Presidents and Protesters: Political Rhetoric in the 1960s

By Theodore Otto Windt Jr. | Go to book overview

Conclusion

The main effect of the use of administrative rhetoric is to ignore the specific issues that originally aroused protest and instead to switch the terms for argument, to change the meaning of protest. Administrators contend their institution is under severe attack and demand unconditional support in this time of peril, regardless of the correctness or reasonableness of the policy they have enacted and are now seeking to enforce. They see themselves as standing at the ramparts defending the last remnants of Western civilization against the uncivilized hordes who would destroy them and their authority.29 They believe that if they are defeated, the cause of freedom will also be defeated. It is not therefore remarkable that authorities predict catastrophic consequences should they lose in this great symbolic war.

What is important to note is the problem of political participation. Protesters at Berkeley and many elsewhere believed in democratic myths, most pertinently, that every citizen has the right to petition for redress of grievances, to be listened to attentively, and thus to participate--to some degree--in policy making. Administrators, on the other hand, had a different view. They saw themselves as the only legitimate decision makers with legitimate power to make and enforce regulations. Once these elite officials made decisions, it was the duty of others to support them: "Those in the best position to guide the destiny of the nation [or university] were those selected as leaders by the system. The judgment of these leaders could be questioned, but only verbally."30 At this point the issue shifted again, this time to political participation: Who should be allowed to have a voice in decisionmaking, and what weight should be given to those voices? Thus, Savio's condemnation of speech without consequences becomes even more poignant. When officials were attacked for not responding to the specific issues that aroused the protest in the first place, administrators overreacted and predicted horrendous consequences if they were to relent. In so doing, administrators used the form of ideological rhetoric to defend their cherished procedures and to discredit protesters.

Of course, the actual consequences turned out to be much different from those wild and unrestrained imaginings. The Free Speech Movement eventually won not only the right to engage in politics at Bancroft-Telegraph but many other rights as well.31 Despite the repeated predictions by the administration, the university was not destroyed. In the same vein, the U.S. defeat in the

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