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Free Speech Movement

Page history last edited by Stathis 12 years, 1 month ago

zFree Speech Movement on the Berkeley Campus 1964.





spatial implications of free speech


free speech – its exercise, demonstrations and fights over it - are immediately related to public space (streets, squares, parks) and to specific architectural elements. Stairs and walls are perpetual symbols of free expression.

However, freedom of speech cannot be exercised or applied in any programmatic or strictly proscribed manner, thus various objects and spaces can be occupied and function as performance stages.

During the free speech movement in Berkeley Sproul Plaza and the stairs of Sproul Hall were the “hub” but the most characteristic symbol until today is no other than the police car.




Free speech police car

October 1964, Mario Savio’s speech and a police car is the stage for free expression.


Transcript of Mario Savio's speech, Sproul Hall steps, December 2, 1964:


"We have an autocracy which runs this university. It's managed. We asked the following: if President Kerr actually tried to get something

more liberal out of the Regents in his telephone conversation, why didn't he make some public statement to that effect? And the answer

we received -- from a well-meaning liberal -- was the following: He said, "Would you ever imagine the manager of a firm making a

statement publicly in opposition to his board of directors?" That's the answer! Now, I ask you to consider: if this is a firm, and if the

Board of Regents are the board of directors, and if President Kerr in fact is the manager, then I'll tell you something: the faculty are

a bunch of employees, and we're the raw material! But we're a bunch of raw material[s] that don't mean to have any process upon

us, don't mean to be made into any product, don't mean to end up being bought by some clients of the University, be they the

government, be they industry, be they organized labor, be they anyone! We're human beings!




There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part; you can't

even passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus,

and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the

machine will be prevented from working at all!"


Source: UC Berkeley Library, Media Resource Center and Free Speech Movement Archives <http://www.fsm-a.org/>


The car was used at an event in October 2011 at the Berkeley Art Museum garden

covered with chalkboard paint. Attendees were encouraged to write on it. 

 A series of talks, interviews, and speeches were curated around food issues, education,

and Chez Panisse’s early cultural influences. 





In 1997 the steps at Sproul Plaza, where Savio gave many of his speeches,were

officially renamed the “Mario Savio Steps.”




Contemporary approaches


The Danish Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale

Speech matters was the title of Denmark's entry in the 54th Venice Biennale. Apart from the exhibits in the Danish Pavilion, their emphasis was placed on the public dimension of their representation as by definition freedom of speech is negotiated in relation to the public. 





FOS' Osloo is a floating pavilion positioned in the island of San Servolo, which consists

of three formal elements: a bar, a radio station and a stage designed to host events accessible to all. 





Thomas Kilpper has constructed a structure entitled Pavilion for Revolutionary Free Speech

in and beyond the private garden of the Danish Pavilion. This anti-pavilion which aims to

challenge the official, permanent architectonic structure of the Danish pavilion and its orthodox,

established symbolic value – is a temporary, informal structure and meeting point, which is adjacent

to the two more formal modernist and neo-classical buildings that together constitute the Danish Pavilion.

Kilpper's pavilion also hosted Speakers' Corner, an open space consisting of a raised balcony where a

series of specially commissioned language-based performances took place during the opening days. 




Freedom of Expression National Monument, Lower Manhattan, 2004




“You are cordially invited to step up and speak up,” reads the plaque adorning Freedom of Expression National Monument, a public artwork by architect Laurie Hawkinson, performer John Malpede, and visual artist Erika Rothenberg presented by Creative Time and Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. From August 17 through November 13, 2004, this enormous red megaphone occupied Foley Square in Lower Manhattan, and provided a platform for

New Yorkers to speak their minds during the upcoming election season. 

Inspired by the concept of a soapbox, it entices passersby to climb its gently sloping ramp and voice their thoughts, poetry, grievances, and hopes. 




Pia Lindman’s Soapbox Event, 2008


Pia Lindman, a New York-based performance and installation artist, has boldly reorganized the way to think about free speech in her Soapbox Event.

She uses historical public spaces as venues for her art. She grants each participant a soapbox to stand on and speak for one minute. Participants may form coalitions, stacking their soapboxes to create a higher podium. One minute is added to each coalition’s speaking time for each extra soapbox stacked.





