Approximately 50 years ago, a traffic ticket was issued and put on a car being operated by a member of the University of Scranton Class of 1965. The fellow came along as the ticket was being written and he tried to talk his way out of it. Other students passing by stopped to watch. A crowd partial to the plight of the student gathered and thing began to reel out of control. More police arrived and then a round-up of students started. Later in the afternoon, a local radio station reported that 18 arrests had been made. The chancellor of the Jesuit University went down to the local police station and by the time the local morning newspaper was delivered the next day, no arrests had been made and no incident had occurred. Unless someone had been there to see it happen, most Scrantonians would ever know about it. The incident was quickly forgotten and (mostly) disappeared from the annals of Scranton History.
On October 1, 1965, a student at the University of California’s Berkeley campus, Jack Weinberg, was proselytizing from a card table on Sproul Plaza about the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). The topic was in direct conflict with school rules which expressly forbade political oriented activity on the campus where a scholarly atmosphere was traditional. Again, events spun out of control and eventually students surrounded the police car where the fellow who was being arrested was sitting. Someone urged the students to lie down all around the police car to deter the car from proceeding to the police department. A stand-off situation developed.
One student, Mario Savio, in an attempt to defuse the volatile situation, jumped on top of the police car (he removed his shoes so that he wouldn’t scuff the paint) and began to give a speech. That example of impulsive extemporaneous oratory became an iconic moment and would be recognized around the world as the start of the student activism era in the USA and Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement (FSM).
A rally to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the events which spawned the Free Speech Movement was held Wednesday, October 2, 2014, at the same location, Sproul Plaza, and drew a crowd of several hundred which included current students and (by a show of hands) a goodly number of individuals who had witnessed the original confrontation.
It was a melodramatic moment for them when the voice of Mario Savio was replayed via electronic means. Cynics who appreciate heavy-handed audience manipulation couldn’t help but notice that it would have reduced the older folks to tears if the event producers had played Jerry Lee Lewis’ song “I wish I was 18 again.”
An assortment of journalists was on hand to record the new event for posterity. Local newspaper and radio news reporters were there as well as a platoon of photographers and at least two TV news crews.
One of the reporters was representing the Paris publication Le Monde newspaper and the reporter, Cerine Lesnes, mentioned that she was new to the area. She had been reassigned to the Bay Area because that paper had just opened up a news bureau in San Francisco.
Since newspapers have been cutting the use of satellite offices as a cost cutting measure, this bit of trade talk caused us to schedule a bit of subsequent fact checking to see if this is an anomaly or if it can be used to write a future trend-spotting column about a turnaround in the newspaper industry.
Ironically the ceremony to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the Free Speech Movement fell on the same day that the new issue (Vol. 49, No. 1) of the Bay Guardian carried the latest installment of Project Censored’s annual list of the year’s top ten underreported stories. Free Speech is about the unimpeded flow of information; contemporary Mainstream Media (MSM) is about corporate propaganda masquerading as news.
Fifty years ago students clamored to have their voices heard on social issues, but in the interim, the main stream media in the United States has become a sad pathetic echo of what the citizens think they are getting; i.e. enough information to make well informed decisions in the voting booth.
We explained briefly to the Le Monde reporter, why there would never again be student anti-war protests in the United States (and Berkeley in particular). The cost of tuition has priced many Americans out of the market for a top notch university education. They have been replaced by students from wealthy foreign families who don’t care what the USA does, the wealthy Americans who are training to take their place as the community leaders of the future (and not about to rock the boat) and kids who are signing up for a life of indentured servitude via student loans. The student loan contingent can be stripped of their academic standing if they get arrested in a demonstration but they would still have the loan to repay, hence they operate on the “ya gotta go along to get along” principle. (Google hint: to learn more about how the Frisco area looks to a reporter from Paris: twitter dot com slash BicPictureCL)
The irony of celebrating free speech while economic reality stifles dissent and student criticism in political issues seems to contradict the essence of what the day was meant to promote.
Many Americans think that the valuable role played by newspapers has been supplanted by the Internets but reality contradicts the idea that “you can look it up on the Internets.”
Last week, we did some fact checking on the Internets and concluded that the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd had fumbled a great opportunity to gather material for a top notch column. Subsequently we learned that she had written what may be her best column ever with a lead sentence which may get her into future editions of “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.” In her column for September 20, 2014, she opened with this sentence: “WHEN Willie Nelson invites you to get high with him on his bus, you go.” (Odds are that even the Pope would concur.)
There are times when the World’s Laziest Journalist wants to check something we have written in the past and our attempts to find it online have been unsuccessful. Our opinion of the quality of the information available on the Internets keeps shrinking.
Initial critical assessments of the Internets potential asserted that it would become just another sales tool for corporate America and that the promise of developing unique voices that could build an audience and clout was doomed to be vetoed by the corporate leaders who will be very reluctant to foster any means that would encourage and supply an opposing point of view.
At first glance, the UCB event Wednesday was a chance to cover (and run) a light-hearted look laden with nostalgia back at some Sixties lore. A closer examination of the changes that have occurred in the last fifty years would require a bit more than a quick column geared to please in the skim and click age.
The Congress on Racial Equality isn’t in the news much lately but if you look around on the internets you will find that the assertion that a person of African-American heritage is shot by a police agency (on the average) of once every twenty eight hours is ubiquitous.
Fifty years ago, 18 year old young men were being drafted to fight in conflicts started by politicians whom the draftees couldn’t vote for until three years later. Now new military action can be sanctioned by a budget vote held late at night. The all volunteer military is staffed by young folks who can’t afford to go to college and don’t want to be burdened by student loans.
Corporations are still reaping large tax benefits from Prop 13. The loss of property tax revenue has meant that tuition costs in California have become astronomical (metaphorically speaking) and so the people struggling with student loans are probably not thrilled about the fact that corporations are still reaping benefits from that decades old bit of legislation.
Have things changed via the Free Speech Movement or is it a case of the more things seem to change the more the reality is “same ole, same ole”?
The words of Mario Savio will be quoted extensively in various “Week in Review” round-ups and so, to be different, we’ll quote Andy Gowdy who once said to Chef Teddy Owens: “For your birthday, we’ll take you up to Vegas and get you some new scars.”
The disk jockey was tasked with finding songs about being arrested, so he will play
Johnny Cash’s “Live at Folsom Prison” album, and Merle Haggard’s “Mamma tried” and Toby Keith’s “I’ll never smoke weed with Willie again.” We have to go post bail for a buddy. Have a “‘get out of jail free’card” type week.