Presidents and Protesters: Political Rhetoric in the 1960s

By Theodore Otto Windt Jr. | Go to book overview
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10
The Diatribe or the Subversion of Delicacy

Cynic, n. A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. Hence the custom among the Scythians of plucking out a cynic's eyes to improve his vision.

-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

Once again, we return to the free speech battle at Berkeley, this time to introduce the cynic. Just as the first stirrings of student protest and radicalism erupted at Berkeley, so too did the first well- publicized appearance of a cynic. On March 3, 1965, as the Berkeley free speech controversy was winding down, John Thomson, a non- student from New York, walked on campus and sat down on the Student Union steps near the street. He held a 5-by-8-inch piece of notebook paper in front of his chest. On the paper he had written one word:

FUCK.

He was quickly arrested.

This seemingly bizarre incident led to predictable responses, and they came in two waves. The first wave included a predictable rallying around Thomson's action by student activists. An "obscenity rally" was held. Protesting students asked why Thomson should be arrested when nothing comparable had happened to Alpha Epsilon Phi fraternity when it had sponsored a "Miss Pussy Galore" contest only shortly before.1 A "Fuck Defense Fund" was created, and those who set up tables to solicit money for the fund were arrested. An attempt was made to give some respectability to this new development when some said that "FUCK" was an acronym for "Freedom Under Clark Kerr."

Authorities soon began referring to the Berkeley Filthy Speech Movement, and that label quickly caught on. Newspapers in the

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