Remembering the ‘68 strike
October 29, 2008 8:54 PM
Forty years after the 1968 student strike that led to the creation of the College of Ethnic Studies, SF State remains the only university in the world with a college devoted entirely to exploring the lives and experiences of people of color from their own perspectives.
Starting Wednesday of this week, the College of Ethnic Studies is hosting the 40th Anniversary Commemoration of the 1968 Student-led Strike. The commemoration will run through Saturday and includes academic presentations, teach-ins and panel discussions that feature many prominent figures, including yesterday’s appearance of SF State Alumnus and strike participant, Danny Glover.
Laureen Chew, associate dean in the College of Ethnic Studies, was an SF State student in ’68. Chew went on strike, and was arrested and jailed for 20 days.
“We were a product of our time,” Chew said. “Many things were changing, and as students we were convinced we could change the world.”
The strike began four years after the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964, outlawing racial segregation in schools, public places and employment, which ultimately allowed for more students of color to be admitted into SF State. Chew cited this as having “tremendous impact” on the student strikers’ angered protests against racial discrimination during a time when the school was predominantly white. The strike lasted several months and became the longest campus strike in the nation’s history.
The students involved in the strike pressed for campus reform by organizing picket lines, sit-ins and break-ins into the Administration building. Protestors even cut electrical cords to typewriters and telephones.
Chew said the idea for the strike’s 40th anniversary commemoration came about two years ago, while the planning committee — made up of veteran strikers, faculty and staff — has held weekly meetings over the past year.
“[The planning commitee has] been trying to plan the program and archive [all information, including media coverage on the strike],” Chew said. “We’ve also tried to reach as many as possible strikers to come back for the event.”
While more than 60 events are taking place over the course of four days, Chew pointed out some of the highlights that she strongly encourages students to attend.
“The Straight Story” on Thursday will host panelists sharing their experiences and memories of the Third World Liberation Front, a coalition of the Black Students Union, the Latin American Students Organization, the Filipino-American Students Organization and El Renacimiento, a Mexican-American student organization. When the strike began in November 1968, the CSU ordered SF State President Robert Smith to suspend controversial teaching assistant George Murray, a grad student in English and a Black Panther minister of education.
In protest, the Third World Liberation Front presented its set of 15 non-negotiable demands, which included the expansion of SF State’s new black studies department and increased admissions of minority students.
For Friday, Chew recommends going to a workshop, “The Role of Higher Education in the Social and Economic Development of our Communities.” For Satuday, she encourages students not to miss the panel discussion, “The Strike, the War In Vietnam and the Present War in Iraq/Afghanistan,” during which anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan will participate.
For students who attend, Chew’s hope is that they will “go and listen, share their perspective and come out a little more transformed.”
Sanzida Baksh, a sociology major, volunteers through the Ethnic Studies Resource Center and has taken several classes in the department. She’s kept busy preparing for the commemoration by creating posters to hang around campus and making announcements in classes. Baksh’s said she is excited about this week’s events and is most eager to see veteran strikers recount their stories during the panel discussions.
“It’s one thing to read about it, but another to hear them speak about it first-hand,” Baksh said, adding that the commemoration will serve as a “standing memorial” to the strikers. “We should really respect the students who fought for and gave us what we have.”
American Indian studies minor, Destinee Cooper, is also very grateful to the students who went on strike. “You’re not going to have this anywhere else,” Cooper said. “Students here can take pride in knowing that our education here didn’t come from nothing. It makes you realize how much of an impact you can have.”
Wednesday’s events kicked off with an opening ceremony held at Malcolm X Plaza. Beginning at 8:30 a.m., students were entertained with Native drumming and Hoop Dancing of the Native American Yaqui tribe. Hoop Dancer Eddie Madril said that the dance is hundreds of years old. “It recognizes the circle of life and how all things were created,” Madril said.
Also out in Malcolm X Plaza early Wednesday, several students helped stage a strike reenactment. Among them were cinema major Joel Hernandez who held a picket sign and said it’s important to celebrate that students can cause change. “It’s a really big deal,” Hernandez said. “It affects how we look at future change.”
For a complete agenda and to register for events taking place during the 40th Anniversary Commemoration of the 1968 Student-led Strike, visit the College of Ethnic Studies Web site at http://www.sfsu.edu/~ethnicst/fortieth.html. The celebration runs through Nov. 1. Registration is free.
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