The town of Berkeley’s got quite a rep. In “The Whole World’s Watching: Peace and Social Justice Movements of the 1960s and 1970s,” produced by the Berkeley Arts Center, a brilliant and brilliantly disturbing collection of photographs and essays by mostly local writers and photographers document the many movements for social justice that coalesced and grew strong in Berkeley and elsewhere in California.
The list of organizations that arose here during the unique social unrest, energy, and excitement of the 1960s and 1970s reads like a Who’s Who for the New Left. The amazing synergy of time and place proved fertile for the Free Speech Movement, the Black Panther Party, the struggle for Native American Rights, Civil Rights, Gay Rights, Homeless Rights, Farm Worker Rights, Disability Rights, the Women’s Movement, the Environmental movement, Vietnam War protests and many more movements devoted to social justice.
“The Whole World’s Watching” is an important book. Without it, one might not realize how much our individual expectations and cultural values have changed as a result of the events and participants in the struggles during those two decades. For example, prior to 1970, women’s issues were routinely trivialized or ignored by the press and by radio stations, such as KPFA. One might not even believe that before this time, racist slurs (such as “the communistic little kike”) were routinely delivered in speeches on the floor of the House of Representatives. (That particular slur was delivered during the Holocaust, in 1944, courtesy of Rep. John Rankin of Mississippi.)
Probing and informative essays illuminate exactly how various institutional practices have been changed. Ruth Rosen’s “The Feminist Revolution in the Bay Area,” for example, points out how activists altered legally and socially accepted practices, such as employers routinely paying women less than men for the same work, banks routinely denying women loans, etc. Before 1970 it was widely accepted that no woman was considered competent to anchor the news, work in the police force, sit on the Supreme Court, etc. Each of these essays showcases how a movement subtly or violently took action to promote the ideals of mutual co-existence and increased tolerance and support for those who had been previously victimized.
The photojournalism in this book is just as informative and moving as are the essays. Helen Nestor shows the power of the UC Berkeley institution in her off-center, wide-angle view of Sproul Hall. Included in this book are arresting glimpses of angst and passion and rage and joy such as Stephen Shames photo of a protestor throwing tear gas back at police, and Jeffrey Blankfort’s "We Want Justice." Michelle Vignes’ "At the Induction Center" is like a shaken fist. Equally moving are Cathy Cade’s "TWA Stewardesses on Strike" (cable car drivers, who were in the same union, joined them on the picket line), and her "Bunnies in front of the Playboy Club in San Francisco." Richard Misrach’s "3 Girls and "Nacio Jan Brown’s "High school Students" left me breathless.
The fifty richly evocative duotone photos in The Whole World’s Watching are incredibly powerful, rich, and sensually luscious.
One gets a feel for the feverish intellectual and spiritual questing of the cultural revolutionaries whose efforts led to the America we know today. The emotional intensity of the various opposing forces is, for example, illuminated clearly in a poster which showcases the words of William Mandell, said when addressing the House Un-American Activities Committee in San Francisco in 1960: "If you think for one minute I am going to cooperate with this collection of Judases, of men who sit here in violation of the Constitution, if you think I will cooperate with you in any way, you are insane."
While The Whole World’s Watching documents demonstrations from decades back, the passions brought forth in this period are timeless. Working toward manifesting the utopian ideals of social justice and mutual respect is incredibly difficult…. and not just in Berkeley.