Berkeley in the Sixties, various interviewees, performers, etc., 1990
For those us of the Generation of '68 the political actions of the 1960's were essentially a youth-led effort. To the extent that anyone though about the situation as a separate political matter young students, mainly from the traditionally elite campuses, were the vanguard of those youth. And the vanguard of the vanguard? At least until 1969 a very strong case could be made, and is made in this documentary under review, that the University of California at Berkeley held that role. The whys and wherefores of that role are what makes this above-average documentary, complete with the inevitable `talking heads' that populate this kind of film, a very good source for what actually happened in the 1960's there for those who were around at the time and a primer on radical politics at the base of society for those who were not.
The disruption of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) meetings in San Francisco in 1960, various anti-racial discrimination actions in support of the growing national civil right movement in the early 1960's, the historic and well-known Mario Salvo-led Free Speech Movement of 1964 along with its trials an tribulations, the early anti-Vietnam War and anti-draft actions of 1965 and 1966, the drift toward an apolitical counter-cultural experience in 1967, the romance with the next door neighbor Black Panthers and the Free Huey Movement in Oakland and ending with the militarily defeated People's Park efforts in 1969. They are all resurrected here. All these events are, moreover, discussed from various later viewpoints by participants, adversaries and flat out ill-wishers. If you want a two hour capsule commentary of the highs and lows of the political and counter-cultural struggles as they occurred at Berkeley and spread to the East this is a very good documentary to bring you up to speed.
Some of the rhetoric may seem odd to today's cyberspace-driven youth. Some of the costumes, especially during the height of the Haight -Ashbury era and the Summer of Love in 1967, may be perplexing to today's fashion-conscious youth. Most of the politics may seem obscure. But know this- it may have not lasted long, we may have made every mistake in the political book, we certainly went off on more tangents that one could shake stick at but there was a fight going on then to change the nature of the way we do business in this society. Call us utopian, if you will, but we fought. A little of that spirit would come in very handy right about now. Many of the lessons of that time may be lost now. However, I sense a little of that same 1960's breeze starting to blow again in 2008 so look here for a guidepost.
I would not be a proper leftist politico if I did not mention that of all the scenes presented, all the discussions taped, all the `talking heads' giving their, seemingly sincere, takes on meaning of those times there was virtually no commentary on one very fundamental problem. Students, from elite universities or otherwise, cannot independently without joining up with some other social agency create the kind of just society that students were fighting for then. In no instant that I can recall during the course of this documentary did anyone attempt to draw the lesson that the working class, whatever its then current organization (or more correctly lack of it) and political consciousness came into play as a factor in history.
The closest anything came to understanding the need for an additional agency was the unequal, uncritical `alliance' with the Black Panthers. That is why, in the end, after the military defeat of the People's Park experiment Berkeley fell off the political map. But, my friends, the story did not end there for the 1960's. Some youth, although not nearly enough, drew that lesson about the lack of political power of students if left to their own devises and got serious about political theory and the working class. Some of us are still at that fight. From the later careers of the Berkeley interviewees credited at the end of this film that did not include most of them. They mainly people the "politically correct" professorariat of our university system. That tells the tale.