For Mario, who loved a good read and efforts at honesty
In the episode of the Free Speech Movement, I think we were inhabited by spirits larger than ourselves — somewhere between ancestral and primordial in nature, and sharply formed. We had no cultural vision to recognize them as such, nor language to speak of being the vehicles of what flowed through us. All we could say even of “the spirit of Democracy” was that this was a metaphor. And all we knew was that the mundane world, in which our ordinary selves felt their ways through the common crisis, had become charged with an extraordinary energy — a luminosity at times almost tangible (yet invisible to the eye, so how could one refer to it?), that made each occasion, each decision, each act no more than what it funkily was, but ever so much so, resonant in its significances.
Such a frame seems pertinent to the story of the report that came informally to bear my name; for I have always thought that vital dimensions of the FSM episode have escaped historical recognition and examination. Though I alluded to them long ago (1), until recently I hardly connected them with my personal experience of organizing the “Rossman Report.” I saw the Report’s story simply as an illustration of the FSM’s participatory energy and spirit, in the usual metaphorical sense. Readers concerned only with what can be stated precisely may well take it simply as such, as an exemplar of the FSM’s organizing process, and be satisfied with its face value.
Yet I have come lately to think that there may be more to it than this. In 1998, working on the website project of the newly-incorporated Free Speech Movement Archives, I had a curious experience as I prepared the 1964 text of Administrative Pressures and Student Political Activity at the University of California: A Preliminary Report for online re-publication in an expanded edition. While writing an introduction telling how the Report came to be, I came to see with a detached eye how remarkably driven its organizer had been; and to grasp that my personal story might be more crucial to the social phenomenon than I had realized or could understand. Given such uncertainty, how can one know what may seem germane to those who come to see more clearly? In my account here, I have put some personal data that may bear on the case.
For thirty-odd years, I discounted my role in organizing the Report, in terms of bashful modesty which I believed completely: “Yeah, that’s how I got the reputation as a wizard organizer that put me on the FSM Steering Committee. But I hardly did anything; I just started asking for help, and a bunch of folks responded and did it.” Looking now at the surviving internal documents of the project, one might conclude instead that it was planned and directed in cold rigor and confidence by someone wearing a verbal costume of confusion and disorganization. If the disjunction between these views does not testify simply to my private dissociation, it may also be an artifact of an experience of possession — for such spirits as worked through us imbue their conduits with senses of responsibility both deeply grasped and hardly to be grasped as personal.
[The Report’s Organizer: His Background and State of Mind]
When the FSM began, I had been at Berkeley for six years, having transferred in fall 1958 as a junior from the University of Chicago. That spring, I had been co-leader of a brief movement of educational reform whose themes, though tame in comparison, in some regards prefigured the FSM’s. (2) Beyond helping organize the senior skit in high school, this was my only direct experience as an organizer before the FSM.
I came here in part because friends’ letters reported a tantalizing awakening of political concern. By the time I arrived, TASC had metamorphosed into SLATE, the first umbrella organization sheltering the diverse buds of a new activism. Though never a member, as I am not a joiner, I was a fellow-traveller, and came shyly to know some of SLATE’s people and stories in the early, small Civil Rights pickets and peace demonstrations. By spring 1960, when the swell of activism brought hundreds of Berkeley students to demonstrate against HUAC and Chessman’s execution, in the public birth-cry of the New Left, I was deeply involved in both affairs as a supporting journalist, as well as a body on the line and picket captain. (3)
Disoriented by this climax and conflicting tugs of life, I dropped out and worked for a year and a half as a laborer on campus. I remained on staff at the campus literary magazine, where my early essay on the character of the New Left was published (4); and served as recording secretary for the Bay Area Student Committee for Abolition of HUAC while our little, tense band sent literature and speakers to support-groups nation-wide. The experience was draining, and alienated me from activist organizing. I was further disheartened when SLATE was banned from using campus facilities, in functional retaliation for its role in the anti-HUAC demonstrations, and all our protests proved futile.
By the time I re-entered school in 1962, in the depressed aftermath of the Cuban missile crisis, I was hot for study. I undertook graduate work in mathematics as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow and teaching assistant, so devotedly that I went to only a handful of demonstrations over the next two years while the local tide of Civil Rights activism was swelling to near-constant, epic proportions. I kept in touch through friends and occasional SLATE parties, wrote political poems, and thought actively about what was unfolding, for the story of my generation’s activism had come to engage me deeply. But as an actor, I had reduced myself to just another occasional body on the line, well back from the front where hundreds by then were being arrested. By fall 1964, I was so removed from campus action that I didn’t pay much attention to the latest rule-tightening until the gathering protest was in its second week. I went to check out the novel midnight vigil on Sproul Steps, but the kids there seemed so young, and so inappropriately rowdy with their guitars, that I felt quite alienated, and went back home to study more topology.
In sum, on the eve of my mobilization as an organizer in the FSM, I had lived through nearly the whole history of local activism preparing this episode, as a reflective participant — in effect, preparing myself to serve as an elder within this movement, beyond being simply an older member (at twenty-four). Though I had by then various activist credentials, most were dated and I wasn’t seeking to extend them. My bent was more literary, to be a political writer, as I became in earnest after the FSM. (5) I had no training, ambitions, or pretensions as an historian. At most, I saw myself occasionally as a participant journalist, recording and interpreting a story unfolding in our lives.
It is pertinent also, that by fall 1964, I had been smoking marijuana for eighteen months. That summer, I had my first experiences with LSD. Such experiences, in the context of that time, were related to mobilizations of perception and energy at deep levels for many in the FSM — how many no-one knows, for deeply political aversions still inhibit inquiry into such connections, in fields that lack theory to explain them.
[The Report’s Genesis in a Crucible of Public Dialogue]
Shortly before noon on October 2, I joined friends on the Terrace to await the promised confrontation, as groups of the “united front” set up tables in Sproul Plaza to defy the ban on political expression. The air was already electric, with blank expectation, when the sudden arrival of the police car brought us to our feet and shocked me to the core. Soon enough, cops on campus would become commonplace throughout the land; but in this first instant of transgression, something even deeper than a hallowed academic tradition was violated, and rang me with despair. It was so unfair! As we hurried over, I felt the whole lonely, demoralizing burden of six years of striving for a campus toehold against the administration’s hostility rise in me like bile. By the time we got there, they were loading someone they’d arrested into the car, awkward with his limpness.
A hundred people will tell you they were the first to sit down to keep the car from taking him away. No matter what the news-clips show, each is telling a truth; for it was a moment of collective impulse — not the first, but the most immediate and dramatic — in which we moved as one while acting as our independent selves. My own move had been rehearsed four years earlier, when we sprang to block a press car at the gate to San Quentin during Chessman’s execution. We were too few then, they just kicked us out of the way. But now we were more — thirty, a hundred fore and aft, and then more on the sides, until our seated encirclement stretched ten yards in every direction within the larger ring of lunchtime students gathering to gape at the affair. As someone climbed on the car and someone else went to fetch a megaphone, I let go of the bumper and settled myself beside a wheel to wait. Ordinary time stood suspended; we had stopped the Authorities in the act of transgression, and the instant of impossibility and possibility stretched on, unresolved. I didn’t know who we were — looking round, I saw some friends and others I recognized, but they were swamped in strangers. All I knew was that we had to keep the car, had to keep the open instant from closing into jail, for it was the first thing we had won on campus from all the years of struggle and loss.
In this state, transfixed more by the enormity of our response than by the crime of our governors, our conversation began. It went on for twenty-seven hours, not counting a break for sleep. Recordings testify to how funky and utterly mundane it was, in each stumbling burst of passion or strategic analysis, each academic note, each play of wit or vow, the passages of fear. But nothing can convey the way the whole was transcendent. Sitting there responding to each speaker with my mind and heart, somewhere even deeper inside I grew utterly amazed as I realized I was involved in the first public dialogue I had witnessed in my life.
Though transcribable as such, this was not an intellectual perception, but a sensate apprehension of an existential condition through my whole being, before words could form to describe it. All I can compare it to, thirty-six years later, is a psychedelic experience of a transcendent spiritual state — less because I am frozen in retrospect, than because I have no other model to describe a radically-altered state of consciousness in which one perceives nothing as altered save in revelation of its depths of being. In our case, this change of state was hard to recognize as such, for we didn’t have a drug conveniently identified as its agent, or a cultural background to grasp that such transformation could occur as a secular phenomenon, and its effects were easily mistaken for mere inflammation of political (or baser) passions. Yet even so, evidence of a radical alteration of our state remained, so concretely as to seem objective to those sympathetic with this view. For in the long, suspended moment of that dialogue, what had been largely an atomized mass of us became a true public, a participatory polity.
