Nice piece Monday in the Daytona News-Journal (of all places) about a successful student protest campaign at the University of Denver to save the campus library from being emptied of books. The whole thing is worth reading, but this introductory graf is a fascinating little tidbit:
“Activism at DU has a rich history, including the anti-war protest in 1970 known as Woodstock West, and the earlier Coffee Break Riot of 1965. In the 1965 incident, passion was roused after the administration ended the morning coffee break, a 50-minute period during which no classes were conducted. Students blocked traffic, lit fires and battled with police, but failed to win back their caffeine privileges. It was an era when everything was a Big Deal, and the mood on many campuses was volatile.”
That “Coffee Break Riot” is exactly the kind of thing that gets pooh-poohed as unsubstantial in student protest. But if you squint just a little you can see it’s about student culture, campus environment, and the question of who is going to set the rules under which students will live. None of those are trivial matters, and all of them are worth thinking seriously about.
Also worth noting in that vignette is the year: 1965. That’s well before the widespread protests of the sixties got underway. As see over and over again in student history, huge campus movements often begin in small, strange ways. As I said in a keynote address once, the student past is far weirder, far more interesting, than we imagine.