A Time for Choosing
Jo FreemanJuly 1965
[This is Jo Freeman's "letter" to Judge Crittenden explaining her participation in the FSM sit-in on Dec. 3, 1964. These letters were requested by the FSM trial lawyers]
Although the extent of one's political obligation to the state has been explored by many political theorists and philosophers, their attention has centered almost exclusively around the conditions under which revolution would be justified. This requires of the individual an all or none attitude; either he accepts the state in toto or he rejects it in toto. If he does not feel it can rectify his grievance with the procedures already at hand then he must seek to destroy it totally and build anew. This, I feel, practically eliminates any essential question of political obligation. There is no moral decision to be made if one equates illegitimacy with immorality. Likewise once one has decided to completely overthrow a state one no longer has any personal, moral obligation to it and is free to select what laws one will or will not obey subject only to those limitations the state can physically enforce. It is thus that the moral delimma is created.
Steering a middle ground between being an anarchist and an Eichmann is in no sense easy. It is much simpler to take refuge in an extreme; to say one must always obey the law or one must always obey ones conscience. On the one hand is the old argument that if everyone followed only those laws that their conscience held were just we would soon be in a Hobbesian state of war. Freedom, after all depends on security, security on social order and social order on obedience to law. This is especially true in a system that provides for procedures by which laws can be changed short of overthrowing the government. Yet the decision at Nuremberg clearly illustrates that slavish, unquestioning obedience to authority and blind acceptance of orders can be criminal, while disobedience can be seen as a duty.
What it comes down ot is that order is necessary to the maintainence of society and to allow for the preservation of the values represented by that society. But order slone is not enough. Any society based strictly on the
Twenty-four hundred years ago the first recorded act of civil disobedience was committed and brought before the courts of Athens. As reported by Plato in the Apology Socrates adamantly refused to "give up philosophy and exhorting you and declaring the truth to every one of you whom I meet".... (29c) Socrates declared that it would be unjust in his mind for Athens to regulate the content of his teaching and he would not obey any command by the state to silence himself. He violated the dictates of the system by continuing his teaching and was brought to trial on charges of "corrupting the youth" and "denying the gods", accusations only indirectly related to what he was actually violating. Socrates even goes so far as to refuse exile and insist that the only way the state can silence him, prevent him from violating its "laws", is to condemn him to death. "It is the most difficult thing in the world to make you understand why I cannot (refrain from teaching). If I say that I cannot hold my peach because that would be to disobey the god, you will think that I am not in earnest and will not believe me. But that is so My Friends, though it is not easy to persuade you." (Apology 37e)
Yet law and order is one of the most precious gifts of civilization, and disrupting it should not be done blithly, with little thought. Most of us find sooner or later that our personal ideas and convictions, when they are grossly at variance with society, are usually proven wrong in the forge of human experience. The batting average for new ideas is discourangingly
The result is a continual torment, doubt, and tension created by two distinct obligations. On the one hand I have an obligation to social justice as I see it. Like Socrates' god, the voice within nags me whenever I knowingly commit an unjust act, or by my silence allow someone else to commit one. "My friend", it says, "if you think that a man of any worth at all ought to think of anything but whether he is acting justly or unjustly, and as a good or a bad man would act, you are mistaken....I do know...that it is evil and disgraceful to do an unjust act, and to disoboy my superiors, whether man or god. I will never do what I know to be evil, and shrink in fear from what I do not know to be good or evil." (Apology 28-29)
Yet I also have a political obligation to the system of law and order which makes life possible. With Socrates I must listen humbly when the laws tell me "since you were brought into the world and raised and educated by us,...can you deny that you are our child and our slave, as your fathers were before you? And if this be so, do you think that your rights are on a level with ours?...If we try to destroy you, because we think it just, will you in return do all that you can to destroy us, the laws, and your country, and say that in so doing you are acting justly?...Or do you see...that you ought to reverence (the state), and to submit to it,...and either to do whatever it tells you to do or to persuade it to excuse you; and to obey in silence...." (Crito 50-51)
One obeys a law not because one feels it is right but because it is right to obey the law. Yet respect for a system of law means the recognition that specific laws can be falliable. Respect for a socio-political
What I am saying in a larger context is that a good citizen must admit within himself the existence of these two occasionally contradictory obligations; that to the state and the idea of order and that to his concept of social justice. By making one an absolute, always dominating the other one becomes not a man but a beast, either abdicating to the state all of ones individuality and ones moral responsibility as an individual or blindly rejecting all attempts to create a coherant pattern and bring order out of the Hobbesian chaos. But both obligations are necessary to be a good citizen, each impulse complements and restrains the other. One is divided by both forcs, both obligations, but one must hold both simultaneously without shirking and must consider both when acting. It is only this continual re-examination of the basis of ones actions, this continual agony, that justifies either an act of obedience of disobedience.
