup to the sit-in, the person who impressed me the most during the arrest itself was Art Goldberg. Art was really not that appealing on the surface of it. Unlike Mario, he did not look like St. George killing the dragon. He was big and sloppy and loud and you would expect him, just based on his appearance, to be crude. He had a puckish, mischievous expression on his face so often you had to wonder if he was just one of those people who were born with it and that is what his face looked like in repose. At least, that had been my initial impression of him at the Sproul Hall rallies, where he had not been among my favorite speakers.
Art was sort of the leader of our floor. He was, in some way, in charge of us. When we knew the cops were coming to the third floor, Art took up a position about six feet from the lobby with the elevators and started lecturing us on what passive resistance meant. It occurs to me now to wonder why we did not receive this lecture sooner, sometime during the long wait. But, perhaps someone fretted that we might forget it if we got it sooner. Or, perhaps Art timed it so that he could do exactly what he did. In any case, Art was doing a fine job of it. He told us not to badmouth the police. He said, “Now, when the cops come at you, you don’t want to fight them. You just want to go limp. You want to go into a fetal position, you want to cover your head. Don’t show any fear and here’s what I mean by going limp” and as he was saying that, the cops were charging in, batons raised, shouting. And, there is Art, looking right at them calmly, smiling his little smile, going limp as they grab him and talking all the way down to the floor.
I was sitting very close to where he was, within three feet of him. It was happening right in front of me. I could not have been in a better position to see the whole thing if I had planned it. He was saying “This is how you do it, watch me,” while the police were actually grabbing him and shaking him around violently. He was receiving blows as he went down in the middle of them. He was still talking as he was being beaten. He was curled up on the floor saying, “This is the fetal position, this is the way you go limp,” as they are poking him and beating him and yelling at him. I believe that is one of the most courageous things I have ever seen, before or since. So, Art was my role model for courage and I vowed that when they came for me, I would try to be as courageous as he had just been.
Of course, that did not happen to all of us. They were just trying to scare the crap out of the rest of us by attacking him. That was certainly not the only instance of police brutality I saw that day, but, for most of us, it was mostly threats of physical harm combined with psychological scare tactics. After the initial scene with Art, the cops began arresting people, starting at the far end of the hall from the elevators. I was one of the last ones they got to, so I had a chance to watch a lot of people getting arrested before they got to me. I was trying to prepare myself psychologically, to plan my behavior. I wanted to do it with as much dignity as possible. As they got closer and closer to me, I saw that they had a tape recorder and were taping whatever you said when you got arrested. I was listening as best I could to what other people said when they came for them. A couple of people down from me, I heard what they were asking. They were asking the women, “Do you want to walk out like a lady or are you going to get dragged out?”
I knew there was something wrong with that choice but I could not put my finger right on it. So, I was trying to figure out the answer that would be recorded on the tape and would point out the problem with the question. I was wearing my hair in one long braid down my back, something I learned that day not to do again at a demonstration. One cop said to the other, “Let’s drag this one out by the braid.” Clearly, they were trying to scare me before busting me and I cannot claim that they failed.
The cop grabbed my braid and started jerking my head around. Then he asked me, “Are you gonna walk out like a lady or do you want to be dragged out?” I mustered as much dignity as I could, looked him in the eye and made the comment that has been treated as a joke ever since. I said, very seriously, “I want to be dragged out like a lady,” causing everyone in earshot to crack up. I did not have much time to ponder that reaction, however, as one cop did grab my braid and the other grabbed the back of my shirt and they dragged me away from the wall. I had been sitting on my long coat and had not had the sense to put it on as they approached, so future bustees still on the floor grabbed it and threw it over me as I went by them, reducing even further any aspirations I had to dignity.
My “drag me out like a lady” remark has been considered a witty comeback by fans of Berkeley in the Sixties ever since, somewhat to my chagrin. When I told the story around OCC as soon as I got back, my freedom rider friends immediately produced that day’s issue of the San Francisco Chronicle and showed me that the story had made it into Herb Caen’s column. When Ernest Callenbach, co-author of the popular book, Ecotopia, reviewed my book about the counterculture years later, he asked me if he could mention it and I let him, by then resigned to its comical status.
