'Over 30,' 30 Years Later

October 05, 1994|By GENE MARINE

SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco. -- It's October 1, 1964: A graduate student in mathematics, then taking a year's leave, set up a table in University of California-Berkeley's Sproul Plaza, seeking support for the Congress of Racial Equality, a civil-rights group.

As one more step in a continuing dispute between some student groups and the university administration, the young man was arrested for trespassing and placed in a police car.

Which never went anywhere.

In protest, the car was surrounded by people, mostly students. By nightfall, at least one-tenth, probably one-ninth, of all the university's students (undergraduate and graduate) were sitting around the police car. People were standing on top of it making speeches. And the world was being made aware of something called the Free Speech Movement.

From that episode came a memorable remark by the graduate student in the police car, Jack Weinberg: ''We don't trust anybody over 30.''

Despite being beyond the deadline set by this whimsical imperative of neanic gerontology, and despite the conviction of Eastern editors that the Free Speech Movement was a local California story of no national interest, I managed to write a couple of pieces about the movement. One of them appeared in The Nation. Hence my current bemusement.

Free Speech Movement veterans and veteran observers of the movement will remember, many with a throat-catching thrill, the anguished voice of philosophy student Mario Savio, insisting that a time comes at which ''you've got to put your bodies upon the gears, upon the levers, upon the wheels . . . .''

It's a stirring memory, which adds to my bemusement. The Nation, in its September 19 edition, publishes an advertisement for a ''Free Speech Movement 30th Anniversary Reunion.''

There is an address. There is a phone number.

Once they cheered the Luddite metaphor about putting their bodies upon the gears and levers and wheels. Today, they include a fax number and an E-mail address.

I like reunions. We geezers are good at this stuff. Far be it from me to deny such reminiscent pleasure to the onetime vanguard of student protest.

But I hope that in their 50s they can smile, as I do, at the whole idea of a 30th anniversary reunion of people who didn't trust anyone over 30.

Gene Marine wrote this commentary for the San Francisco Examiner.

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