In the midst of the "police car incident"--while hundreds of students were blocking the car where police had placed Jack Weinberg, preparing to take him to jail for refusing to fold up political organizing on campus--I attended a reception given by Chancellor Strong for undergraduate honors students. One of the students there asked the Chancellor to explain what was going on with the protest, and his explanation was that the University Administration had been contacted by the management of the Oakland Tribune and asked to do something to stop campus organizing for civil rights demonstrations aimed at the Tribune because of its discriminatory hiring and employment practices. Well, I wondered what the Chancellor was intending to say because, having grown up in Berkeley, I had long seen the Tribune as a particularly forceful and crude voice of dark-ages conservatism--among other things, its principal owner, William F. Knowland, was often called William "Formosa" Knowland because of his especially rabid opposition to the Chinese revolution led by Mao Tsetung, which had driven American-backed Chiang Kai-Shek off the mainland of China and onto the island of Formosa (Taiwan). Chancellor Strong went on to say that, in response to this urging by the Tribune, the University Administration--which already banned on-campus organizing for "off-campus political issues"--had looked into the matter and had discovered that an area near the southern entrance to the campus, where political literature tables and organizing were centered, was not City property, as they had previously thought, but was actually University property, and therefore they had moved to put a stop to the civil rights and other political activity that was going on there.
I couldn't believe it--I was shocked! Not just by the content of what Strong was saying but by the fact that he didn't even try to disguise it or dress it up--he didn't see anything wrong, or even controversial, about what he was telling us, and it was clear he didn't expect that we would either--apparently he thought that, being "model students," we would be also be "model citizens": narrow-minded, self-centered "grade-grubbers" in training to become "money-grubbers" and loyal upholders of the status quo. As others have pointed out, and as I was to learn more fully as I became active in the movement, the university has always been very political: it plays a major role in the functioning of the military and other institutions of the state, and of finance and industry, as well as playing a decisive part in the shaping of information--in short, it is a key part of the machinery of the ruling class--and the students are expected to play their small, and passive, role within this.
I immediately left the Chancellor's reception, walked over to the sit-in around the police car, got in line to speak and, when my turn came, climbed on the car and told the others there what the Chancellor's "explanation" had been and that, as a result, I was joining in the protest and donating my $100 honor-student honorarium to the cause. Although I did not yet know it, this was a turning point in my life, as it was for many others. And, while the incident that, in immediate terms, propelled me into the movement had its own peculiarities, there were deeper causes influencing all of us who became part of the movement. As a number of others have also pointed out in reflecting on the experience of the FSM and its larger context, it was not merely about student rights in the abstract or in themselves but about the right--and, yes, the responsibility--to support and take part in the struggle against the glaring injustices in American society as a whole, especially the oppression of Black people. Had this not been the case, the FSM would not have had the great attractive force that it did.
At the time, I personally felt this in a very powerful way. When I entered college, I was already a strong supporter of the civil rights movement--except that I did not agree with the insistence on non-violence under all circumstances. Long before I became a revolutionary, I had come to feel strongly that Black people had the right to defend themselves against the brutality of the KKK and the police--who, as we know, were and are often literally the same people. My stand on this had been shaped by the fact that I was extremely fortunate to attend a high school, Berkeley High, which for many decades has had a large number of Black students: some became close friends of mine, and both their personal stories and the larger experience of Black people that I was made aware of--the horrendous atrocities as well as the daily outrages and insults they were subjected to--burned into me very militant feelings about fighting against this oppression and made me recognize the rightness as well as the righteousness of Malcolm X's stand that this fight should be waged by any means necessary. My commitment to the fight for Black people's rights was an essential reason why, once I became aware of the larger dimensions and implications of the FSM, I threw myself into it and never turned back.