The frame of this occurrence was extraordinary. We were engaged together in an unprecedented defiance to affirm core values. All knew, in varying degree, that our careers were at risk, and our bodies too. We couldn’t see the six hundred cops arming behind Sproul Hall with orders to beat us into the ground if we resisted, but our premonitions were tangible. In such circumstance, it’s only natural that we came to feel bonded — yet something deeper happened among us. I think we created ourselves as a public through our deliberative dialogue, created ourselves as citizens in an existential commonweal, pledged together, uncertainly dependent upon each other. In the months that followed, as we worked out our roles in the drama, we were proud to be recognized by sympathizers as bearers of the spirits of Liberty and Democracy, and deeply reassured to see ourselves so — less because any inner doubts were stilled, I reckon, than because we were so certain that this description was merely a metaphor. To be bearers-on of precious tradition in a vital circumstance, to be citizens, was already so real and rich and strange a role or state that we could hardly grasp it fully, or be moved to wonder further as we clung to its familiarities. Even so, a glow I could not see persisted in my perception, and with it a sense of the uncanny, from the moment I realized what was happening in our dialogue.
However one parse that collective experience, I felt myself in an altered state that extended among us, and found myself simultaneously thrilled, terrified, and nonchalant in the condition. I can hardly express the strangeness of feelings as gossamer as they were dramatic, the utter mingling of the sacred and profane. The dialogue was holy, my heart opened as I recognized its miracle, I hung on every word I heard. And also I picked my nose, chatted with friends, and flirted with a cute stranger. By 3:00 p.m. or so, though reluctant to leave its enthralling embrace, I went off with two hundred others to the second floor of Sproul, to blockade the office of the Dean of Men until he or some higher administrator would meet with us.
As we jammed the broad public corridor, our dialogue flared again like a brand brought to tinder, materialized as a substance we could extend. Here its focus was narrower, on the tactical situation — on whom to let enter or leave, whom to bar, what to demand if ever they’d talk with us — though as deeply engaged with the issue of moral action. Thrilled to find myself again in the presence I had left, the glow, I listened as the talk ran on and on. As all had claim to speak, we could rag a point endlessly, but were sensible enough to make slow progress. We were at it for two hours before the distinguished faculty group arrived to convince us to leave the building, give up the car. Gingerly, they explained how they were trying to mediate the situation, negotiate with the administration “on your behalf.” They felt that many faculty would support “a reasonable degree of freedom.” But nothing could proceed while we were holding a knife to the administration’s throat, creating chaos, making it impossible for them to do anything.
I joined the dialogue then, as a child asking naively why it was impossible. They explained over and over, dodging spirited interjections, until something cracked open in me. I stood up and simply raved at them for the depth of their betrayal, their impotence. Where had they been the past two weeks, the past six years? Why were the men who should have led us in defense of shared values trailing us instead, pushing us to back down? Really, I was quite beside myself, out of control, watching myself raving like a man possessed until I slumped down hoarse, still trembling with that blast of raw emotion.
Or so I had remembered ever since, until checking the transcript yesterday. It seems I did scream at one point, as I taxed them for betrayal. Yet the content of my rave was surprisingly academic and coherent. “You are treating this as if it were two weeks old,” I said. “This is not two weeks old, it is . . . six years old. . . . We have been driven to the first civil disobedience on campus . . . after a period of six years of having our liberties chopped away one by one. Of petitioning nicely, of discussing nicely. WHERE HAS THE FACULTY BEEN DURING ALL THIS?” And I told them where, ticking off the few, ineffectual highlights of their intervention in our punishments, and in their own — including the political firing of the only professor (of History, Richard Drinnon) who had stood with us at the lonely gates of San Quentin. (6)
Those sharing Lewis Feuer’s view of the FSM as an adolescent rebellion driven by darkly Freudian forces may well find paydirt in the depth of my cry of abandonment, my grief and rage at the absence of fathers to respect. As those feelings echo still in my maturity, I can hardly object, or pass my outburst off as only a sane response to the typical failures of liberal intellectuals in that era. Yet it makes as much sense to say that Clio seized me in the instant I spoke of Drinnon, the Muse of History focussing my role in the broader stream of spirit coursing through us. Whatever the species of energy, I opened to a tremendous bolt that propelled me relentlessly, its agenda already precisely announced. Yet all was still implicit; I had no sense yet of mission beyond my commitment to whatever might come of our desperate affirmation. (7)
Since we refused to budge before direct negotiations with the administration began, the professors withdrew, and our talk resumed until campus police arrived to close Sproul Hall early, breaking another tradition. We rushed downstairs to jam the doorway, and held it open until the cops tired of wrenching us apart. Soon after, we voted to leave anyway, as they had sealed off the upper floors; and rejoined our comrades around the podium of the car, in the glow of public dialogue.
Years later, I came to write about the peculiar properties of such open circles of testament and decision, in which all may speak with equal authority and everything pertinent may be considered. (8) To identify them simply as democratic forms is misleading, for their characteristic textures and dynamics of content and participaction are quite different from more usual forms of democratic discussion structured by moderation and linear argument. So too are the effects on their participants, both severally and together, in ways verging toward the transpersonal in at least a metaphorical sense. When they work, from a disorderly anarchy of contributions a self-organizing coherence emerges, in content and persons both, too multi-dimensional to describe simply. (9)
Such forums were vital to the FSM from then on, particularly in its inner workings. Indeed, the experience of this one was so vivid and compelling that it set the tone of the movement that emerged, and began a tradition of “open microphone” that distinguished crisis politics and organizational workings in Berkeley for decades thereafter. Yet surely this one was unique in the sheer novelty of the experience of direct democracy, as in the surreal theater of our encampment, the heightened sense of danger and meaning.
And so I found myself among a spontaneous polity engaged in the raw act of self-governance, of self-creation, crystallizing through its open dialogue. Periodically we paused to vote on this or that, as a thousand informed and independent minds, in what the media, administrators, and even our professors could recognize only as a “mob scene.” And then resumed, as the long moment without resolution stretched on with no sign of when or if they’d talk with us or when the cops would descend. In an existential daze of adrenaline and wonder and whatever else was coursing through me, I listened as speaker after speaker mounted the car to extend the dialogue with perspectives of Constitutional law, mythology, local politics, of hope and fear. And running through all this were bits and threads of our history. I think I took no special note of them as such in the flow, but surely I was attuned to them, if only because I was among the relatively-few there with experience to appreciate their constellation.
Ours was a living history, too recent and marginal and local to be well-recorded, borne mainly in oral tradition, in the patchwork of stories our veterans remembered and retold — about the rebirth of social activism at Berkeley after the despair of the Fifties, and how the university administration had tried to contain and abort it. Though thousands of students had woven themselves recently into this history in Civil Rights demonstrations, its long contour and the inner story of struggle for civil liberty remained almost the private memory of a handful of veterans until we began to share it from atop the car. Our history became our property in a newly public way, for a larger we, as we began to tell the stories again and bring them up to date. As much as our sharing of ideas and the urgencies of the moment, I think this sharing of history — and the very consciousness of history — helped to knit us into community and polity.
Little beyond the very recent was shared that day or the next, as our focus was so immediate. The effect was mainly to make the newly-inducted aware there was a history that they were extending. And even this sense dissolved in the moment, as midnight passed and we focussed on crisis within the crisis. Hundreds of drunken fraternity boys had joined the throng surrounding our jammed, seated ranks to shower lit cigarettes on us, Jew-bait the student body vice-president, and chant for our blood as the blue goons of the Sheriff’s Department egged them on. For me as for many, to watch Mario hoarsely appealing to reason from atop the car was both to witness heart-rending futility, and to expand with awe in the presence of an archetype taken substance in funky reality, absorbing in some degree the signature of its energy. The memory will burn until I die. The surge of threat did not recede until a priest climbed the car to tell them that so much hate leads to murder, and to go home. The small rain of fire faded out as we sat silent half an hour until they left. And then our dialogue resumed.
I don’t recall if it was soon before this or after that I removed my shoes to take my own turn atop the car, with what had coiled within. Surely the need to contribute whatever I could throbbed in me, as in so many there and later. But perhaps it was merely private ego that led me to put my name on the speakers’ list — and coincidence that I could think of nothing more pertinent to contribute beyond what others had already. “This didn’t begin two weeks ago,” I said, mainly to my juniors there, concerned that they understand our pent justification in protesting, and how badly the deck was stacked against us. “There’s a history, it’s been going on for six years and more.” And went on to note as many highlights as I could so briefly, of the long assault on the civil liberty of our evolving activism, before my five minutes were up and I stepped down, with so much unsaid still inside. Soon after, I ducked away to fetch my sleeping-bag from home, and returned to listen until the dialogue suspended and I fell into brief sleep.