The inevitable result is that there is no set formula for solving the problems that arise when the two conflict as they occasionally do. The two forces must balance and limit each other and this relationship changes with each new situation, with each new person. Neither force can be purged from the field of combat.
In making a decision I would hold that one's political obligation must be considerable, society cannot easily survive large amounts of chaos even when in good working order. Civil disobedience should not be lightly undertaken and authority not lightly defied. It is a grave and heavy responsibility an individual takes on himsely when he seeks to violate the traditions and mores of a system, to oppose "we...the laws,...who brought you into the world...raised you,...educated you,...(and) gave you and every other citizen a share of all the good things we could." (Crito 51) The long range effects of change vs. order
Though ones political obligation should be considerable it should not be absolute. Times come when one must say "I value peace and order, but I value this change more, so I will risk my peace and order and that of the whole system to persuade people of the necessity a change."
The problem delineated is one that crops up repeatedly in our own history and each time it must be argued over and resolved again. Despite its fundamental tenants of democracy, with established procedures and processes theoretically available to all, most basic change in our country has come abount through violations of the system which forced it to either move or break. The activities of the abolitionist movement, the sufragetts, labor, and the plethora of reform projects undertaken during the populist and progressive eras highlight this fact.
In striving for their goals these reformers not only violated the accepted procedures they created new ones. In the last 100 years this country has seen the incorporation of the strike, the picket line, the boycott, unionization and now some forms of the sit-in into the body of accepted democratic processes. This has all been done by people "outside" the political sphere who have violated it in an attempt to affect it. The result has been an increasing degree of democracy in the country as a whole.
This followed a tradition inherited from Britain where in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries civil disobedience was committed in order to draw attention to varying grievances by the illegal and disorderly device of political pamphleteering against the political elite. In all of these cases civil disobedience not only compelled certain reforms but got new techniques of political action accepted into the array of authorized and approved methods within the boundaries of the system. Thus the "criminal libel" of political pamphleteering is now enshrined as freedom of the press, and the "criminal conspiracy" of striking is now a respected right of labor. Thus one century's civil disobedience is another century's political rights.
To become aware of the magnitude of the grievance of the students at the University of California one would really need to live through the whole affair; the transcript of the trial is almost superficial. The students have long been dissatisfied with the quality of their educational experience at the University. As people concerned with their own development and education and concerned with the quality of the University we felt we, our parents, and the taxpayers were in effect being gypped by the superficial training, and pablumized material which was the general fare.
With the advent of the automation revolution our society is undergoing some basic alterations; so too is the role of the university and education in society. In his book on The Uses of the University Clark Kerr writes with a wry smile that as the two main authors on the nature of the university described the institution they had known it had already become archaic and was changing into something else. I doubt that he knew how prophetic he was, for the University of California had not yet realized, and is only reluctantly beginning to open its eyes now, that some very fundamental changes are necessary.
As Willard Wirtz was reported in Time of 4-16-65 (p. 53), "The ultimate unemployment solution lies in education. There is no place in the future society for the uneducated person. We could put up with them before, but from here on out we can't." When education is a requisite for one's mere existence in society it can no longer be the privelege of the rich and the few but is the right of all who can benefit from it. The Daily Californian now writes (7-16-65 p. 8) "It is in essuming that this education is a `right' and not a privelege, that California is ahead of most states. And it is thinking that the education is a privelege and not a right, that some Californians clash with the actions of some of the students." If education is a right in a democratic society, and such an important one, then one must assume the responsibility for one's development that goes with it.
All this is a very difficult thing to explain in a short space and is seemingly irrelevant. Yet it goes to the core of what happened last Fall. The specific incident of the tables affected few students directly but it catalyzed the feelings of alienation which had long been festering under the surface and crystallized them around a concrete issue which contained in microcosm all the ingredients of the larger and fundamental grievance.
