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Last Sunday on The Newsroom Aaron Sorkin’s anchor-hero Will McAvoy offered up a whirlwind tour of the history of Students for Democratic Society, the Yippies, and the Vietnam antiwar movement that managed to get pretty much everything completely wrong in the service of an analogy that made no sense. Here’s my take, because when else am I going to get a chance like this?

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“Back in 1968 when Rennie Davis and Hayden and their guys organized the SDS,

SDS was put together in 1960, not 1968. Its organizational roots stretch back as far as 1905. And although Rennie Davis and Tom Hayden would both become important figures in the group in the early sixties and after, neither participated in its founding meetings.

 it was specifically to end the Vietnam war

Nope. SDS was a broad-based, multi-issue organization from the beginning. It addressed itself to concerns ranging from nuclear testing to civil rights to campus parietal rules. The 1962 Port Huron Statement, SDS’s immensely influential (and just plain immense) manifesto, mentions Vietnam just once, in the context of a discussion of the membership policies of the United Nations.

but that movement got eaten by Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin and the Yippies.

Again, no. The collapse of SDS had almost nothing to do with the rise of the Yippies, and everything to do with government repression, sectarian infighting, and revolutionary overreach. And though SDS died with the sixties, the American seventies would see the ascendancy of other transformative social movements around issues like feminism, gay rights, environmentalism, Native American rights, and so on. Many of those movements had direct links to the New Left.

It’s also worth noting that Tom Hayden and the Yippies were allies for a big chunk of the period under discussion, as demonstrated by this film footage of Hayden speaking alongside Hoffman at a Yippie press conference.

It was impossible to define what the Yippies were protesting.

Ridiculous. The Yippies staged plenty of specific, targeted actions, and participated in plenty more, as we’ll see in a moment. Yes, they were a sprawling, inchoate group. Yes, they offered a vague, unformed vision of the revolution they were trying to achieve. But they also organized focused campaigns.

They were about giving the finger to anyone over thirty,

Abbie Hoffman was well past thirty by 1968. And when Jerry Rubin turned thirty that summer, he wrote that he “was reborn in Berkeley in 1964 in the Free Speech movement. When we say ‘Don’t trust anyone over 30,’ we’re talking about the second birth. … When people 40 years old come up to me and say, ‘Well, I guess I can’t be part of your movement,’ I say, ‘What do you mean? You could have been born yesterday. Age exists in your head.’ Bertrand Russell is our leader. He’s 90 years old.”

generically hating the American establishment,

Sure, the Yippies hated the American establishment. You know why? For starters, the American establishment was trying to put them (and Tom Hayden and Rennie Davis) in prison.

dropping out, getting high.

There was a lot of that going around in those days, or so I’ve heard. Still is, in some circles.

That’s how the progressive movement would be painted for the next forty years.

Attacks on left activists as dirty hippies didn’t begin with Abbie Hoffman. In 1966 Ronald Reagan used hippie-bashing to win the governorship of California, and he wasn’t remotely the only politician beating that gong. The 1960s saw a huge generational cultural upheaval that was inextricably bound up with a youth activist movement in the public mind — neither the Yippies nor anyone else had the power to change that, even if they’d wanted to.

People passing out daisies to soldiers and trying to levitate the Pentagon.

Funny you should mention that. Because the attempt to levitate the Pentagon occurred at a 1967 demonstration against the war, an action that Tom Hayden has described as one of the most potent of the Vietnam War era. Yes, Jerry Rubin was the point person on that demo, but he was recruited for the position by David Dellinger, who was hardly a Yippie. (And if you think this photo actually harmed the antiwar movement, well God, Jed, I don’t even want to know you.)

The Pentagon’s a really big building. You can’t levitate it.

This part is true.

The sixties radicals and the Tea Party are roughly the same, with one big exception. Even at the height of 1968 the Democrats wouldn’t have nominated Abbie Hoffman or Jerry Rubin for any office, and no candidate would have sought their endorsement. 

Okay, a few things. First, 1968 wasn’t “the height” of anything in terms of Democratic Party radicalism. That year the Dems nominated their sitting vice president at a convention that saw epidemic police violence against protesters, violence that was essentially ignored by the conventioneers. The party’s presidential nominee, Hubert Humphrey, never came out against the war in Vietnam, and only called for a ceasefire weeks before the general election.

So no, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin weren’t getting any love from the Democratic Party that year. But neither were Hayden and Davis, or any other figures in the New Left. (By the eighties, however, both Hoffman and Hayden were involved in mainstream left-liberal political activity.)

Can you imagine Humphrey or Kennedy standing for a photo op with Bernardine Dohrn or Allen Ginsberg?”

No, but I can’t quite figure out why we’re talking about them, either.