I have written elsewhere of the next day. (10) From dawn to dusk our dialogue proceeded in that phantasmagorical theater, as we waited for word of negotiation while thousands of spectators gathered round us and cops from ten jurisdictions converged. It was Indian summer, we were sweltering, spacey. As light blazed from the Greek columns of Sproul’s facade, the Plaza shimmered and we found ourselves in the agora of Athens, huddled in the cradle of democracy, riveted on every word. Yet all we could see was our familiar selves, sweating, stuttering, with no language but metaphor to grasp what was coursing through us.
Years earlier, after the HUAC demonstrations, while recording a prophesy of the rise of the New Left, (11) I had written, “It is one thing to say that we are living in the middle of history; everyone is aware of this. It is quite another to know that this is so, to participate in actions that one knows are in the growing-bud of the historical tree.” This time the feeling was even more so — again, a sensate apprehension rather than an intellectual perception, forming so deeply before words that I had no sense of history as such, but only of the extraordinary moment of now stretching on and on through our dialogue, until word came that the cops were gearing to descend. Doubtless, many references were made that day to our history, but I imagine I gave them no more note than any others, for all were vital, surcharged. In the deepening twilight, as we prepared for attack, I felt hope and despair flicker in wild oscillation. I thought someone would be killed, I trusted it wouldn’t be me. At what seemed the last moment, Mario mounted the car to announce the apparent compromise reached with President Kerr, conscience-stricken because we hadn’t yet been given the chance to approve its terms. We’d give up the car, Jack would be released, the suspensions of our leaders would be put to fair tribunal, and a tripartite committee would study the issue of regulation of student political activity to make recommendations to the administration. Though many beside myself were so torn by mistrust of the offered process that they would have stayed on, together we accepted this as enough for now and voted to leave, dispersing exhausted, glowing, charged.
Though the moment’s peril had dissolved, nothing had been resolved, and not simply in the formal sense of issues pending in committee. Whatever energy had possessed us in that crucible, its signature and momentum were full-fledged; and the moment of extraordinary reality went on as the ordinary clock went round. From that point on, the entire drama of the FSM unfolded with the sense of Greek inexorability remarked on by so many of its literate participants. I couldn’t tell how many others felt the sense of uncanniness how deeply, or felt with me like characters in Attic tragedy, playing our free parts, as only our uncertain selves, in a mythic script that we already knew by heart. (12**) Soon after the climax, I ventured that we had committed ourselves around the car not simply to a cause but to the creation and completion of an Event whose dimensions we could scarcely understand; and argued more comprehensibly, in some detail, that every theme and dynamic of the long conflict were already preconfigured in this opening act. (13) I still have no language for that mind-wrenching simultaneity of destiny and free will. But no account of contingent history, howsoever convincing, will explain the origin of the feeling, or why it persisted through the whole episode.
[The Private Process of the Report]
Hardly an hour before the end, Karen threaded her way through fear to join me beside the car. I had seen her only off and on since we broke up the previous year, and was as startled as grateful, since she was so distant from activism that she wouldn’t even walk a picket line. After the anticlimax, she steered me in silence through nightfall to my apartment, holding shaky hands; plonked me on the bed, made tea, and pleaded, “What’s going on? Tell me what’s happening,” fierce and forlorn.
I opened my mouth and broke down sobbing, gasped to recover and sobbed again. She knew so little even of the last two weeks; how to explain what had been going on and where it had come to? Still I tried, in clots of coherence between the tears. I don’t know where I started or how much I covered how, as she listened, eyes wide as mine, trying to grasp the sense. I went on and on till Aphrodite took pity and she folded me in her arms and we made love, and sank into the well of dream.
By noon she left. Across town, my old and new comrades were gathering to work out the formal structure of the movement of our desire, mechanisms to harness direct democracy to its task. I ached to join them, but I was beside myself, torn open, bursting with all that had crystallized around the car, the energy, the history, our extraordinary presence. After making an outline, I turned on the tape recorder. “I’m making this tape because some participant journalism is needed, of a kind we’ve never had,” I began, and went on for an hour and half.
Given that I was a young man wildly excited, setting out to describe the amazing prolonged event he had just been through, the result was rather academic in content, if not in its textures of feeling. Reaching back to the Fifties, I recalled our movement’s struggle for civil liberty for half an hour and more, touching on as many key events and dynamics as systematically as I could while being swept with tears as I lived them through again; and even as I came to the last two weeks, the last two days, kept infolding the past in my account of the moment that still went on. Though the earlier parts of the tape transcript were most heavily edited before its later publication, enough detail remains to show how fully my account prefigured the agenda of the Report that was to come. (14)
That next week, the campus was abuzz with people looking to connect and be useful, in between trying to reconnect with ordinary life. The weekend convention that named our movement had already mapped some of its channels. After my Monday classes, I went to the Teaching Assistants’ caucus forming in the Statistics Department, and was elected as a representative to the newly-organizing Graduate Coordinate Committee. In the GCC’s early meetings, besides arguing for the wing that favored militancy, I proposed that we research and publish the conflict’s fuller history as a useful, immediate project. Thousands had been energized by the confrontation; to inform them was to make them more fully ours. And also this committee was to convene to work out the issue. The coherent record of our repression was crucial evidence to place upon the table, and to show the world. What could be clearer? Surely a caucus in the History Department could take it on?
Though sympathy may have been wider than I recognized, I might as well have proposed to a wall, for everyone was already committed to affairs of more immediate consequence. Disappointed, I faced the stern dictum that ruled throughout the FSM — if you think it’s worth doing, get to it yourself — and went home to begin, stepping back from the front of collective process so abruptly that I can’t recall how I passed on my responsibility as a T.A. representative.
For a week or more, I toiled alone, locked in my room, breaking only to tend my classes as a T.A. and to check with friends and the Daily Cal about what was happening, as the ambiguous betrayals of the compromise were revealed and focii of activism continued to condense in our widening community. Each time, it was agonizing to wrench myself away from the immediacy and urgency of the present, the replenishment of comradeship, to engage the ghostly past . But I couldn’t help it. Wired with late caffein and whatever else, I was burning, not simply with a line of argument but with the staggering richness and complexity of the whole history it ran through, all I could grasp.
Faced with the problem of how to argue the case beyond our partisan crowd, to an intelligent and skeptical community, I fumbled my way towards a functional analysis in terms of effects on organizations, communication, and leadership, through which one could understand not only the occasional dramatic edicts and tampering, but the University’s entire pattern of student governance during this era, by mostly well-meaning and liberal administrators, as a methodical repression of the New Left’s burgeoning activism. I say “fumbled towards” because that’s how it felt, struggling with paper. Yet it’s clear that the bones of this analysis were already fully formed in my taped account, and they may well have been stated as I spoke atop the car. This thesis and analytic perspective became the basis of the public bulletins I later wrote to recruit and orient volunteers for the Report project; and of internal guides to content and methodology for researchers in several areas. They remained the basis for my covering essay in the published Report, as well as for selection of the studies it included, though the simple clarity of the perspective is somewhat blurred there by other material and the wealth of detail.
For detail there was, indeed. By the time I made my last outline, ten days into the public project, it ran for fourteen pages in tiny script, setting out the developmental history and character of what had been repressed, and a defensible perspective, before turning to methodical survey of the history and effect of administrative regulation on each separate strand of our activity. Looking back, the study proposed by this outline seems as grandiose as it does logical and minimal. To carry it through properly would have taken an adequate scholar at least five years, with help from many.
Well before the outline got to this stage, the task blew me away. On October 16 or so, I looked in despair at the disorderly sheaf of typescript in single-spaced elite type on cockle bond, the maze of beginnings I’d made to explain this theme, that progression, this crux. Too much! I just couldn’t! The clock was ticking, the reconstituted Campus Committee on Political Activity (CCPA) was preparing to meet. I gave up, and went to ask for help.
Nineteen days later, a group of over 220 volunteers had researched and published Administrative Pressures and Student Political Activity at the University of California: A Prelimary Report — amounting to 145 pages and some 65,000 words, including twenty of the forty-three studies brought to first completion — and submitted it to the CCPA as the FSM’s brief. Almost overnight, our case had acquired a broad historical context and grounding — and I had acquired a reputation as an inspired organizer, which helped move me quickly through the FSM’s organizational structure to its Steering Committee.
[The Public Process of the Report]
Seeking help, I turned first to old comrades, my political peers and elders. They were mostly from SLATE, the small umbrella that had sheltered most of our activism before 1961, when the Administration effectively severed its campus ties. They remembered much more about this and other travails than I did. But of course almost all were either off campus in other lives, or too busy already in the conflict to attend to old history. Though some offered gladly to sit still for interviews, if interviewers could be found.
