By this time Kerr was facing the deadline he had helped to set. Sproul Hall had become a seething fortress of armed men in uniform, who started crowding into the usually staid halls at the same time that Kerr began the meeting with the students. They were going to wait in the hot, stuffy corridors for two and a half hours, shedding their jackets from time to time, adjusting their riot helmets, giving their holsters a hitch. All of them were on overtime pay and the operation was costing from $2500 to $3000 per hour. The official word was that there were 450-500 police, but only the San Francisco Examiner (Hearst) reporters made a physical count and they reported almost a thousand – 965 to be exact. Sheriff’s buses and paddy wagons were lined up to take away the bodies.
If this army had been given the word to go against the mass of students in the plaza outside, it would not only have been a question of the hundreds sitting down, who would of course go limp when arrested. The best guess is that the battle plan which had been laboriously worked out called first for opening up a wide corridor between the building entrance and the car, so that the arrested students could be carried into Sproul (where they would then be handled very much as in the proceedings of December 3, which is still ahead in our story).
This corridor would have had-to be cut through an intervening crowd of a couple of thousand students, who were not themselves sitting down but who were jammed in between the building doors and the sitters, and who would be compressed even more by the movement of other thousands in the plaza toward the scene of action. If the thousands of standees were not all definitely sympathetic with the sitters, they were yet likely to be antagonistic to the armed police descending on them. The potentialities were further darkened by the incredible decision of the authorities that the police should carry this off with guns at hand, not to speak of tear gas. [1*]
This was the picture that Kerr faced, and he did not like it. Perhaps the original decision to call in the police that morning had seemed like the routine thing to do; but this was the reality. The issues became “negotiable” after all; compromise became possible after all; he found he had to talk with the “mob,” or else face an even more unpleasant decision.
Meanwhile, back on the plaza, word of the impending action began to spread soon after 5. When I arrived about 5:30, the air over the plaza was electric. There were perhaps 300 sitting down now, in an irregular free-form area around the car; these were prepared to be arrested. The crowd was a solid wall circling this theater-in-the-round. The top of the car had been turned into a lecture platform on what to do till the policeman comes. Civil-rights veterans gave instructions on going limp, advised on what to get rid of (wrist watches, earrings, etc. ), warned against linking arms or struggling with the cops. A lawyer gave information on legal rights. And time and again, student leaders would emphasize that no one should sit down unless he had really thought it through. Foreign students were advised not to join in; so were students of juvenile-court age (under 18). It was not being made easy to sit down.
The picture later drawn of this “hard core” as a legion of hardened radicals is good for a wry smile. My wife and I talked to the students sitting nearby with us: they had never been arrested, they had never participated in any political activity. Had we ever been arrested and what was it like? they asked apprehensively. We assured them we had, as if it were routine – though in fact we each had been arrested only once, in strikes.
They were sitting down only because they felt that they had to, that they would not be able to live with themselves if they did not. Yet everywhere we read afterward in the press that the students were in this for a lark (“civil rights panty raid”), or for a jape against the older generation. [2*]
Around 6:30, in response to appeals from the car top, a new wave of students who had been standing around the periphery decided to sit down. The irregular outline of the sit-down area extended a pseudopod closer to the police fortress that had once been the administration building. The sitters now numbered about 500. Night was falling.
In University Hall, the students’ negotiating committee was considering a proposed agreement and adding a couple of points to those drafted by the faculty mediators. Kerr and Strong were in one room, the students in another discussing among themselves, and the faculty people literally acted as go-betweens.
One of the moves by the president had been to threaten the student negotiators with the unleashing of the police: at one point he gave them ten minutes to sign. This backfired; and Kerr assured them he would request the police not to move until the negotiations were over and the students had returned to the demonstration to report. But he insisted that he did not control the police, that the chiefs were restive, and that they might decide at some point to overrule him. [3*]
Point 1 as drafted originally read: “The student demonstrators promise to abide by legal processes in their protest of university regulations.” The students rejected this unlimited promise, and compromised on a statement which merely meant that the present demonstration would be lifted: “The student demonstrators shall desist from all forms of illegal protest against university regulations.”
