In fall 1964, as a second-year graduate student at UC Berkeley, I was part of the Free Speech Movement, a semesterlong struggle with administrators that was triggered by the regents' unilateral decision to prohibit political advocacy on campus.
On Dec. 2, after being on the receiving end of months of bureaucratic double-talk, high-handed decisions and broken promises, we staged a sit-in at Sproul Hall.
That night and most of the next day, officers from the campus, Berkeley and Oakland police departments, the Alameda County Sheriff's Department and the California Highway Patrol cleared the building, roughly handling many of the protesters in the process. I was among more than 800 arrested.
On Dec. 8, the UC Berkeley Academic Senate, appalled by the actions of the administration and law enforcement agencies, passed a series of resolutions, stating that "the content of speech or advocacy should not be restricted by the university," as long as the "normal functions of the university" were not impaired. The right to free political expression on University of California campuses has endured ever since.
As formative as my experience with the FSM was, the 47th anniversary of the Sproul Hall sit-in probably would have passed unnoticed were it not for the recent police outrages on two UC campuses -- the Nov. 18 pepper-spraying of Occupy UC Davis student protesters by a campus police lieutenant and the police beatings nine days earlier
These incidents took place over the students' right to establish encampments on campus. Although forbidden by administrators, students regard such encampments as a form of political protest guaranteed by the First Amendment.
The students are demonstrating for far more than just the right to set up tents. By aligning themselves with the broader Occupy protests against the imbalance of wealth in this country, the campus movements are establishing a connection between the financial crisis and the issues of budget cuts to education, skyrocketing tuition, student indebtedness, the decreasing accessibility of public higher education, and the increasing privatization of the university. In this, there is an analogy to the Free Speech Movement's connection to the civil rights movement.
Other parallels between the FSM and the campus Occupy movements are worth noting. In both instances, student resistance was aimed at an intransigent university policy restricting civil liberties. In both instances, student resistance was dealt with by an unnecessary show of force from campus police and (in the case of Occupy Cal) outside law-enforcement agencies.
Since coming under fire, the campus administrations have backpedaled, asserting to have been in favor of peaceful protest. Yet the very act of sending in police to break up peaceful encampments represents a reactionary attempt to return the campuses to a pre-FSM state -- a clear violation of the Academic Senate's 1964 resolutions, since such encampments in no way hamper "the normal functions of the university."
At the anniversary of the Sproul Hall sit-in, the questions that were relevant 47 years ago remain so today. Does UC recognize the First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly? Is it permissible for the campus administration to call in police to deal with a nonviolent student demonstration? Can UC students engage in political activity and peaceful protest without risking police violence and arrest?
Jay Feldman is a Davis author. His most recent book, "Manufacturing Hysteria: A History of Scapegoating, Surveillance, and Secrecy in Modern America," was published in August by Pantheon Books.