1968: The San Francisco State Strike (2023)

interview fromJason Ferreira

50 years ago, students at San Francisco State began a five-month campus shutdown, the longest student shutdown in US history. Led by the Black Students Union and the Third World Liberation Front, the strike was the culmination of student struggle in revolutionary year 1968. It was fiercely repressed, but the strikers persevered and won the first US College of Ethnic Studies.

As part ofSocialist Worker series on history from 1968, current professor at San Francisco State UniversityJason Ferreira— the chair of the Department of Race and Resistance Studies at the College of Ethnic Studies and author of a forthcoming book on the student strike and the movements that spawned it — spokeJulien BolajMelanie Harvestabout the history of the struggle and the relevance of its legacy for today.

Q: What is special about the state of San Francisco that has made it an epicenter of fighting?

A: One of the things that made San Francisco unique compared to Berkeley or other places was that it was a suburban school. The students were older and it was a working-class school. Among the students who went to San Francisco State, many had not only work experience but also political experience that brought them to campus.

The Black Panthers had a tremendous impact on what was happening in San Francisco state, and many of the members of the Black Student Union (BSU) were early members of the party. So there is a close relationship between the BSU and the Black Panther Party.

The SF State campus itself was a really exciting place. It was an epicenter of lots of activism, lots of organization, lots of culture, lots of hippies, lots of drugs, lots of poetry. It had everything, so it was a very exciting place.

Q: What student groups were active on campus?

A: There were four main groups of students. There was the BSU, the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF), Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the programs.

The TWLF was a coalition of black student organizations. In many ways it was founded by BSU, but it also included a Latino Student Organization (LASO), a Mexican American Student Organization (MASC), the Filipino organization called PACE, and the Intercollegiate Chinese for Social Action (ICSA).

The TWLF was founded on the political principle of solidarity with the Third World, which encourages Cuba, Algeria, Tanzania and Vietnam. So it's no coincidence that they call themselves TWLF, like the National Liberation Front of Vietnam. They were all internationalists, not necessarily Marxists, but internationalists.

The BSU formed the TWLF partly on principle and partly because they knew the coming struggle would need alliances.

They could also see that the other colored people on campus weren't as politically advanced, that their consciousness didn't reach as far as the Black Power movement. Other groups of color did not form the Asian American or Latino movements until the late 1960s, while the black community had gone through this a few years earlier due to Malcolm X and the Black Consciousness movement.

Therefore, the BSU created the TWLF to support this political development.

There were also groups of white students: SDS and the programs. There was a lot of tension between these two groups.

The programs attempted to develop student power and community engagement programs, in which they combined student organizing efforts such as a San Francisco public housing tenants' association while attempting to give students credit for organizing.

Then there was the SDS, which was more confrontational, like, "Fuck the pigs, get ROTC off campus, get Dow Chemical's recruiter off campus." SDS at SF State took on mostly Progressive Labor. So the SDS viewed the Programas students as reformists, and the Programas students viewed the SDS as ultra-left and sectarian.

Q: What was the cause of the campus discontent and conditions that led to the strike?

A: A lot of attention is paid to the photo itself because it is spectacular. The asylum was closed for four and a half months; The Tactical Squad was there every day cracking skulls.

But it is important to understand that the strike was only a climax as the crisis peaked. There were many factors that contributed to this.

For years, BSU students had organized and developed alternative educational experiences, first within the Experimental College and later in mentoring programs that connected them to the community. BSU students ran this program and tutored hundreds of children on Mission and Fillmore, teaching them the basics but also teaching them Black Power.

Out of these diverse experiences, a unique and revolutionary curriculum for African American Studies began to take hold. However, the government threatened to withdraw funds for these work programs.

There was also an English teacher, George Murray, one of the members of the Central Committee of the Black Students Union, who was a veteran State University student and a doctoral student in the late 1960s, but was also Secretary of Education. Panther party. .

In the summer of 1968, George went to Cuba and gave a speech in which he basically said, I'm paraphrasing that every American soldier who dies in Vietnam is one less soldier we have to deal with on the streets of Detroit have. . He linked the black liberation struggle with the struggle of the Vietnamese people.

