Thursday, January 17, 2008

Third World Student Strikes at SFSU & UCB 1968-1969

“On strike, shut it down!”

In 1968-69, African American, Asian American, Chicano and Native American students at San Francisco State College and University of California, Berkeley organized campus coalitions known as the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF). TWLF led student strikes demanded the establishment of Third World Colleges comprised of departments of Asian American, African American, Chicano and Native American Studies. Significance of these strikes were twofold: first, minority student were able to unite in solidarity against institutional racism and second, the strikes won the formation of Ethnic Studies programs.

The concept "Third World" provided a common basis of unity for the TWLF student activists. The term identified parallel colonial and racial experiences of minorities throughout US history. Examples of common racial oppression included: genocide of the native Indians, enslavement of Africans, colonization of Chicanos in the Southwest, and the passage of Asian immigration exclusion. This past was linked with the history of Western colonization in the Third World countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America. The international movements for independence and self-determination in those locales were viewed as related to the demands of U.S. Third World minorities for political power.

Strike tactics involved informational picketing, blocking of campus entrances, mass rallies and teach-ins. Popular support was often met with repression in the form of police arrests, teargas and campus disciplinary actions. Police mutual assistance pacts enabled the rapid formations of riot squads dispatched from throughout the SF Bay area. During the Fall and Spring semesters of 1968-9, hundreds of students were arrested during the SF State strike, including more than 450 on one sweep alone. Similarly, over 155 students were arrested at the UC Berkeley strike which lasted the entire Winter Quarter of 1969. In the last two weeks of the dispute, the UC campus witnessed the stationing of National Guard troops to maintain martial law.

Establishment of ethnic studies programs has been one of the chief legacies of the strike. These programs have expanded nationally in over 250 universities, colleges and high schools. Both UC Berkeley and SF State University provide undergraduate and graduate degree programs in Ethnic Studies. Another important legacy of the strikes involved the establishment of closer working relationship between students and community. The post-TWLF era witnessed large numbers of Asian American students becoming involved in community-based organizing efforts within the Asian American movement. The International Hotel anti-eviction movement and the establishment of community centers in San Francisco Chinatown-Manilatown and Japantown were an outgrowth of this legacy.

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