The Free Speech Movement Cafe, Berkeley

Whatever your views on balancing protections for free speech and against hate speech, we all have an obligation to get our facts straight. Yes, as a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, I understand how reality can be manipulated. Still, according to a responsible source, the facts point to last week’s violence on the University of California, Berkeley campus as being incited primarily by people who were not students or faculty at the university.

Let’s go back to 1964 and the birth of the Free Speech Movement at Cal. The original FSM coalition focused on allowing political parties of all stripes to distribute political information on campus, something that we now take for granted. Over 800 people occupied the administration’s main offices (Sproul Hall) and were jailed to make that happen. No one set out to break windows and damage buildings. When a police car drove onto Sproul Plaza to arrest a student, scores of other students on the Plaza merely sat down, preventing the patrol car from leaving.

How do I know? When I wrote The Ninth Day, which is set in Berkeley during the free speech protests in 1964, I did my homework. I am addicted to research. While I was writing a work of historical fiction, I was determined to get the history right. I read, studied, interviewed, hung out at Cal, and poured over documents in the university’s FSM collection.

Much has changed in the fifty-plus years since Joan Baez sang at Sproul Plaza while hundreds of students peacefully entered the administration building. Much still is the same. We still have an obligation to voice our grievances as citizens in a constitutional democracy. And in this era of fake news, it is more important than ever to to sort fact from fiction.

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