Full Circle: David Hollinger’s Journey from Berkeley and Back Again

David Hollinger’s office looks like what a professor’s office should look like. Two walls have floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and books still spill over random surfaces. The walls are a pleasant, sea-foam green, and old maps cover the little open wall space that’s still available. Professor Hollinger has inhabited this room in the bottom of Dwinelle during his time as a professor of American Intellectual History for the last twenty-two years; however, he also walked these same halls as a graduate student from 1963-1969.

David Hollinger (Photo Credit: The Gospel Coalition)

David Hollinger (Photo Credit: The Gospel Coalition)

“Berkeley transformed me in a lot of ways. I owe just about everything to Berkeley” he fondly reminisces.

When Hollinger first arrived on campus in 1963, he received a culture shock. He came from a small Christian college in Southern California and was raised in a conservative Protestant family. Before coming to Berkeley, he had never met a communist or an atheist. Just as he had never encountered liberal-minded people, many of his peers had never encountered people with a background like his. They regarded him as a hick originally, but after some time, he convinced them otherwise by proving his aptitude in the classroom.

“The kind of really hardcore Protestantism that I came out of was very earnest out of everything. Very little sense of irony and wit was often to be suspect because it undercut this or that truth, so Berkeley was liberating for me in that I encountered so many people who were interested in ideas about so many things and were able to converse in a civilized and probing manner and where greater amounts of knowledge were respected rather than suspected. And it was an explosive, in the best sense of the word, period, for me,” he says of the change.

With these peers, Hollinger was able to discuss ideas he had never discussed before and have the freedom to love and play with these various ideas. He fell into acquaintance with many different kinds of people he hadn’t known before, politically active, left-leaning, caring people. He was so enchanted that he decided Berkeley-life was the life for him and that he wanted to stay in the university system permanently.

He happily embraced the intellectual, spirited Berkeley culture and picked up a picket sign to protest the Vietnam War. He laughs as he remembers running into a professor at a liquor store. Hollinger had a bottle of cheap scotch in his hand, and in line in front of him was a professor who was about to purchase a bottle of high quality scotch himself. This professor had written a book that Hollinger had just read and enjoyed.

Hollinger was excited to talk to him about the book, but before he was able to ask any questions, the professor turned around and roared, “Hollinger! Don’t you know when the revolution comes, it’ll be liberals like you who’ll be shot?” This was not the interaction the Protestant kid from Southern California had anticipated.

Picture of Vietnam War protestors in Berkeley (Photo credit: Bancroft Library)

Picture of Vietnam War protestors in Berkeley (Photo Credit: Bancroft Library)

After graduating from Berkeley, Hollinger took a job teaching at University at Buffalo. While there, he had many different experiences, including surviving the Great Blizzard of 1977. From there, he moved to the University of Michigan and taught there until 1992 when he was offered a job at Berkeley.

“I don’t think I would have left Michigan, if not for Berkeley.” he claims.

Even as an ardent supporter and champion for commemoration of the Free Speech Movement, Hollinger acknowledges the certain romance that surrounds the Free Speech Movement and the political nature of the ’60s. He remembers some detractors of the time saying that the idea of a free speech movement was the result of “bourgeois conceit.” He also recalls the people engaging for the opportunity to showcase their intelligence and not with genuine fervor for the cause. With time, he learned how to distinguish the “sanctimonious blowhards” from those who were real supporters.

Ultimately, the Free Speech Movement was an embodiment of a certain aspect of liberalism. Hollinger says that the time was consistent with classical academic values, not just the intention of them. He recalls a space in which the sharing of all sorts of ideas was welcomed, when debate was anticipated, and minority voices were not shut down.

Picture of Hollinger's latest book (Photo Courtesy  of Amazon Book Sellers)

Picture of Hollinger’s latest book (Photo Courtesy of Amazon Book Sellers)

“It gave me sense of what it meant to be an academic, what it meant to be an intellectual, what it mean to be a citizen, what it meant to be a more complete person. All of these things came to me as a graduate student in my six years here at Berkeley,” he says of the time. He emphasizes the fact that what he got most out of his time at Berkley came from the already established culture, the culture of intellectual openness and dialogue.

In light of the 50th Anniversary of the Free Speech Movement and the brewing political tension here at Berkley, Hollinger offers this advice: “Don’t try to copy what we did. Go your own way.” The spirit of the FSM and the spirit of what is happening now are wildly different, and the same sentiment can’t really be captured.

Hollinger encourages students to be active but warns that one should be careful to avoid falsely championing causes without the conviction or knowledge to back them up. More than anything he says that students need to remember that their time at Berkeley is a time to experience the great academics, so students need to be studying above anything else.

Though Hollinger has many pieces of wisdom to offer Insight, he wants his parting words to be these: “Not everything in life is political.”

Steined, Sealed, Delivered: A Conversation with David Stein, Coordinator of the FSM Trial

 

A picture of Mario Salvio being arrested. (AP Photo/Robert W. Klein, File)

A picture of Mario Savio, being arrested. (AP Photo/Robert W. Klein, File)

David Stein is a self-proclaimed misfit in the sense that he doesn’t feel at home in any of his three cultures. He holds many strong opinions on topics ranging from affordable education to the technology era to architecture. Born in San Francisco, he spent his childhood traveling the world with his parents until he settled in Delhi, India at age nine. He remained in India for the rest of his formative years and moved back to the Bay Area to attend Cal in the early 1960s.

Stein recalls, “Like many good Indian students, I had been told by my father [a renowned architect] that I wanted to be an architect.” So, he began his undergraduate degree in the College of Engineering as a Civil Engineering major, but after a few years in the program, he realized that it was not for him. As big of a proponent as his father had been of a technical education, he had raised Stein with a global worldview and challenged his son to think deeply about environmental and human issues. Eventually, it was this aspect of his upbringing that led Stein in the direction of his life’s work.

He still clearly remembers the day he made a definitive decision to drop out of the engineering program: “I was walking into an exam for an engineering class on November 22, 1963. It happened to be the day JFK was assassinated. I heard the news just as I was walking past the Campanile on my way to the exam. I turned in an empty blue book because I couldn’t focus on my exam when something so much more significant was occurring.” When his professor refused to allow him to retake the test, Stein left the program.

After he changed his focus two and a half years into his education, he spent a total of eight more years in Berkeley. During this time, he explored myriad classes in disciplines such as French, History, and Sociology, studied for a semester at Merritt College to boost his grades, graduated in Sociology, received a master’s degree from the College of Environmental Design, and most notably, played a crucial role in the Free Speech Movement (FSM). The FSM was a student-led protest that took place between 1964 and 1965, during which students demanded a right to free speech and academic freedom on campus. Throughout the decade, the movement had nation-wide effects on civil liberties movements, and it is the reason students can protest, rally, and even flyer (or “leaflet,” as Stein and his peers used to call it) on campus today.

Joan Baez performing at Berkeley.

Joan Baez performing at Berkeley.

Stein worked as the only paid staff for the FSM. For seven months, he worked tirelessly, seven days a week on coordinating the trial. He was responsible for organizing the fifty lawyers and 800 defendants involved. Stein describes the experience as “exhausting” but also incredibly important and worthwhile. He was surrounded by people who asked crucial questions about the state of American society and from them developed his own critical view of the world.

