Hard as it is to believe, 50 years have passed since the Free Speech Movement changed the University of California, the City of Berkeley, and the Baby Boom generation forever.
And FSM veterans are coming back to Berkeley for a reunion from Sept. 26 through Oct. 3, climaxing with a rally at Sproul Plaza on Oct. 1, the anniversary of the day hundreds of students kicked off the movement by surrounding the police car holding Jack Weinberg on Sproul Plaza for 32 hours.
Robert Reich, Dolores Huerta and FSM veterans will deliver speeches from the Sproul steps, which were officially renamed the Mario Savio Steps in 1997.
The celebrations will continue throughout the fall, including a concert by Mavis Staples, a hootenanny at Ashkenaz, exhibits at the Bancroft Library and the Berkeley Historical Society, documentaries at the Pacific Film Archive, a political poetry night at the FSM Caf, freedom-of-speech symposia at the law school and the Academic Senate’s commemoration of its historic vote Dec. 8, 1964, in support of the student demands for free speech.
But the most intriguing event has to be the premiere of “FSM: The Musical,” which will debut at Berkeley Rep on Saturday, with two more performances the following day.
And get this: It was composed by Mario Savio’s son, Daniel, in collaboration with two veterans of the San Francisco Mime Troupe — Joan Holden and Bruce Barthol, the original bass player for Country Joe and the Fish.
FSM was an iconic moment for my generation. I was a sophomore at Yale when I read about the mass arrests in Sproul Hall, and I immediately rushed to the dean’s office and said, “I want to transfer to Berkeley!” “No way,” he replied. “We’ve already spent a year and a half trying to make a gentleman out of you, and we don’t want to blow our investment.” So I had to wait until I graduated in 1967. But by the time I got here, the scene had changed — and not for the better.
“FSM was not a hate-filled movement, and so much of what came after was,” says journalist Kate Coleman, who was an undergrad at Cal in 1964. “And a lot of it has to be credited to Mario. A lot of guys in the movement were arrogant jerks, but not him. He was so humble. I don’t think I really appreciated that until later, as the left got ugly and started to eat its own.”
And I think part of the blame lies with people like me. Unlike the FSM demonstrators in 1964, who were just trying to apply the principles of democracy they had learned in civics class, the next wave of students came to Cal itching for a fight.
And so was the other side. As Seth Rosenfeld points out in a perceptive article in the current issue of California magazine, nice guy Gov. Pat Brown had been replaced by Ronald Reagan, who was a radical, too, in his own way.