Spike Murphy; UCSC Student Guide Mar 29 (Spring), 2012
UCSC activism through the years
“There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!” – Mario Savio, political activist & key member of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, Dec. 3, 1964
If anything captures the spirit and sentiment of the decades of activism at UCSC, it’s the above quote. For more than 40 years, members of the UCSC community, students, staff and faculty, have fought to make their University and Santa Cruz itself more equal and egalitarian, to forge a community that puts people above profits and encourages anything and everything that’s “outside-the-box. “ Let’s hop in the way-back machine and look at how UCSC was first transformed into a melting pot of ideas and cultures.
Like all good activism stories, it starts in the ‘60s. A few years after UCSC opened its doors in 1965, then-governor Ronald Reagan came for the Regents meeting. He was greeted by three days of protest with students and citizens from around the county in an uproar about, well, everything Reagan was doing. At the front of this movement was the Santa Cruz Black Liberation Front, demanding that College VII be named after El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcom X) and that the College be a black college, not just in curriculum and focus, but in the makeup of everybody living, learning and working there.
Enter Herman Blake, at the time the sole black faculty member at UCSC and someone with a personal relationship with El-Shabazz. He pointed out that all kinds of people were being oppressed in California and convinced the SCBLF to endorse a plan to make College VII an Ethnic Studies college.
The first gay male teacher in the history of the nation came out at UCSC, as well as the first gay woman professor to come out.
The remainder of the sixties was relatively quiet, aside from a graduation ceremony being interrupted to give an honorary diploma to the imprisoned Black Panther leader Huey P. Newton; a little more than a decade later he would come to UCSC to get his PhD. The Academic Senate would also approve the Ethnic Studies program (though not the re-naming of College VII).
Then come the ‘70s and shit gets real. The U.S. invades Cambodia, and students across the country drop everything and rally against the national war machine. This is the beginning of an anti-war movement at UCSC that continues to this day. Highway 1 and 17 are shut down multiple times throughout the ‘70s by student protestors. After Nixon resumes bombing in Vietnam, thousands march on the county building and demand the Board of Supervisors sign a resolution disapproving of the war – which they do. We also see the first protests against the UC’s weapons labs at Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos; these would continue for decades, with the protestors sometimes numbering as high as 10,000 people.
This is also the decade when UCSC entered the gay rights and women’s rights fight, and during the ‘70s, an explosion of gay rights groups and clubs start on campus. The first gay male teacher in the history of the nation came out at UCSC, Sociology professor Alan Sable, as well as the first gay woman professor to come out, Nancy Shaw; The Women’s Studies major is fought for and added to the curriculum, and the Santa Cruz Women’s Health Collective is formed on campus (this eventually becomes the Women’s Health Center downtown). In 1971, thanks to the thriving L
GBT movement at UCSC and the lowering of the voting age to 18 from 21, there’s a dramatic change in the political makeup of Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz has its first Pride Parade, and it becomes the first county to prohibit discrimination against employees on the basis of sexual orientation. When the anti-LGBT Briggs initiative is voted down in ’78, Santa Cruz has the highest percentage of “no” votes in the state. Sadly, only weeks later, San Francisco Supervisor and Gay Rights Superhero Harvey Milk is assassinated; 40,000 people, including many members of UCSC’s LGBT community, hold a vigil for him outside of San Francisco City Hall. When his murderer is let off with ‘voluntary manslaughter’ saying he ate too many Twinkies the night before (I wish I were kidding about that, I really do), UCSC students and even a professor join hundreds in SF in what will become known as the White Night Riots.
In 1976, the Third World and Native American Coalition forms, to unite students from various minority communities and advocate for their educational rights (TWANAC is now known as the Ethnic Student Organization Council). A year later, more than 1,000 students, organized by TWANAC and CAIR (Coalition Against Institutionalized Racism), occupy the central services (Hahn) building and demand that UC divest from South Africa, reject the Bakke decision outlawing Affirmative Action, support the Third World Teaching Resource Center and undo an increased SAT score requirement for admittance. The administration’s response was to acquiesce to their demands. Ha! Just kidding! Four hundred protesting students were arrested.
In 1980, UCSC fired Ed Castillo, the only instructor teaching Native American studies. Nearly 600 people from TWANAS and other groups marched on the Chancellor’s office and made five demands to be met in five days. When the administration issued an unsatisfactory response, 25 students from TWANAS volunteered to go on a hunger strike until their demands – aimed at creating and maintaining Native American and Third World studies at UCSC – were met. After five days, the university agreed to the students’ demands in writing. (Unfortunately, according to TWANAS, the administration failed to make good on what they’d agreed to.)