Bernardine Dohrn wasn’t a Yippie, she was an SDSer. Specifically, she was a member of the Weatherman faction, an advocate of violent revolution in the United States. She wasn’t about “giving the finger to anyone over thirty, generically hating the American establishment, dropping out, getting high,” she was about blowing things up and killing people. Ginsberg I can kind of understand the mention of, since he at least participated in the 1967 Pentagon action, but he did so as a middle-aged gay poet, not a young activist.

Lumping in Ginsberg with Hoffman and Rubin makes a kind of weird sense. But lumping those three gleeful pranksters in with Dohrn is just absurd.

And all this quibbling over details may be beside the point anyway, since Sorkin’s underlying argument is so wrong-headed. His claim is that the New Left and the Tea Party both began as reasonable interventions into party politics, that both were hijacked by bizarre radicals, and differ only in that one was absorbed into the GOP while the other was properly shunned by the Democrats.

And that’s about the least useful analysis of either movement that I’ve ever heard.

July 16 Update | Jesse Walker of Reason has put up a fascinating, illuminating post on the Yippies and the 1972 Democratic National Convention which carries the debunk one step further.

The “I hate my students” essay has long been a Chronicle of Higher Education staple, and for obvious reasons. The classroom can be a frustrating place, and sometimes a prof just needs to vent.

The problem with venting in the Chronicle, though, is that you open yourself up to rebuttal.

Meet Ann Hassenpflug.

Hassenpflug is a professor of education, and she doesn’t like it when her students bring their kids to class. Because she doesn’t like it when her students bring their kids to class, she has a “no kids in class” policy in her syllabus, and she gets mad when that policy is violated.

Fair enough. But some of the reasons behind her rule — a child might sit in a student’s regular chair  — seem trivial, while others arise from problems that could be easily dealt with in other ways.

I myself allow students to bring their kids to class as a last resort. Most of my students are women, many of them are moms. Stuff comes up. But yes, kids can be disruptive, so I have rules:

  • Don’t make it a regular thing. A kid in class isn’t an ideal situation.
  • Sit in the back of the room. Even a quiet child can be distracting.
  • If the kid starts acting up, slip out quietly and address the situation.

In addition to those rules, I have a warning: My class is a history class, which means we’re going to be talking about serious, difficult topics on a pretty regular basis. I can’t and won’t alter the content of the course to accommodate a child, and I won’t ask students to censor themselves either. If you choose to bring a kid along, what they hear is on you.

That’s it. That’s what I tell them. And about once a semester a student shows up with a kid in tow, and about ninety percent of the time it’s not a problem at all.

Now, Hassenpflug’s class isn’t my class, and she’s not me. What works for me might not work for her. I’m not saying she should open her doors.

But I will say that it doesn’t really sound like she makes a habit of explaining the reasons for her policy to her students, and that I suspect that decision may be causing some of the problems she’s having.

I’d love it if every one of my students memorized every element of my syllabus, but because I know that that’s never going to happen, I deal. I remind students at the end of class that if they came in late they should see me to get marked present. I mention my office hours several times during the semester, and encourage students to take advantage of them. I announce the date and time of the final exam at the last class session.

And if something is really important to me, I say so, and I say why, and I say it clearly and emphatically. (I’ve got a whole big speech on cheating. The better that speech gets, the less cheating I see.)

In her Chronicle essay, Hassenpflug gives no fewer than eleven reasons she prefers to have her classroom be child-free, but by her own admission she’s never shared any of those reasons with her students. “The students in my graduate education courses are teachers themselves,” she writes. “They should understand why bringing children to an adult classroom is inappropriate.”

Maybe they do, professor, and maybe their “understanding” isn’t the same as yours (mine certainly isn’t). Or maybe they understand that it’s not ideal, but think of it as the least-worst option in certain circumstances. Or maybe they’ve seen other students do it in other classes (or even yours), and they consider it part of the institutional culture of your program. Or maybe they’re just not aware that it’s one of your pet peeves.

I honestly just don’t get it. It’s your classroom. You’re in charge. You set not only the rules, but the tone. If this is such a big deal to you, take a couple minutes to say so, and to say why. The professorial whine about students’ lack of socialization to academic etiquette is ubiquitous these days, but of all the problems besetting our profession this seems like the easiest to fix.

Just talk to your students. Why on earth wouldn’t you?

An obscure academic publishes a strange paper in a no-name journal. Scholars uniformly repudiate it as worthless. Some speculate that the author is mentally ill. But in the meantime the theory attracts huge attention online, and even makes it into some mainstream news outlets, lauded as a potentially earth-shaking discovery.

How does this happen?

University public relations departments.

