Radical Creak

updated 12/19/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/19/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA at Berkeley, cradle of campus radicalism as America came to know and either love or hate it, swarmed with students, street preachers and pamphleteers. From the granite steps of Sproul Hall, the school's imposing administration building, a fiery orator roused the masses—in this case, a Dec. 2 crowd estimated at 800. "We want to build a coalition with the poor," bellowed Mario Savio, 52, the legendary '60s soapboxer, now a physicist. By his side: several of his aging ex-compatriots, including onetime schoolmate Jack Weinberg, 54, coiner of the slogan "We don't trust anyone over 30."

At this four-day gathering, though, that phrase was freighted with special irony. Savio, Weinberg and friends had come together to celebrate a birthday—the 30th, to be exact—of the Free Speech Movement, the seminal event that paved the way for Vietnam-era sit-ins, teach-ins, love-ins and be-ins. In a welcoming message, Berkeley vice chancellor and provost Carol T. Christ called the movement "an important part of the rich history" of the college.

Thirty years ago, however, the school was somewhat less hospitable. On Dec. 2,1964, an army of FSM demonstrators—many of them veteran civil rights activists—took over Sproul Hall to protest the university administration's banning of political activity on campus. Twenty-eight hours later, nearly 800 students had been arrested at the urging of Alameda County prosecutor Ed Meese, the future U.S. Attorney General. "Many of us had been chased by the Ku Klux Klan and jailed in the South," recalls Weinberg, now an official with the environmental group Greenpeace. "We weren't afraid."

Those arrests, however, were but the climax of a protest that had taken a dramatic turn two months earlier. Weinberg, then a graduate-school dropout, had been busted for trespassing while making a political speech on campus and was thrown into a police car. That prompted a crowd of 3,000, Marxists and Young Republicans alike, to surround and block the vehicle for the next 32 hours.

From around and atop the car, protesters gave speeches—the most stirring orator was Savio. "Mario had a stutter at the time and had a hard time finishing a sentence," Weinberg remembers. "But he had a passion. You almost expected him to be brilliant. And he was."

Throughout, Weinberg sat in the police car with Gandhian resolve, refusing food and even spurning polite police offers to escort him to the Sproul Hall rest room. (He feared the police would drive off if he left the scene.) Instead, he relieved himself in paper drinking cups that friends passed in to him.

Ultimately, the students dispersed, and the administration agreed to meet with them and discuss their grievances. After the incident, Weinberg ad-libbed his famous "over 30" quip to a reporter from The San Francisco Chronicle. "For the next seven or eight years," he says, "I was slightly peeved that this was my only claim to fame."

Weinberg passed his own 30th birthday working on an automobile assembly line in Southgate, Calif., and later became a steelworker in Gary, Ind. Along the way, he has been married three times—with the first wife, he had a son, Eric—and for the past 18 years he has been wed to Valerie Denny, 46, a public relations executive. He also worked, whenever he could, as a labor organizer. In 1989 he joined Greenpeace. Resolutely Weinberg refuses to dwell on old battles. "I get annoyed," he says, "when people want to spend all their time in the '60s."

Leave it to Wavy Gravy, of Woodstock fame, to put things in perspective. "I wouldn't have missed this for anything," Gravy said as Savio railed from the steps at California's recent Proposition 187, which denies essential services to undocumented immigrants. Adds Wavy: "I always tell people the '90s are the '60s standing on your head."

RICHARD JEROME
LAIRD HARRISON in Berkeley

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