1966--The four-day failed student strike at UC Berkeley led by SDS

Prior history: the FSM free speech victories of 1964--65

 

In 1965 the Free Speech Movement achieved important victories in the decades-long conflict between student political organizations and the University administration.  The FSM was able to win two major changes in administration policies related to student political activities on campus:  1) Rallies were to be permitted on the Sproul Hall (administration building) steps and in Sproul Plaza, without regulation of content and 2) Student organizations could set up tables in designated campus locations, distribute political material and recruit students, also without regard to political content.  Permits were to be applied for, but would require no more than two days advance notice.  These significant changes in administration policy were the result of months of FSM sit-ins at Sproul Hall and approximately 800 student arrests.  The new policies had been agreed to in principle by the administration, but specific rules and regulations had not been formulated, creating the conditions for future conflict.

FSM and the Kerr Directives, 1964

 

UC President Clark Kerr was generally sympathetic to the students' demands for freedom of speech and assembly, but with limitations that were demanded by the Regents. Kerr had previously developed a set of rules governing student political activity on campus that came to be known as the Kerr Directives.  The overall effect of the directives was to codify the restrictions on student political activity that had been applied somewhat inconsistently in the past by the Regents and the administration.  Student resistance to the Directives became a major factor behind the FSM's sit-ins and student strike  Although the administration had accepted many of the FSM's demands in principle, The Kerr Directives and the university policies they supported needed to be officially modified or scrapped if the FSM's victory was to be implemented.

 

After its "success," the FSM lost focus and was unable to make plans for monitoring and enforcing its victories.  In addition, SLATE was in the process of dissolving itself and abandoning its function as a liberal umbrella for student political activity.  

 

Kerr and his Directives, post-FSM

 

Kerr took advantage of the lull in progressive student activity  to formulate a revision of the Kerr Directives, with input from the administration and the faculty, but not the students.  California's political landscape was changing.  The public backlash against UC Berkeley's "dirty mess" became a deciding factor in the race for California Governor.  Reagan's outspoken condemnation of the UC Berkeley student radicals and their "permissive" administration was effective in winning him the election.  Kerr's revision of the Directives preserved the ideals of students' rights of free speech and assembly on campus, but imposed restrictions that limited students' exercise of those rights.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ROTC table that led to the strike

 

On November 30, 1966, U.S. Navy ROTC recruiters set up a table on the ground floor of the Student Union, with the permission of the University Administration.  The Student Union was nominally under the control of the ASUC, and that organization had not granted Naval ROTC permission to set up the table.  The administration's rules actually forbade all such tables in the Union and students were quick to insist that if ROTC could set one up, so could anyone else.   

 

The SDS anti-draft table

 

At this point, the campus chapter of Students For a Democratic Society (SDS), a group that was trying to gain influence on campus and nationally, provoked a confrontation  which quickly escalated into a near riot.  SDS chose to take immediate action against the Naval ROTC table without a thought-out plan.  An anti-draft table was hastily set up right next to the ROTC table.  Unsurprisingly, tempers flared and a fistfight broke out between fraternity supporters of the ROTC table and the SDSers and their supporters, some of whom were non-students. Tables and literature were trashed and someone called the Alameda County Sheriffs.  Seven students and Mario Savio, no longer a student, were arrested.

 

Vice-Chancellor Boyd appears

 

UCB Vice-Chancellor Boyd arrived on the chaotic scene and spoke with some self-appointed protest leaders inside the Union.  The police arrested Mario Savio (a non-student) and approximately 8 others.  Chaos ensued in which some of the SDS members identified themselves as "student leaders" who said they wanted to negotiate with Boyd right then and there.  They pressed Boyd for release of those arrested and for clarification and enforcement of the administration's rule against tables in the Student Union. 

Boyd explained that he was not in a position to negotiate on the spot and left the "discussion" to talk to the police on the scene.  While Boyd was gone, a set of  five demands was formulated by the groups "leaders."  When Boyd returned, he said that he knew of no reason that the students could not set up a table in the lobby of the Student Union next to the Naval ROTC table.  Boyd then reversed himself and told the protesters that the SDS table and protest inside the Union was  "unlawful" and asked everyone to leave. 

The crowd outside the Student Union gets involved

 

While the demonstrators inside the Student Union were were getting arrested and trying to negotiate with Boyd, a spontaneous crowd of upwards of  2000 had coalesced outside the Union, drawn by reports of a police "riot" on campus   Late in the afternoon, the large crowd outside moved into the Student Union's second-floor Pauley Ballroom, where an attempt to decide on a course of action failed.  The original group of demonstrators on the floor below came upstairs and joined the crowd in Pauley.  A meeting was then held in Pauley to discuss the day's events and to decide what to do next.  The SDS' leaders' five demands were presented and agreed to by the assembled crowd.  At 1 AM a vote was taken on staging a student strike over the five demands.  The vote passed overwhelmingly by the crowd of 2500, and the strike was set to begin the next day, December 1.

 

The strike flares and then fizzles

 

During the brief strike, at least one mass rally was held in the Plaza (see photos), flyers were created, banners made and information boards put up to keep the campus informed of the strike's actions and "progress."   The attempt to maintain the strike by its core of "leaders" revealed a major disconnect between the administration, the SDS-led Strike Committee and the mass of unorganized students.   Most classes continued to be held during the strike and the majority of the campus' 30,000 students attended them.  Participation dwindled over the weekend and the strike was officially called off on the 6th of December.  The strike did not settle any of the issues brought up by it's hastily drafted demands.

 

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Strikers encourage students entering Dwinelle Hall to boycott classes

Strike rally in Sproul Plaza.  The show of hands shows early support for the strike.

A meeting during the strike, held in the basement of the Engineering Building.

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Student crowd leaving the strike rally and passing through Sather Gate.

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Strike banner on the Steps of Wheeler Auditorium in the rain.

Picket sign protesting cops on campus.

Creating silk-screen designs for strike posters.

Strike posters were printed on whatever paper was available -- in this case, computer printouts.

Strike information was available at tables set up throughout the campus, including this one in the Engineering Building.

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Some Teaching Assistants ("TAs") stopped teaching their course sections and urged students not to cross their picket lines; this one was at the Life Sciences Building. 

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Large strike banners looked good in photographs but did little to keep students from attending classes.  This is in front of Dwinelle Hall, the building where a number of undergraduate classes were conducted.