When the tables were banned from Bancroft and Telegraph, arbitrarily and with no explanation the only ones really concerned at first were the campus politicos. Those of us who saw the political groups as contributing greatly to our own education as well as to the betterment of the surrounding community and the University itself knew that this ban was literally our death knell. If a group's membership is restricted to the University community and it can't recruit from the area in which they are to be found; if it can't solicit money to maintain its treasury, the lifeblood of all political organizations; and it can't pass out literature advocating that others partake of its functions it can't function at all and doesn't exist in fact even if it manages to continue in name.
Yet we could never get the University to engage in a dialogue with us on the reasons behind their move or what the policy should be. They never discussed it; at the several meetings before the October demonstrations the Dean of Students simply read edicts from we knew not where and that was that. Papa knew best and children should be seen and not heard. But we were no longer children, the silent generation of the fifties, the beer-sex-football generation of other years, these were gone. We saw ourselves acting and being treated as adults off campus, and we especially saw ourselves and
The three places left on Berkeley City property were hardly sufficient. I remember one time that October when we were obeying all regulations for the duration of the truce when the "Cal Professors for Johnson-Humphrey", the "Students Against Prop 14" and the "University Civil Liberties Committee all shared a table mannod primarily by the University Young Democrats on a permit borrowed from the California College Republicans in exchange for a pile of NO ON 14 stickers and some "volunteers" to man their table. In the meantime the CCR set up a table 10 feet away on University property from which they "sold" tickets to a reception. When someone wanted a ticket they "gave" it to them then directed them to put their dollar in a jar on the UYD table. Unfortunately they didn't sell too many this way because they couldn put up a sign advertising their tickets. And it was the last time they loaned their permit to the Democrats.
Soon there was little more we could do but put the tables up anyway and wait and see what happened. What did happen was totally unexpected. Most of us had figured that either the Administeation would see by our actio how strougly we felt, how important this was to us, and make more modifications or open a dialog on the whole problem with us, or they would squash us completely and we would die. Instead we had a response from the student bod the like of which I have never seen on the campus, and the Administration's actions only exacerbated the situation. They fumbeled around, refusing to talk to the students and incapable of understanding them. They had never lowered themselves to the student's level before and could not see why they should do so at this time. They treated the affair as something akin to a panty raidand instead of scaring the students off generated a spontansous
For three days the students laid their bodies on the line and still no one listened. Finally under pressure from Nick Petris and some faculty members Kerr agreed to meet with a few of the United Front and gave what was really just another declaration, this time one drawn up by the faculty. But it hold a spark of hope and the oral agreements were reassuring so we signed, that all might live. Several times after that day I was asked if I thought what I had participated in when I signed that Pact was good or bad. I replied that it was neither; it was necessary.
As the Fall somester dragged on the campus lurched from false crisis to crisis. The Administration committee one act of bad faith or aggression after another and each time the FSM reacted. Both sides seemed to have an almost paranoical fear that if they gave the least little bit, relaxed a single second, all would be lost. The minority faction on the Executive Committee, to which I usually belonged, almost alternatingly opposed then supported the varying tactics employed. We ekpt trying to maintain that the Administration was somewhat rational and not totally vindictive and their actions continually proved us wrong, our position was continually undermined.
This is became apparent that the tripartite committee which was to discuss the issues was little more than a farce and the FSM took the offensive by once again setting up the tables on November 9. This time the Administration played it cooler and did no more than take names. In the meantime I was hearing grapevine rumors, or should I say I was being sent rumors from
After it became clear to Kerr that we would not split off from or undermine the FSM as he was trying to bail us into doing the meeting was quite productive. Kerr wanted peace and he wanted to know what it would take to get it. We wanted freedom of advocacy, disciplinary powers taken out of Administrative hands and a whole new approech to student-Administration relations. After some quiet conversation we persuaded him, or so we thought, that most of the things we felt were requisites for peach on the campus really weren't so bad after all. It was not one-sided. We compromised some points which we would have preferred not to from the standpoint of principle but it still left conditions quite tolerable. When we parted we had reached a working agreement on the main issues; only some relatively minor points remained to be resolved and these were to be taken care of the following evening.
One point at that meeting particularly stiks out in my mind. When we left we asked Kerr if there was at least one person who knew his mind well enough with whom we could begin preliminary discussion of the lesser points during the following day in order to save time when we met with him again that evening. He replied that there was no one who could fill that spot. Yet, when I thought about it q little later, he had sent three people to supposedly represent the Administration's (his) views and to discuss and bargain on orucial issues in the tripartite Political Action Committee.. And now he was admitting that this had been a farce, that there was not even one person that could have validly sat on that committee.