He summarizes the movement in two sentences: “We were fighting to receive an education in spite of the system that was designed to spew out perfect GM employees. By giving ourselves the freedom to talk and think essentially 24-hours per day, we were able to outthink the university administrators who went home at 5 p.m.”

This call to fight against a system that repeatedly fails to meet the needs of the student body is especially poignant today in the face of tuition hikes that pose a risk to affordable public education. Stein argues that public education is an investment by the State of California into its own future, and the privatization of education is detrimental towards sustainable societies.

According to Stein, “The idea that money and your bank account determine who you are, where you’re going, what you’re doing, and how you’re doing it is an absolute obscenity. Today’s model of society is allowing prices to be driven by a market to the point that billionaires buy governments. This is where the insanity comes in.” He insists that the entire framework of our capitalist society needs to be challenged and redesigned toward all citizens, regardless of their economic standing.

When Stein was an undergrad, his education cost $62.50 per semester, including health benefits. His mentality that a reformed society has to be fought for was developed by his experience as a Berkeley student and an FSM participant. Had an affordable education not been available, he would not have experienced moments such as the two evenings he spent in his friend’s apartment, listening to Mario Savio respond to the questions of a Life magazine interviewer.

Savio on top of Weinberg's police car. (Photo Credit: The Chronicle Files)

Mario Savio on top of Weinberg’s police car. (Photo Credit: The Chronicle Files)

Although he cannot remember Savio’s exact words, Stein says, “What he had to say about politics and democracy was the most beautifully articulated vision of shared humanity that I had ever heard.”

Aside from exchanging words with Savio, Stein had many other unforgettable experiences on the frontlines of the FSM. He was one of the students responsible for the successful sit-in that prevented the arrest of the FSM spokesperson, Jack Weinberg. Stein and as many as 3,000 other students sat on the ground of Sproul Plaza, prohibiting the movement of the police car that held Weinberg for thirty-two hours.

Today, Stein is semi-retired and lives with his Israeli wife. He continues to work on urban planning projects in the U.S. and abroad. Although he is not currently involved with any large-scale social movements, he is adamant about the fact that the questions raised by the FSM are more relevant today than ever before and that they serve as a warning about our current society.

“We formed a special community,” Stein says. “There was a sense of shared purpose—of purpose which was open to question and constant reevaluation. We didn’t claim that we knew all the answers, but we did know that the answers we were being given were false. We were determined that we could do better. We had to do better.”

Barbara Garson: Finding the Voice of Free Speech

 

(Photo credit Common Dreams)

Barbara Garson (Photo Credit: Common Dreams)

What does it mean to have been a part of Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement? Insight settled down in the Free Speech Movement Café to chat with Barbara Garson, one of the original Free Speech Movement protesters. We were greeted by a warm voice and a black screen as Garson laughed good-naturedly about her unfamiliarity with Skype. With the help of her husband, she popped on and immediately seemed at home, jumping into stories of her time at Berkeley, which included, of course, anecdotes about the Free Speech Movement. The Free Speech Movement (FSM) was the UC Berkeley students’ protests against university restrictions of freedom of speech in the academic year of 1964-1965. Garson, the editor of the Free Speech Movement newsletter, had no trouble exhibiting her right to freedom of speech, saying exactly what was on her mind. She gave Insight unique perspectives, sparing and even spurning the clichés.

In line with Insight traditions, we asked Garson about the beginnings of her journey prior to coming to Berkeley. Garson laughed and told us that her former husband’s expulsion from another school was their catalyst to enroll in Berkeley. Berkeley became their choice due its virtual costlessness: at the time, only approximately sixty dollars per semester. Once at Berkeley, she started as a History major with hopes of focusing Latin American History but moved on to studying Classics.

“To this day, I compare current events to [those in] Greece, and I think, ‘How would I explain this—like the Iraq Invasion—to them?’” she said. “I’m glad [I studied] Classics. I don’t think Latin American History would have stuck with me as much.” However, Garson also admitted that her time at Berkeley was not entirely focused on studies. In fact, she only spent one school year at Berkeley…and that was, of course, the year of 1964-1965, during which the FSM consumed most of her time.

Garson entered Berkeley with what she called “antiestablishment tendencies.” After all, she had honeymooned in Cuba right after the Cuban Revolutions. It was in the FSM that she really began to take an active role, though. Although Garson stated that she was not at the center of the “steering committee,” her role as the editor of the newsletter helped form the voice of the movement. She admitted that if someone else been the editor, even someone like her husband who was quicker and more literate than Garson but away at the time of the FSM, “the newsletter probably wouldn’t have been so simply written, straightforward, and humorous.”

Garson was also unique to the movement in another way that she only discovered after watching FSM, a play written by John Holden to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the FSM. Garson was among the 800 students arrested during the movement, and for her, this arrest came as no surprise. When viewing the play, she realized that many of her classmates had experienced many anxieties about the arrests like “What will happen when my parents see me?” and “What will happen to my future career?”

The cover of one of Garson’s first plays.

She said, “ None of that ever occurred to me. Of course, it was easier back then. [Students] were just out of high school. We weren’t people who fought hard to get into UC Berkeley. The question was not ‘Would you get a job?’ but ‘Could you do something meaningful with your life?’ The times are so different.”

While now we may take the rights to freedom of speech on campus for granted, Garson noted that not so long ago, it was a general assumption that upon enrolling in the school, these rights were severed. Of course, she and her peers fought this. Despite the opposition Berkeley once had to the movement, the FSM has now become a canonical part of its history.

Berkeley has become known for its activist environment and frequent protests. The day of this interview, Friday, November 21, 2014, was no different. “Occupy Wheeler,” the current student protest against the UC tuition hikes, was raging at its height. Naturally, Garson opposed the tuition hikes and the current tuition, as well. In fact, right before coming to the FSM 50th Anniversary celebration, Garson wrote an article in the LA Times about exactly the topic in debate: the student debts that create such a different environment for students now as opposed to students during Garson’s time.

“It is completely absurd that the best schools in the country should cost anything,” she said. She gestured toward Norway as an example of a country that has a far richer educational system than the United States does. Though Norway is a wealthier country than America, Garson noted that it is not lack of money that has caused high prices for education in America.

Instead, she said, “It’s psychological and ideological matter here. The U.S. could make higher education free for little more than the amount of money it will spend giving scholarships and covering bad student loans, but there’s a political sense that it’s better, capitalistically correct, you might say, for the students to be indebted and worried. And of course it’s so profitable for lenders, especially when the government picks up the bad debt.”

As both Garson and surely today’s students recognize, the search for a career that can pay student debts grows more and more pressing. Garson’s own career as a writer started in Berkeley with her play, Macbird. “I’m a playwright but had no real comfort in the theater,” she said, so she published her play and sold over half a million copies.

What is this play about? In her own words, “It’s based on Macbeth, but it’s not a Shakespeare parody. I wasn’t making fun of Shakespeare. I was making fun of everybody else.” In shooting to fame for her institution-busting work, ironically, she clashed with the ideals. “We weren’t supposed to be famous. I was just an instrument of the movement, so I found the most obscure place I could.”