So I turned for help mostly to younger people who knew less, and found them prepared to learn and do more. The cop-car seige had galvanized the campus, there were hundreds, perhaps thousands looking for ways to participate, to belong by the gift of purposeful work to what was happening — which was not simply “a civil liberties protest,” but something involving our deeper senses of autonomy, identity, and purpose. What was striking was not how many had already been activists but rather how many had not been, recently or ever. For the campus community always holds many people with social sympathies who aren’t doing anything in particular, anything that would take attention and energy from their ordinary routines, to act on them. The FSM was remarkable in providing so many a chance and vehicle for active participation.
This agitated mixture of the already active and the newly activated was the raw material, the resource-pool from which emerged the dozens of autonomous work-groups that formed the movement’s functional structure. In this climate of awakened commitment, wherever needs were recognized people gathered to try to meet them, forming Legal Central, Press Correction Central, the Newsletter Committee, departmental caucuses — and off in another corner, for seventeen frantic days, the “repression report committee,” or whatever it was called, for we had no time to choose a name.
After checking out the Old Guard, I kept asking for help. I asked my sister Deborah, my “apolitical” friends, fellow grad students in the math department, fellow poets around the literary magazine, strangers sitting in the cafeteria with FSM buttons and friendly faces. Sometimes I asked them to ask their friends, to think of others who might want to get involved; but usually I didn’t need to, for their thoughts were ahead of mine. I went also to promising public venues — the GCC meeting, the gathering where the unaffiliated students were organizing as Independents. All I recall saying each time was: This needs doing, do you want to help? But surely I must have talked a blue streak. (15)
The need was as uncertain as it was clear. Our present struggle had a background that should be made explicit, as one prerequisite to conducting responsible political business in what we still thought of as an intellectual community, rather than a managerial slum where force ruled. If the Report could be completed in time, it might strengthen the FSM’s case in the study committee’s proceedings. Though of course the CCPA was only advisory to the real rule-makers.
People responded to this long-shot as they did all through the FSM. On Steering Committee, sometimes when something needed doing we’d break from meeting and go to campus to find people with FSM buttons, explaining what and why. If they didn’t agree or it didn’t suit their fancy — well, tough; the FSM wasn’t a membership organization, we had no power to direct anyone. But if they did agree or thought similarly, they would not simply “do the job” but would transform the task, reshaping it as their own as they devoted their unique energies and creativity to it, often enough in ways we’d never anticipated. And so it was with the Report. Like each other work of the FSM, it was a collective task freely organized by its participants. Each did what she chose, bit off her own piece of the task, a piece she hoped would be to her taste and no more than she could handle or get help with. For there was so much to do: deciding what to report and who would take it on, finding information through print and people, writing and editing all the particular reports, keeping track of who was doing (or not doing) what and when it should come in, squirreling stencils away for the printing job, bringing food to meetings and beer to the collating party, distributing the completed Report.
Early on, at the Independents’ meeting, Lynne Hollander joined me, a senior in English at 23 with no relevant preparation, to take on the Herculean task of editorial coordination among a dispersed network of researchers and writers that soon involved over ninety people. She recruited her former lover to report on the disenfranchisement of the graduate students; and he recruited his; and so it went, as impulse propagated in chain reaction and folks we’d never heard of started calling in.
On October 18, I went to the meeting of FSM’s Executive Committee to announce the project and ask for help in publishing the Report. (16**) Rumour had come already, and quickly spread, for representatives of every organization involved were there. Two days later, thousands must have known that some group had taken on the project. The effect was less to bring an avalanche of volunteers, than to affirm and deepen the movement’s collective sense of purpose, dignity, and justification — and of history itself in the making.
By then, the FSM’s communication needs had spawned a ragtag publishing empire in a basement, with the donated mimeograph machines and letter-press that cranked out four million pages of leaflets and newsletters in constant, last-minute production. Press Central’s story was as rich and idiosyncratic as the story of this report, and as so many more; if the FSM’s full history could be written, it would fill a long shelf. There I met Thom Irwin and Marston Schultz — students in landscape architecture and architecture at 23 and 22, though Thom had dropped out to study via University Extension — who began organizing others for the task of rush publication barely two weeks ahead, or rather for the travail, for our mechanisms of publishing were so primitive and laborious in that era. (17)
By eve of the next day, Press Central had printed the first “Confused Poop Sheet for Research on Repression at Berkeley” — three single-spaced, tight-margined mimeo pages, an invitation sketching the project’s scope and guidelines, listing fifteen topics with ten coordinators to call. By its second edition, “Confused Poop … ” had become “Information …” and had doubled in length and density, listing forty-one topics and two dozen coordinators, pleading for others to take on the rest. The third bulletin skipped the rhetoric to focus on organization and coordination, added twenty-four topics, and announced a general meeting for that night, October 22, hoping it would draw more volunteers.
That gathering was a carnival, the first time more than three or four of us had met face-to-face. You can imagine what we all felt, on looking around the crowded room to grasp the funky substance and reality of our venture together, of others on whom we could depend. The room buzzed with enough energies to carry and blur any sense of the uncanny; I recall only my feelings of gratitude and hope. In two hours, we whipped through information, problems, and connections and then dispersed, since the deadline loomed — few to full-time labour, most fitting what they could into as much or little of the rest of life as they managed to maintain — leaving Lynne to keep track of their living maze, nag the tardy, and counsel those with writer’s block; and leaving me, with her assistance, to digest what started coming in.
Beyond responding to scattered calls for advice or connections, I had no contact with researchers or writers in the field. Collectively, they must have worked like dogs, an anarchic sledge-team. By ten days later, most of what we’d get had arrived, some through relays of editors. The heap totaled some seventy documents in six hundred pages — ranging in size from brief affidavit of what several heard the Chancellor say to a fifty-nine page treatment of the local Civil Rights movement; in character from dense source interviews with SLATEniks to clumsy summaries of secondary accounts; in quality from this to competent study of the campaign against compulsory military training; reaching back to the Loyalty Oath controversy and afield to the University’s suppression of research on its relation with agribusiness, and its collusion in siting a nuclear reactor on an earthquake fault.
All had been authorized by our “central committee,” i.e. by me and/or Lynne and whoever else was around when people came with proposals. In practice, we approved everything, saying, “Fine, go to it,” offering whatever we could to help shape or refine it — for every time someone said, “This needs doing and I’m willing,” the topic was indeed worth pursuing. We had to trust that folks could carry through, and most managed a decent approximation, with a little help from their friends. Had we had more time, we might better have prioritized their work, and done more editing. Only a fraction of the full terrain was covered yet, even skimpily, let alone digested. But it was time to punt, or throw our pass.
I sorted through the heap with Lynne, triaging the documents’ competence and pertinence against the strong constraint on how massive a work could be published. For a week, I’d been drafting the overview essay from my earlier work, summarizing the detailed logic of our historical case with specific references, re-drafting as more contributions arrived. Finally our triaging and my draft converged, in sixty footnotes tying it to a supporting text of twenty reports, and we sent this too to the printers on November 2.
From our standpoint, it was magical: Couriers were called to take the raw, edit-scrawled manuscripts to Press Central, and neat piles of pages appeared at the collating party two days later. Long after, Thom told me what that entailed. He and Marston had recruited an on-call force of forty typists, forty couriers, and near as many others to staff round-the-clock shifts coordinating them. As the typed masters came in, they went out again to yet others standing ready at hand-cranked ditto machines, phoning in when they were free for use. Since these were more common and accessible on campus than mimeos, it’s not clear that our misguided choice of this medium made printing more difficult. (18) But certainly the process was dramatic, with people diving out of office windows to huddle and return, dodging the campus cops.
As published by the only means at our disposal — manual typewriters and secretarial Selectrics, and the ditto machines used for routine departmental bulletins, lent to us by sympathetic staff — the Report’s supporting texts amounted to 137 pages of single-spaced typescript with narrow margins in a variety of typefaces, often changing within a document, all printed in the pale violet ink of ditto transfer, legible but taxing to read. Only the seven-page overview essay was sharply clear, printed in competent offset on the FSM’s own press.
By late morning on November 4, the collating party began. Our exuberant crew punched holes in 30,000 sheets, collated them page by page, and bound the sheaves in manila folders with pockets, securing each with three bright brass clips after the overview essay was laid in. Having stretched the ditto masters to their max, we distributed the faintest sheets as fairly as we could — after reserving the best for ten presentation copies — and wound up with about two hundred copies of the whole. Two went to each of the forty-some organizations represented on the FSM’s Executive Committee. Most of the rest went to sympathetic faculty in key departments and to various campus libraries; a few to the outside world as to the administration, including copies to President Kerr and the Regents. The overview essay was distributed much more widely; we must have sold two thousand copies for a quarter each at the FSM’s tables, and given away half again as many, blanketing professors’ mailboxes in every department, and our own constituency as well as we could.
