Notes on Berkeley in the Sixties film

A presentation that accompanied the viewing of the film at Southern Oregon State University in Eugene, Oregon, September 27, 1996, transcribed from the tape.

One of the subjects I have been asked to address especially today is the historical split between the New Left and the counter-culture. I would refer you especially to the foootage of the press conference with UC faculty members and Reagan. I want you to have these images of People’s Park in your mind as I try to explain the connection and disconnection between the left, old and new, and the counterculture.

Beware the rigidity that history imposes on social change the more it is written and filmed about. Mark Kitchell was trying to counteract that tendency in the way he organized the film as a people’s history. The issue of how influenced the FSM and later movements were by the left was an issue for the opposition. It was never an issue for most of us, it certainly was never an issue for me, except insofar as it was an issue for them. McCarthy-era thinking had typed us as dupes of the Communists. A handful of us were actually Communist by birth—“red diaper babies” they were called. Pink diaper babies would have been more accurate for some. But, the issue was social justice and economic equality was a function of that issue.

Most of my friends joined communes to annoy their parents, then decided it felt so good that they kept on doing it until something else felt better. I never thought of myself as part of a political-economic movement. Like Mario Savio, I got my ideas from Christianity and felt that “red and yellow, black and white,” we were all precious in His sight. Now, I would say in Her sight. I had no Marxist rap and I couldn’t stand to listen to anyone else’s for very long. To me, it was all a case of right and wrong. Everything I did, and most of my friends felt the same, I did because I knew that the war was wrong, racism was wrong, sexism was wrong and our feelng so helpless and exploited was wrong.

The key to this in the film is Barry Melton’s statement about the difference between him and his parents. Melton was a pink diaper baby, The child of the Old Left. He says his parents had unpopular ideas but they were still materialists. They cared about the way wealth was divided up, he says, but he was at the point where he didn’t care about wealth. He says, “We were actually living communally, rather than sitting around talking about Communism.” I heard similar statements constantly, about how bourgeois the Communists were. That was one of the reasons why the idea that we were dupes of the Communists was so funny—because the Communists weren’t revolutionary enough for us, at least the ones we knew. It was the difference between activism and complacency, a difference in the depth of the change we were aiming at. The Old Left only talked economics, with a little classless society thrown in. The New Left was speaking to changing all of the assumptions of the imperialist, racist military-industrial complex. The counterculture, to me, went still further and spoke to rewiring the mind of the individual, as well as living it out, rather than waiting for the revolution before we lived it out—perhaps that was the influence of psychedelics.

Later, Melton echoes his statement about his parents in talking about the New Left politicos, meaning the FSMers, the Vietnam Day Committee, SDS and similar groups. He says “they wanted to convince Washington. We didn’t want to know that Washington existed.” That was the exact split between the counterculture and the left. Except for Peoples Park, that split, in my opinion, has never been fully eradicated. All of my political friends tried to stop me from dropping out and becoming a hippie. They accused me of escapism. I accused them of cowardice and lack of imagination.

I think there is a bit of an age factor in both the split between the Old Left and the New and between the New Left and the counterculture. We live in such a fast changing society that a difference of just five years in age can represent a real difference in worldview. Very generally, the counterculture was conceived by baby boomers. The New Left was conceived by babies born during World War II. We actually experienced McCarthyism, segregation and the Vietnam War at an age when we could be aware of them. Many of those who represent the ongoing counterculture were children during the Vietnam War. We lefties called them, fondly, teenyboppers, before People’s Park. To us, hippie was also at first a somewhat derisive term, incorporating the idea of airheadedness. Later, it was used in a more tolerant, even affectionate, way. After Peoples Park, some of the most political of the leftists discovered the politics of absurdity as an alternative to bloody revolution and some of us found that what the counterculture had to say was, in a certain way, much more revolutionary than what revolutionaries had to say.

I dropped out when the Peoples Park movement made it clear to me that it was a choice between staying in Berkeley and possibly becoming part of a bloody revolution or leaving and launching myself into the unknown. A year or two later, the unknown had become Humboldt County and the back -to-the-land movement, what I think of as the most political segment of the wider countercultural movement. The leftist thread continued there for a few years, at showdowns that happened between nomadic, communal groups that felt that landowning hippies had copped out, and the sedentary back-to-the-landers, whose communes were changing into land partnerships and land owned by extended families. The nomadic truckers lost that argument in southern Humboldt County.