The reality is that my aim had been to come up with some logical and righteous remark that would illuminate the false dichotomy, the insinuation that if you got dragged out you were not a lady. I had no great ambition to be a lady, of course, and had ditched that aspiration in the sixth grade to spite my mother, who did care a lot that I should either be a lady or be seen as one. If you engaged in civil disobedience, the question implies, you would prove yourself to be some kind of scum. “Lady” was their shorthand word for not-scum. When I said I wanted to be dragged out like a lady, I was dead serious. I had intended to imply “I’m doing this, it’s an honorable thing and I am still not-scum.” As it turns out, the remark probably got a lot more circulation as a joke than it would have gotten as a serious statement and, as a joke, probably makes my point even better, so over the years I have gradually come to terms with it as a joke.
But, whatever it was, I was not the only person to have said it. I learned much later that something similar happened to at least one other person in Sproul Hall. At the 30-year reunion of the FSM in Berkeley, I was approached by another FSM bustee, a man, who asked me if I had really said that. I assured him that I had, whereupon he asked me what floor I was on. I told him the third. The Herb Caen reference had been to a woman on the first floor who had made the remark and, at the time, I had thought it was just a mistake about the floor I was on.
This man said that he had been on the first floor and they had asked him if he wanted to walk out like a gentleman and he had made exactly the same reply AND for the exactly same reason I had. He had not been joking, either. We agreed that Caen had made a mistake either about this guy’s sex or my location, we would never know which, or that he had chosen to conflate them and that great minds work in the same way or come to the same conclusions or however that saying goes. Neither of us considered that there could have been a third person making that remark, a woman on the first floor. I think this fellow was a bit aggrieved that I should have gotten all the attention, but there is not much I can do about that except present his case here.
Once I was grabbed, it was all I could do not to fight them. The main weight was on the back of my shirt, so that the hair-pulling was not nearly as bad as it would have been otherwise. My every instinct was to fight them but I kept remembering Art and I kept saying to myself, “Go limp. Just don’t do anything. Stay absolutely still.” And, I did manage to do that all the way up to the processing tables that had been set up in the lobby. Then they very quickly changed their mode of interaction with me and said, “OK, its all over, you can stand up now.”
I did not seem to have any instructions in my head about how long the going limp was supposed to continue, so I did stand up. I am ashamed of that now because many people, I learned later, stayed limp throughout the whole procedure. I heard a story about a woman who had, because of that, gotten beaten in the elevator going down to the basement. I think I stood up because their repetitive commentary to sleep-deprived and terrified “newbies” to civil disobedience was so effective. It worked on me like hypnosis. I was, by then, stupefied with fear, way past my bedtime and easily handled by huge equipment-laden cops.
I believe they fingerprinted me there, but the details get blurry at about this point in the story. I was taken down to the holding cell in the basement. I was there the whole rest of the time while they arrested people and took them away. I saw a lot of very heavy things. I saw a guy, maybe he resisted, maybe he was a leader, maybe he had resisted them or sassed them, being carried out, passing in front of the bars of the holding cell, with one cop on each leg and arm and another cop at his head. As they were walking by the cell, there was a sixth cop beating up on his balls with a baton. He was screaming and writhing. I saw many people taken by the cell who were so surrounded by cops that you could not really see what was happening to them, but you knew they were screaming and hollering in what certainly sounded like pain.
At one point, a non-campus cop came up to the bars and addressed one of the women near me. He said, “You know that guy who just went down the hall getting beat up?” She said, “Yes?” He said, “That was your boyfriend. I think we’ll have to take him to the hospital.” Just as he intended, she immediately freaked out and began sobbing. We all surrounded her and tried to hold her together. Then something else neat happened. A campus cop came over to the bars and said to her, very gently, “It isn’t true. He was just trying to scare you.”
I was pleased to meet that very cop later on, during my first semester at UC. Acting in my capacity as typist-clerk for the Lowie Museum of Anthropology, I was standing by the door to an exhibit with another female museum employee, also an FSM bustee. We were on either side of the door leading to the room where the Dead Seas Scrolls, then on tour, were being exhibited, using clickers to count people in the very long line as they went in. Standing with us as a guard for the exhibit was the cop who had been so kind.
We naturally fell into talking about the sit-in, since all three of us were excruciatingly bored with our jobs and you can use a clicker and talk at the same time. As soon as I heard his voice, I recognized him and said, “You’re the guy who comforted the woman sobbing in the basement.” He grinned a big grin and said, “That’s me.” A very enlightening conversation then ensued about campus cops vs. Berkeley City and Alameda County cops, leavened with stories about things he had seen, and the three of us parted friends at the end of my shift. I was able to produce that story in later heated discussions condemning all cops in general, though it had little effect other than to make me feel more broadminded than the others participating in those discussions.
© Jentri Anders, 2016