Naturally, when the board of trustees and then-California governor Ronald Reagan found out about this, they were furious and tried to fire Murray. This was a catalyst for the strike.

In the spring of 1968 there was also a demonstration organized by the SDS and TWLF with two aims: the removal of the ROTC from campus was the major demand of the SDS, and the TWLF had a number of demands relating to the recruitment and retention of third-party students. , not only black students, but also missionary and Chinatown students. This occupation did not take ROTC off campus, but it did give special admissions to colored students.

SFSU campus president, the Liberal John Summerskill, made the promise, but as soon as he did, he resigned. As a result, these special registrations never came about in summer and autumn. This also added to the growing frustration.

(Video) San Francisco State Strike 1968, Black Students & Third World Liberation Front, srouda@aol.com

As a result, BSU did not receive its Black Studies program as promised, and Sacramento and the Board of Trustees threatened to fund programs in which they were involved with the fellowship. One of its leading members, George Murray, was threatened with resignation.

In addition, members of the Third World Liberation Front did not receive the promised privileges, and they also began demanding Third World Studies, La Raza Studies, and Asian American Studies.

So when the trigger came, with George Murray resigning from teaching, the BSU went on strike. The BSU made 10 demands and the TWLF added five demands and went on strike together with the BSU.

I think what made the strike unique was the way the white students on this campus followed the lead of the third world students. This was not the case on other campuses: white students were in the lead, and Third World students may have been involved.

But this was a case where leadership and demands were squarely in the hands of third world people. And white students supported rather than challenged that leadership. They weren't trying, say, to make it about student power or war, they continued to focus on the demands of the BSU and the TWLF because, I think, those demands eventually opened up to these broader issues of imperialism and war.

Q: What were the demands of the strike?

A: The reinstatement of George Murray was one of thoseOriginal lawsuits from BSU and TWLF. One of his five demands was to reinstate George Murray.

If you look at the processes, they're very specific: we want this woman fired, we want Nathan Hare to get a tenure, we want as many apprenticeships. It wasn't "we want a global revolution" or anything like that. That was intentional, because the students wanted to be able to argue for something concrete and get a basis for later.

During the strike, they kept repeating the demands, saying they were non-negotiable because the community needed it. They argued that the actions reflect the fight against racism: it's about self-determination and power. They weren't looking for crumbs: they wanted the power to dictate who the faculty was and what kind of curriculum was taught.

Q: How was the strike? Can you tell something about the attackers' tactics?

A: Up until the fall of 1968, some of the dominant tactics used by the student movement were sit-ins and protests. The BSU said we don't do that, we use guerrilla tactics like Che and the Vietnamese.

What did you mean by that? They said they were not armed per se, but noted that the protests were largely symbolic. You keep a place for a day or two or three at most. At a certain point the institution wears you down. You might draw attention right away when you're arrested, but in the end it shows your powerlessness.

The BSU reviewed what happened at Columbia University in New York in the spring of 1968. Stokely Carmichael emerged and gave a lecture at State University, where he said Columbia students made a dent but didn't change college relationships. on the campus.

The BSU has decided to close the university. They wouldn't just take up space. But they didn't just strike by picketing on campus. Instead, they opted for guerrilla warfare tactics: we advance when the enemy retreats, and when the enemy advances, we retreat.

That meant having mobile forces. One of the first things they did that first week was wreak havoc all over campus: stink bombs clogged the restrooms, went to class and said, "Don't you know we're on strike?" and do some civic education.

The logic was: if we don't get the education we want, you won't get the education you get. We're going to trash this room, but if the police come, boom, we're leaving.

That was the starting tactic for the first week. SDS and people in the movement supported the strike. But it took about a week for things to happen.

Q: How did the strike get support at this point and what role did police repression play?

A: The BSU held a press conference about a week after the strike and officers entered the campus and started beating people, especially the BSU members. BSU leader Nesbit Crutchfield was hit in the head for all to see.