Frank Bardacke’s statement indicates the mixed feelings of the New Left for the counterculture. He says, “I was one of those who felt the counterculture could be a revolutionary event. Bardacke was good friends with good friends of mine, some of whom moved to Sonoma County right after Peoples Park, but his use of the words,” I was one of those,” shows that within the New Left that was a minority school of thought. I have always assumed he was joking about “I can almost convince myself of that right now,’ because he has lived out his life as have country hippies, as if he still believes that the counterculture can be a revolutionary phenomenon.

John Searle says that the People’s Park was a cynical movement. I disagree with him. It was no more cynical than any other movement. I’m sure that, as some have said, some of the leaders were just trying to keep the revolution at the forefront, but most of the participants I knew saw it as perhaps our last chance to try to heal our society with a loving constructive action rather than destroy it in revolution. It was like a dying cactus I once had that bloomed with its last gasp. Who was cynical were the forces that ran over the blooming cactus with a steamroller.

After Peoples Park, so many of us felt we could never make something really new in the face of such incredible repression and we were so full of the spirit of change that there was no question of our not trying to finish what was started in Berkeley. We could not go back at sheep and be as we were before we were gassed. So, I ended up, along with a few thousand other 60s refugees, in southern Humboldt County, and I worked on a new way of living for 25 years. Now I live in Arcata, sometimes called Little Berkeley, because it’s as close to Berkeley in the 60s, culturally, as I could manage to get.

In the film, I said that within a year after the gassing the three of us who went up to the Rose Garden were all gone from Berkeley. My partner and I were actually gone within two weeks. It was near the end of the quarter. I wrapped it up and we took off— just ahead of the revolution, we thought. It was that final an event for me. As fate would have it, I only managed to stay gone for three months before I came back and ended up doing two more quarters. That second one, however, finished me for good. I had to be essentially kicked out before I actually cast my lot forever with what later came to be called the counterculture.

The night before we left Berkeley the first time, during Peoples Park, we walked to “The Ave” to say goodbye. We had to do it before curfew. It is as close as I ever got to a war zone scene. There were National Guard with fixed bayonets at every street corner and The Ave was nearly deserted, windows were boarded up. As far as I was concerned, in terms of how it felt to me, the revolution could easily have started the next day. But, I didn’t want to fight it. I was committed to nonviolence, to Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

In the film, there’s a scene referring to a crucial SDS meeting, another irrevocable turning point. I was not an SDS member and was only there because rumors were flying that something important was going to come down. One group of people simply got up and said, “From this point on we are a revolutionary force and if you’re not part of the revolution then we don’t trust you, so leave the room if you don’t want to join us.” I left, my partner stayed. The group that had taken over the meeting became The Weathermen. I waited outside for my partner, wondering what he was doing, since he was much less a political creature than I was. He was black and had had military experience and had already been pressured by black militants. When he came out, he said he had only stayed to see if they would physically throw him out. I never did learn if that was what happened. In any case, he said, “Don’t worry. I would never get involved with them.” They were, he said, “a bunch of rich kids playing revolution” and that turned out to be largely true.

So, in my mind, the counterculture became a viable option to me the day I was gassed on campus during the Peoples Park movement. The second time we left was just before I got my Master’s degree. I thought I had given up all academic ambition when I left the first time but I only had two more quarters left for my Master’s and, worthless as a Masters degree in anthropology is for anything, it was my piece of paper, I had busted my ass for it, and I wanted it. Just about the time I started thinking, maybe it’s over, maybe I can finish my PhD, Nixon bombed Cambodia, they shot the Kent State Four, I got sexually and politically harassed out of the department and I found out I was pregnant. All of that happened in a two month period. I kissed the Phd good-bye for good and all, I thought.

We decided to stick it out in Berkeley until the baby was born, then move to the country, which is what we did. I’m still here so are thousands of other 60s refugees and some of us are still trying, non-violently, to stop the war machine—that is, to change our society at the level where wars are generated.

