The Unfree Speech Movement

Sol Stern, Wall Street Journal, September 23, 2014

This fall the University of California at Berkeley is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement, a student-led protest against campus restrictions on political activities that made headlines and inspired imitators around the country. I played a small part in the Free Speech Movement, and some of those returning for the reunion were once my friends, but I won’t be joining them.

Though the movement promised greater intellectual and political freedom on campus, the result has been the opposite. The great irony is that while Berkeley now honors the memory of the Free Speech Movement, it exercises more thought control over students than the hated institution that we rose up against half a century ago.

We early-1960s radicals believed ourselves anointed as a new “tell it like it is” generation. We promised to transcend the “smelly old orthodoxies” (in George Orwell’s phrase) of Cold War liberalism and class-based, authoritarian leftism. Leading students into the university administration building for the first mass protest, Mario Savio, the Free Speech Movement’s brilliant leader from Queens, New York, famously said: “There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious–makes you so sick at heart–that you can’t take part. . . . . And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.”

The Berkeley “machine” now promotes Free Speech Movement kitsch. The steps in front of Sproul Hall, the central administration building where more than 700 students were arrested on Dec. 2, 1964, have been renamed the Mario Savio Steps. One of the campus dining halls is called the Free Speech Movement Café, its walls covered with photographs and mementos of the glorious semester of struggle. The university requires freshmen to read an admiring biography of Savio, who died in 1996, written by New York University professor and Berkeley graduate Robert Cohen.

Yet intellectual diversity is hardly embraced. Every undergraduate undergoes a form of indoctrination with a required course on the “theoretical or analytical issues relevant to understanding race, culture, and ethnicity in American society,” administered by the university’s Division of Equity and Inclusion.

How did this Orwellian inversion occur? It happened in part because the Free Speech Movement’s fight for free speech was always a charade. The struggle was really about using the campus as a base for radical politics.


Before that 1964-65 academic year, most of us radical students could not have imagined a campus rebellion. Why revolt against an institution that until then offered such a pleasant sanctuary? But then Berkeley administrators made an incredibly stupid decision to establish new rules regarding political activities on campus. Student clubs were no longer allowed to set up tables in front of the Bancroft Avenue campus entrance to solicit funds and recruit new members.

The clubs had used this 40-foot strip of sidewalk for years on the assumption that it was the property of the City of Berkeley and thus constitutionally protected against speech restrictions. But the university claimed ownership to justify the new rules. When some students refused to comply, the administration compounded its blunder by resorting to the campus police. Not surprisingly, the students pushed back, using civil-disobedience tactics learned fighting for civil rights in the South.

The Free Speech Movement was born on Oct. 1, 1964, when police tried to arrest a recent Berkeley graduate, Jack Weinberg, who was back on campus after a summer as a civil-rights worker in Mississippi. He had set up a table on the Bancroft strip for the Berkeley chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Dozens of students spontaneously sat down around the police car, preventing it from leaving the campus. A 32-hour standoff ensued, with hundreds of students camped around the car.

Mario Savio, also back from Mississippi, took off his shoes, climbed onto the roof of the police car, and launched into an impromptu speech explaining why the students had to resist the immoral new rules. Thus began months of sporadic protests, the occupation of Sproul Hall on Dec. 2 (ended by mass arrests), national media attention and Berkeley’s eventual capitulation.


The radical movement that the Free Speech Movement spawned eventually descended into violence and mindless anti-Americanism. The movement waned in the 1970s as the war wound down–but by then protesters had begun their infiltration of university faculties and administrations they had once decried.

“Tenured radicals,” in New Criterion editor Roger Kimball’s phrase, now dominate most professional organizations in the humanities and social studies. Unlike our old liberal professors, who dealt respectfully with the ideas advanced by my generation of New Left students, today’s radical professors insist on ideological conformity and don’t take kindly to dissent by conservative students. Visits by speakers who might not toe the liberal line–recently including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Islamism critic Aayan Hirsi Ali–spark protests and letter-writing campaigns by students in tandem with their professors until the speaker withdraws or the invitation is canceled.

On Oct. 1 at Berkeley, by contrast, one of the honored speakers at the Free Speech Movement anniversary rally on Sproul Plaza will be Bettina Aptheker, who is now a feminist-studies professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz.


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  • You won’t find a more vicious totalitarian at heart than the person who screams so loudly for freedom. They only want “freedom” in the sense that they’re out of power and “freedom” is their fulcrum to gain power. Once they have power, then they expose their true colors.

    • Julius Caesar

      Judeo-Bolshevik Marxist subversion at its finest.

    • JSS

      As normal racially aware Whites our freedom ends where theirs begins. They are free to do and say whatever they want and they are also free from having to be held accountable for the ruin they are causing. We are not free to publicly criticize them or have our voices heard in any that will spare us becoming social pariahs with all that entails. Modern Amurika is in no way a free country as our ancestors would have understood it.

    • propagandaoftruth

      The freedom they crave is the freedom to oppress and destroy their enemies.

      Messianic is the democratic totalitarianism.

      Speech = evidence of thoughtcrime.