Pandemonium settled on campus. Some teachers supported the students, even if they didn't necessarily agree with the tactics: they supported the ideas behind the strike. So the faculty stood between the police and the students on this chaotic day.

From then on the police were probably the biggest recruiting factor for the strike because they overreacted. They decided to silence the militants, and it got to the point where the Tactical Squad eliminated police not only in San Francisco, but in Santa Cruz, Vallejo, and the wider region.

And of course the cops loved the opportunity to attack black people, hippies, people who defied gender conventions with long hair, people who were peace activists. They saw the state of San Francisco as a place to vent their racist poison. You could feel the heat of their hatred emanating from them.

This increasingly began to politicize the students, who saw that law and order was not a good answer to legitimate demands.

BSU and TWLF started to do more education with a call to explain their demands. And they started to involve the community from Mission, Fillmore and Chinatown.

A tremendous transformation has taken place. These non-political students, ordinary people you would see on campus, said "fuck the pigs" and threw stones at the police.

Part of that had to do with the wider environment, including the war in Vietnam. Ronald Reagan said at a press conference that the state of San Francisco is a domestic Vietnam. That's certainly an exaggeration: obviously the things that happened in Vietnam, like napalm and the My Lai massacre, didn't happen in the state of San Francisco.

But Vietnam was undeniably a subtext of what was happening in the state, both for the fact that a group called the Third World Liberation Front was fighting for educational self-determination and the empowerment of oppressed peoples, and for responding to the demand that “we must destroy these militants and dissidents because they stand for lawlessness,” as they did with the Panthers.

(Video) 50th Anniversary of the SF State Student Strike | KQED News

So Vietnam was the subtext. It was difficult for the ordinary students who were not militants or radicals to remain neutral when their campus was militarily occupied every day. Tac Squad was there with huge batons, riot shields and helmets to take down members of the BSU or TWLF or smash in the skull of a protesting student.

Q: How did the government react to the student strike?

A: In the spring of 1968, as I mentioned, SF State President John Summerskill resigned after the TWLF-SDS demonstration. John Summerskill was a Liberal; He was a Kennedy boy. But liberalism was attacked at this point in the movement.

Today we think more of the liberal politics of the 1960s, but the movements of the time recognized that the liberals were part of the problem. Liberals just want stability, they don't want to change the power dynamic.

So the Liberals were caught in the middle. They had the right on one side, with Reagan and the law-and-order people, and the left on the other, with powerful movements pushing through radical demands. They didn't just want reforms. They wanted power: real, meaningful, deep democracy.

The Liberals were caught in the middle, pushed and pulled in both directions. They may have wanted to help black people, but they also had a responsibility and a relationship with right-wing forces that prevented them from doing so.

When John Summerskill resigned in the spring of 1968, they brought in another liberal: education professor Robert Smith. In the summer and fall he was president.

But as the strike unfolded, he was told by the right not to close the campus, to use the police to maintain order for "good students" who want to study, and to expel dissenting students from the country. Meanwhile, the students are telling him to lock down the campus until we fix those issues.

Smith tried to strike a middle ground by still having classes going but creating spaces where anyone could come and talk about problems. He suggested a conference call where anyone interested could come and find out more about the strike issues. That, of course, didn't satisfy the rights, and it didn't satisfy the striking students.

BSU and TWLF took advantage of the crisis and used the call as a platform to educate non-political students about the origins of the strike. They eventually left and Robert Smith resigned.

Reagan brought in a new president: another San Francisco State faculty member named SI Hayakawa. What a character this guy was! He was a megalomaniac who decided to be the man to put an end to this and establish law and order. As a Japanese American, he was also a person of color, so the right wing loved him because he created all these new dynamics.

So now you have a colored guy in the big chair talking about who were the responsible students and who were the irresponsible students. But there are also Asian-American students, Black students, Native American students, and Latino students who continue to urge: Don't fall for a "non-white face in a high place" symbol.

From the moment Hayakawa was hired until the end of the strike, the administration focused on "law and order": it used the police to shut down and quell the movement on campus.

