For Occupy Cal, a history lesson

November 17, 2011 6:48:28 PM PST
The Occupy protests at UC Berkeley are creating a sense of deja-vu: It is, in some respects, the continuation of a drumbeat that started half a century ago.

It's been a long time since UC Berkeley saw a protest like this one: Sproul Hall is surrounded with various purposes, which could be the undoing of the Occupy movement as experienced protesters see it.

"We had a mission and a purpose," said 1960s Berkeley protester Fay Lawson. "You need a direction, and there is no direction here."

It was October 1964 when UC Berkeley students surrounded a police car containing one student under arrest. The student's name was Jack Weinberg, and the students blocked the police car for 36 hours -- the start of a movement that made today's Occupy protests possible.

"It took about three days for the free speech movement to go from a few hundred people to an incident where there were several thousand people surround a police car," Weinberg said.

At UC Berkeley, fighting for free speech and against the establishment is an attitude as unchanging as the architecture of Sproul Hall.

By December 1964, students grew so frustrated that they occupied the Venerable Building in protest to two students being suspended. The students sat in, eating food passed through a second floor window.

Professor Richard Muller, Ph.D., took several pictures when he was one of those students.

"If you believed some injustice was being done, you had to stand up for it and you've got to be arrested," said Muller. "We expected to be arrested."

The protesters were arrested, hauled out while resisting police who stormed the building and then carried them out.

At UC Berkeley today, geography major Charlie Dubbe appreciated the parallel. When police from the campus hauled the tents and people out of Sproul Plaza on Friday, Dubbe was among them.

"Setting up a tent is, in a lot of ways, that speech kind of being herded in a different way -- in a physical way," Dubbe said. "It's like, this is my place. I don't have a place to go anymore. I have a tent, I'm going to come here and form this new community."

That was then, this is now -- and once again, it's all about tomorrow.

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