Saturday, February 8, 2014

A Fascinating Look at the Student Protest Era in the '60's.

As you all know by now, Seth Rosenfeld came to VHOB on Thursday night.  His book, Subversives, tracks the FBI's involvement with Cal Berkeley in the early '60's and how it related to the onset of the free speech movement and the student protest era.  I gotta say that it was fascinating.  Here are a couple of facts about the actual writing process.

1.  When Seth was at Cal in the late '70's, he was working for the student newspaper, The Daily Cal.
2.  His editor gave him the assignment of looking into the FBI as it related to the free speech movement.
3.  He filed 5 lawsuits over the years in order to get documents.
4.  He conducted countless interviews, including with 2 FBI agents who met with Ronald Reagan when he was governor and who received instructions on how to sabotage the protests.
5.  He has over 150 pages of sources in the book.
6.  It took him 27 years to write Subversives!

Seth told some truly fascinating stories.  One in particular stands out for me because I was there.  In the late '60's, the university decided to convert a park near campus into a parking lot.  This became a cause celebre for the student government.  The student body president at that time, Dan Siegel, stood on the steps of Sproul plaza, and told hundreds (maybe thousands) of people to stop the construction crews.  Everybody surged toward the park (a couple of blocks away).  Of course, on the way, James Rector, who was standing on a roof, was killed.

What I didn't know was that the police had started out with harmless ammunition and had eventually escalated to real bullets when their other ammunition ran out.  As they were passing buildings, somebody threw a brick from a rooftop.  Rector, who did not throw the brick, was killed when the police sprayed the roof.

Seth had a mess of stories to tell, each one more interesting than the next.  I think this book will appeal to 2 basic groups of people.  1. All of us of a certain age that lived during that time.  2.  Everybody else.  Even the young'uns know about the free speech movement, Mario Savio, student protests, and the like.  Many of the liberties we take for granted today came out of the free speech movement.  Who wouldn't be interested in knowing how that happened?

I haven't read Seth's book yet, but I certainly plan to.  And you?


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