Hal Draper


Berkeley: The New Student Revolt


14. “You Can’t Win!”

The next day, Friday, was the hottest October 2 in local history. The temperature was in the middle eighties when the noon rally opened, still from the top of the car. The crowd again overfilled the plaza, but now there was a loudspeaker too (for which I was grateful). Sproul Hall was closed to all except “authorized persons.”

In the morning, arriving students were greeted by the 200 or so who had remained around the car all night, in blankets or sleeping bags, some trying to study by a feeble light, others singing around a guitar. They were also greeted by a leaflet issued by the United Front of clubs, demanding reinstatement of the suspended students and dropping of charges against Jack Weinberg, as well as restoration of “freedom of speech” and the right to political activity that did not “interfere with the normal functioning of the university.” It urged students to wear a black armband, obtainable at Sather Gate, to show agreement with the demands. The following thirteen clubs signed to show support for these aims:

However, the attitude taken by the Goldwaterites and other conservatives was that while supporting the aims, they would join only in lawful actions. “But let no one mistake our intent,” one of them warned. “The United Front still stands.” On top of the car the microphone was turned over by the demonstrators to opponents and critics of the protest as well as to supporters, in an attempt at a dialogue with skeptical or antagonistic students. Efforts at mediation by faculty members intensified as the day wore on –

... but the administration told them, and told the students as well, that the issues of the rules and the disciplinary measures were not negotiable. (Administrative officers consistently refused to discuss the issues in dispute as long as regulations were being violated, thereby abdicating their power to alleviate a situation of growing intensity.) (A Suggestion for Dismissal)

Kerr, in a scheduled speech that noon at an American Council on Education gathering in San Francisco, interpolated a tough attack on the students as “a mob ... assembled on the Berkeley campus”:

The rules will not be changed in the face of mob action. The penalties already assessed against certain students will not be removed in the face of mob action.

At a press conference he “flatly ruled out any possibility of compromise,” and with “uncompromising tone,” said, “There is no possibility whatsoever that we will remove the penalties imposed on certain students.” (S.F. Chronicle Oct. 3, under the headline: “Before the Agreement: Kerr Ruled Out Compromise!”)

From every side it was dinned into the students’ ears that “You can’t win; give up.” The Daily Cal’s senior editorial board ran a special editorial assuring that:

The administration has drawn the line at what it believes is the last concession on the university level. We completely believe they are telling the truth. Those who espouse oversimplified concepts of the issues and solutions will tell you otherwise. The university has drawn the last line it can.

There was an especially powerful “mediators’ backlash.” Kerr, an experienced labor mediator himself, was well aware that a skillful negotiator can turn mediators into instruments to convince the other side to yield, by first convincing the mediators that any further retreat on his part is out of the question. The mediators then go to the other side and say, “Look, we’ll tip you off ...”

The mediator who particularly played this role actively was Professor Lipset, who took every opportunity to assure the student leaders that Kerr could not possibly afford to compromise since he would be fired from the presidency if he did so. Professor Nathan Glazer pressed the same argumentation, and had also spoken from the top of the car the day before with advice to surrender the blockade. In the middle of October 2, Lipset however abandoned his mediator role and was not involved when the actual rapprochement took place.

Early that morning, President Kerr and Chancellor Strong both agreed on mobilizing the police for action against the students. By 10:30 A.M., ranking officers of the campus police, Berkeley police, Oakland police, state Highway Patrol and the Alameda County sheriff’s office were in Sproul Hall “at a three-hour session to hammer out the master plan” (as the Oakland Tribune said) for “the massive police effort.” At five minutes to noon, direct representatives of Kerr and also of Governor Brown joined the session. The police were to be armed with pistols, billy-clubs and tear gas, and some were called in from as far as Vallejo. The largest number were from the Oakland police – known for what is called “toughness” by friends and “sadistic brutality” by critics – and from the Highway Patrol, provided by the governor. This was a fairly wide United Front too.

An agreement was reached among the university representatives and police strategists for a 6 P.M. deadline, at which time Chancellor Strong would read a statement calling for dispersal – or else ... (It should be noted that a later tale, that this deadline was leveled by the police against the university, was not true.)

So the administration was all prepared, with a tough no-compromise stand and with the police, clubs and tear gas to implement it. Tomorrow, Saturday, was – as luck would have it – to be “Parents Day,” when the proud papas and mamas were due to overrun the campus to inspect the place where their progeny studied so hard. Kerr and Strong had to get the “mob” out of the plaza before then, one way or another. Their army of cops started mobilizing against the nonviolent army around the car.

But not all the mediators had given up, and new ones had gone to work in the morning. In addition to faculty members, the problem had reached local Democratic politicos The latter were concerned as individuals, but in addition the Democratic administration in Sacramento was in it hip-deep. What would happen to the Liberal Image of the governor if this regiment of police were loosed on the kids in the plaza, with unpredictable consequences?

From the beginning Governor Brown had lined up with both feet – with both feet in the mouth as usual, some thought – on the side of the tough fire-breathing policy: “This is not a matter of freedom of speech on the campus,” he claimed on Thursday, but “purely and simply an attempt on the part of the students to use the campus of the university unlawfully by soliciting funds ... This will not be tolerated.” (Brown seemed to think there was a law, rather than a campus regulation, against soliciting funds. ) Speaking at the American Council on Education meeting, he vowed that he was in favor of freedom of thought and would maintain it, adding: “Even if we have to expel a few students from time to time.” He issued a statement that he “supports fully” the suspension of the eight students.

All through this tense Friday, Kerr remained in close telephone contact with the governor. A couple of Democratic politicos in the East Bay, informed by students that they wanted to deal with Kerr but could not get to him, seem to have had a hand in bringing about the negotiations that ensued, after considerable phoning around the state to party stalwarts.

The informal faculty group had been working in the same direction on campus. As late as 3 P.M. Strong still told the professors that he refused to negotiate with the students. But around 4 o’clock the students were given to understand that Kerr would finally deal with them, and a meeting at University Hall was set up for 5. The students were already prepared with a negotiation committee, chosen the previous day and now enlarged. The committee that went to see Kerr were, in terms of their personal affiliation, from: CORE, Independent Socialist Club, Slate, SNCC, Students for Democratic Society, Women for Peace, Young Democrats, Young Peoples Socialist League, Young Republicans – nine in all. In addition, the administration brought in the ASUC president, the Daily Cal editor, and representatives of the Inter-Faith Council.

The faculty mediators had drafted points for a pact, and the parley between the dual powers got under way.


Last updated on 27.8.2006