Presidents and Protesters: Political Rhetoric in the 1960s

By Theodore Otto Windt Jr. | Go to book overview

8
The Administrative Rhetoric of Credibility Changing the Issues

Once protesters march out to voice their grievances, they expect authorities to change policies or procedures to accord with those protests. More sophisticated or veteran protesters may recognize that such changes will be neither simple nor speedy to effect. What they do not expect is the intransigent response they receive from administrators or the kind of rhetoric administrators create to justify that intransigence. In fact, what occurs is that the central issues change from issues of policy to the issue of credibility. To understand this critical development within the dynamics of protest movements, we may concentrate on the example of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement.

College and university students were in the forefront of the protest movements that burst onto the national scene in the 1960s. And Berkeley students were in the vanguard of those students. The Free Speech Movement exploded at the University of California at Berkeley during the fall and winter of 1964-1965. In microcosm, the Berkeley free speech battle contained most of the elements and patterns that would soon become so familiar as other protests wracked the decade. It defined a new era of conflict "leading to mass arrests, a general strike, the involvement of the entire faculty in the dispute, and a continuing atmosphere of crisis and distrust."1The Free Speech Movement (along with the Port Huron Statement) set many of the protest themes for the decade and indeed for a generation of young people. It served, actually and symbolically, as a transition

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