As any student at Cal will tell you, navigating Sproul Plaza takes a lot of skill (especially during the first couple weeks of every semester). For one thing, it is a major entrance to campus, where in the 10 minutes between classes thousands of students will pass through the narrow plaza. Simply walking through hordes of students can be a challenge. But what truly makes Sproul Plaza tricky is attempting to avoid being “flyered”, or given flyers by individuals advocating for an event, some political movement, or to join their club. Today, I was one of those flyering on Sproul, attempting to engage people in conversations about Cal Band.
The reason I, along with every other student, can flyer on Sproul? The Free Speech Movement that started right here on campus in 1964. Prior to this movement, students were banned from political advocacy on campus, because the administration deemed it dangerous and would encourage students to participate in illegal activities, which would reflect poorly on the school. However, students got around this rule by setting up tables to engage in political activity just off campus.
The Summer of 1964 saw a heightened political awareness and activity by students, as they participated in the so-called “Freedom Summer”, traveling in hordes to Mississippi to help African Americans register to vote. When the students came back to school in the fall, they felt empowered to challenge the rule on campus and engage in political activity, advocating for greater rights for everyone.
On October 1, 1964, student Jack Weinberg was arrested on Sproul Plaza for flyering on campus. Before the police car could take him to jail, however, students surrounded the car and held a 36-hour protest. Mario Savio, another student who became the leader of the Free Speech Movement, held a famous speech on top of the police car calling for Jack Weinberg to be freed and for new rules that allowed for free speech on campus. This sparked 3 months of sit-ins, protests, and rallies which culminated in the administration allowing free speech on campus, and the use of Sproul Plaza for political activity and promotion of clubs and organizations. To this day, many protests and rallies will start on Sproul Plaza, and students are constantly flyering for their clubs and political opinions.
Which brings me to today. I would have had a drastically different experience recruiting for Cal Band on Sproul Plaza today had it not been for the actions of Jack Weinberg, Mario Savio, and the thousands of other students and faculty who protested and stood up to achieve a fundamental right: free speech on campus. When I stood on Sproul asking people if they were interested in joining Cal Band, I looked over at all the other groups (including multiple engaging in political advocacy) and couldn’t help but smile and think about how proud I am to be a student at the home of Free Speech.