To avoid what they called “the cult of the personality,” Garson hid herself away at an anti-war GI Coffee House in a small town near an army base. That was her way of helping the Anti-Vietnam War movement. After that, she moved on to New York where she continued writing for newspapers and then wrote books.

Her first book, All the Livelong Day: The Meaning and Demeaning of Routine Work, was published in 1975. In this book, she traveled the United States, recording how people tried to keep from going crazy, while they did tedious work in factories and offices. Her most recent book, Down the Up Escalator: How the 99 Percent Lives, uses individual and family stories to show readers how working people have lost money and security over the last forty years, while financiers have gained it. Through lively personal accounts, it explains how increasing inequality led to The Great Recession.

Unfortunately, for young writers seeking to break into the business, the idea of paying writers has only grown more foreign over the years. “You’re finding your way into a difficult world where people expect to get writing for free,” Garson said. “Many writers, like myself, are likely going through those experiences right now.”

In addition, she noted that writing does not get easier. “At least not for me,” she amended. “When a group I’m working with needs a leaflet, I tell them that my being a professional writer just means that it will take longer. In order to be honest, simply honest, not profoundly honest, and to be interesting–it takes time.  So, you have to support someone who is doing that.”

The Internet further complicates things because a lot of writing is online these days and doesn’t pay. Garson said of this, “I recently wrote an article that was picked up by more than thirty Internet sites, some that call themselves magazines, but only one paid me. ” Garson acknowledged that, for young writers today, getting paid might mean writing pieces not of personal interest, though, she never had to go that route herself. As an established writer, she has the ability to suggest an article to a newspaper on a subject that she chooses, rather than asking what the newspaper is interested in.

The cover of one of Garson's books.

The cover of one of Garson’s books.

Garson has never had to disguise her own political beliefs, and even many years ago, they were a part of her public identity, as she was the Vice Presidential candidate for the Socialist Ballot of 1992. The socialist attitude, in her words is this: “If you had a lot of houses, would you let your brother-in-law sleep in the gutter?” Meanwhile, according to Garson, the capitalist idea is that “the worst people, acting on their worst motives will somehow bring about good [which] doesn’t seem to be working out at this point in history.”

“Capitalism always manages somehow,” she said, “but often with a lot of pain.” She believes socialism is appropriate for a rich society like the United States.

In closing, the interview turned back to the protestors in Wheeler, and Garson said, “We thought we won in Berkeley, but the people we [were] against were very successful in their rebellion against taxes. Rich people don’t pay taxes. They just don’t. You’re caught in a bind: should you picket the regents, the state, the national government…? It’s very hard to figure out how to picket the right people, the same people we fought [when I was] at Berkeley.”

In light of current and past events, Garson presented her advice as a Free Speech Movement leader, though she might not call herself one. In some ways, Berkeley is now a very different environment than it was fifty years ago, and in other ways, it’s still similar. Though the same tactics may not work again, Garson and her peers stand as a reminder that we, as students, do have a voice, and difficult as it can be, these rights were fought for and attained by people just like us.

We Were There: Three Perspectives on the 50th Anniversary of the Free Speech Movement

 

Iconic image of march at Sather Gate

Iconic image of march at Sather Gate

In celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Free Speech Movement, Insight sent out a questionnaire to participants of the original Free Speech Movement in order to find out their perspectives on the year they made history. Here are just some of their stories.

Peter Haberfield
UC Berkeley Boalt School of Law student during FSM Protests

Insight: What was the most important thing you did during the Free Speech Movement, while at UC Berkeley?

PH: My arrest in Sproul Hall was significant for me. I was one of five law students arrested. I learned that law school was a very conservative place. Students and faculty were either not interested or hostile to what was going on in what criminal law professor, Rex Collings, sarcastically (and to the amusement of my fellow students) referred to as “Red Square.”

As a lawyer-to-be, it was an important lesson for me to witness the Assistant District Attorney, Ed Mease, arbitrarily directing the police to arrest our lawyer, Robert Truehaft, (who was observing the arrests) and have him locked up in a tiny cell at Santa Rita. It was good for me to see Truehaft defiant at all stages of his incarceration. It was instructive to experience the police being vindictive and physically abusive during the arrests.

Finally, I learned a lot about how to correctly wage a political defense to the criminal charges of trespass, unlawful assembly and resisting arrest which, to the best of my recollection, were brought against us. The well-meaning liberal lawyers who represented us for free naively believed that Judge Crittenden would show us mercy, if we waived our right to a jury because his former partner, lawyer Stanley Gold, was our lead counsel. We should have, instead, refused to waive our right to a speedy trial, insisted on being represented by appointed counsel, not waived our right to a jury trial and not agreed to accept the results of a trial of ten defendants. In short, we should have made it as difficult and costly to the County as possible to dissuade it from continuing to do the dirty work of the University.

In 1973, I was the lawyer in charge of defending 500 farm workers who, in Fresno County during the Statewide strike, violated picketing injunctions issued on behalf of growers by County judges without hearings. We played hardball, demanding that each ten defendant group to stand trial receive the assistance of the County-paid public defender’s office, along with lawyers who volunteered their assistance, refusing to pay bail and waive the rights to a speedy trial and be tried by a jury. The response by the local court was to continue the case for six months and then dismiss the initial as well as later charges. The County counted up its costs and decided that they should not continue to do the dirty work of the growers.

Insight: Did you keep in contact with any of the people you met/worked with during the Free Speech Movement? 

PH: I did not meet people during the Free Speech Movement. Later, I did meet and consult with Mario Savio and Mike Rossman about their ideas for politically defending Steve Bingham, the lawyer who stood trial and was acquitted in Marin County about fifteen years after being accused of taking a gun into San Quentin and handing it over to prison leader, George Jackson. I kept in touch with my two roommates who were also arrested in Sproul Hall.

Insight: What advice do you have for Cal students today– Cal students in general or Cal students involved in the current protests?

A dove represents freedom and peace

A dove represents freedom and peace

PH:

1) When you see an injustice that makes you think someone ought to do something about that, think why it should be someone else. It should be you.

2) Read the history of social movements to understand that an empathic minority has always risen to successfully change the status quo.

3) Do not be afraid of going to jail.

4) Learn about the art of organizing: building a force that reaches out and involves people one by one to counter the power of your opposition; be honest and establish trust with your followers. Work hard and create a structure that enables entry level people to work in three-hour shifts. Contacting others, show your appreciation and respect.

Be wary of people who pose as militants but will not do the detail work of establishing relationships with those who can be drawn to your project. Be courageous about advocating non-violence and do not accept the tactics of police agents and others who resort to violence and thereby doom your movement to failure. Cut loose individuals who are difficult to get along with because they will suck the energy out of your project and drive away potential members who already have enough hardship and conflict in their lives. Create an organizing project that has a series of small victories to sustain people who already have enough losses in their lives.

Les Kishler
UC Berkeley freshman during FSM Protests

Insight: What was the most important thing you did during the Free Speech Movement, while at UC Berkeley?