The academic in question is biochemist Erik Andrulis, and the paper is called “Theory of the Origin, Evolution, and Nature of Life.” It was published in the premiere issue of a minor new journal called Life last week, and if that had been all the exposure it received, it likely would have sunk without a trace.

But Andrulis is an assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University, and six days ago the CWRU public relations department issued a press release declaring that the paper presented a “revolutionary … transdisciplinary theory” with the potential to “catalyze a veritable renaissance.” Andrulis, they said, “resolv[es] long-standing paradoxes and puzzles in chemistry and biology, … unifies quantum and celestial mechanics,” and “confirms the proposed existence of eight laws of nature.”

In actuality, Andrulis has done none of those things. Respected biologist and science writer PZ Myers, for instance, describes the paper as “unreadable, incoherent, bizarre, and completely lacking in evidence or mathematical support.”

But a university press release is a university press release, and most people who read them have none of Myers’ ability to tell good science from bad, so the CWRU announcement was quickly picked up by various sites. Indeed, a number of science news aggregators simply stripped the original attributions, slapped on their own bylines, and published the press release itself as news.

As the extent of the paper’s problems became known, CWRU pulled the press release from their site, and a growing number of Life editors tendered their resignations, but by then the paper was out in the world.

In this particular case, the flaws of the original paper were so extreme and so obvious that the story didn’t make it too far before the backlash began. Today, much of the discussion around Andrulis consists of debates as to whether he has committed a hoax or is suffering from mental illness. (PZ Myers tends toward the second explanation, describing the event as “a developing personal tragedy” and expressing the hope that Andrulis “gets the care he clearly needs.”)

But most bad research isn’t anywhere near this bad, and so most press-release-driven journalism never gets properly debunked. I’ve written a bunch of posts about bad academic research on students, and in almost every instance my attention was drawn to the shoddy work by breathless media coverage of somebody’s overheated press release.

Continuing my liveblogging today — Thursday — on the second day of Occupy Cal. Newest updates at the top of the page.

9:30 am | An odd quote from Berkeley Dean of Social Sciences Carla Hesse in the Daily Cal, apparently from comments she made yesterday:

“‘I’d like [the activists] to think about what they’re doing,’ she said. ‘I’m worried if they destroy property, the public isn’t going to be very sympathetic.'”

But the group’s only formal statement, distributed earlier that day, said “We will remain peaceful and non-violent. We will do everything to ensure the campus is a safe space and will not engage in vandalism. We will take care of each other and the space we create.” There had been no indication of any plans for vandalism or property destruction.

The campus administration, however, had at the time Hesse spoke already made it clear that even peaceful, nonviolent, nondestructive protest would not be tolerated on the Berkeley campus if it did not conform to the university’s restrictions in every detail. UC police have for the last two years shown repeatedly that they are willing to engage in physical violence against peaceful protesters, and they did so again yesterday afternoon, not long after Hesse spoke.

9:25 am | Word on Twitter is that all 39 of yesterday’s arrestees have been released. Professor Celeste Langam reportedly sent out an email to friends on the faculty saying that she will make a public statement on her arrest at a later time. Meanwhile, a small group of activists spent the night in Sproul Plaza, apparently keeping one small tent up overnight. Next meeting scheduled for ten o’clock.

6:05 am | Yesterday the Berkeley administration made Occupy Cal an offer they had to know would be flatly rejected — the students and others could stay on Sproul Plaza, but with no tents. And no sleeping bags. Also no sleeping. And they would have to leave in a week. This wasn’t a good faith negotiation or an attempt to reach an accommodation that would — as Birgenau suggested he was hoping to — control “costly and avoidable expenses.” It was a piece of theater, a prelude to the use of police violence against peacefully demonstrating students on an American public university campus.

5:50 am| Lots to cover this morning, including the arrests of 39 people on the Berkeley campus, but I guess this is as good a place to start as any: Berkeley chancellor Robert Birgenau yesterday justified the bust of Occupy Cal with the following statement: “We simply cannot afford to spend our precious resources and, in particular, student tuition, on costly and avoidable expenses associated with violence or vandalism.”

Wow. That’s just … breathtaking.

5:46 am Pacific Time Thursday | I continued to track the events of last night (both Cal and Penn State) on Twitter yesterday evening, but didn’t manage to get back here for an overview post before literally falling asleep at my keyboard. It was a long day. Resuming coverage now.

5:59 pm Wednesday | Good roundup of the day up to now is here.

5:58 pm | Done with dinner. While I was gone the police retreated. Six arrests, apparently dozens of student injuries. All but two tents confiscated, but those two tents are still standing. Activists are requesting that the Berkeley administration explicitly — and publicly — declare that the police will not be directed to roust the encampment.

3:47 pm | Cops in riot gear are wading into the crowd with batons drawn, breaking the student line defending the tents. Activists are chanting “stop beating students” and “what law are we breaking?”

