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End of the Sixties

Into the 1960s a common view on the Left was that the United States was evil – inherently imperialist and racist – and could be righted only by social revolution. Some prominent intellectuals who had been on the Left, Daniel Bell, Irving Kristol, Nathan Glazer, Norman Podhoretz and some others from poor immigrant families and who respected the United States for its institutions and for the opportunities that it had provided them, disliked this view and deserted the Left.

One believer in revolution from the 1960s was Jerry Rubin, a former graduate student in sociology at the University of California at Berkeley. He had been a rank-and-file activist during the Free Speech Movement. Then he took the lead on campus in organizing against the war in Vietnam. Rubin had visited Cuba and had been impressed. Castro, he believed, was creating a new kind of socialist revolution.

In 1966, Rubin's organization, the Vietnam Day Committee, split into groups that differed as to what should be done in opposing the war, some supporting electoral politics, some rejecting electoral politics. Rubin a supporter and became manager of Robert Scheer's primary race as a Democrat running for Congress. After Scheer's campaign failed, Rubin ran for mayor of Berkeley as an independent, and he received 20 percent of the vote. Then he enhanced his celebrity status by changing his appearance. He had learned that antics and sensationalism attracted television cameras. He let his hair and beard grow. Rubin decided that a new kind of revolution was taking place, a revolution rising from young people who were a part of the America's new counter-culture. He was enthusiastic about young people turning against the values of their parents. He believed that the smoking of marijuana was turning youth against the war and that it would make men in uniform unwilling to fight. The government helped make Rubin a celebrity by calling him before the House Committee Armed Services Committee. And along with Paul Krassner and Abbie Hoffman he formed a group called "Yippies." He helped organize the October 1967 march against the Pentagon, which broke through police lines and stormed the Pentagon.

Jerry Rubin.

The cover of Jerry Rubin's
1970 book, "Do It."

With other leading names on the Left, Rubin laid plans for a great demonstration at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. At the opening of the convention, Rubin and his fellow Yippies appeared in Chicago with a pig that they said they were running for president. In the wake of the Chicago police riot that followed, Rubin became a celebrity again, at the trial of the "Chicago Seven." He was charged with conspiracy, inciting to riot and more.

Woodstock and Altamont – the Happenings

The following year, 1969, an event of great notice took place on farmland near Bethel, New York. It came to be known as Woodstock – a "be-in" and rock concert. Woodstock was the result of efforts by wealthy young men who bribed local officials and were looking for profit. At first, popular singers and rock-musicians were uninterested in their concert, but when the entrepreneurs offered them twice as much money as they usually received for a gig their interest increased – except for Bob Dylan, who remained uninterested.

The performers were able to draw enough people to make it the biggest rock concert in history. And for some, big was beautiful. It was, someone said, "one hell of a party." It was big enough to be mythologized into a wondrous and glorious event of the 1960s.

The concert lasted three days and nights and was a nightmare in organization. People had come from afar, and there was little to eat. Rain turned the field into mud. Drinks were being laced with drugs. Feet were being cut by broken glass and aluminum from pop-top cans. When the sun did shine, people spaced out on drugs staring dumbly at it, adding to the 5,162 medical cases that were treated by volunteers at emergency medical tents, cases that included eight miscarriages. There was also petty thievery – a bicycle or two and Paul Krassner's white leather jacket to name a few. But there was only minor violence, in what was billed as a peace gathering. There were only two deaths, and some boys and girls enjoyed wading naked in a nearby pond.

Concert-goers had torn down the fence and attended the festival free, and the buyers of tickets provided the entrepreneurs with less money than they had expected. For them the event was disappointing and uneconomic – a loss of 2.4 million dollars.

The Yippies, including Paul Krassner and Abbie Hoffman, had been at Woodstock. The Yippies had threatened to disrupt the event if donations were not made toward worthy causes. They had been bought-off, and they went away from Woodstock as hopeful as ever, looking forward to more gatherings and keeping the momentum of cultural revolution going.