Eight of us met with Kerr the next evening and learned it had all been for naught. Kerr had changed his mind. Why we were never told for be would
The month wore on and little changed. The Monday before Thanksgiving FSM held the sit-in it had been building toward all Fall. It was later known as the Abortive Sit-in. In retrospect I feel that the FSM as an organization was a failure. It didnot succeed in its goal of bringing, as an organization, enough pressure on the Administration to effect the desired change. This was partially due to the improper and inadequate utilization of other resources. FSM did not seek out and develop faculty support; for the most part the professors remained as apathetic as usual throughout the whole affair. It did not foster support in the surrounding community or even attempt to adequately inform it as to the issues and often alienated those persons and groups which would normally be prone to support its side of the issues. But above all FSM failed to clarify the issues to the student body, to translate the often pedantic details into comprehensible and personal terms, and to prepare and mobolize them for action should it be needed. Instead it dealt strictly with the Administration as though they were two equally potent power blocs vying with each other over commonly desired territory. The students remained confused through much of the Fall; even Ex Com members often failed to understand what all the fuss was about at different points in the dispute. Most students clung to the hope that as long as neither side precipitated any hasty action
It took the Administration to mobilize the students. By issuing those four letters they again linked the issue of advocacy, the idea of the tables, the issue of political action to the underlying alienation against arbitrary Administration oppression. They clarified in very concrete terms the relationship between their attitude toward the students of the political groups and their attitude toward the student body as a whole. They closed off debate by cracking down on those of the students who had sought to rise above the level of unquestioning obedience and lead the breaking of the long-standing barrier between the students and the Administration. They showed their distain for the students by placing this protest in the same category as the beer-sex-football panty raids of previous generations. They shut down communication by treating as more children to be disciplined those who had sought to compel an exchange of ideas when the theoretical channels had proved ineffective at best and nonexistant at worse. They said in effect "We don't care a bit how you feel or what you do, and shall continue with our own plans the motives of which only we need be concerned with. There can be no dialog because you have nothing to say that is worth listening to. You are here to be told what to do, not to tell us what you want to do. We have enough problems with the legislature and the foundations without bothering with insignificant students who ought to fall to their knees and thank us that they be allowed upon our property. Those of you who become uppity, who grow too high, must be knocked down. That is all"
December 2 was an act of despair, done in trembling agony with a tortured and tearing sob. Not a sob for ourselves, nor for our fellow students. But one for the Administration, who would not understand; for the faculty, who would not care; and especially for the University; which
We occupied that white, monolithic structure, that symbol of Authority and Impersonalism and Bureaucracy, because there was nothing else that could be done, no other way to communicate the depth of our grievance and our grief. We sought to speak with our bodies because no one would listen to our minds. Even Burke has said "I like a olamor where there is an abuse. The fire-bell at midnight disturbs your sleep, but it keeps you from being burned in your bed." (Speech of 3-7-1771) We sought to ring the bell of conscience with the clappars of our bodies and arouse from their complaisent clumber the University community and the public to the dangers to us all from the catastrophic fires of oppression. We sought to trespass not on University property but on University conscience. We sought to disturb not University peace but University complaisancy.
I for one felt that I had done all that I could; that there were no more channels to try, no more people to see, no more procedures to follow. I had negotiated with the President of the University himself, an opportunity only a few of us had as he had not found time to see any other group of students during those two months of tension and strifo. I and the others there that evening had reached an agreement with Clark Kerr; a compromise which would have brought peace to the University, if not all of the freedom we desired or all the authority which he preferred. With it perhaps he would also have brought a new era of communication and understanding. And after all this Kerr had backed down, changed his mind, withdrawn from the agreement. Kerr, not the students, Kerr. What more could I do? What more could anyone do?
And now, he was not only unreacheable, but had returned to the one policy which was intolerable to us as students: arbitrary, authoritarian, vindictive, Administrative action against a few individuals for acts we all had taken part in, end for nots which he had specifically promised no one
The controversy now was polarized, made black and white. There was no more grey. That precious middle ground I had fought so long to preserve was gone. Now it really was a battle of Administration vs. students; the two groups were locked in mortal combat. And given such a choice there was no doubt in my mind where I must go. I walked inside Sproul Hall and sat down.