LK: I started as an observer and then, a participant in demonstrations. I [also] attended the rally in the Greek Theatre in December. [I was] at Cal during FSM, the Vietnam War and People’s Park. [I] did precinct work for Eugene McCarthy’s Presidential campaign and Ron Dellums for Congress.  [I also] worked to change the voting age from twenty-one years to eighteen years.  [In addition, I was] a member of the Zoology Graduate Student Union,  which took positions on how the University responded to the Vietnam War [and] sent [my] application for Conscientious Objection to the Vietnam War to my draft board.

Insight: Did you keep in contact with any of the people you met/worked with during the Free Speech Movement?

LK: [I] still have friends from those days and met my wife […] we were both freshmen in 1964 […] met in 1967 […] graduated in 1968 and were married later that year.

Insight: What advice do you have for Cal students today– Cal students in general or Cal students involved in the current protests?

LK: Keep up the good fight. Activism is healthy […] both intellectually and emotionally for the individual and is important for society.

A crowd practicing the art of picketing

A crowd picketing on Bancroft and Telegraph

 

Bob Cirese
UC Berkeley student during FSM protests                                                                                                              

Insight: What was the most important thing you did during the Free Speech Movement, while at UC Berkeley?

BC: I was one of the first persons to sit down to block the infamous police car. I was on the ground staring at the license plate, but I don’t remember if it was the front or back. Yes, I was so impressed with the extemporaneous talk by William Marx Mandel from the top of the police car that I vowed to get to know him. He was a well-known, left wing activist, and I came to know him very well. Bill became a non-student FSM representative. He was not an arrestee for a variety of good reasons. To my delight, I was quoted in this book, one of many that he wrote, about five times. Unfortunately, Bill, at age ninety-five, now has dementia.

Insight: What advice do you have for Cal students today– Cal students in general or Cal students involved in the current protests?

BC: Follow your heart but use your brain. Keep well informed at whatever is your interest(s). Be an activist when you need to be. Never give in or give up. Organize when you need to do so. Respect your foes and never underestimate them.  Always be honest and clear about your goals.

 

Change Apathy: Bettina Aptheker and the Free Speech Movement

 

Aptheker’s Speech. (Photo Credit: Bancroft Library Collection)

For many people, the Free Speech Movement (FSM) was an introduction to political activism, but not so for Bettina Aptheker. While its legacy is a credit to Aptheker’s involvement, her political career began years before she arrived in Berkeley. She got a taste for justice when she was thirteen, working for the Civil Rights Movement, and by the time she came to UC Berkeley, she was a veteran. The arrest of Jack Weinberg in October of 1964 was less of a political beginning for Aptheker and more of an extension of her political passion.

The events that directly followed Weinberg’s infamous arrest can be summarized thus: A group of students surrounded the police car that arrived to take him away. Weinberg sat in it for over thirty hours, and certain students, Bettina Aptheker among them, took the opportunity to open a dialogue about the right to free speech on the UC Berkeley campus.

Fifty years later, in a phone interview with Aptheker, Insight was taken back to this catalytic moment as she described the young leaders, Weinberg and Mario Savio, and remembered her own involvement with the FSM.

Weinberg, the man who inadvertently incited this uprising with his arrest had been, according to Aptheker, “a graduate student in mathematics” but had dropped out to devote more time to the Civil Rights Movement. Aptheker remembers Weinberg as being, “very brilliant–he still is, and he was then–[as well as] social and just very committed.”

Similarly, Savio was, in Aptheker’s words, equally “brilliant [and] a very moral person. He really weighed in his mind what he thought was the moral thing to do, and he wasn’t committed to any ideology or political party; he was a classic philosopher.” From this description it is unsurprising that Savio became a leader in the FSM.

While Aptheker went on to work for other political movements and causes, eventually becoming a professor in the Women’s Studies Department at UCSC, she remained close to Savio until his death in 1996. She describes his leadership as being integral to the tone of the movement, citing his transparency as the most important aspect of the FSM. She remembers his commitment to clear, open communication with respect.

“He told the students everything he knew all the time,” she insists. “In other words, if we had a meeting with Clark Kerr, like a negotiating meeting, the next day we would hold a rally, and we [would tell] the students everything that happened in that meeting. We didn’t hide anything; we weren’t secretly negotiating anything. There was a spirit of democracy and morality, which I think was very much a hallmark of Mario’s style of leadership, and I think that mattered a lot. It certainly taught me a lot.”

It was Savio who suggested that Aptheker respond to Clark Kerr’s attempt to discredit the movement by labeling if “49% Red.” Aptheker, a known Communist, made a speech the following day, creating a different kind of power hierarchy between the FSM and the university.

The speech itself went well. Aptheker says of that day, “I felt really excited…I remember enjoying it very much! I wasn’t particularly nervous. We all had notes, so we wrote out the thoughts we were going to express, and I enjoyed it very much.”

While there are many photos that capture the fervor of this movement, the most apt and entertaining one we have encountered is this one of Aptheker on the roof of Weinberg’s arrest car:

Aptheker casually smoking a cigarette on top of the

Aptheker, smoking and reading on top of the arrest car

Here we see the U.S. History and Cultural Anthropology student in her political element. Aptheker is perfectly at ease and coolly indifferent, smoking a cigarette and reading the newspaper that will surely feature her exploits and the work of the FSM over the next few months.

When Insight mentioned this photo, Aptheker laughed and admitted, “I have no recollection of when that picture was taken. I would say that I was having a very good time (more laughter). It was a very exciting time.”

With a career that spans so many important movements, expressing one’s life philosophy through a single, core principle was understandably daunting. Aptheker, however, gracefully concluded her interview with a philosophy that is both personal and yet perfectly embodies the greater FSM.

“I think [the] principle that I’ve tried very hard to embrace,” Aptheker said, “is to be honest—to be mindful of one’s honesty and of telling the truth. One doesn’t always succeed in this because that kind of transparent honesty can often get in the way of a certain kind of ego, if you’ve done things that aren’t in accordance with your absolute best self-image.”

Committee on Campus Political Activity (CCPA) meeting. Left to right: Sid Stapleton, Suzanne Goldberg, Bettina Aptheker, Mario Savio, and Charles Powell. (Photo Credit: Steven Marcus, Bancroft Library Collection)

Aptheker went on to describe the moment she came out as an example of this honesty, saying, “I did it in a classroom because I was directly asked a question by a student, and I did not want to lie. That was a very defining moment for me—that as a teacher and as a person working, [it was important] to do the best I could to really tell the truth.” Aptheker was conscious that the 1980s were not the best time for a lesbian to come out, but her life choices reflect integrity, not ease.

UC Berkeley owes its history of activism and free speech to Aptheker and her peers. It is impossible to be on campus and not feel the effects of their work in everything from the numerous advocacy tables on Sproul to the recent protests against tuition hikes. The FSM is a deeply ingrained part of the Berkeley psyche.

On this 50th Anniversary of the FSM, it is easy to point to the inevitability of the successful outcome. Amazingly, the entire academic year could be condensed into a single description: students at UC Berkeley protest and win the right to speak freely about politics on campus.

