Hal Draper


Berkeley: The New Student Revolt


17. The FSM Is Formed

Up to this point, the student protest had been organized and led by a United Front of clubs. On the weekend after the pact, representatives of the clubs met and constituted the Free Speech Movement.

It was conceived of as a temporary fighting formation, not a permanent organization. The body of club representatives became the Executive Committee, and a smaller Steering Committee was elected as the day-to-day leadership. All were students; including suspended students, with the exception of Jack Weinberg.

To provide representation to the large number of students participating who were not members of any of the constituent clubs, a meeting was called for “Independents,” attended by several hundreds, who elected representatives. A meeting called specifically for graduate students also elected representatives, and evolved into the Graduate Coordinating Committee. Separate recognition was accorded to the supporting non-students (largely student drop-outs) in the campus community, who were called to a meeting and got a representative too. Representatives were added also from religious organizations.

The Steering Committee, from October 10 on, consisted usually of ten to twelve members; the composition of the Executive Committee, with a membership in the fifties, also tended to fluctuate with the vicissitudes of the movement, as individuals dropped or assumed activity, and as groups (such as the Republicans) popped in and out of the structure. At the time the FSM was formed, the conservatives refused to join, although invited into both the Executive Committee and the Steering Committee.

The organizational work and life of the FSM was as fine an example of the organized-disorganized-unorganized as it is possible to imagine. The description of the movement as “highly efficient” by Lipset-Seabury and others is a testimonial to the impact of the FSM on the campus, but the knowledgeable description would have been only “remarkably effective.” Especially at critical junctures, the organization of the FSM was often spontaneously ordered chaos.

The pattern of October 1-2 was partially operative even after the FSM was formally constituted. There were remarkable feats of what-appeared-to-be-organization accomplished during those two days: obtaining, setting up and servicing various items of loudspeaker equipment; canteen services; mass telephone campaigns; fund-raising (over $800 was collected right in the plaza), etc. But there was virtually no over-all organization.

Things were accomplished because hundreds of students threw themselves into the work spontaneously and somehow did it in clots of organization, with a furious amount talk but also with overweening energy and will. Anyone could become a “leader,” and the process was very simple and very visible: you led, and if you seemed to be doing any good others followed with a will. This was true not only in the background tasks but also up front, on top of the car.

After the first week of the FSM’s formal existence, the many jobs to be done were decentralized into separate working units called “centrals,” set up in various students’ apartments or other places. In the course of time there were Work Central, Legal Central, Press Central, Information Central Newsletter Central, Archives Central, Picket Central, Command Central – and I seem to remember talk of a “Central Central.” The speedy expansion of the FSM “bureaucracy” was a standing joke among the students, but, in my own contacts with the result, “efficiency” is the last word that would occur to me. A better approximation of the ambience can be gained from reading parts of John Reed’s Ten Days That Shook the World.

The word “revolution” has been mainly applied to the Berkeley events by appalled observers rather than by FSM supporters, but the kernel of truth in the phrase lies in this: there was a massive upheaval from below, mounting in waves from the police-car blockade to the December sit-in and strike, which hurled hundreds and at some points thousands of newly energized students, previously non-political and non-activist, into the conflict. It was literally a rising, if some overtones of this word are eliminated. Outsiders are likely to consider this a literary exaggeration, but, as the quotations preceding this history indicate, the authorities on the spot are not among them.

All of this was financed mainly through “passing the hat” among students, faculty and university staff, plus some parents and local businessmen. “The total expenditure of the FSM, from its organization on October 3 to the present (December 10),” says the Graduate Political Scientists’ Report, “was approximately $2,000,” spent almost entirely on publications leaflets and other printing, loudspeaker equipment, meeting places, telephone, postage. This does not include the sums later collected by faculty people for bail money, nor the still later defense funds necessitated by the mass arrests.

As revolutions go, it was not expensive, except of time and heart.


Last updated on 27.8.2006