  • Frank_DeScushin

    This is simple. Liberals believed in free speech when they weren’t in control so that their message could be heard. Now that Liberals are in control they are against free speech so that no other messages could be heard. They never believed in the principle of free speech. They believed in their message, and preferably only their message, being heard.

    • OS-Q

      They want the right to speak without the infringement of someone disagreeing.

    • John R

      Ditto for blacks and other “minorities.”

  • B.B.

    It was always pure rhetoric. Students for a Democratic Society supported the Free Speech Movement, they also campaigned for the firing of UC Berkeley Professor of Psychology Arthur Robert Jensen after he published the infamous Harvard Educational Review article “How Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achievement” in 1969. Free speech for me, but not for thee.

  • anony

    It was, and is, all about power.

    Remember “Power to the people”? Us people, not you people.

  • Leftists have always screamed for ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘tolerance’ when their numbers are few. But as soon as they gain both influence and numbers, they try to limit everyone else’s speech, especially those who differ from them.

    They are hypocrites at heart and many are too stupid to recognize the absurdity of such slogans as “Hate speech is not free speech” which they post all over our university campuses.


      Yup, and just who exactly gets to determine just what kind of speech is to be considered Hate Speech? Lucky for them, and disastrous for America, It’s people and it’s very future. It just so happens to be the very 1960’s radicals which Mr. Stern is writing of in his article. Anyone who has ever been on an American campus will quickly see that the campus has no problem with hate, or hate speech. In fact, most Universities have entire classes solely dedicated to teaching their students to hate entire racial groups. Or should I say, a entire racial group. Cause you’ll notice there’s a severe lack of diversity as far as just what “group” is the subject of such classes. Which are generally known as “Whiteness Studies”. Which produce wonderfully hateful class names such as “Is White Skin Really Fair”, or “Racial Micro-Aggressions: Subtitled – ( Racism Has Not Gone Away, It’s Simply Gone Underground )” and of course everyone’s favorite “White Privilege: Modern America’s Continuance Of Racial Oppression”.

      So yeah, hate speech is certainly not a problem on America;s college campuses. Well, at least as long as both those doing the hating, and those receiving the hate. Meet the appropriate and administratively approved racial backgrounds, that is.

  • A Freespeechzone

    The only way to fight liberal vermin is to use their own tactics against them–relentlessly and with no apology.


      Exactly Mr. or Mrs. Zone! ((( “With No Apology” ))) <- You hit the nail directly on the head with that one my friend!!!

  • humura

    When the campus newspaper a decade or so ago ran an editorial attacking the racial/sexual discrimination called affirmative action, it was alleged FSM types confiscated the edition of the newspaper. Savio came out in favor of affirmative action. From supporting “racial equality,” he demanded racial preferences.


      Yeah I think I remember hearing something about that. Weren’t they going all over campus and stealing the papers as they were literally being delivered and handed out? Also, do you remember if these people got in any trouble for doing what they did? Or did they escape the consequences for their behavior as usual?

  • Liberal free speech means shouting down a conservative guest speaker.


      Well, you know what they say, there’s NO FREE SPEECH like liberal free speech!!!

  • MekongDelta69

    Freedom for me, but not for thee
    Diversity for thee, but not for me

  • JohnEngelman

    The Berkeley Free Speech Movement helped to launch Ronald Reagan’s political career. In 1966 he defeated Pat Brown for governor. Pat Brown had been a popular governor.

    Students at Berkeley enjoyed a low tuition education at one of the greatest universities in the world. Most California voters thought that if they did not like the way things were run, they should leave and make room for students who would appreciate the experience of studying at Berkeley.

  • RHG

    The “Free Speech Movement” was really about establishing leftwing dogma and ideology as the dominate, prevailing culture on college campuses around America. And as usual, everything about Leftism is a charade and involves slight of hand and phoniness and lord help those who finally discover this.

  • LHathaway

    Anyone notice they label their censorship ‘free speech’? That was probably why this line in the article was so funny to me, “One of the campus dining halls is called the Free Speech Movement Café”.

  • Jefferson

    The University Of California in Berkeley has about as much freedom of speech as North Korea.

    Liberals there act like the Nazi dictators that they claim to hate, when it comes to shutting down opposing views that are different from theirs.

    • The Worlds Scapegoat

      Most of the white Liberals at Berkeley are Jewish. They act like they usually act. Like they are the NKVD or Cheka. I have been on that campus many times. There are no Nazis in Berkeley.



      • TJ

        You are right. Including as it appears the author of the article and his reference to fellow meddler weinberg. The handful of gentiles merely serve to provide cover.

  • Mack0

    A group will advocate for free speech when they lack the power to make the rules. We must remember these groups aren’t advocating for free speech in principle but for the right to say what they believe. The same applies for rights groups in general. They aren’t really even rights groups but lobbyists.

  • John R

    And that was fifty years ago. These are the people who now hold the top posts in government, the media, and even a great many corporations. You wonder why our society is the way it is? I might add, that these same people were the tutors for our current president and many others, holding office these days.

  • Hunter Morrow

    Sol Stern. Won’t even read the babble and lying trash after that. Down With ZOG, Up With Miniskirts!