The man who coined the phrase “Don’t trust anyone over 30” turned 60 years old Tuesday.
Jack Weinberg uttered the phrase – which became one of the most memorable expressions of the turbulent 1960s era – during the height of the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley. The Free Speech Movement was a struggle by students over the right to engage in political speech on campus, which helped to catalyze broader political activism on campuses around the country over student rights, civil rights and the Vietnam War.
In a news release recently distributed by a Chicago public relations agency – owned by his wife, it should be noted – Weinberg says he made the statement primarily to get rid of a reporter who was bothering him. He doesn’t even regard the statement as the most important thing he’s ever said.
“I was being interviewed by a newspaper reporter and he kept asking me who was ‘really’ behind the actions of students, implying that we were being directed behind the scenes by the Communists or some other sinister group,” Weinberg recalled.
“I told him we had a saying in the movement that we don’t trust anybody over 30. It was a way of telling the guy to back off, that nobody was pulling our strings.”
A columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle highlighted the quote and other newspapers across the country picked it up.
“It went from journalist to journalist, then leaders in the movement started using it because they saw the extent it shook up the older generation,” Weinberg said.
Weinberg, who currently lives in Chicago and works for the Environmental Health Fund on international toxic pollution issues, has remained an activist since his student days.
He worked for Greenpeace, the international environmental organization, for the past 10 years. In January he left to join the Environmental Health Fund, a Boston-based organization that works with public interest groups to protect public health from injury caused by chemical pollution and other forms of environmental disruption.
Weinberg works with organizations around the world – especially in developing countries – to build a global, activist network that challenges many of the policies and practices of the international chemical industry.
Following his student days, Weinberg was a union activist for many years. In 1982, an organization of unionists, community members and environmentalist led by Weinberg successfully defeated a nuclear power plant proposed in Indiana on Lake Michigan.