Now it all is over, or has it just begun? Will all the pain, all the suffering, all the sacrifice that we and the whole University community lived through in those few days and have endured in the months since go for naught? Or will this prove to be the birth pangs of a new University, a new "City of the Intellect"? Can from these months of conflict and a hatred and distrust grow a vital community, and like the phoenix rising from the ashes of its pyre, regenerate itself in an atmosphere of mutual co-operation, mutual understnading, mutual confidence and soar to the heights of true greatness?
I don't know the answers. I can only hope that all parties in the fray will seek to bind up each other's wounds in the spirit of conciliation and not open new ones with the sharp barbs of retribution. Fall 1964 was probably the greatest education experience the University has either had or offered, if only we could but learn from it all that it taught. The real tragedy of the University of California is that is really could be the greatest university in the world. The potential is there. With love and sweat and dedication on the part of all associated with it it could furnis an unlimited opportunity for all qualified students. It could provide education rather than training, develop whole persons rather than more brains. It could cultivate young adults into mature citizene, not just ready to take their place in a democratic society but already functioning in it by giving them the knowledge, the freedom and the responsibility to have a real voice in their own education and their own university. It could
My stint at the University is over. Not my education for I shall continue that elsewhere, both in and out of schools, with and without books. I have gotton a good deal out of my stay here. This institution has left an indelible imprint on my mind and on my payche. But there was so much wasts of potential, so much more it could have given me and others. The effort to improve this institution will be continued by others; students, faculty, administration, society. I fear, unfortunately, that they work with different conceptions about the University and its role in society, and often at cross-purposes. I fear too that the nagging lack of communication between all interests, which was so sharply brought into focus by the events in the last year, if allowed to continue will only exacerbate the situation. A concerted effort must be made to bring about an extanded discussion of the aims and means of all parties concerned. This University is big enough for everyone if no one is overly greedy.
Playing a large role in ameliorating the conflicts and improving the University will be the attitude of the non-students toward those who
The penalty Socrates felt he deserved was free meals in the Prytaneum for life. This was an honor given only to those who benefited the state greatly in come capacity or other. Socrates felt that his actions of constant questioning and examining made him a great benefactor to the state. Did he not exhort men to consider their own lives in relationship to the Good and the Just to forsake practical advantage in favor of the mental and moral well-being of themselves and the state. And by so doing prod them into more closely approximating their life to the Good Life? Constant re-examination of the nature and premises of their actions, though uncomfortable, precluded complacency and stagnation, improved the quality of the citizens and the quality of the state. "If you put me to death you will not easily find anyone to take my place....? This city (is) as though it were a large thoroughbred horse which because of its great size is inclined to be lazy and needs the stimulation of some stinging fly. It
His friends however urged him to be practical and suggest some fine which the jury might possibly accept in place of his life. But Socrates was poor, having devoted his life to the betterment of his state and his fellow men instead of amalgamating wealth like others had done. The fine he proposed, though one-fifth of his assets and somewhat of a burden, was greeted with shouts of derision as ridiculously low. His friends persuaded him to treble it, saying they would pay the rest. He agreed, proposing as a penalty a find of thirty minae, which he hoped would satisfy the requirement of the courts that a convict be sentenced yet still leave him free to continue in his role of gadfly, irksome yet beneficial.
Many courts in the history of the British and American democracies have had to make the same decision that was facing the court of Athens. Most have followed its lead and imposed the death penalty, or its equivalent for the time, situation and nature of the offence. But though individuals may have been thus put to death either figuratively or literally, the idea they suffered for, if a valid one, survived and eventually took hold even though the course was needlessly long and bloody. Some courts opted for the thirty minae in order to preserve the forms and assert the authority of the law, yet still allow the individuals and the idea enough leeway to either live or die on its own merits. And the idea, if invalid, after a brief flurry, died a natural death. Only history has every given a sentence of free maintainence by the state and declared the convicts benefactors of the state.
Once again the courts must make the decision and determine what is the most just solution for all concerned; in this case students, University and society. Like Socrates we refuse to be silenced, for then we could not live with ourselves and even death would be preferable. The rest of the decision is yours and only history will say whether you were just; Shall it be free meals at the Prytanaum, thirty minae, or the cup of hemlock?
Title: Freeman, Jo.
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