Third World Strike at 40

By Kelly Rayburn and Kristin Bender
Oakland Tribune
Posted: 03/20/2009

BERKELEY - Sign up for courses such as African-American Life and 
Culture in the United States or Native American Economic Development 
at UC Berkeley nowadays and you don't have to confront the National 
Guard or worry about being taken away to jail or kicked out of 
school. It wasn't always so.

This month marks the 40th anniversary of UC Berkeley's Third World 
Strike, the nearly two-month campaign by four ethnic student groups 
and their allies that transformed education at the university, and 
helped spread ethnic studies programs to colleges and universities 
across the country.

"In 1969 out of the thousands courses that Berkeley offered, there 
were only a few dealing with race," said retired ethnic studies 
professor Ling-chi Wang. "Today if you take a look at the same 
catalog you will see 400 to 500 courses dealing with race. It makes 
me very proud of Berkeley and proud of what our department has been 
able to accomplish."

The anniversary has been marked by a number of events at the campus 
over the past week and will culminate today with a Third World 
Liberation Front anniversary dinner in the Multicultural Center on 
the Berkeley campus.

The Berkeley Third World Strike is often overshadowed by the campus's 
Free Speech Movement earlier in the decade or the later fight over 
People's Park. And the strike, which began in January 1969, came 
months after the more famous ­ or infamous ­ strike at San Francisco 
State University.

But it has its place in Berkeley history. It forced the university to 
create an ethnic studies program and ushered in community-based 
teaching that played a role in creating some of the East Bay's 
lasting service institutions.

It started when four UC Berkeley student groups ­ the Afro-American 
Studies Union, Mexican-American Student Confederation, Native 
American Students United and Asian-American Political Alliance ­ 
joined forces to create the Third World Liberation Front, or TWLF.

They openly discussed a strike, and on the eve of the strike The New 
York Times reported that Chancellor Roger Heyns ­ hoping to avoid 
what he called the "agonies of San Francisco State" ­ issued a 
10-page statement detailing steps the Berkeley administration had 
taken to help minority and disadvantaged students. At the time UC 
Berkeley, while more diverse than other top-level universities, was 
still more than 60 percent white.

The strike began with picket lines at main entrances of the campus, 
and the student groups involved soon found allies in some faculty and 
teaching assistants who were willing to honor the strike by holding 
classes off campus.

"There were many, many movements going on at the time," said Douglas 
Daniels, a graduate student and teaching assistant at the time. "So 
it made sense the civil rights movement would come to campus."

Student strikers were met with resistance over their tactics and 
their goals. Some faculty members were suspect of granting ethnic 
studies the same status as physics or English or history. But at the 
time, strike participants said, there was a woeful lack of 
educational opportunities for minority students looking to learn 
about their own histories or cultures.

One example: Floyd Huen, a Berkeley graduate student in 1969, said 
when a faculty member and a group of students put together an 
elective course, Asian-American Studies 100X, one of the books they 
wanted to use, "America is in the Heart" by Carlos Bulosan, was out of print.

The students took an edition out of Bancroft Library and, ignoring 
copyright laws, photocopied it for use in the class. The book is now 
widely available in print. Amazon can deliver it in two days.

Demonstrators were met with stiff resistance from law enforcement and 
police used mace and tear gas to control the crowds.

"There was a lot of pressure on the university to not give into the 
demands, and be pretty hardball with us," Huen said. "But we were 
organized, and were tactically smart. Nobody was out to get anybody killed."

Skirmishes between police and protesters were frequent, however. 
Then-Gov. Ronald Reagan sent the National Guard to campus days before 
the Academic Senate voted overwhelmingly in support of an interim 
Department of Ethnic Studies.

LaNada War Jack, chair of Native American Students United, who later 
participated in the Native American occupation of Alcatraz, said it 
is difficult to identify a turning point but believes many were 
swayed upon seeing how striking students were treated by authorities.

And the struggle did not end with the Academic Senate's vote, or four 
days later on March 7 when then-University President Charles Hitch 
approved the Department of Ethnic Studies for the fall quarter of 
1969. As Wang put it: "We came into being after a very violent 
strike. The agreement by the campus was not greeted with open arms."

Veterans of the 1969 Third World Strike spread out across the 
country. Daniels is a professor of black studies and history at UC 
Santa Barbara. War Jack lives on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation in 
Idaho. Huen, now married to Oakland City Councilmember Jean Quan, who 
also participated in the strike, is a physician at the Over 60 Health 
Center in Berkeley.

Claudia Valdivieso, who organized some of the anniversary events, 
graduated with a degree in ethnic studies in December 2008. The 
23-year-old Berkeley woman is from Ecuador and said she tried other 
majors but wasn't able to "connect with my community."

"In ethnic studies, I found community and was able to relate because 
we had the same goals and the same kind of aim," she said.

She did end up getting a double major in political science because 
she hopes to go to law school.

Reach Kelly Rayburn at 510-208-6435. Reach Kristin Bender at 

Third World Strike

January 1969 -- The Afro-American Studies Union, Mexican-American 
Student Confederation, Native American Students United and 
Asian-American Political Alliance join forces to create the Third 
World Liberation Front, or TWLF, at UC Berkeley and publicly discuss 
the possibility of a strike.
Jan. 22 -- The Third World Strike begins with picket lines at major 
entrances of the campus.
Jan. 28 -- Outside law enforcement brought onto campus for the first 
time to protect classroom activities from disruption.
Jan. 30 -- Police arrest picketing students and the university 
announces that disciplinary action will be taken against students 
violating campus regulations.
Feb. 3 -- The Academic Senate condemns "disruptive and violent" 
tactics of striking students but urges support for a department of 
Afro-American Studies and the possibility of a College of Ethnic 
Studies. Feb. 19 -- Police use mace on campus for the first time to 
control strikes.
Feb. 20 -- Police use tear gas for the first time to disperse 
students. Violent confrontations between students and police result, 
with two police cars overturned.
Feb. 27 -- Then-Gov. Ronald Reagan sends the National Guard to campus.
March 3 -- Administration announced more than 150 students have been 
arrested, with 36 suspended. March 4 -- Academic Senate votes 550-4 
in support of interim Department of Ethnic Studies.
March 7 -- University President Charles Hitch approves Department of 
Ethnic Studies for fall quarter in 1969.

Source: UC Berkeley Department of Ethnic Studies


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