Hal Draper


Berkeley: The New Student Revolt


11. The Police-Car Blockade Begins

On the morning of October 1, a student phoned me to ask whether I would speak at a “Free Speech Rally” which the United Front of clubs was organizing for noon in Sproul Hall Plaza. The eight students had been summarily suspended the night before. Three different leaflets calling for the rally were being distributed at the entrances to the campus. Students and faculty were asked to demand a lifting of the suspensions and equal treatment for all the student rule-violators, as well as the original demands for rescission of the new regulations.

About that same time in mid-morning, shortly after 10, the first table appeared at Sather Gate; then others – about ten in all before long. At 11 o’clock the tables moved over to the foot of Sproul Hall steps. For the next 30-40 minutes the “table-manners” industriously violated regulations, particularly by asking for contributions. In two large knots of students lively debates on the issues went on between articulate proponents. [1*]

At about a quarter to 12, Deans Murphy and Van Houten emerged from the building together with the campus police chief, and approached the tables. The Campus CORE table was perhaps the largest in size – a door panel on supports – with eight or ten people operating it. Dean Van Houten approached the loudest of the group and asked: “Are you prepared to remove yourself and the table from university property?”

He wasn’t. “I must inform you,” said the dean, “that if you are a student, you are violating university regulations; and if you are a non-student you are violating the trespass law. Will you identify yourself? ... You leave no alternative but to ask Lieutenant Chandler to arrest you. Lieutenant Chandler, put him under arrest.”

When the police chief said, “Will you come peacefully, or if not, we’ll take you,” the cry went up, “Take all of us!” The cop went off to get help.

The CORE member now under arrest was in fact temporarily a non-student. Jack Weinberg, 24, had been a graduate student in mathematics but had dropped out about November of the previous year. He had then gotten himself deeply involved with CORE’s “Shattuck Avenue Project,” and mathematics (as he put it to me later) “no longer meant that much” to him. He was going to rethink his personal perspective. [2*] In the meantime he had become a veteran of three arrests at Bay Area civil-rights actions: the Sheraton-Palace sit-in, the Cadillac agency picket, and a demonstration at Mel’s Drive-In. Being “bugged” by the police was not a novelty.

While waiting for the police reinforcements to return and with the “little dean” patiently standing by, Weinberg addressed himself to the growing crowd of students, in what turned into a little speech:

I want to tell you about this knowledge factory, while we’re all sitting here now. It seems that certain of the products are not coming out to standard specifications. And I feel the university is trying to purge these products so that they can once again produce for the industry exactly what they specify. This is a Knowledge Factory; if you read Clark Kerr’s book, these are his words ... This is mass production; no deviations from the norms are tolerated. Occasionally a few students get together and they decide they are human beings, that they are not willing to be products, and they protest; and the university feels obliged to purge these non-standard products.”

Weinberg was here taking off from a talk I had given for the Independent Socialist Club that week on Behind the Ban: Clark Kerr’s View of the University as a Knowledge Factory. A number of other FSM activists-to-be had been at the meeting too. But in any case the idea was in the air: twice during the preceding week the Daily Cal had published letters from students which were along similar lines even though without reference to Kerr’s theory at all.

A hostile student asked Weinberg why the advocacy of social action was so important to the protesters.

It’s very simple [replied Weinberg]. We want to see social change in the world in which we live. We want to see this social change because we are human beings who have ideas. We think, we talk, we discuss, and when we’re done thinking and talking and discussing, well then, we feel that these things are vacuous unless we then act on the principle that we think, talk and discuss about. This is as much a part of a university education as anything else.

He continued:

We feel that we, as human beings first and students second, must take our stand on every vital issue which faces this nation, and in particular the vital issue of discrimination, of segregation, of poverty, of unemployment; the vital issue of people who aren’t getting the decent breaks that they as individuals deserve ...

That was as far as he got. A police car had been driven right into the middle of the plaza, and the police now informed him that he was under arrest for trespassing. As he went limp they prepared to carry him into the car. Even as they were doing so, some students started to sit down between the table and the car, in the way of the harassed policemen as they carried their prisoner across.

There are almost as many claimants for the honor of being “the first to sit down around the police car” as there were cities claiming to be Homer’s birthplace, but in this case the explanation is different. People unacquainted with the civil rights movement believe that “someone” must have launched the move, but in point of fact it is almost a reflex action among experienced civil-rights activists, of whom there were many within ten feet. The same thing had been done when the paddy wagons had rolled up for the Cadillac agency demonstrators that spring.

Literally in less time than it has taken to tell, the police car into which Weinberg had been bundled was surrounded by sitting students. For a while the engine was kept running as the police stolidly waited for them to give up. But it was going to be 32 hours before that car moved.



1*. This and the next scene are based on the tapes made on the by the ubiquitous reporters of Pacifica Radio, station KPFA.

2*. This describes a very typical example of the “non-students” who were soon going to be denounced by the authorities and the press as if they were outside agitators imported from Caracas. Indeed, official recognition of some “non-students” as rightful members of the university community was later registered when the UCLA administration adopted new regulations in December on the basis of the lessons of Berkeley: the definition of “student” specifically included “those who have been regularly enrolled in the preceding semester (or quarter) and who in addition are eligible to return at their own option.” A similar proposal was made by a Berkeley faculty committee, inconclusively. Unofficially, recent alumni and drop-outs of even more than one semester ago are socially and psychologically an accepted part of the university community.


Last updated on 27.8.2006