3:45 pm | Okay, I’m going to be late for dinner.

3:30 pm | I’m on the East Coast, and I’ve got dinner plans I can’t break. Back in a bit. I’ll be on twitter at @studentactivism as much as politeness allows.

3:20 pm | Latest tweet: “Police issuing a dispersal order. Against students. At a rally. On campus. At 3:15 on a Wednesday. That’s fucked up. #OccupyCal

3:08 pm | As I just tweeted, it’s a hell of a lot easier to take down a tent with nobody in it. And a hell of a lot harder to bust someone who’s in a tent. If Occupy Cal succeeds in setting up an encampment, the UCPD situation changes dramatically.

3:05 pm | Have been tweeting rather than liveblogging for the last little while because so much is in flux, but it appears that Occupy Cal students moved immediately to set up tents after the GA vote, and that UCPD immediately swept in to take them down. But then students locked arms in a semi-enclosed part of the lawn to protect their friends, and tents got set up behind their line.

2:49 pm | The vote on the encampment at the GA was 456-1 with 12 abstentions.

2:44 pm | A Daily Cal reporter is tweeting that there are no votes in opposition to the encampment proposal and only a handful of abstentions.

2:40 pm | The initial UC occupations in the wave of student action that began a little over two years ago tended to be “closed,” meaning that students (and others) took over buildings and barricaded themselves inside, shutting them down. As the movement developed, it evolved in the direction of “open” occupations, in which folks occupied spaces but left them accessible to others while the occupation was going on. That shift was not accompanied by a corresponding shift in UC administrative tolerance of the occupations — notably, 66 people were arrested on December 11, 2009 in an early-morning police raid on an open, peaceful occupation of Berkeley’s Wheeler Hall.

It’s now looking like a new occupation strategy is being adopted at Berkeley — the open-air encampment. My hunch is that the administration will find mass arrests of such a group hard to justify, but they’ve never backed down before.

This is going to be interesting.

2:33 pm | Twitter reports say the proposal for an encampment is receiving serious discussion and debate at the Berkeley general assembly. One report from a reliable observer not long ago put the size of the GA at something like 1000 people. The Berkeley administration has said it won’t tolerate an encampment, but it’s hard to imagine them going through with arrests on anything like that scale, particularly if — as I assume it will — this occupation is of a lawn rather than a building.

2:25 pm | From the draft statement: “We will remain peaceful and non-violent. We will do everything to ensure the campus is a safe space and will not engage in vandalism. We will take care of each other and the space we create. We will organize. We will have fun. We will not end our encampment until we are ready.”

2:15 pm | The Daily Cal has the text of a draft statement from #OccupyCal establishing a UC Berkeley encampment.

1:50 pm | The Sproul rally marched to the Bank of America branch and back. Next up: A General Assembly meeting.

1:09 pm | Not much of a surprise, but now it’s official: Occupy Cal will be setting up an encampment today.

1:08 pm | Word on Twitter is that the Berkeley demonstrators will be marching on a Bank of America branch at Telegraph and Durant, just a block off campus right by the Sproul Plaza entrance.

1:00 pm | Just tweeted this: “UC admin has quieted student protest since 2009 with mass arrests. Now there’s 1000s out at Berkeley. What next? #OccupyCal”

12:50 pm | On Twitter @jpanzar says there are a lot of faculty at today’s rally. Given the way that UC profs have distanced themselves from UC student protest in the last year or so, that’s a big deal.

12:47 pm | Sign: “Arab Spring, Chilean Winter: Meet the American Fall.”

12:43 pm | The Daily Californian, Berkeley’s student newspaper, has an #OccupyCal liveblog up here.

12:40 pm | Today’s Berkeley rally began a little over half an hour ago. According to multiple on-the-scene observers, the crowd already numbers in the thousands.

12:27 pm Pacific Time | Today the Occupy movement is coming home to Berkeley, and early reports suggest this is already the biggest action to hit the Berkeley campus since the September 2009 walkout that launched the contemporary student movement nationwide.

There’s lots of important stuff in the AAUW’s new report on sexual harassment in American high schools and middle schools, but I do want to highlight one small finding that hasn’t yet drawn much attention.

The study asked students to identify which kinds of kids were at highest risk for harassment. Ranking second on the list, chosen by 41% of respondents, was “girls who are very pretty.” Fourth on the list, chosen by 32%, was “girls who are not very pretty or not very feminine.”

Yep.

Oh, and first on the list? “Girls whose bodies are really developed, more than other girls.”

Last? “Boys who are good looking.”

Sexual harassment is misogyny. That’s what it is.

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StudentActivism.net is the work of Angus Johnston, a historian and advocate of American student organizing.

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