Notes on Berkeley in the Sixties

A presentation to accompany the viewing of the film at Southern Oregon State University in Eugene, Oregon, September 27, 1996, transcribed from the tape.

One of the subjects I have been asked to address especially today is the historical split between the New Left and the counter-culture. I would refer you especially to the foootage of the press conference with UC faculty members and Reagan. I want you to have these images of People’s Park in your mind as I try to explain the connection and disconnection between the left, old and new, and the counterculture.

Beware the rigidity that history imposes on social change the more it is written and filmed about. Mark Kitchell was trying to counteract that tendency in the way he organized the film as a people’s history. The issue of how influenced the FSM and later movements were by the left was an issue for the opposition. It was never an issue for most of us, it certainly was never an issue for me, except insofar as it was an issue for them. McCarthy-era thinking had typed us as dupes of the Communists. A handful of us were actually Communist by birth—“red diaper babies” they were called. Pink diaper babies would have been more accurate for some. But, the issue was social justice and economic equality was a function of that issue.

Most of my friends joined communes to annoy their parents, then decided it felt so good that they kept on doing it until something else felt better. I never thought of myself as part of a political-economic movement. Like Mario Savio, I got my ideas from Christianity and felt that “red and yellow, black and white,” we were all precious in His sight. Now, I would say in Her sight. I had no Marxist rap and I couldn’t stand to listen to anyone else’s for very long. To me, it was all a case of right and wrong. Everything I did, and most of my friends felt the same, I did because I knew that the war was wrong, racism was wrong, sexism was wrong and our feelng so helpless and exploited was wrong.

The key to this in the film is Barry Melton’s statement about the difference between him and his parents. Melton was a pink diaper baby, The child of the Old Left. He says his parents had unpopular ideas but they were still materialists. They cared about the way wealth was divided up, he says, but he was at the point where he didn’t care about wealth. He says, “We were actually living communally, rather than sitting around talking about Communism.” I heard similar statements constantly, about how bourgeois the Communists were. That was one of the reasons why the idea that we were dupes of the Communists was so funny—because the Communists weren’t revolutionary enough for us, at least the ones we knew. It was the difference between activism and complacency, a difference in the depth of the change we were aiming at. The Old Left only talked economics, with a little classless society thrown in. The New Left was speaking to changing all of the assumptions of the imperialist, racist military-industrial complex. The counterculture, to me, went still further and spoke to rewiring the mind of the individual, as well as living it out, rather than waiting for the revolution before we lived it out—perhaps that was the influence of psychedelics.

Later, Melton echoes his statement about his parents in talking about the New Left politicos, meaning the FSMers, the Vietnam Day Committee, SDS and similar groups. He says “they wanted to convince Washington. We didn’t want to know that Washington existed.” That was the exact split between the counterculture and the left. Except for Peoples Park, that split, in my opinion, has never been fully eradicated. All of my political friends tried to stop me from dropping out and becoming a hippie. They accused me of escapism. I accused them of cowardice and lack of imagination.

I think there is a bit of an age factor in both the split between the Old Left and the New and between the New Left and the counterculture. We live in such a fast changing society that a difference of just five years in age can represent a real difference in worldview. Very generally, the counterculture was conceived by baby boomers. The New Left was conceived by babies born during World War II. We actually experienced McCarthyism, segregation and the Vietnam War at an age when we could be aware of them. Many of those who represent the ongoing counterculture were children during the Vietnam War. We lefties called them, fondly, teenyboppers, before People’s Park. To us, hippie was also at first a somewhat derisive term, incorporating the idea of airheadedness. Later, it was used in a more tolerant, even affectionate, way. After Peoples Park, some of the most political of the leftists discovered the politics of absurdity as an alternative to bloody revolution and some of us found that what the counterculture had to say was, in a certain way, much more revolutionary than what revolutionaries had to say.

I dropped out when the Peoples Park movement made it clear to me that it was a choice between staying in Berkeley and possibly becoming part of a bloody revolution or leaving and launching myself into the unknown. A year or two later, the unknown had become Humboldt County and the back -to-the-land movement, what I think of as the most political segment of the wider countercultural movement. The leftist thread continued there for a few years, at showdowns that happened between nomadic, communal groups that felt that landowning hippies had copped out, and the sedentary back-to-the-landers, whose communes were changing into land partnerships and land owned by extended families. The nomadic truckers lost that argument in southern Humboldt County.