Late that afternoon, we brought ten copies of the full Report — several for each negotiating team — to the FSM’s representatives, just in time to present at the CCPA’s fifth meeting. As each weighed nearly two pounds, we imagined their satisfying thump! on the conference table. In the minutes of that intensely-focussed discussion, beginning to clarify the key regulatory issue, no mention of the Report appears. Three days later, the committee deadlocked and was dissolved by the Chancellor, as the FSM began direct action again.
[The Effects of the Report]
So what did all our effort come to? I doubt that anyone besides myself read the entire Report that fall, or during the next thirty-five years, if ever. Indeed, I doubt that anyone besides Lynne and one unfortunate aide to President Kerr read very much of it then, and not simply because copies were scarce and faint. Surely some hundreds of young activists read portions of those that passed into organizations, eager to catch up on certain issues; and probably some faculty and administrators browsed theirs to check the texture and content of our evidence. But who had time and motivation for more than this — and reading its brief overview — while events were sweeping us on so dramatically?
After that, the Report became even more dated and incomplete, an academic curiosity almost lost to history’s archaeology. Most copies probably still survive, tucked away in motley personal archives of the engagements of our youth, long unseen. A few and then very few persisted in libraries, hardly accessible even there, their content becoming of piecemeal interest only to a few specialized scholars. Perhaps these were occasionally consulted, but I have seen no evidence in print more specific than three token citations in exhaustive source lists. (19) Indeed, the very fact of the Report project essentially vanished from historical recall. So far as I know, only two laconic references appeared in all that has been published about the FSM — each two sentences long, noting simply that a group following my lead had been at work on a “massively documented” report whose overview was widely distributed. (20)
Only since 1999 has the Report’s content become more publicly available, shared on the Web in a joint project by the Free Speech Movement Archives and the university’s Bancroft Library, assisted crucially by a gift from Stephen Silberstein — in an edition augmented by all the other, unpublished material prepared by our working group, including its bulletins and internal papers, and the commentary of this memoir. Indeed, since we called the Report “preliminary” in part because we meant and had begun to include the FSM’s unfolding history in it, the entire suite of documents from and pertaining to the FSM, placed on the Web by the joint FSM-A/Bancroft project, may be understood as the Report’s extension.
From the black hole of university administration, there survives only one document concerning the original Report, so far as I know — a response to Kerr’s request that it be reviewed “to determine the historical accuracy of its assertions.” (21) Its author was quite scornful of the work, sputtering with adjectives: “poorly edited . . . outdated . . . uneven in quality . . . some prepared by freshmen . . . [not] reliable or thorough . . . secondary sources . . . misstatements of fact . . . omissions, misinterpretations, and inadequately supported generalizations.” Need I say, I’m grinning? All this was true enough, except the last, and I could cheerfully add a dozen more, conscious from the beginning; for our production was as slapdash and amateurish as one can imagine, the awkward form of instantiated love, of Eros, of passion for the truth of history.
Surely its face was pimpled. Yet it’s not enough to say, “Hey, give us a break; we pulled off a practical miracle, doing it as best we could.” For also we were talented, thoughtful and competent, as well as inspired, and we did a decent job of it, leaving a body of material that will long be of value to scholars, and through them perhaps to others — a rich slice of a history too complex for any work to encompass, as democratic as its subject, bearing some sense of the whole. As for our purpose then, it is notable that Kerr’s reviewer, despite his adjectives, completely dodged the issue of the accuracy of our assertions, acknowledging the problem tacitly by noting that at least nine of the Report’s studies had been farmed out for further study. The real problem was perhaps more visible in his conclusion that “even a comprehensive commentary . . . would only stimulate a continuing, endless, and ultimately unsatisfactory dialogue,” which was of course the attitude that infuriated us.
But others then were more attentive, if closely only to the Report’s similarly-titled overview. For to this day, that summary remains as forceful, coherent, and sound as our grasp then of the affair, and as compact — dry as dust almost, marshalling fact after fact to document the university’s stifling of our dissent, and of dissent within itself, coming even then to climax. The 5,000 copies we published were read by probably twice as many among us within the week, from start to the last footnote, being scarcely longer than three ordinary FSM leaflets together and much better printed. I don’t know that this changed many students’ minds or added, other than in piecemeal fashion, to their senses of local history and justification; but many learned more clearly about how power works in our bureaucratized world.
Beyond them, the overview’s reception varied. The police-car dialogue had already made students widely aware that a long history of grievance underlay the struggle for political expression. Though a few (lower) administrators had understood this sympathetically, most had heard the radicals’ perennial complaints of oppression as ungrateful noise confusing the progress of true liberalization, if not as more pernicious; and had little interest in a corrective text. The faculty were still so insulated even from concern for student activism, let along from knowledge of the actual textures of our institutional experience, that few had more than an inkling that a historical case might be made for our stance. That many read the overview left in their mailboxes and found it coherent may have contributed modestly towards the overwhelming majority in our favor in the Academic Senate vote a month later, though the drama of injustice by then assured this.
Yet such assessments understate the Report’s accomplishment, for its main import and consequence were symbolic. From the time rumour spread that someone had taken on the project to the time news spread that many had delivered, and thereafter, it filled an ache in consciousness among us, as news of Legal Central, Press Corrections Central, and so on did. The ache was in part to know that others had covered each vital base, and beneath this to know that others like oneself were so empowered, for this promised one’s own power for good. In this respect, the instant legend of our accomplishment — the whole history from an army, almost overnight! — lent strength to many and our whole.
Beyond this, the ache was specific. We ached for our history not only as ammunition; nor merely because we were intellectuals still, howsoever inflamed, bound to testify to the importance of its inquiry. We ached for it because it helped make us whole, as citizens and in our selves. To know, even distantly, that the massive, historical substance of our grievance had been recorded and made public by our collectivity did more than strengthen our senses of justification and power — it helped restore us to our selves, in polity and person. In such unmeasureable senses, I think the Report was at least well worth our effort, if not a symbolic triumph.
[Of My Further Trajectory in the FSM]
Soon after the Report’s publication, as I recall, Lynne and I were given non-voting seats on the FSM’s Executive Committee, in tribute to its perceived importance and its work-force. On November 14, I was been elected from there to the Steering Committee in its final reconstitution, in part because I stood somewhat outside a current polarization.
Well before, perhaps even before publication day, the process of my induction on Steering Committee had begun, on my initiative. I was itching for the Report to be done so that I could offer what else I could to our goings-on. All I had to give, beyond my body and wit, was my skill as a writer. Disturbed by the strident tones of the FSM’s leaflets, I volunteered to rewrite them before they went out, and after one trial was invited to continue. Naturally, I had to sit through the long meetings, to grasp what I was to digest. There I found myself accepted equally in an intense, collective dialogue, selectively indifferent to formal bounds. In such way, several others — most notably, perhaps, the young Protestant theologian Walt Herbert –were effectively drafted onto the FSM’s vanguard body, by a process at once quite undemocratic and quite consensual. Of course the formalities were observed: Steering Committee was entitled to host consultants, and we had no vote. But in practice, the distinction was nearly trivial in a dialogue that decided by consensus. And soon enough it vanished for me.
And thus I came to be the main writer of the FSM’s official propaganda, or at least its leaflets, for the conflict’s five final weeks. In this employ, I learned more about how much power he has, who writes the final draft at 4 a.m. Yet I swear I spoke for us all, as well as I was able: my phrasings were rarely rebuked by my comrades, though sometimes sharpened. As for what other role I played, in a variously-divided colleagueship that met for many hours almost daily during this time, only its public face was apparent, in the few speeches I gave at rallies. My inner role remains an elusive elephant, limned by a few nearby commentators as sighted and blind as I. One accounts me a moralist, another a clown, another a romantic nihilist, another merely a crashing bore, and others simply as minor. I’m sure I was all of those and more, as was the Report; and perhaps the group’s chief mystic too, though one other among us might qualify. If so, it can hardly be blamed on psychedelics alone, since at least five of our elected dozen had used marijuana and at least one other LSD by then. Such uses, as I suggest earlier, had some influence within what actually happened in that intense company, as in our larger ensemble, as well as on my perception of these.
All I know for sure, even now, is that our radically diverse personalities and perspectives were fused for a long moment in some transcendent harmony within the appearance of our differences, that left us fully our selves as its use made us more deeply so. It was real, there was discord, misunderstanding, and bitterness among us as well as love; and it was also magical, in the true spirit of Democracy.
