Arts & Events

Free Speech Day Is October 1! Two Unique Ways to Celebrate

By Gar Smith
Tuesday September 27, 2011 - 04:44:00 PM

As the raging debates over a student Republican "bake sale" in Sproul Plaza demonstrate, the exercise of free speech is alive and well on the UC Berkeley campus. But there was a time when staging any kind of student demonstration intended to influence a governor's vote on a pending bill would have been illegal. 

In 1964, the Free Speech Movement changed all that. After an activist was arrested for soliciting funds to protect civil rights in the South, a police car was driven on campus to haul him off to jail. Instead, students spontaneously sat down around the car, bringing "the law" to a dead halt and kick-starting what became a national campaign for student liberty. After months of struggle (culminating in the occupation of Sproul Hall and the mass-arrest and imprisonment of hundreds of students), "the arc of history" finally bent towards justice and students established as fact that their First Amendment rights did not stop at the boundaries of the University. 

On September 17, 1985, the State of California officially honored this keynote victory at the dawn of the Revolutionary Sixties by declaring October 1 "Free Speech Day" in perpetuity. 

The Resolution read in part: 

WHEREAS, The expression of diverse points of view is basic to the principle of learning in public institutions of higher education and 

WHEREA,S The Free Speech Movement began at the University of California at Berkeley in October of 1964 as a response by students to the curtailment of their First Amendment rights by the university, and 

WHEREAS, The peaceful protest by students, which later received the support of the academic senate, resulting in a lifting of the University of California's ban on the advocating of political activity or soliciting funds for a non-university cause… 

WHEREAS, In response to criticisms that originated in the Free Speech Movement, University of California policy now explicitly protects the rights of free expression, speech, assembly, worship, and distribution and sale of noncommercial literature incidental to the exercise of these freedoms on university grounds, and… 

WHEREAS, The changes brought about by the Free Speech Movement at the University of California have served as a model for the advancement of First Amendment rights on campuses throughout the nation…, and 

WHEREAS, The Free Speech Movement emerged from the civil rights movement and with it spawned the Third Word Student Strike and the anti-war movement…, and 

WHEREAS, These movements have resulted in programs and departments such as ethnic studies, women's studies, peace and conflict studies and student-initiated seminars..., 

Therefore, be it Resolved … that October 1, 1985, and each October 1 thereafter, is hereby designated Free Speech Day. 

This October 1, FSM Day will be celebrated by members of the original FSM struggle. On Saturday, scores of FSM vets from Berkeley and around the country will be gathering in the Redwood Gardens Community Room for conversation and a potluck (5:30-9:30PM, 2951 Derby Street, at the south end of the Clark Kerr Campus). While seating is limited, the public is invited. Admission is $5 (sliding scale). 

(Note: There is parking on both sides of Derby Street and in adjacent neighborhoods. After parking, go to the awning and up some stone steps, walk to your right a few steps and you will see a sign directing you to the entrance of the Redwood Gardens Community Room.) 

For more information on the event and this history of the Free Speech Movement, please visit the Free Speech Movement Archives online at 


Ralph Nader to Speak on Saturday 

October 1 also marks the First Annual Peter Miguel Camejo Commemorative Lecture. Peter Camejo was a fiery activist from Berkeley's Sixties who went on to become the Green Party candidate for California governor in 2003 and was Ralph Nader's running mate in the 2004 presidential race. 

Nader's appearance is part of a fund-raising drive to raise funds to complete a documentary on Camejo's life. "Peter Camejo: A Red-Green Life," is a joint-production by the California Civil Rights Association and the AMA Foundation. Admission to the event (3-5PM at the Hillside Club, 2286 Cedar Street) is $10 but "no one will be turned away for lack of funds." 

For more information, contact Sharon Peterson (925) 639-1774 or 

Gar Smith is a Berkeley resident and a veteran of the Free Speech Movement.