Complacency, however, is a discredit to the effort that went into this movement. Thanks to Aptheker and her peers, Cal’s history is a powerful one. The FSM legacy is everywhere and has come to represent UC Berkeley in much the same way that the Campanile and Sather Gate do. In the end, the success of the FSM is due not only to the large numbers and powerful voices of the protestors but also to their unwillingness to study on an apathetic campus. Passion, not complacency, is the legacy they have left us.

A Series of Extraordinary Stevents: The Story of a Storyteller, Mike Stevens

Michael Stevens - Successful Freelance Writer. Self-described as having "grey hair, but limited wisdom". (Photo credit: Steven's Twitter)

Michael Stevens – Successful Freelance Writer. Self-described as having “grey hair but limited wisdom.” (Photo Credit: Stevens’s Twitter)

“We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”

– Winston Churchill

Berkeley is a living, breathing, eloquent articulation of its students’ thoughts. At noon, Dwinelle stands proud and firm, bearing its chalked-out messages against the fee hikes. In the dead of night, Wheeler awakens from its slumber to house students there in protest. At the same time, cutting-edge research goes on inside the walls of Sutardja Dai, and people break world records at Hearst Gymnasium. History has been made inside these Berkeley buildings; the present is being shaped in them right now, and perhaps, these very same buildings and the people that fill them hold the key to the future.

In the wake of current events, students contemplate whether these events will shape them, or if instead each student will continue on his own path, completely unaffected by the incidents around him.

In an attempt to address some of these questions, Insight took a step back in time and sat down at a small table in Cafe Strada with Michael Stevens–writer, composer, and graduate of 1965, the year of the Free Speech Movement.

Stevens “wrote for money” in high school. His father was a journalist. At Berkeley, he was an English major. He later went on to become the author of Fortuna and a successful freelance writer. He credits his success as a writer more to these pre-college experiences than to what he learned from his major at Cal. However, he learned other important things while at Berkeley, one being that he “never wanted to be a part of a cause again.”

What seems at first like a peculiarly unique revelation has to do with Stevens’s experience during the Free Speech Movement. The movement started out as a cause Stevens believed in: whether or not the University had control over what materials could be distributed on campus (thus the name: “Free Speech”).

Stevens says, “We knew were going to do something illegal, and we were willing to pay the price.” He and the group of about 700 students that formed the first student demonstration in America walked into Sproul Hall. After the sit-in, there were a number of choices that the students had to make related to the legal process. They could, for example, go to court, or they could not show up.

Stevens says, “In any legal process, there are two paths you can take– the more radical and the less radical one. The leaders of the movement always tend to pick the more radical one.”

Cafe Strada - The picture perfect place to  interview a caffeine lover, over coffee. (Photo credit: Berkeley Side)

Caffe Strada – The picture-perfect place to interview a caffeine lover over coffee. (Photo Credit: Berkeley Side)

Stevens says, such leaders often insist that anyone who does not agree with the radical path is betraying the cause. Stevens does not agree with this outlook. In his opinion, the most extreme leaders can often lead a movement astray. In relation to this, he recalls an intriguing phrase from The Princewritten by Machiavelli, that says, “A man cannot be a good leader and a moral person.”

Stevens’s desire for self-independence continued throughout his life. After graduation, he wrote instruction manuals, and later, marketing brochures. He left each job because he disagreed with his boss. Eventually, he became a creative director for an advertising agency, after which he and his colleague started their own agency.

“I cannot tolerate authority,” says Stevens. “I haven’t had a job in thirty-odd years.”

In his time as a writer, Stevens has seen the writing industry change. He says, “There used to be a time when writers were writers, but not anymore. Now writers have to be marketers too.” In his opinion, a writer’s need for the services the publishing industry offers is fast diminishing. He believes that the best way to publish your work is to create a personal network.

“If you’re interested in cooking and want to write about cooking, get involved in five online cooking communities,” he says. “Then, maybe do a guest post for one of them and get exposure to say 300,000 people. Then, write the article you’ve been dying to write: How to Make Southern Biscuits. You can’t just jump in.”

When asked if he has any advice for students, Stevens responds with a story of a thirteen-year-old boy in Medieval France. The boy, in search of answers to spiritual things, goes to his village priest, who sends him to a shoemaker. Every couple of days, the boy asks the shoemaker about spiritual things.

The shoemaker says, “In time” and teaches the boy everything he knows about how to make shoes. After some time, the shoemaker sends the boy to a master shoemaker in Paris. The same thing happens there. The boy learns how to make the finest shoes in the industry, but he does not learn about “spiritual things.” Finally, the master shoemaker decides to retire and hand over his shop to the boy.

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Fortuna, Stevens’s sci-fi novel

The boy says, “But master…what about spiritual things?”

The master responds, “Some day, a young man may come to you, asking you about spiritual things. Only teach him to make shoes.”

Insight appreciates his wit, but we are also excited to share his more direct advice. Firstly, he advises that if you want to be a writer, get any job you can– be it a sweeper, an administrator, an assistant, anything– at the place where you want to work. However, get hired on one condition: tell the person hiring you that you want to be a writer, and you will join them as long as, sometime in the future, they will give you a shot at being one.

More broadly, he advises students to save money. Even if it’s only a small amount like ten dollars, if they save a little on a regular basis, they will be better off in the long run.

Lastly, Stevens says, half-jokingly, “Take care of your teeth– including flossing!”

In the book of Stevens’s life, Berkeley and the Free Speech Movement were just one chapter, among many other equally significant ones. Life needn’t revolve around a single event; rather, it can grow from that event into another and then another.

Stevens took his life experiences and wrote his own story (literally). Maybe you will do the same. After all, if you ever face writer’s block, do as Stevens says, “Follow your ritual. Do what works best for you.” 

A Drianne Come True: Adrianne Aron on Finding Her Home In Berkeley

 

A recent photo of Adrianne Aron at a protest for Haiti. (Photo Credit: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle)

When Adrianne Aron welcomes Insight into her quiet Berkeley home, it is difficult at first to grasp the extent of her vibrant past. Between complaining about the heater being broken, telling her dog, Woody, to sit still, and offering us something to drink, Aron seems entirely ordinary, but her story is anything but unremarkable.

Few people can say that they married their professor, moved to Santa Cruz, completed a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, and helped grant people from El Salvador political asylum. Perhaps, even fewer people can say that they experienced the journey that Aron did in order to get to where she did.

Coming from an unconventional family that she describes as “lumpenproletariat” in Missouri, Aron was discouraged to attend university. After high school, she decided to run away from home to pursue a degree in Political Science at Purdue University in Indiana, but her expectations about college were not met.

“It was a very narrow, farm-like setting,” she recalls. One of her professors noticed her dissatisfaction and advised her to move to Cal, so she decided to transfer.

On the day Aron arrived in Berkeley- unemployed and not knowing anyone- she went knocking on doors, asking for work. She first attempted the Political Science department, but there were no open jobs. From there, she was referred to a professor in the Economics department who was looking for an assistant. Aron was hired by him that afternoon.

“If you wanted to work, there were always jobs,” Aron remarks. She notices a striking difference between the quality of student jobs when she was an undergraduate at UC Berkeley and with students today, saying, “Everything now is entry level in commerce and in sales. [It’s] nothing that can keep you on the campus and involved in something.”