Overhead view. Federal Hall National Memorial, 26 Wall Street, New York City. April 5, 2008



installation in use



Free Speech Monument, Charlottesville, 2006


In April 2006, The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Speech unveiled their privately-funded free speech monument. The monument consists of a large Buckingham-minded slate chalkboard and a speaker’s podium, located in front of City Hall. 







Free speech designated areas


Speaker's Corner



A Speakers' Corner is an area where open-air public speaking, debate and discussion are allowed. The original and most noted is in the north-east corner of Hyde Park in London, United Kingdom. Speakers there may speak on any subject, as long as the police consider their speeches lawful, although this right is not restricted to Speakers' Corner only. Contrary to popular belief, there is no immunity from the law, nor are any subjects proscribed, but in practice the police tend to be tolerant and therefore intervene only when they receive a complaint or if they hear profanity.


Speakers’ Corner was itself born out the struggle for civil liberties in Victorian Britain and its establishment was a significant milestone in the development of our democratic institutions.

It occupies a parcel of land where, in the mid-nineteenth century, the Chartists held mass protests against the suppression of the rights of working people, including the right of assembly, and the Reform League organized huge rallies to demand the widening of the franchise.


In 1872 Parliament granted the Park Authorities the right to permit public meetings and Speakers’ Corner, already heavy with history, was born. For over a century it has been a focus for protest and debate and the symbol of a free society and a mature democracy.

Other countries that have Speaker's Corners: Australia, Canada, Malaysia, Netherlands, Singapore, Trinidad and Tobago, Thailand.






Free speech zones



Free speech zones, also known as First Amendment Zones, Free speech cages, and Protest zones are areas set aside in public places for political activists to exercise their right of free speech in the United States. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states that "Congress shall make no law abridging the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." The existence of free speech zones is based on U.S. court decisions stipulating that the government may regulate the time, place, and manner—but not content—of expression. 


 The mere existence of these areas is highly controversial as they are considered to be used as a different form of censorship and control and a method to conceal the existence of popular opposition from the mass public, thus an offensive concept.

It is hard to deny its ambivalence –  what concept containing the dipole of freedom and captivity wouldn't be?



Installation in Burning man, 2004




Boston, 2004 Republican National Convention






Sculpture created during the 2004 Republican National Convention and just after

the 2004 Democratic National Convention, by Rob Duarte.



An excerpt from a 2007 essay for the course "Race, gender and Performance" (please excuse the naïveté of my 20 years, but I think it might be pertinent to the discussion of FSM) -S.


[...]An alternative reading of the Free Speech Movement imagery shows that, purposefully or not, theatrical conventions often provide the appropriate forms for the expression of the demonstrators' anger.


Perhaps that brings us back to the discourse on the incipient moment of popular performance outlined at the beginning of this essay. Both popular performance and political demonstration rely on the most direct means of communication between people. They both unite individuals who identify with a specific cause. This is not to say that performance can achieve the tangible effects of a true revolution, but rather revolution can appropriate aspects of performance for its own purposes. The form that public demonstrations often take, like those of the Free Speech Movement discussed above, can be considered as a manifestation of those aspects.     


However, the form that a demonstration -or indeed political theater- can take is informed by the specificity of the particular historical time when it evolves. L.M. Bogad in his essay Tactical Carnival, where he discusses the changing forms of demonstrations in relation to social movements and the dialogical performance, identifies the “repertory of contention” that political movements utilize in order to choose their tactics. According to this theory, the performative aspects of the demonstration highlighted in the Free Speech Movement for instance might not be the most appropriate ones to appeal to an audience today.[1] Similarly, forms of political performance used by groups such as the San Francisco Mime Troup might need to be revised, as theorists argue, in order to communicate with and inspire a wider contemporary audience. This opens a discourse not only on the formal qualities of what we can identify as “performance” but the nature of the radical ideas that can initiate political activism today, which is not within the purposes of the current essay to embark upon. Nonetheless, highlighting the affinities of political performance and demonstration could be a valuable tool to reconsider the forms of political theater and -why not- revolution. 

[1] Bogad, L.M. Tactical Carnival: Social M0vements, Demonstrations, and Dialogical Performance. A Boal Companion, Dialogues on Theatre and Cultural Politics. Jan Cohen Cruz and Mady Schtzman (ed). New York: Routledge, 2006. pp 46-58.

























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