Frank Bardacke’s statement indicates the mixed feelings of the New Left for the counterculture. He says, “I was one of those who felt the counterculture could be a revolutionary event. Bardacke was good friends with good friends of mine, some of whom moved to Sonoma County right after Peoples Park, but his use of the words,” I was one of those,” shows that within the New Left that was a minority school of thought. I have always assumed he was joking about “I can almost convince myself of that right now,’ because he has lived out his life as have country hippies, as if he still believes that the counterculture can be a revolutionary phenomenon.

John Searle says that the People’s Park was a cynical movement. I disagree with him. It was no more cynical than any other movement. I’m sure that, as some have said, some of the leaders were just trying to keep the revolution at the forefront, but most of the participants I knew saw it as perhaps our last chance to try to heal our society with a loving constructive action rather than destroy it in revolution. It was like a dying cactus I once had that bloomed with its last gasp. Who was cynical were the forces that ran over the blooming cactus with a steamroller.

After Peoples Park, so many of us felt we could never make something really new in the face of such incredible repression and we were so full of the spirit of change that there was no question of our not trying to finish what was started in Berkeley. We could not go back at sheep and be as we were before we were gassed. So, I ended up, along with a few thousand other 60s refugees, in southern Humboldt County, and I worked on a new way of living for 25 years. Now I live in Arcata, sometimes called Little Berkeley, because it’s as close to Berkeley in the 60s, culturally, as I could manage to get.

In the film, I said that within a year after the gassing the three of us who went up to the Rose Garden were all gone from Berkeley. My partner and I were actually gone within two weeks. It was near the end of the quarter. I wrapped it up and we took off— just ahead of the revolution, we thought. It was that final an event for me. As fate would have it, I only managed to stay gone for three months before I came back and ended up doing two more quarters. That second one, however, finished me for good. I had to be essentially kicked out before I actually cast my lot forever with what later came to be called the counterculture.

The night before we left Berkeley the first time, during Peoples Park, we walked to “The Ave” to say goodbye. We had to do it before curfew. It is as close as I ever got to a war zone scene. There were National Guard with fixed bayonets at every street corner and The Ave was nearly deserted, windows were boarded up. As far as I was concerned, in terms of how it felt to me, the revolution could easily have started the next day. But, I didn’t want to fight it. I was committed to nonviolence, to Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

In the film, there’s a scene referring to a crucial SDS meeting, another irrevocable turning point. I was not an SDS member and was only there because rumors were flying that something important was going to come down. One group of people simply got up and said, “From this point on we are a revolutionary force and if you’re not part of the revolution then we don’t trust you, so leave the room if you don’t want to join us.” I left, my partner stayed. The group that had taken over the meeting became The Weathermen. I waited outside for my partner, wondering what he was doing, since he was much less a political creature than I was. He was black and had had military experience and had already been pressured by black militants. When he came out, he said he had only stayed to see if they would physically throw him out. I never did learn if that was what happened. In any case, he said, “Don’t worry. I would never get involved with them.” They were, he said, “a bunch of rich kids playing revolution” and that turned out to be largely true.

So, in my mind, the counterculture became a viable option to me the day I was gassed on campus during the Peoples Park movement. The second time we left was just before I got my Master’s degree. I thought I had given up all academic ambition when I left the first time but I only had two more quarters left for my Master’s and, worthless as a Masters degree in anthropology is for anything, it was my piece of paper, I had busted my ass for it, and I wanted it. Just about the time I started thinking, maybe it’s over, maybe I can finish my PhD, Nixon bombed Cambodia, they shot the Kent State Four, I got sexually and politically harassed out of the department and I found out I was pregnant. All of that happened in a two month period. I kissed the Phd good-bye for good and all, I thought.

We decided to stick it out in Berkeley until the baby was born, then move to the country, which is what we did. I’m still here so are thousands of other 60s refugees and some of us are still trying, non-violently, to stop the war machine—that is, to change our society at the level where wars are generated.

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