In return for this, three concessions were accepted by the students:
2. A committee representing students (including leaders of the demonstration), faculty and administration will immediately be set up to conduct discussions and hearings into all aspects of political behavior on campus and its control, and to make recommendations to the administration.
3. The arrested man will be booked, released on his own recognizance and the university will not press charges.
4. The duration of the suspension of the suspended students will be submitted within one week to the Student Conduct Committee of the Academic Senate.
Point 4 stated that the suspension cases would be put in the hands, not of the administration-appointed “Faculty Committee on Student Conduct,” but of a committee of the Academic Senate which is autonomous of the administration. In addition the faculty mediators orally assured the student negotiators that it was understood the suspensions would be lifted right away.
Two more points were added to the agreement:
5. Activity may be continued by student organizations in accordance with university regulations.
6. The President of the University has declared his willingness to support deeding certain university property at the end of Telegraph Avenue to the City of Berkeley or to the ASUC. [This refers to the 26-foot sidewalk strip on Bancroft.]
Nine student signatures were affixed to the pact plus the signature of Clark Kerr. (Chancellor Strong did not sign.) The opposing sides, with their respective armies mobilized outside on the field, had signed a formal armistice – administration and students in “eyeball to eyeball” confrontation It is doubtful that a similar scene had ever been enacted on an American campus before.
It was now 7:30, an hour and a half past the deadline originally set by the planners of the operation. The negotiating committee returned to the plaza, and Mario Savio, now in glare of television camera lights, mounted the police car for the last time to present the Pact of October 2, to explain its provisions and why it had been accepted. Indicating serious dubiety in the minds of the student committee about the terms of the pact, he announced that there would be an open discussion meeting in Sproul Hall Plaza on Monday where views would be aired. Then he asked the students to leave the area “with dignity.”
The police code 938 (cancel assignment) was flashed to the waiting units; the Oakland motorcycle cops roared away; the sheriff’s troops formed ranks in Barrows Lane in the cool night air. The sitters arose and stretched. The crowd broke up and disintegrated, but knots of students gathered to discuss whether the pact should have been accepted. A couple of blocks away at the campus Greek Theater, a concert by Joan Baez was due to start after eight. We had bought tickets a week before, and the pact had come in the nick of time. In the open-sky circle of the theater, Joan Baez came on stage and said: “It’s a fine night. The students have won. And I’m glad.”
1*. Dr. Sidney Hook was going to raise his hands in horror at this situation in the N.Y. Times Magazine (Jan. 3, 1965), since it showed (my italics) “the extremism of the student leaders, the lengths to which they were willing to go – at one point, bloodshed and possible loss of life seemed imminent ...” How extremist of the students to compel the police to attack them carrying guns and tear gas! As the French saying has it: “set animal est si mechant: Quand on l’attaque, il se defend!” or This animal’s vicious, and that’s a fact: He defends himself when he’s attacked!” The FSM Newsletter later had a more philosophical comment: a cartoon showed a phalanx of burly cops, clubs at the ready and hands on gun-butts, giving the students the following advice: “De ends don’t justify de means!”
2*. A questionnaire was later distributed to those who had taken any part in the October 1-2 demonstrations, not necessarily by sitting down. Only 618 were filled – not a reliable cross section and probably weighted toward the more committed individuals. The results: over 70 per cent belong to no campus political organization; half had never before participated in any demonstrations.
3*. Among the errors in the Lipset-Seabury article in The Reporter, Jan. 28, 1965, was the statement that Kerr “had authority over them [the police].” Kerr himself stressed that this was not so. What is involved here is the argument by some faculty people like Professors Lipset and Feuer that the FSM demands would open the campus to the police. They ignore the fact that police invaded the campus twice, with authority not subject to the administration.
Last updated on 27.8.2006