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COMMENTARY: What Berkeley taught us about protests

Protesting is not new to Berkeley, Calif. The protests of the 1960’s made Berkeley, and the campus of the University of California at Berkeley, infamous for putting the spotlight on government abuses. As the protests of police injustice and brutality from the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases are spreading across the country, it is not surprising that once again Berkeley is stepping up to add its voice to the protest.

Abuse of power is not new to history, nor is the revolt of the people against it. Although we may believe that society is improved by laws and constraints on human behavior by those in authority, the reality is that the progress of democracy and freedom has always been sourced from a grass-roots uprising of the people and not grand gestures by those in power.

The roots of our freedom as Americans goes back to our Anglo-Saxon roots from our mother country -England. The abuses of British Monarchs sparked revolts that lead to documents securing liberty for the people from the Magna Carta to the Declaration of Independence.

These revolts have continued throughout our history to move us to a freer society.

If we look at the protests of Berkeley, Calif. and the results of those protests, they are a testament to the power of the people.

The Pacifica Radio/UC Berkeley Social Activism Sound Recording Project reports:

May 13, 1960: Several hundred Berkeley students protest the hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in San Francisco. When the demonstrators are barred from the hearing room, a loud scuffle breaks out. The police turn on high-pressure fire hoses and blast the crowd down the marble steps. Officers arrest 64 people, including 31 Berkeley students, but instead of discouraging the protest, the confrontation becomes a call to arms. The next day 5,000 people protest the HUAC hearings at San Francisco City Hall. [Rosenfeld, 2002]

These protests led to the end of the communist witch-hunts, allowing for freedom of thought and organization of even those who might hold to “un-American” beliefs.

From 1960 through 1972, nearly every year there was at least one if not more organized protests spearheaded by the UC Berkeley students and in some cases faculty. These were directed at the Vietnam War, the draft, and yes, racial injustice as well, like the current protests. What were the results of the actions of the people? They were the end of the war in Vietnam, the end of the draft, and improvements in race relations.

In the 1970’s, Berkeley’s activism included the women’s movement beginning with a protest calling for child care on campus for faculty and students. In 1986, Berkley protests sparked divestment of University holdings in South Africa –a large step in ending apartheid. Both of these efforts caused a shift in society, towards more freedom.

There is a place in Berkley called People’s Park. It was the gathering place for activists in the sixties that offered more free speech than the steps of UC-controlled Sproul Hall. There was a battle over the property and Gov. Ronald Reagan tried to fence it off, but the people prevailed and the development of the property was halted. The park has fallen into disrepair, but continues to be a reminder of the power of the Berkeley rebellions and the power of the people.

So, now as we issue in a new era of protest and the beginnings of a new revolution, we can be assured that the people have spoken and abuses will end, and as with those of the past we will move one step closer to a freer society.


Read the original story at Cindy’s blog. 

Featured image from Shutterstock

Cindy Gobrecht

Cindy Biondi Gobrecht is the author of the book 'Confessions of a Christian Twihard: My Life Lessons and the Twilight Saga' and newly published 'Blessed are they that Hunger-Young Adult Fiction, America and the Bible'. She lives in Sacramento and is a Sales Director for Mary Kay Cosmetics. Cindy has a BA in Linguistics with minors in Literature and Anthropology from the University of California, San Diego. Cindy led Bible Studies for all ages for over 30 years in churches in California and South Carolina. She is Chair for the Sacramento County Libertarian Party. Twitter: @cindygobrecht

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