Of this, just one thing more. I’ve made my progression to Steering Committee seem quite natural and logical. Perhaps it testifies only to my ego and drive for power and stature, though I’ve hardly lived life that way. But what drove me, though selfish enough, was a deeper hunger, almost beyond words. Around the car, I had felt a glow of a distinct species of energy. I would not come to be able to speak even so vaguely of the feeling for some years, but even then it was clear and called me. After we dispersed, I felt like a blind worm seeking the touch of light, and burrowed with all my being towards where I felt it most strongly, in the collective crucible that Mario stirred. Of my experience there, I hope some day to grasp and write more. Till then, this will remain my overriding sense of the journey.
[Of Making History]
Later, when I came to speak of the project, almost all I could (or chose to) recall was the amazing, concentrated blaze of collective effort that produced the Report. This is how I recorded the story, two and then three decades later in unfinished memoirs, as a miniature of the FSM, minus only the infighting. Focussing on the sociology of the process, I reduced my earlier role — my talk from the car, to Karen, the tape-recorder, the typewriter — to a dozen lines of almost-perfunctory summary, as if I had been simply an accidental catalyst; and treated my role thereafter in hardly more detail or emphasis, as largely titular.
In such forgetfulness or deception, I was moved by what might be called a political commitment, if not a counter-narcissistic drive, of a kind that led political poster artists from the mid-Sixties long onward to issue their work unsigned. The drive is not simply to repress unseemly display of personal ego and private pride, but to affirm and testify to transcendent reality, the vital power of democratic collectivity. It is easy to mock the idea of “the spirit of the collective,” and scarcely more difficult to trace its recurrence in various phrasings throughout the vast tapestry of participant accounts of social activism during that era, as formerly and since. But no language yet serves to express what the phrasings grope at, the peculiar state in which one finds oneself both actor and agent, wholly and only oneself yet simultaneously selfless, a vehicle of common, “higher” will. Even to call it “collective” is already half to lie, but we keep trying. All we can grasp clearly is the practical, life-furthering power of collective action, and even this we confuse with mass as we push the idea.
And so I came — as even a more scrupulous and self-aware historian must, albeit in grosser degree — nearly consciously to deform the history I wrote, both in content and in slant, to serve a well-meant political agenda and urge. So nearly as I could without lying outright, I found myself straining subliminally to present the Report’s effort as collective, not only in its outer mechanics but to the core; and was somewhat pleased by the result, as by the memory. I pardoned the slanting I recognized because it testified to deeper truth, for the experiences that sandwiched this one — the two days around the car, my month in the intense dialogue of Steering Committee, the FSM itself — were supernally collective. Yet even so, I was also lying, not least to myself.
When the editors of this anthology invited me in 1999 to contribute, of course I chose this story. Since I thought my memoir already nearly complete, I expected to spend only a few days tidying it up, but conscience intervened. As an editor myself, I had recently recognized how remarkably driven the Report’s key organizer had been, but scarcely more than this. Even so, the point seemed important to the account, and I sat back to explore it — focussing on my own history, feelings, and perceptions, including some I have long fumbled to express. I was surprised to recognize how early I put forth the Report’s agenda, how long I’d been preparing, how thoroughly I dominated its production, how unerring and uncanny was the bolt of energy that drove me. Standing now with the specificity of my role so fully exposed, I feel almost foolish. Who was I kidding? Would there have been a Rossman Report without Rossman? Who was this “selfless” fool?
For decades, the historian Reggie Zelnik and I have argued politely about contingent history. Would there have been a Free Speech Movement without Mario Savio? There would surely have been something. Reggie thinks it would have been quite different, and likely much less effective. I have thought that not even Mario, nor the ravaged Chancellor Strong, was irreplaceable once the affair began — that given the tensions and energies represented so widely and deeply on all sides, something of equivalent sort and consequence was bound to result, as if in fated theater. (22)
In this view, moved by the same political agenda and spirit, I have less stood aside than leaned outward from my certain knowledge of Mario’s uniqueness and importance to the FSM. From the moment I witnessed him speak from the car, before any word of how he was regarded, I knew him as an extraordinary presence within our extraordinary presence, in a way that went to the heart and only deepened as that drama climaxed, as he went on in public blaze, as we talked together for endless hours in Steering Committee, in jail, in our sporadic, intense friendship till his death. There are real saints, and he was one, in his quirky, tortured humanity; I have known others, not near as closely. In terms pregnant in this memoir, Mario was an avatar, embodying a transcendental signature and force. Insofar as the spirits of Democracy and Liberty flowed through us, he was their brightest conduit, our crooked lightning-rod, and everyone knew it. How can what happened be imagined without him? Yet in my leaning so, I am moved by an equal truth, with which Mario agreed.
For from the first, I was swept with visceral revulsion and grief at the way the media hastened to identify and focus on a Leader, transmuting the FSM from an awakened public to a led mass, in a way that endures to this day in popular legend and school-texts, reinforced recently by national recognition of Mario’s death. Though one might wish professional historians to be wiser than this caricature, it persists more subtly in even the most compassionate treatments of our movement, perhaps emphasized by this very volume and even by these reflections. Yet in the largest dramas of the FSM as in the most intimate, we were cast into an existential democracy in which the contribution of each person, no matter how “trivial” — including the moderates who “betrayed” the movement — was as vital to the whole. Though putting it so be romantic, this reality was attested by the hundreds of practical heroes and heroines who emerged in the affair, by its vital dependence on them in innumerable junctures, and by the FSM’s subsequent reputation as the most participant-democratic movement of its era. To have this be its leading memory and legend, rather than the image of Mario as Leader (or even as Avatar), seems more nearly true in fact as well as spirit, and more healthy in its teaching. May he remain as he was, the brightest star in our bright constellation.
As for the Report, the argument here for contingent history is even stronger than in Mario’s case, and simpler. It seems that I dreamed the whole thing up after spending my adult lifetime preparing, clapped my hands, and watched an army spring forth to materialize my fantasy — or less grandly, that I was a uniquely qualified and driven organizer, mildly charismatic if not divinely inspired. How could the Report have been, without me?
Having put Reggie’s case so strongly, I am reduced to metaphor for reply, beyond the clarity of certain background facts. There were probably forty SLATE veterans around with more extensive and intimate experience of our history, many more disposed by academic training than I to take on such a task. Nor was one necessary, given the broader pool of people with such bents, for the history was essentially as I found it rather than as I construed it, and as accessible in a community opened to connection. Had anyone else of even moderate capacity, drive, and friendships engaged it, they would as readily have found partners for so meaningful a task among so many aching to be useful, and traced the same terrain. My guiding list of topics was merely a first draft of common knowledge and assessment, soon fleshed out by others’ suggestions, as would have happened with anyone as partisan starting to inquire. As for the analytical framework sprung like Minerva from my brow, and the Report’s attempted tones of reason, method, and dispassion, what can I say but that the analysis was primitive, primal, involving no more than a practical understanding of this theme of our experience, which any serious inquiry would duplicate; and that the tones were shaped in deference to the common manners and ideals of our larger community. If no one griped about the slants, tones, and contents of my directives and the emerging product, this was less because I was inspired or dictatorial than because these did indeed represent our common understanding. In such senses, the Report project was even more collective and my role even more selfless than I had portrayed. At most, I can claim the prose-style of the covering essay to be my own, though the tone’s so dry it hardly sounds like me.
In sum, I see no way to contend that I was essential to the Report, save to posit that no one else would have taken it on if I had not. Lord knows, that’s how I felt, as did hundreds of others at their self-chosen tasks. Yet this contention is hardly credible, at best unlikely, given the wide, instant recognition of the project’s importance among the company of so many talented and imaginative people seeking to be useful. (23) Had any other been Clio’s catalyst in this affair, the idiosyncratic history of their preparation would in retrospect have seemed as logical and compelling as mine. Yet even so, I was vital, in all my specificity. How can this be, to be vital and not be? Was even Mario so?
When the great charges gather in the clouds, they find their way to ground. The path of lightning is always specific and contingent, depending irreproducibly upon the actual history and subtle properties of each molecule it inflames; and so is the consequence, but only in whether wildfire flare in this forest or in that. Sometimes it’s a sure bet where and when, the question remaining as to the precise moment and which tree will kindle first — the tallest being the most likely; without it the next tallest, a little less so.
History is always contingent — contingent as Kennedy’s assassination, contingent as lightning, the irreproducible logic of each happenstance turn visible in retrospect, realizing the inexorable logic of its path to ground, the kindled fire. The tension between these historical logics is a matter of scale of view, an artifact of single mind; we cannot grasp fully what works through us and how, though we give it the names of our age and try. Had Rosa not sat on the bus, nor I undertaken the Report, would not someone have done something kindred taken by so many to mean as much? Absent Mario and our FSM, as a common tide rose in the campuses of this land of conflicted freedom, would there really not have been some spark as bright to signal that student youth were entitled and empowered to exercise civil liberty? That World War I hinged on an assassination has been debunked, but the trauma of MLK’s murder still blurs insight. Though the Black Plague and Hiroshima seem ever so contingent, ecology and Mars teach us: If not this way then that, lightning comes to ground. Afterwords
These observations proceed from points marked in my memoir of the Report itself, to consider the further trajectory of the energy that moved us.