While Berkeley almost immediately become her home, Aron explains that her classes, with the exception of Political Theory, did not have as much of an impact on her as she’d hoped. “In the classroom, I was actually discouraged from doing some of the things that later proved to be some of the most significant things in my life,” she reveals. This included her interest in Latin America.

A monument to the FSM on campus. (Photo credit: Hossam el-Hamalawy)

A monument to the FSM on campus. (Photo Credit: Hossam el-Hamalawy)

Instead, Aron’s learning took place mostly outside of the classroom. She explains that her family had not taught her manners and that she quickly had to teach herself how to socialize. “I was shocked that I could have black friends!” she laughs. Additionally, Aron recalls the intellectual elitism of Cal, saying, “We were almost encouraged to think of ourselves as the crème de la crème. It was very elitist in how we were taught to think about ourselves. I had a lot of unlearning to do.”

After graduating “almost as ignorant as [she] arrived,” Aron went on the graduate school at Cal to continue studying Political Science. “Then, came the Free Speech Movement. That was the real education, the big education. It was scary,” she remembers.

In 1964, a group of students, angered by the University’s decision to restrict political activities, began organizing a protest to demonstrate their outrage in hopes of lifting the ban implemented by the University.

Aron describes the leaders of the protest as very self-assured and therefore, unapproachable. One exception to this rule was Mario Savio, a student-leader, who, Aron explains, managed to reach out to the students and clarify the goals of the protest.

Committing herself to the movement, Aron was now placed in the difficult situation of having to decide whether or not to get arrested. On the one hand, the protest represented something she felt strongly about. On the other hand, she did not want to be in the same category as her immediate family, many of whom had arrest records back in Missouri. She also feared that in being arrested, she could lose her job and would no longer be able to pay her rent. Despite the risks, Aron decided to get arrested.

There were two events in particular that stood out to Aron during the protest. The first was when veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, a group of volunteers that served in the Spanish Civil War, came to campus and spoke to the students involved in the protest.

“They were telling us that we were important. That really impressed me, and I understood myself as part of a historical event. That really influenced the way I thought about the whole thing,” she says.

Another significant moment for Aron was when one of leaders told her that there wouldn’t be any arrests made one night and suggested that she go home and prepare for the class that she was TA-ing for at the time. When Aron returned to campus the next morning, she found out that there had been many arrests the night before.

A picture of veterans from the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. (Picture from Flickr)

A picture of veterans from the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. (Picture from Flickr)

“Although I had worked up my courage to [be arrested], I was really glad I didn’t have to do it,” she admits. Aron continued to work with the movement in bailing people out of jail and organizing support around court dates. “I got arrested a few years later in an Anti-Vietnam War demonstration,” Aron says. “So, I got my chops in the end.”

Aron believes that the Free Speech Movement has now become commodified. “I don’t think enough people really know what it stood for in terms of people’s real commitments to a principle and willingness to make sacrifices for [it]. Instead, it becomes a monument on the steps of the University, and it becomes a coffee shop with pictures in it. The University has appropriated it,” she says.

In response to the protests regarding the recent plan to raise tuition at UC Berkeley, Aron stresses that students who truly want to have their voices heard must recognize that everyone fighting for a cause has a valid struggle. She suggests reaching out across borders such as language, gender, social class, and academic discipline to form alliances with people on behalf of the cause.

She explains, “When we’re narrow and only stick to our own people, we’re cutting ourselves off from being a real part of history.”

Despite learning more outside of the classroom than inside of it, Aron advocates a liberal education, given that it will have a permanent effect on a person. She says, “I think that a liberal [education]…is really very valuable, and it’s probably not going to get anybody a job necessarily or get anybody any kind of special recognition. But it’s one of those things that forms your thinking about everything. In the future, when you pick up a book and read it, whatever it is, if you’ve got the foundation of a liberal education you’ve got a way to put that book in context and make a judgment about its quality.”

The Craft of Civil Disobedience & Creating Change: Lynne Hollander Savio

Salvio in a recent interview for The Daily Californian. (Photo credit The Daily Cal)

Savio in a recent interview for The Daily Californian.    (Photo Credit: The Daily Cal)

Wake up, go to class around 10 a.m., work a part-time job, read books, and write papers. Though fifty years have passed, a day in the life of a typical humanities major has seen little change since Lynne Hollander Savio’s time at Berkeley (English, Class of 1965).

Yet Hollander Savio’s life as a Berkeley student changed drastically when she became involved with the Free Speech Movement (FSM) on campus during the 1964-65 academic year, her final semester at Cal.

“My semester of FSM was totally different; it was non-stop politics,” said Hollander Savio. “I worked with Michael Rossman on compiling a grand opus called, ‘Administrative Pressures and Student Political Activity at the University of California.’”

The publication gathered articles, written both by graduates and undergraduates, on repressive measures by the University, such as compulsory ROTC, loyalty oaths, and rules against political speech on campus.

It was during this time that Hollander Savio met Mario Savio, the man she would later marry, and other FSM activists with whom she still remains friends. Together, Hollander Savio and her peers created a movement with an influence that remains on campus even today.

“The rules we established are still the rules the campus operates under, and it created a space for campus protest,” said Hollander Savio. “The FSM was an issue that really touched all political groups, engaged a great many kinds of people, and there was strength in the diversity.”

Yet in the present day, Hollander Savio identifies issues with the way campus protests have changed, in cases when fervor of student activism and beliefs conflicts with the legacy of an open forum.

“I think that some of the things we established as principles are not really honored anymore,” said Hollander Savio. “We were pretty strict free speech people. We allowed people who opposed our position to speak – even at the big sit-in before Mario’s speech, we allowed other voices to talk. [Many] students today have gotten to a point of not listening to people they don’t agree with, and it’s a concern of mine and some other people of the FSM.”

Students sit in inside Sproul Hall, September 30, 1964.

Sproul Sit-In, September 30, 1964. (Photo Credit: Bancroft Library, Robert E. Linfield Photography)

Besides Mario Savio’s famous speech before the FSM sit-in, the form of protest itself has been a large takeaway from the movement. However, the memory of the event and its success often overshadows the complexities and careful planning of the FSM leaders.

“We did have a sit-in on September 30 near the beginning, but only after a month of negotiations. And we spent a lot of time organizing before the big sit-in in December,” said Hollander Savio. “Now, it seems like [it’s] sit-in first and then organize – that’s not the way to create a big movement. I think some people act out of emotions, and it’s understandable that they feel hurt, angry, or frustrated, but it doesn’t seem like people think strategically – and I think that’s too bad.”

Hollander Savio also reveals the level of effort that went into crafting the movement that is commonly perceived as one characterized by its spontaneity.

“Most of FSM were people that had never been involved in politics before, though a lot of the leadership were very politically sophisticated people,” said Hollander Savio. “They either worked in SLATE [a former campus political party of the New Left] or the Civil Rights Movement, so we had people with a really strong background, who helped plan strategy and gave us a big advantage.”

On the romanticized narrative of the FSM, Hollander Savio draws from Reginald Zelnik, a former Berkeley history professor and FSM ally who passed away in 2004, who said, “As a historian, I like to remind people that nothing is quite as beautiful as it appears on the surface. But the Free Speech Movement was as good as it gets. It certainly never got that good again.”