It's important to note that the strength of many student organizations lay in their community programs: the mentoring and community engagement programs. Hayakawa started closing his sources of money, so he dried up.

This is a classic counterinsurgency tactic, much like what the right did in the late 1970s and 1980s when it began disrupting social programs.

The New Deal and Great Society programs attracted students who had previously been expelled from campus. When that happened, they became politicized. As liberal and reformist as they were, these programs politicized people, included them in the community, and subsidized activism.

So the right decided that they would cut back on the programs at their grassroots level, which were their links to the community.

In the end, Hayakawa became the right wing favourite. He eventually became a US Senator from California, and of course his big claim to fame as a Senator was to push for English to be spoken only in California.

He wore a tam o' shanter hat, and this tam o' shanter hat became a symbol of law and order. He became quite a celebrity. They flew him in to meet Richard Nixon because they saw him as the guy who wouldn't hurt those militants and he was a person of color.

Q: How were the students able to keep the strike going despite so much repression?

A: There were days when it was very scary for people and the big fear was that someone was going to die. It was known that the police hoped to eliminate some of the strike leaders.

And this is inseparable from the simultaneous desire of the police to neutralize the Panthers. The Panthers' Fillmore office was raided during the strike.

So it was really, really hard. But when you have 3,000 students, sometimes even 5,000, it's an inspiring way to lift your spirits.

Then there are the dark days like January 23, 1969, when there was a massive invasion and over 400 people were arrested.

The leadership had to be very picky about which days they would come on campus because they knew there were warrants out for Roger Alvarado, the TWLF spokesman, and Benny Stewart, the president of the BSU, among many others.

But it must be said that by this point in the fighting, in the spring of 1969, the leaders of the BSU and TWLF were very committed to the community. They had offices in Fillmore and Mission and attended many meetings with community leaders to speak on behalf of the students. They also organized at the state level with third world students on other campuses.

Q: How successful was the campus closure strike?

(Video) Exhibit Opening: Striking Images San Francisco State 1968

A: It was never 100 percent. But think about it: even if the students and teachers were still teaching, imagine trying to get to your class and having to march through the Tac Squad and through 2,000 students in the central plaza just to get around to get there. It would be a bit stressful.

Q: Later in the strike, the faculty also went. Can you talk about how that happened and what impact it had on calming down the government?

A: The college has had a long history of problems related to efforts to organize a collegiate union for many years. The faculty representation at that time was a professional association, not an actual trade union.

There was a group of radical teachers at SF State who wanted a real union. Some had links to the labor movement. Some, many of them on the younger side, had connections to the wider movement.

That's another thing to recognize about San Francisco State: Some teachers wanted to be there because they were young, hip, and cool. They smoked weed and went to jazz clubs. It wasn't like Berkeley or Stanford or any other place where college was boring and isolated from community life.

These people were young, some in their twenties, and politically active. The state of San Francisco was a special destination for her. In this way, too, the political and cultural life of the campus was able to intertwine with the political and cultural life of the city.

So the issue of power was part of all of that. On the one hand, SF State students made specific demands that challenged the power of the Board of Trustees and, frankly, the broader political economy of higher education in California.

They challenged the so-called master plan for higher education, which monitored students. Some students, mostly white and middle class, were routed to UCs, some people were routed to CSUs, and then some people, mostly blue-collar and colored people, were routed directly to community colleges.

The demands of the TWLF and BSU challenged this system, saying: “We want power; we want autonomy.” And the faculty wanted that power, too.

For years, the Board of Trustees has attempted to control and centralize the educational process, wresting power from individual campuses, faculty, and students.

The faculty also fought over the fundamental problems of a union. They wanted better wages, better working conditions, a complaints procedure, classic union stuff.

When the students went on strike, there were already some teachers who had problems with the curators and supported the students. For example, there were teachers who tried to blend in between the police and the students.

In December they told the administration that they had better take care of the students or we would go on strike too. But back then, people didn't want to have anything to do with students. Hayakawa tried to smash the attack, not break it up.