(12**) I couldn’t tell how many . . . felt with me like characters in Attic tragedy, playing our free parts. . . in a mythic script that we already knew by heart.
Such exotic feelings are hard to articulate, at best, their dissonances uncomfortable to bear; and are so generally so quickly repressed as to be lost to historical inquiry. Even so, they surfaced partially, in the only form we could grasp, as we joked widely from early on about “the theory of inevitable administrative atrocity,” with growing glee and unease as it kept proving true. Our role in this dynamic seems mundane, for the FSM’s strategy was to provoke reactions that would build our movement to the strength to win its ends, and we went about this consciously as best we could. Yet no account of conscious agency, whether ours or theirs, can well explain why an experienced mediator approved a study committee certain to be perceived as unfair by a mob who had risked their lives the week before, as Kerr did in implementing the cop-car truce; or why this species of blunder and active provocation was repeated two months later, with such exquisite force and timing, at the very moment when almost all observers thought the FSM was failing, falling apart. Need I say, we took the administration’s gratuitous punishment of Mario and our other leaders as a malign gift from the gods, as we geared at last for the climactic sit-in and strike? Some force beyond our means had moved them to madness, if only the inexorable logic of their perspective; and made us perfect partners in this dance, this drama to complete. As we heard the news that Monday, swept by anger, despair, and exhilaration, I think many were also touched by awe and a chill of the uncanny as our joking prophesy of the inevitable proved so true.
Such feelings about the drama and our own pre-scribed roles attended us more or less consciously, as each chose freely to improvise his or her part and marched into Sproul or stayed out to support. They were strongest inside the building, though impossible to isolate from a general sense of amazement at participating in that extraordinary reality. From one angle, we were just a thousand kids driven by desperate affirmation to “throw ourselves on the gears of the Machine,” waiting to be dragged off to jail. From another, as fully as could be in twenty hours and one-sixth acre of liberated territory, we materialized a compact panorama of renewed community, revealed in the bud of its growth — an archetype soon to be developed on larger scale in the Haight-Ashbury before its destruction, and then more largely and diffusely, as whatever had seized us resonated and mutated in our peers.
Whether or not such history were prefigured in Sproul Hall as clearly as I imagine, the tide of energy rising through us was at full there in its force and signature. Barely a hundred feet from where we had crammed together in October, as we crammed together again ordinary time stood suspended again and we re-entered the extraordinary moment that stretched on and on, to complete what had been promised around the car. Old photos of us throwing ourselves on the gears mostly show us static in some corridor, the cream of the State’s (white) youth, casual and shabby, caught in gesture or rapt or bored as we sprawled on the grubby floor. No vantage or participant could comprehend the flickering theater of the whole as we fed each other, sang, tended the infirm, danced, studied, taught, founded a school, gave legal counsel, made music, smoked weed, watched movies, did therapy, courted, made love, held religious service, wrote poems, published bulletins, celebrated birthdays, plotted, met in council, voted together, improvised electronic technology, filling the moment with our life in the play of Liberty, in practice of Democracy. And through it all our dialogue flickered in a matrix of public energy — this time for only fifteen hours before arrests began, rising now from a dozen independent centers on four floors, swelling, ebbing, moving down the corridors as one subject led to another, splitting into smaller swirls, merging, hushing for the grave hoarse bulletins, the sight of joy. Doubtless, almost all we said, though literate, was too mundane and trivial to be worth recording or recall. If a glow that no eye could see enveloped us and expanded as we spoke, who could tell? We were wired, scared, heartened by each other’s presence, buzzing with caffein and tension and history in the making, amazed at our own temerity in forcing a crack of raw novelty in the world we knew, already averting our gaze from the mystery that opened. (24)
At my age now, one can hardly be sure of what is memory and what fancy even in talking of concrete history — let alone of what’s hard to grasp — without consulting some source document. Could the glow be only in my retrospective imagination? I made no notes at the time. All I can swear to beside my own driven experience is an impression I recorded soon after. (25) All commentators then and since have agreed that the FSM was disintegrating, doomed, after the abortive sit-in that followed the Regents’ refusal of our petition; and ascribe its “miraculous” revival simply to the abyssmal stupidity of a punitive administration. As far as I know, I remain the only one convinced that what flowed through us hardly faltered, but continued to swell and condense during what only seemed a demoralizing week, as we waited in eerie confidence for the other shoe to drop. Perhaps I saw it this way only because I myself experienced the strange suspended moment from the cop-car siege through the sit-in and beyond as being continuous between its dramatic peaks. Perhaps everyone else felt only what the commentators say, as reason insists and reasonable memory must deduce, looking back at the objective signposts of the affair. Whatever else some may have sensed of this, as of an esoteric glow, is likely lost to recall, leaving me with the aberrant, stubborn consonance of these impressions.
(16**) I went to . . . FSM’s Executive Committee to . . . ask for help in publishing the Report..
In one sense, ExCom’s approval made the Report an official project of the FSM from then on. Yet its claim to have been prepared by “an independent group” remained valid, as the content of our work was subject to no oversight or approval, and copyrighted by its editors. In a narrower sense, FSM’s sponsorship was equivalent to its role in reproducing the friendly brief prepared by a sympathetic ACLU chapter, and the analysis later prepared by “A Fact-Finding Committee of Graduate Political Scientists.” Yet also our group was widely perceived as an integral agency of a movement that had no formal boundaries, either of membership or of purpose.
This example points at issues in describing social movements, which are complicated by the peculiar nature of the FSM. We did try to keep our eyes and energies on the immediate prize — full rights of political expression — and so historians have conventionally regarded the movement, in its own self-conception as narrowly focussed and purposeful. The Report seems to fit this view neatly. Yet I think it more useful and accurate to see us as having been broadly seized by a spirit or mania of participatory democracy, which moved us to constellate in small, self-directed groups to further its expression. Though much of this was related to the narrow, formal purpose of the FSM, so many had been so aroused that their engagements extended naturally in kindred directions. While organizing as a voice in the conflict, Teaching Assistants came to consider their own exploitation and begin a decades-long drive for unionization. Graduates in spontaneous departmental caucuses focussed also on inequities of treatment and requirement, and undergraduates began to lobby for neglected curricula and more independence of study and program. In late crisis meetings in the dorms, students digressed to consider lockout rules and sexual segregation, preparing their protest. A driven researcher produced a pamphlet on the Regents, popularizing power-structure analysis. Others organized the first classes of the first “free university,” meeting in Sproul’s basement during the final sit-in. In such ways, almost the entire dimensions of what would soon become a national movement of student-initiated educational reform, extending into the next decade and on to affirmative action, were prefigured concretely in the FSM.
In this perspective, the urge to have a say in our governance expanded immediately from its initial focus on political citizenship to all aspects of our lives within the institution of education. Though this expansion was informal, it was so native and integral that our movement may be seen more accurately as being of this broad nature, than as having narrow purpose with some interesting side effects. In this sense, the catchy precision of the FSM’s name continues to obscure its dimensions and role in that era’s theater of movements. At minimum, its role was as central in catalyzing a movement for educational reform, and the broader concept of “student power,” as in the struggle for student civil liberties. This much can be well-documented; but my surmises go beyond, to what can only be inferred.
For in broader perspective, the FSM was most significant in signaling a profound watershed, not simply of political but of social and cultural change. Howsoever novel the New Left was, its energy had been developing for seven years within a traditional framework of concern for Oppressed Others and Humanity. When this momentum was so sharply frustrated by our in loco parentis governors, our focus and energy metamorphosed, as activist young of the privileged class turned for the first time notably to focus also upon their own conditions of oppression and desire. From our condition as political citizens, this reflexive focus spread immediately to our condition as students and then as learners, as I’ve said — but once sprung could scarcely be bounded, and quickly spread beyond and deeper, to our conditions as women, as queers, as cripples, as lunatics, as animals in body and environment, as emotional and communal and spiritual beings. In the inward turn of this pivotal episode, the traditional boundaries of politics expanded dramatically, preparing the mutant curriculum of movements, from countercultural/New Age and ecology to gender and sexual, that have complemented the racial/ethnic, peace, and labor movements ever since. (26)
One may safely say that the FSM prefigured all this symbolically in its dramatic shift of focus, if concretely only in the case of educational reform. Yet evidence goes somewhat beyond this. In Berkeley, participants in the first local meetings of what became the Women’s Liberation movement were in fair degree motivated in reaction to (and enabled by) their experiences in the FSM — in which women, though still largely subordinate, had played radically more forward roles than was usual then even in the New Left. As the Haight-Ashbury community was condensing, well before the term “hippie” became public, the impulse of some pioneers was widely known to derive partly from frustration with the processes of FSM and Civil Rights activism, and partly from their energies. To connect such developments directly to the FSM as wellspring might seem absurd, if the reflexive impulse that drove it — to focus on one’s own condition — were not so consistently carried through in them.