“The entire semester was a grand and glorious war with no serious casualties,” said Hollander Savio. “There were emotional highs and lows, but there is really no better feeling than working for something you deeply believe in with a whole lot of people, to feel so involved and engaged, like you [are] really doing something important – and win in the end.”

Savio in her younger years, (Photo Courtesy of Savio)

Savio in her younger years, (Photo Courtesy of Savio)

She also notes that the conceptual notions of free speech and freedom of political activity wouldn’t have motivated people as strongly had it not been for the Civil Rights Movement or the Anti-War Movement. During the FSM, despite having most of their demands met, it was the administration’s attempts to target select leaders that spurred activists in their occupation of Sproul Hall on December 2.

“What motivates people is not just an abstract idea but a personal thing – when you see real people suffering or in trouble, ” said Hollander Savio. “The letters that came out to a couple of people were an outrageous and unfair attempt to discipline a few people for what thousands had done; there was no question that we had to fight that.”

Though Hollander Savio was arrested during the big sit-in, she is not a proponent of sacrificial action and points to the potentially detrimental effect arrests can have on a movement.

“People have their demonstrations; they get arrested. People fight over police tactics. Then, the emphasis of the discussion is on the police, and the whole cause gets sidetracked,” said Hollander Savio. “When you set up a situation where people have to put up a big risk like a physical risk, you will get the most committed people. But when you’re building a movement, you have to get people that aren’t as committed; you bring them along on actions they can take without risking their careers or freedom. You have to bring the rest of the people along to gain power and a voice.”

In the weeks following the official celebration of the FSM’s 50th Anniversary, the UC Regents’ decision to institute tuition hikes sparked protests on campus, student walkouts, and occupation of Wheeler Hall. Based on her experiences, Hollander Savio offers advice to the activists at Berkeley.

A photo of Salvio's late husband, Mario.

A photo of Savio’s late husband, Mario.

“I think they should talk to other people. [FSM] sent people out to dorms, to living groups, etc.” said Hollander Savio. “You want commitment from people and to do safe things until they are really strongly committed. If we tried to get a mass sit-in in the first weeks of the FSM, we wouldn’t have gotten that kind of response. The first sit-in we got, there were 300-500 people, but we looked around and knew that we weren’t ready to get arrested – there weren’t enough people. It doesn’t make a big statement these days to get twenty people arrested.”

On a final point regarding the actions of activists and tactics for political action, Hollander Savio underscores the importance of the way civil disobedience is used as a tool.

“There are two avenues you can take: you either create so much chaos that people can’t go on what they’re doing or [you] gain public support,” said Hollander Savio. “With civil disobedience, you’re trying to make a moral statement so powerful that the great masses of people can see that you care so much about what is being done or not being done. You can’t use civil disobedience as a bludgeon; it needs to awaken a moral feeling in the majority of society to get people on your side. It’s not about how big a risk you can take or how many times you go to jail or even your degree of outrage – it’s about your cause and what will advance it.”

Wanderlust: Talking Soccer, Academia, and Traveling with Derek Van Rheenen

Derek Van Rheenen

Derek Van Rheenen

A Political Economics major and German minor at UC Berkeley, Derek Van Rheenen didn’t know what he was going to do after college.

“Really, I thought I was going to be a spy,” he admitted to Insight. “And I’m not saying I’m not a spy; I’m just saying I thought I was going to be a spy. I couldn’t tell you if I was [sic] a spy because then I’d have to kill you.”

In addition to training (or not training) to be a spy, Van Rheenen played varsity soccer starting his freshman year at Berkeley. He was eligible to play for four years, so he took his junior year off to go to Göttingen, Germany and returned to Cal to play soccer for another two seasons, graduating in 1986.

When asked why Germany, he said that his reasoning was two-fold. First of all, thanks to his German minor, he thought he spoke pretty good German. All of the classes were taught in Deutsch (German), so he thought he’d be all set. Secondly, he played club soccer in the sixteen-and-under league, and his coach was German. This coach took the whole team to Germany to visit his family, and Van Rheenen was completely bewitched by the experience. When he returned home, he took German classes during his junior and senior years of high school and continued to learn the language in college.

Van Rheenen's Eurrail Pass

Van Rheenen’s Eurrail Pass

“I wasn’t thinking I was going to play soccer,” he said. “I was going as a student to take my academics seriously.”

In retrospect, he may have chosen another country like Spain, Italy, or France over Germany, but he doesn’t regret going to Germany. It further instilled in him two principles that Berkeley had already begun to teach him: wanderlust (or the love of travel) and cultural sensitivity or how to travel with respect.

Born in West Africa, he probably already had a streak of wanderlust in him before his trip to Germany. However, the trip also taught him the value of being uncomfortable in a new place or experience. He said that a year was the best amount of time to be abroad because it allowed him to fully immerse himself in the culture and the language.

“It’s not easy,” he said of studying abroad, “but it’s not meant to be easy. If it were easy, everyone would do it. […] It’s always a challenge. Be self-critical. [Ask yourself,] ‘Am I doing the easy, touristy thing that is not pushing the boundaries?’”

Upon his graduation from Berkeley, he still didn’t know what he wanted to do. He worked for a German business in America for a while, but he became frustrated after he realized it would not send him to Germany as originally expected. When some friends from Germany invited him to join them in India where they were making a film, he dropped his job and headed to the source of the Ganges River, a place of astounding spiritual purity. There, he had a very important role.

“I was the pack mule,” he said. “I had no particular skill except for being very strong. I would carry things […] just like ‘pack him up.’”

A view of Van Rheenen's study abroad town: Göttingen, Germany (Photo from http://www.galenfrysinger.com)

A view of Van Rheenen’s study abroad town: Göttingen, Germany (Photo from www.galenfrysinger.com)

When he returned from India, he still had “absolutely no idea what to do.” It was then that soccer “kept [him] grounded, [was] [his] saving grace.” After playing club soccer for a little while, he got drafted and became a professional soccer player for the San Francisco Bay Blackhawks. He was the captain of the team. In 1990, they lost by penalty kicks, but in 1991, they won the national championship. This experience too taught him an important lesson about thriving in potentially uncomfortable situations.

He said, “I think the comfort level comes from saying, ‘I recognize that things are coming at me very quickly, but it’s okay. I’m also moving very quickly, and I can adjust accordingly.’”

Though soccer had kept him happily active up until this point, during the buildup to the 1994 World Cup hosted in the U.S., there was a lull in the soccer action. Van Rheenen decided that it was time to move on.

Of course, he ended up at UC Berkeley again to get his master’s in Education and doctorate in Cultural Studies. His anthropology professor, the late Alan Dundes, inspired him by saying, “One minor genre of folklore is children’s’ games, and you, because of your background in athletics and sports, would be perfect to look at this.”

Convinced that sports represented an “international currency” or an “international language of their own,” Van Rheenen began to study the way sports intersected with national and regional identities, social class, ethnicity, race, gender, and sexuality.

With a family full of intellectuals, it should come as no surprise that Van Rheenen took to the world of academia so easily. However, Van Rheenen was well aware of the “dumb jock” stereotypes and was bent on deconstructing them.