Then left college in January. The San Francisco Board of Labor approved the strike, which meant no supplies arrived and garbage piled up across campus. Nobody would cross the pickets.

Officials were very concerned that this could escalate into some sort of regional uprising if the strike spread to Fillmore, Western Addition, Mission, Bayview Hunters Point. They feared that if fighting intensified they would no longer be able to confine her to the campus alone.

So the community was involved, workers were involved, and other campuses were threatening to go on strike. One could argue that this is why we have a faculty of folklore. The force on the streets was very strong.

Q: What was the result of the strike? What did attackers gain and what lost?

A: Most students got their demands, except George Murray never returned to SF State.

He was arrested in the middle of the strike. He was under constant surveillance and was stopped while driving in the South Bay. He had a gun in his car, which was not surprising: he was Minister of Education for the Black Panther Party, an organization that suffered from severe political repression.

They used this as an excuse to put him in prison. Out of prison, Murray became part of the negotiations to end the strike. But around this time he left the party and became a minister.

The BSU and TWLF broke up the strike and eventually established the College of Ethnic Studies in the fall semester of 1969, consisting of a Department of African American Studies, a Department of Race Studies, a Department of Asian American Studies, and a Department of Asian Studies. American Studies, eventually a department for Native American Studies. .

Then came the business of teaching and hiring people. It was different back then because there really weren't many Ph.Ds in race studies. As such, they often hired people from the community to teach, or members of the Black Student Association who were graduate students.

But this campus-community relationship was actually central to the mission of these early departments.

Q: In the first year of Ethnic Studies, many of the original teachers were expelled. Can you talk about how management was able to do that?

A: Many of the original Ethnic Studies professors were fired, not reinstated, or expelled.

But get an overview: this was after five months of this grueling strike, where there were so many casualties, where people's personal relationships were damaged, where there was a level of paranoia and police infiltration. There was a real fatigue factor: people asked if they wanted to go back there in the fall of 1969.

At the same time, some of the BSU members, such as Nesbit Crutchfield, were jailed on fabricated charges. In the spring of 1969, over 400 people were arrested. That took the wind out of the movement's sails. Suddenly you had to figure out how to represent 400 people in court who were facing criminal charges.

(Video) "The Turning Point" The San Francisco State '68 Strike

Some people, like PL members, said it was important to organize against the courts and represent yourself to show how the courts are part of a class system. But there are many other people who have been arrested who just weren't that political. They were arrested and imprisoned, and the BSU and TWLF leaders felt a duty to defend these people.

There was a year-long legal defense campaign that was grueling just representing these people, collecting evidence and the lawyers, and trying to get the charges dropped. So people were nervous in the fall of 1969 and spring of 1970.

Also, some people have started to look away from the organization on campus. They took part in all these struggles, for example against the police in the mission or defending the elderly in Hotel I. Some people in the movement invested their energy in other areas of the struggle.

As a result, there was not strong advocacy from the people trying to build Ethnic Studies. In a way, this created a vacuum, and the people who filled that vacuum were, in my opinion and that of many of the original strikers, a combination of traditional bourgeois academics or cultural nationalists.

So people hid in their rooms and did their academic work, but they were no longer organically connected to the struggles of the working class. Furthermore, cultural nationalists have always been critical of the Panthers, and by extension the BSU anyway, because the Panthers collaborated with whites or were Marxist or identified as Third World revolutionaries.

Q: Fifty years later, can you speak about the strike's legacy, both for our radical history and how it shaped the popular struggles and institutions of San Francisco?

A: I often speak of San Francisco as one of the global epicenters of an international revolutionary movement. Havana, Algiers, Dar es Salaam: those would be different. San Francisco is one of those places where the local meets the international.

What happened in the state of San Francisco reshaped the city. I see it similar to the famous longshoremen's strike of 1934 and the impact it had on the San Francisco political arena.

What happened in the state of San Francisco in 1968 resonated throughout the city. Many of the city's reform schools are currently linked to the strike, if not directly then indirectly. People drew on their experiences in the state and got involved in the community.