Meanwhile, gay rights and women’s rights would continue to advance steadily throughout the ‘80s. The county and the UC would continue to grant more rights for same-sex couples, and Santa Cruz would elect the first gay mayor in the country, UCSC Alum and eventual Santa Cruz AIDS Project founder John Laird. The number of LGBT groups on campus and in the city would continue to grow. The LGBT movement capped off the decade with the grand opening of the GLBN Community Resource Center in the Merrill recreation room.
The first Take Back the Night! March started at UCSC in response to a string of murders of female students by multiple serial killers, and the first Women’s Studies tenure track position was created at UCSC, as well as a feminist Studies grad program. Later that same year, women’s rights activists from the campus and all over the country staged major protests at the Miss California pageant that had been held in Santa Cruz since the 1920s. Former Sports Illustrated model Ann Simonton famously wore a dress made of meat while protesting the pageant, and the entire protest was documented in the film Miss . . . or Myth? The Miss California pageant would never return to Santa Cruz, moving to San Diego the next year.
During this whole time, the anti-nuke efforts at UCSC had been growing exponentially. Groups staged demonstrations on campus, rallied support and staged larger and larger protests at the UC weapon labs. In 1983, the UCSC Academic Senate voted overwhelmingly to sever ties with the UC’s nuclear weapons labs. At one point, 6,000 protestors encircled the Lawrence Livermore lab completely while holding hands, prompting the Department of Energy to buy a new 196-acre “buffer zone” around the property.
The ‘90s were a milder decade by comparison, with Highway 1 only being shut down once in protest of Desert Storm. After more than 25 years of students demanding it, Women’s Studies finally became a Department.
In 1990, the Coalition on Democratic Education took over McHenry Library and by doing so managed to get ethnic studies courses listed in the Schedule of Classes and the creation of a Dean of African-American Student Life position. Starting in the mid-‘90s, the Affirmative Action Coalition would work to keep Prop 209, which would end Affirmative Action in the UC system, from passing on the ballot, even at one point shutting down the campus with protestors for seven hours. Although their efforts would not defeat the proposition, they won an agreement from the Chancellor (after surrounding the Hahn building with protestors) for a seven-point plan to preserve the campus’ diversity in the wake of Prop 209.
In 1991, during holiday break, logging begins at Elfland, an Ohlone Indian sacred site on campus. A day-long student protest follows, but the area is logged and Colleges Nine and Ten are built nonetheless.
The early part of the decade sees multiple large anti-war protests take place on campus in response to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, with well over 1,000 people at many events. Anti-war coalitions form on campus and begin working on getting military recruiters OFF campus. One of the main organizations to come out of this period would be Students Against War (SAW) who would finally succeed, in 2006, in driving military recruiters off campus.
This period also marks the beginning of labor groups organizing the students on their behalf. Numerous days of action and protest on behalf of UC workers and employees dominated the last decade on campus, with numerous concessions made to UCSC workers.
During the mid- to late-2000s, student protests escalated. A striking example was when students protested a regents meeting on campus in the mid-2000s. This became the first time UC police pepper-sprayed students, with one student, a young black woman, suspended from the UC for three years; only through persistent protests over the next few months is she allowed to return. Then, the national media reveals that the Pentagon had been spying on UCSC activist groups, SAW in particular, with the help of the administration and members of local law enforcement. An international uproar follows – along with many student and community protests – and the Chancellor eventually convinces the Pentagon to take SAW off their credible threat list.
When the economy took a screaming nose-dive in 2008, tuition skyrocketed and the largest program and resource cuts yet would happen and are continuing. The language program was gutted; community studies was nearly obliterated and social sciences, the arts and humanities bore the brunt of the rest; 120 faculty positions were eliminated in 2008-2011 with an equal number of TAs axed; the Rape Prevention Education program is closed.
These massive cuts spark the beginning of the Occupy movement, one that would eventually spread in sentiment and execution across the country and around the world. Protests, hunger strikes and even a shutdown of campus all occur, as well as the pepper-spray and police brutality sent around the world by the international media (and thousands of cell phones).
Every step of progress, every right gained and equality recognized at UCSC came about because of the people, the community and organizations there; many of those organizations are still around, waiting for you to show up so that you can all take a brave stand and be heard again.
We can make this machine cease to function, shut it down, until they listen, until they have to listen. Neither violence nor diplomacy speak to the machine; in fact, violence feeds it. But when you stop the machine from working, when we use our bodies and our minds, our voices and our love to stop its gears and mechanisms, it will hear us. And we can say, in one voice as a community united by our differences: “Unless we’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!”