“You can have a well-exercised mind and body simultaneously. They aren’t in conflict necessarily,” he said.

When asked how he managed to bounce from professional soccer to higher education so gracefully, Van Rheenen said, “Everything sort of happens for a reason. It’s kind of serendipitous the way things align themselves. […] For me, I just had to trust my soul in a way. […] I don’t think I could ever do something that I’m not committed to. I don’t think I could stay in it. When I’m ready to move on, I move on.”

Logo of SF Bay Blackhawks

Logo of SF Bay Blackhawks

Today, Van Rheenen teaches at UC Berkeley, has written a book called Out of Bounds and several articles on sports from an anthropological viewpoint, coordinates the Cultural Studies of Sport in Education (CSSE) Master’s Program in the Graduate School of Education at Berkeley, and still has a healthy dose of wanderlust.

Bursting with good advice, he urges students to make active decisions, connect with people who are not like them, push against close-minded thinking, go outside their comfort zones, and open their senses while at home and abroad.

After many years of soccer, Van Rheenen advises all students, “Challenge yourself, every step of the way. […] Many players will never ever develop their left foot. They’re right footed. They’ll keep playing their right foot because they know they’re good at it. For younger people, my advice is to develop the left foot. Develop it now.”

To the Golden Bears of the world specifically, though, he says this: “Berkeley prepares young people to be confident that they can [move between different opportunities]. […] We go out, and we create our jobs. We create the world. We change the world. We can do that. That’s why we’re Berkeley students. We’re not following. We’re leading. That has always served me incredibly well. Make sure you’re true to your heart and make sure you’re true to your soul and do something you’re passionate about.”

His Mau-dus Operandi: Talking Finance with Kendall Mau

 

Mau in present day. Photo from the Booking Center Website

Mau in present day (Photo from the Booking Center Website)

Kendall Mau went to Berkeley in the late 60s, an extremely happening era. From the Free Speech Movement at Cal to General Franco’s dictatorship in Spain to a changing political system in Argentina, Mau experienced it all.

Mau is perhaps one of the most influential Berkeley alumni to date. He was a double major in French and Spanish. In those days, Berkeley only immersed students in the culture and literature behind a language. If students wanted to learn to speak the language, they were advised to go abroad.

A fluency in French and a healthy dose of sibling rivalry (Mau’s brother had been to France) led Mau to the University of Madrid in Spain.

There, he lived in a Spanish dorm. The main road by the dorm led up to General Franco’s palace. Every week, the general would ride past the dorm in a limo, surrounded by motorcycles, flags, and horses. Often, Mau saw a “fat old man sitting in a car with a beautiful lady.” He later learned that the man was Juan Perón, and the woman beside him, Isabel, his wife. These two people were living there in exile, but both later became Presidents of Argentina.

“Going to Madrid shaped my whole career,” says Mau. “After studying abroad, you don’t want to live in just Berkeley anymore–you want that high of living in a different place.”

Soon after Mau returned, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Not long after, John Kennedy was assassinated. All this got Mau thinking: “You’ve taken from society all these years. What can you give back to society?”

Instinctively, Mau decided to apply to the Peace Corps. Within a month, he was hired. He was sent to Panama, where his Spanish skills proved to be a great resource. A year later, he was transferred to Senegal, Africa, where his French skills came in handy.

Once he got out of the Peace Corps, Mau went back to school.

Juan Peron and his wife Isabel who Mau encountered in Spain. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images).

Juan Peron and his wife Isabel who Mau encountered in Spain. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

He attended the University of Maryland. He went to night school and got his MBA in Operations Research, a degree he says seemed “entirely useless, as useless as [his] language major.”

Two years later, his father saw an ad in the Wall Street Journal, by Castle & Cooke. It read, “Looking for MBAs with passport.”

Mau applied and got in. He worked with Castle & Cooke in South America for ten years. He started out in Ecuador, then moved to Colombia, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Haiti. In the end, he had to leave because business was getting really dangerous. Several people in the company were kidnapped by drug mafiosos laundering illegal money. One person was killed. All U.S. citizens were retrieved from the country and brought back to America.

Mau retired early–at the age of fifty. After retirement, he started volunteering for U.S. overseas assignments. He worked on a microfinance program in agriculture. He consulted with the biggest agricultural co-op in Honduras. The co-op was going under, but Mau turned it around.

Then, came the big move. Mau decided to leave the company and create his own bank in Honduras. He offered jobs to all the management personnel he had trained in the Honduras agriculture credit union project and in 1996, launched Ohana Management Consulting Inc. (originally Kendall Philip Consulting), his own microfinance institution (MFI). He handled management financial training, while his sister specialized in microfinance marketing.

A few years later, Mau attended a conference in Mexico, where he met David Sathertwaite, the founder of Prisma Nicaragua, another MFI. When Satherwaite met Mau, Prisma Nicaragua was spiralling downhill. However, they worked together to find a solution and in 2004, launched Prisma Honduras, the second Prisma microfinance bank. Unlike its predecessor, this one did very well. They started out with very little capital–only $380,000. They slowly built up by handing out flyers and going to weekend markets.

“It was almost like being back at Sather Gate!” Mau exclaims.

Mau’s business strategy was very different from those of  other MFI. In Mau’s opinion, “slow and steady” does indeed win the race.

Today, his is one of the strongest MFIs in the industry.

University of Maryland (Photo from UMD website)

University of Michigan (Photo from University website)

Looking back, Mau recalls Bill Swinford–the “most nasty, most terrifying person [he] had ever worked for.” He says, “With him, you had no dignity. He battered you until you came up to his level.”  Every day for two years, Mau thought Swinford would fire him. Finally one day, he impressed Swinford with his work and in doing so, impressed himself. Swinford took a man from Operations Research with no idea how business is done and transformed him into a very effective manager.

Later in life, when he was about forty-five, Mau went back to school. He spent six years working part-time and getting his Doctorate from Golden Gate University; during this time he really learned management.

Along with encouraging mentors, Mau also attributes much of his success to the very liberal atmosphere at Berkeley. There, he could do what he wanted to, free from the academic pressure imposed by his family. He was able to study abroad. He sang for the collegiate singers. He hung out on Sproul Plaza, talking with friends. He was even a passive member of the Free Speech Movement.

Today, Mau continues to be greatly involved with Berkeley. He guest lectures for a microfinance program at Haas, is a speaker at a MFI DeCal, and even provides internships for interested students.

Leaving Insight with his final thoughts, Mau says that your education and the languages you learn are the most important parts of your career.

He advises students to expose themselves to a global environment. He says, “You’ve got to learn one to two extra languages. You need a useful foreign language to push you above the rest of the crowd.”

In his opinion, French, Spanish, Arabic, and Russian are the most useful languages to learn because they are spoken in Central America and the Middle East. Perhaps a surprise to some, he does not believe that Mandarin is one of the crucial languages for jobs in the developing world. He believes Mandarin is spoken in countries like Singapore, Taiwan, and China, countries that don’t let development in. If students aim for Central America or countries like Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, they have a lot more room for growth.

“You need specialty, and you need languages,” says Mau. “Don’t forget about the languages, my entirely ‘useless’ degree!”