Community health clinics and KPOO, a popular radio station, were established after the strike. Members of the Black Student Union were central to Western Addition politics, and some of them banded together to found this radio station. It still stands today, it's still a community radio.

Then, of course, there's Los Siete de la Raza: Many of the people involved in Los Siete de la Raza were connected to the student strike at SF State and San Mateo College.

Los Siete has developed free breakfasts for children and community health centers. They set up legal aid centers and published a community newspaper called Basta Ya Ya, which ran for a number of years. After that, the organization spent more time organizing workers at the production site.

All of these things have spawned and catalyzed community-oriented institutions. While not the creation of Los Siete itself, El Tecolote, a free bilingual newspaper, is the next iteration after Basta Ya. It was created by San Francisco State students in La Raza's journalism class.

It filled a need because Latinos continued to suffer from the San Francisco Chronicle's horribly racist reporting, which labeled young Raza as dirty gangsters, Latinos, hippies, etc. So people decided to start their own newspaper and report on their own community. El Tecolote still publishes outside of the Mission District.

After the strike, some people got fed up and decided that this academic wasn't worth it. They became more involved in the community, for example in the fight at Hotel I. Also in the fall of 1969, local students participated in the occupation of Alcatraz Island.

So the strike created a wave of energy that permeated the city: the I Hotel, Alcatraz, The Seven, the Panthers, they were all connected to what was going on in the SF state and were fueled by the strike, even if the Fights nationwide and international reverberations.

The other legacy I would like to mention is the participation of Chinese students in the strike.

The experience of the strike led to dramatic changes in the community as people began challenging the established Chinatown leadership of the Six Chinese Enterprises. This leadership was very conservative, linked to Taiwanese politics and the political right. Then suddenly young Chinese students asked who this Mao guy was and worked with young people in the community.

Politicization in the state led them to deeper involvement in Chinatown politics, developing the voice of Chinatown youth, and connecting with those in the community who had been silenced, such as the communists, whose history stretches back to the 1930s Dating back years in Chinatown but had been silenced and purged for McCarthyism and right-wing leadership.

Thus a new generation became infantry to challenge the traditional leadership of the community. This also happened in the mission.

So when I say there is a rich history and legacy of SF State Strike, it is not limited to a curriculum or even the campus itself. Located in the boroughs of San Francisco, it is linked to a national and international struggle.

Jason Ferreira is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Race and Resistance Studies in the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University. The teaching and scholarship of Dr. Ferreira focuses on the history of radicalism within and between communities of color. Recent grants include "With the Soul of a Human Rainbow: The Seven, the Black Panthers, and the Third World in San Francisco," published in the award-winning anthology, Ten Years That Rocked the City: San Francisco, 1968-1978. . ". . Drawing on dozens of oral histories and extensive archival research, he is currently creating the first social history of the multi-ethnic struggle that culminated in the cataclysmic World War III strike in San Francisco that gave rise to the first Department of Black Studies. and ( nor) the only Faculty of Ethnic Studies in the country.In 2008, Dr. Ferreira joined veterans of this crucial struggle and current students to formalize the Todo Poder ao Povo archive project, an initiative dedicated both to the preservation of the history of various social movements for self-determination that existed within the strike as well as worked to make them available to future struggling generations.This story first appeared insocialist worker.

KQED reports a visit to the SF State campus by women leading the fight for justice at Bayview Hunters Point to express their support for the strike. Many of the strikers were their children and those of their neighbors. Speakers are Eloise Westbrook and Ruth Williams, who taught acting to Danny Glover and hundreds of other children at the Bayview Opera House.



1. Remembering the SFSU Strike and formation of ethnic studies programs, 50 years later
(ABS-CBN Balitang America)
2. The Legacy of the Third World Liberation Front student strike at SF State
(Kapwa Kollective)
3. 1968 USA, San Francisco State College, Student Strike
4. 1968 USA, San Francisco State College, Prelude to Student Strike
5. San Francisco State: On Strike - Trailer -TWN
6. 50 Years of Asian America: Reflections on the 1968 SFSU Strikes
(Advancing Justice - Asian Law Caucus)
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