The next sensational concert was by the Rolling Stones at Altamont Raceway fifty miles east of San Francisco. There, drugs were seen as producing something other than the new ideal of peace and love. The eyes of many concert-goers were reported to be a dull and vacant glaze. The Hell's Angels motorcycle club was put in charge of keeping order, and the concert became violent and ugly. The hope inspired by Woodstock popped like a bubble.

The Manson Murders

These were times when a few opportunistic young men who were using marijuana and perhaps other drugs were setting themselves up as wise leaders of little groups that included young women in search of meaning and companionship. It was a time, too, of the murders of Sharon Tate and her companions at her home in Beverly Hills and the murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. The instigator of the murders was an ex-con, mystic-guru commune leader, frustrated songwriter, guitarist, and fan of the Beatles, Charles Manson. It was a popular myth that marijuana expanded consciousness, and Manson had at least pretended wisdom. He told his followers that he believed in an Armageddon in which black people would rise up against whites. The rising he called Helter Skelter, taken from a title of a Beatles song. Manson claimed that the Armageddon would destroy the blacks and that Manson and his group would survive and the world would be theirs. At least one of Manson's female followers was soon to claim that she believed Manson to be Jesus Christ.

Like other predictions of Armageddon, time passed without the expected event. With blacks having failed to rise, Manson believed that he had to have some white folks murdered to stimulate similar acts by blacks. Thus motivated, Manson sent his followers out to murder. They killed the LaBianca couple in their home and placed Rosemary LaBianca's wallet, with credit cards, in a gas station restroom in a black neighborhood in hope that a black person would find it, start using the credit cards, be blamed for the murders and stimulate the black community to rise up in his defense. Rosemary LaBianca had been stabbed forty-one times. And they left the crime scene with messages such as Pig, Death to Pigs and Helter Skelter, misspelled as Healther Skelter, written in the victim's blood.

The next killing was of Sharon Tate and her companions at a secluded home in the hills where Manson had once gone in search of selling his songs. The killings were mostly multiple stabbings, done by a woman follower with a couple of males and other women followers in attendance – all under the influence of drugs.

The Weathermen

1969 was also the year that the biggest political organization among students, the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), divided and fell apart. One of the factions that emerged from the breakup was called the Weathermen – a title taken from one of Bob Dylan's songs. The Weathermen laid plans to return to Chicago, the site of the previous year's Democratic Party convention. They were going back to Chicago for what they called "days of rage" – to seek revenge, to inspire revolution and for the expressed purpose of releasing prisoners, "to liberate the city" and to strike violently at various points in the city – assaults which they called "wargasms."

The Weathermen (and women) predicted thousands would join them. In attempting to recruit soldiers for the Days of Rage, a Weatherman leader, Mark Rudd, spoke to Leftists at Indiana University. Someone in the audience spoke up and told Rudd he "was out of his mind." The audience was with him and applauded. But the Weathermen remain undeterred and still fantasizing about revolutionary contagion.

In Chicago, the "angry masses" that the Weathermen had expected to show, didn't. Armed with crash helmets and clubs the Weatherpeople destroyed some property and assaulted some police officers. They received more injuries than they inflicted. Two hundred of them were arrested. They had dedicated their assault to the Black Panthers, but the Panthers joined others in denouncing the action – the Panthers calling their rising "Custerism." But Jerry Rubin said he could not fault the Weathermen, and the leader of the saner faction of the SDS, Tom Hayden, had some kind words for his former colleagues.

Governor Reagan responds to a new campus disturbance

1969 was a year of violence also in Berkeley. Early in the year, black students on the Berkeley campus formed with Asian and Latino students what they called the "Third World Liberation Front." Students belonging to the campus African American Student Union called for the immediate establishment of a Black Studies Department. Outsiders came onto campus to help extend a strike that had been taking place at San Francisco State College. The outsiders made speeches denouncing the university, remarking about how white the student body was and declaring that the university should be open to anyone who wished to wander onto campus. The strikers attempted to cajole people into joining the strike. This did not work, and the strikers became desperate and more offensive. They marched through campus and threatened to tear up the main library. But as days passed the size of their picket line dwindled.