Over the years since, through scattered personal contacts and memoirs, I have heard enough other stories from civic architects, feminists, environmental activists, social planners, and performance artists, akin to the tale of Lee Felsenstein — the freshman engineering student whose work in rationalizing the FSM’s communications led him on to design democratic community information systems, and co-found the legendary Homebrew Club at the heart of the personal computer revolution — to suspect how many more remain untold, of people and groups whose missions formed during the FSM at least in groping vision and often in embryonic practice. If their collective story could be assembled, its diversity would be as remarkable as its mass, largely characterized by a common drive to make democracy more real and just in its particular workings. In this way, the movement titled “FSM” led as concretely as symbolically into many others. To account its role in educational reform is hardly more difficult than accounting it simply as a civil liberties movement; but to account the episode’s fuller dimensions as a grounding of democratic spirit is a daunting task. In part, the difficulty is inherent, as the real world of human history is no more structured by our algorithms of taxonomy and interpretation than is the biological world; but also it is intensified in this instance by the solvent character of the energy that moved us.
(1) In “Barefoot in a Marshmallow World” (Ramparts 4:9, Jan. 1966; also in The Wedding Within the War [WWW], Doubleday, 1971), and in “Looking Back at the FSM” (in New Age Blues [NAB], E.P. Dutton, 1979; also within “Ten Years Later: Inside the FSM” in California Monthly, Dec. 1974.)
(2) In particular, the Committee for Liberal Education tried to publicize processes of administrative decision that affected students vitally yet were beyond our influence.
(3) See “The Vigil at Chessman’s Execution” (Daily Californian, May 4, 1960; also in WWW) and “The Protest Against HUAC” (WWW).
(4) “New Faces on the Picket Line”, Occident, Spring 1961.
(5) Though this characterization is life-long, my experience in the FSM restored and focussed my appetite for social organizing, leading me during 1966-72 to be among the principal organizers of the national movement of student-initiated reform in higher education.
(6) Though the case for Drinnon’s dismissal was more complex than our simplistic assessment credited, his political activism and lonely prominence in our support were surely involved.
(7) Two histories note me as one of four who addressed the spontaneous gathering at Bancroft and Telegraph on September 16 when the letters banning the tables were first made known, in the first meeting of what became the FSM. If so — which seems plausible, as I had perhaps more residual stature among activists than my account may suggest — I soon forgot even the fact, let alone what I said to the younger folks there. But it seems likely that I spoke of the history leading to the ban. If so, this tends more to complete than to contradict my impression of having been possessed by mission during the cop-car seige. For I had always wondered why my only (other) contact with the forming movement was an alienated visit to one vigil, given my persistent interest in following activist developments. I could only surmise that I was so demoralized by news of the ban, and so distanced by not being a formal member of any affected group, that I simply left protest to others and followed it in the papers; but this didn’t quite make sense. Given this reminder of my involvement in the very beginning, it makes even less sense. But another reading seems more coherent: that I was charged with my odd role as historian from the start, if only because I felt there that all I had to contribute was my grasp of history; and that I simply stepped back, at best dimly aware of what I was doing, to await the time to play my part further. For although I’ve portrayed the FSM as being born around the car, in tribute to the nature of that moment, of course it was born in the first impulse to contest the ban, with its signature already determined, to be amplified in that extraordinary dialogue.
(8) See “The FSM and the Open Circle Model”, esp. pp. 71-72, 76-79, in “Open Space” in On Learning and Social Change (Random House, 1972); and “Open Circle Processes,” pp. 52-60 in Learning Games (unpublished mss., c. 1976.)
(9) It’s so evident that Mario and some others played roles of unusual authority in this dialogue, that its nature might be construed quite differently. Yet it’s crucial to recognize that the authority of each participant was existential, generated among us on the spot by what sense we found in their words — given by our taking them as speaking for ourselves, wrestling the complexity that surged within each as in us together. The democracy of open circle process affords equal opportunity of contribution and respect, yet recognizes differences of merit; some always will be heard to speak more clearly and sharply for the whole.
(10) “The Birth of the Free Speech Movement” in WWW.
(11) Pp. 68-69 in “The Protest Against HUAC,” op. cit.
(12**) This is discussed further in the Afterwords section below.
(13) “Barefoot in a Marshmallow World,” op. cit.
(14) “The Birth of the Free Speech Movement,” op. cit.
(15) One observer recalls my presentations at two meetings, in almost identical words, as his most vivid single impression of the FSM. He portrays me as totally focussed and clear, speaking with impressive confidence and authority as I described the project, what should be covered, why and how, and recruited people for specific roles. (Marston Schultz, oral communication, 8/12/00) Though others’ impressions were surely less singular and more various, in sum they were probably as far as his from how I felt in the moment, watching myself go through my show, and from how I chose to recall myself. I discuss this disjunction further below.
(16**) This is discussed further in the Afterwords section below.
(17) Beside expediting the Report, Schultz had already begun independently to gather the documents of the conflict, assembling the core of the FSM’s archival legacy, enshrined now in the Bancroft Library. As a Report volunteer, since this base was covered Laura Murra set out to gather the emerging literature about the FSM, by this preparing her distinguished role as Laura X, the magpie archivist of the early years of the emerging feminist movement. In such ways as in mine, as I later discuss, the spirit and impulse that seized us together was drawn into specific tendrils that coiled throughout our affair, binding it into wholeness and leading to the future.
(18) As the “preliminary” edition was so half-baked, we felt that being unable to print many copies would force us to carry through with a second edition, substantially deeper and sounder. We had no idea of how soon events would swirl us on. (19) In the 1965 “Byrne Report,” and books by Rorabach (1989) and Goines (1993).
(20) See Robert Starobin, “”Graduate Students and the Free Speech Movement,” Graduate Student Journal I:4, Spring 1965, p. 19; Max Heirich, The Spiral of Conflict (Columbia University Press, 1971), p. 243; and David Goines, The Free Speech Movement (Ten Speed Press, 1993), p. 310n. Starobin’s article notes that it was intended for the “final” edition of the Report. Heirich confuses the Report with its overview, in saying thousands of copies were distributed. Goines repeats Starobin’s reference, adding only the names of Hollander, Schultz, and Irwin as responsibles.
(21) Typed letter from Robert S. Johnson to President Kerr, November 24, 1964.
(22) To say, “if not then, then next; if not here, then there” would be safer, and sufficient for my argument. Yet I do think the where and when were more clearly ordained. By late 1964, regional student activism had a tremendous and growing head of steam, centered from Berkeley, shaking the community; and pressure was mounting from both sides for the administration to clarify the university’s ambiguous role in both harboring and restraining student activism.
(23) It seems likely that I was not the only one to imagine our history’s value as a tool of organizing and negotiation. That no word surfaced of any others beginning independently hardly proves that none did; and such argument is misleading in view of how my own activity affected the field situation. During the cop-car seige, and perhaps even in the movement’s first spontaneous meeting, I had identified myself publicly and uniquely as being vividly concerned with our history’s pertinence. During the next week, I made myself visible in the main relevant public venue (the forming GCC) as the one concerned with such a project, and likely exited leaving an impression that I was off to engage it by myself, probably furthered in the rumor-mill during the following week by my brief emergences from the seclusion of writing. After October 16, it was widely known that a group had undertaken the project. At any stage in this chain, on hearing of my effort, anyone who’d begun more tentatively might well have had reason to think the matter in better hands, and their own beginning not worth mentioning. One need not resort to an esoteric vibrational signal of my anointment to explain why no competitors emerged, and why the potential post would have called other candidates more actively if I had not appeared to fill it.
(24) This last theme is explored in “Barefoot in a Marshmallow World” and “Looking Back at the FSM,” op. cit.; and in “A Tale of Ten Years, a Father and a Son,” Rolling Stone #160, May 9, 1974, reprinted as “A Father for our Time” in NAB.
(25) In “Barefoot in a Marshmallow World,” op. cit.
(26) It seems at least a remarkable coincidence, if not profound, that the inward turn of the Civil Rights movement to focus on Black identity, soon echoed in all other hues of activism, became apparent only after the FSM.