December 2, 2002
Free Speech Movement leader warns rights threatened
By Scott Rappaport
U.S. citizens should be less complacent and trusting of a government
that has a long record of abuse of power, warns a founding member of
the Berkeley Free Speech Movement in 1964 who is now professor and chair
of the Womens Studies Department at UC Santa Cruz.
|Bettina Aptheker (at the microphone)
shown participating in the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, is now
professor and chair of the Womens Studies Department at UCSC.
Photo: Courtesy Bettina Aptheker
"Because of the horror of the attacks on the World Trade Center,
people think its OK to have their Constitutional rights compromised,"
Bettina Aptheker said. "But I think people really arent aware
of the extent theyre being compromised."
Aptheker has an essay featured in The Free Speech Movement: Reflections
on Berkeley in the 1960s, a definitive history of the movement just
published by the University of California press and edited by UC Berkeley
professor Reginald E. Zelnik and New York University professor Robert
"The timing of this book is rather appropriate," Aptheker
noted. "Its celebrating and analyzing a movement that supported
fundamental Constitutional rights to freedom of speech at a moment when
the Bush administration and [Attorney General] John Ashcroft are abrogating
"It may be helpful in making us more aware of how fragile the
Constitution and the Bill of Rights can be, and how easy it is to abuse
power," she added.
The volume is a collection of essays and memoirs by veterans of the
Free Speech Movement, ranging from leader Mario Savio to UC President
Clark Kerr, who was fired in 1967. Recent reports in the media have
indicated that the FBI campaigned to oust Kerr from the presidency,
even though agents found no evidence that he was disloyal to the government.
This prompted a vow by Senator Dianne Feinstein in mid-November to pursue
at a future congressional hearing what she termed "significant
misues of FBI power" at UC Berkeley.
Apthekers essay describes gender politics and the ways in which
womens freedom of speech as a Constitutional right have been impeded
over the years. A major leader of the Free Speech Movement who spoke
at nearly every rally in the mid-60s, she draws a parallel between
questionable FBI activity more than three decades ago, and recent legislation
just passed by Congress to increase the organizations powers.
"I think most people dont understand the USA Patriot Act
and dont even know whats in it
and they would be appalled
if they did," she said. "For example, it allows preventive
detention of noncitizens, even if theyre here legally and not
connected to terrorism at all. It also allows for wiretapping and searches
without traditional warrants--you dont need a judge."
Aptheker explained that the government is using the same strategy it
used in the past, but now is more upfront about it.
"In the 50s, the way they got away with abrogating Constitutional
rights was to scare people about Communists. Terrible things were done,
crimes were committed, and many lives were ruined. Now, what you have
is a looming fear of terrorism."
"Groups of people--especially Arab Americans, or people who look
like them--are targeted," Aptheker added. "And anybody can
be called a terrorist. Its hard to prove youre not linked
once an accusation has been made. Its exactly the same strategy
that was used with Communism."
Aptheker cautioned that freedom of speech can also exist in theory,
but not be practiced in reality.
"I believe there was something approaching 200,000 people protesting
against the Bush administrations proposed war against Iraq on
October 26 in Washington, D.C., but it got virtually no media coverage,"
she said. "Again, this shows that there can be freedom of speech
formally, but it doesnt mean anything because the news is so managed."
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