The campus police were watching from the sidelines, ready to act if they believed it necessary. The tactics of the campus chancellor, Roger Heyns, was to let the strike die a natural death, and his tactic was working. The university asked people to walk around the shrinking picket line at the entrance to the campus, and there was plenty of room on both sides of fifty feet of picket line – a double row of people walking in a circle. But a few conservatively-dressed men walked directly through the picket line. As a result scuffles occurred, and this inspired a reaction from Governor Reagan. .

Reagan was opposed to Chancellor Heyn's tactics. He arranged for the Alameda Country Sheriff's Department to invade the campus and provide a safe passage for students going to and from campus. Deputy sheriffs lined up in riot gear across Sproul Plaza, standing their ground on both sides of the plaza. A few persons, perhaps provocateurs, attacked the police. The police defended themselves, and soon the police could not tell the difference between offenders and those who were merely watching or on their way home. Hostile to the police, some students joined in the attack, the San Francisco Chronicle having on its front page a photo of an angry coed hitting a helmeted deputy on the head with her umbrella.

An editorial in the campus newspaper described Ronald Reagan as "our stupid governor." Governor Reagan's crackdown and some punishments brought an end to the "Third World Strike" on the Berkeley campus, with 99 students arrested and disciplined, and 52 persons from off-campus arrested. Those advocating the strike had been saved from what would have been their greatest humiliation: the strike ending in indifference or rejection by their contemporaries.

On March 4, the university's Academic Senate voted 550 to 4 in support of an interim Department of Ethnic Studies. On March 7 the university president, Charles Hitch, approved the Department of Ethnic Studies, which began in the Fall Quarter of that year.

Riots and Radicalization of the City of Berkeley

Then in May came a greater disturbance: the battle over a plot of university property just off Telegraph Avenue. Houses on university property in which a lot of "street people" had been living had been torn down, and the property was now a vacant lot with a few trees. Some activists decided to turn it into a "people's park," and the student body voted in favor of it, 12,719 to 2,175. The Regents of California's numerous university campuses did not approve, and a chain-link fence was erected around the property. In defiance of the Regents, people left a rally on campus and headed to "the park" to tear down the fence. A violent confrontation with the police followed, along with days of disturbances.

The California Highway Patrol was called in. So too were the Alameda County Sheriffs, and then the National Guard. Birdshot was used against the demonstrators, and then buckshot. The police were unable to discriminate between people standing on roofs watching and those on roofs throwing stones down on them. They shot and killed one person on a rooftop, James Rector, and they blinded another. Hundreds were rounded up and taken to a nearby prison at Santa Rita.

A National Guard helicopter flew over the campus spraying the strongest kind of tear gas. Students did not know which way to run. The gas penetrated Cowell Hospital on the north of the campus and tortured people in iron lungs. The tear gas (actually a powder) burned the skin of students at the swimming pool in the canyon just north of the campus.

The city was sealed off by troops, and inconvenienced city residents resented the forces of occupation. Berkeley's city council voted eight to one to ask Governor Reagan to remove the guardsmen. Downtown Berkeley was lined with rolls of barbed wire. Women put flowers into the barrels of the rifles held by lines of national guardsmen. It was a hot day, and some women stripped to their waists, in part perhaps to tease the guardsmen. A march snaked through Berkeley, with residents cheering them and spraying them with their garden hoses to cool them and the marchers cheered in response. The March ended at a dirt field about one mile from campus. There people danced to a hypnotic thumping of drums and whatever else was available to add to the beat. A young man was beating a rock against the steel grating over a stormdrain. Residents emerged from their homes and joined the celebration, one of them a middle-aged woman with a trumpet that she tooted in time with the beat.

The police crackdown and use of shotguns had added support to the Left in Berkeley, while support for local conservative politicians declined. In 1964 Berkeley's city council had consisted of four conservatives and five liberals. In 1965 it was three conservatives and six liberals; in 1966, two conservatives, six liberals and Ron Dellums, who was labeled by some as a radical. Dellums was a black ex-Marine who described the war in Vietnam and much else that he disliked as "insane." The year after the People's Park rioting, Dellums was elected to Congress. In 1971, along with two liberals and two conservatives, four other "radicals" would be elected to the city council.


Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.