Bettina Aptheker (1944 - )
Bettina Aptheker, who at the age of five fell in love with her first woman, has dedicated her life to social justice. The daughter of a renowned Marxist scholar, she herself was a devoted member of the Communist Party until later leaving it. She is now a professor in feminist studies.
As a child she protested on behalf of the Rosenbergs, an American couple many believed were unjustly accused of being Russian spies and, in 1953, executed. (At an Eisenhower White House picketing she insisted on carrying her own sign: “Save the Rosenbergs.”) At seventeen, while participating in a peaceful “Ban the Bomb” anti-nuclear rally attacked by police, she “went down” after feeling a policeman's “club crash across [her] ribs.”
In college she co-led events known as the “Free Speech Movement” by serving on its Steering Committee. Taking place at the University of California in Berkeley, the movement was energized by civil rights activities happening in the South. It began in the fall of 1964 in response to the University's ban on student political activity. On campus property, according to Aptheker's FSM narrative published the following year, students could “no longer advocate off-campus political and social action” or even “take partisan views in the  election.” In response, FSM activists claimed the “right to advocate freely on the campus without being subject to University discipline.” As stated in one of their leaflets: “The range of civil liberties and political freedoms” “constitutionally protected” off campus should be “equally protected” on campus. When, while tabling on campus for the civil rights group, the Congress of Racial Equality, a student was arrested and put in a police car, hundreds of students blocked its exit. On a speaker's platform—the roof of the police car—Aptheker, quoting Frederick Douglass, declared, “Power concedes nothing without a demand!”
“Free speech” was considered to be no mere abstraction. Protecting it was deemed a crucial test of political liberty. For students a “maximization of political freedom” was essential. To help achieve it, they organized a non-violent sit-in at Sproul Hall, an administrative building, on December third. Their action was met by club-wielding cops. Aptheker noted that police “hurled epithets,” “dug their nails into the bare skin of girls' stomachs,” clubbed the guys and “kicked [them] in the groin,” and dragged students “up and down stairs.” She also was kicked and punched and, though she was born on U.S. soil, called “a goddamn Russian Jew” by law enforcers. With nearly eight hundred students arrested, it was the largest mass arrest in California's history.
Yet, on December 14, University regents announced that regulations governing free speech and assembly would henceforth “not go beyond the purview of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.” As a result, freer speech appeared on college campuses throughout the country. At the time Aptheker pinpointed the University's Board of Regents, comprised of the “Big Business elite,” as the “real force seeking the suppression of the rights of the students.” In 1966, in a booklet titled Big Business and the American University, she elaborated: “Indeed, the universities are controlled by the most reactionary sections of this corporate elite,” who emphasize “training students rather than teaching them.” “It has led,” she maintained, “toward computerized education in the 'knowledge factory' to serve society as it is, instead of academic institutions dedicated to the improvement and progress of society as a whole.”
1. Bettina F. Aptheker, Intimate Politics: How I Grew Up Red, Fought for Free Speech, and Became a Feminist Rebel (Emeryville: Seal, 2006), 23.
2. Intimate, 21.
3. Intimate, 69.
4. Intimate, 133.
5. Bettina Aptheker, “Women and the FSM,” “from the panel 'The Story of the Free Speech Movement' at the 1984 FSM Reunion,”Free Speech Movement Archives, http://www.fsm-a.org/stacks/b_aptheker84.html.
6. Bettina Aptheker, FSM: The Free Speech Movement at Berkeley: An Historical Narrative (San Francisco: W.E.B. DuBois Clubs of America, 1965), 2.
7. FSM, 10.
8. “Provisional Platform of the Free Speech Movement,” (n.d.), 1, a leaflet.
9. Intimate, 131.
10. Intimate, 159.
11. Intimate, 159.
12. FSM, 15.
13. FSM, 17.
14. Intimate, 145.
15. Jo Freeman, The Berkeley Free Speech Movement, http://www.uic.edu/orgs/cwluherstory/jofreeman/sixtiesprotest/berkeley.htm.
16. David Burner, Berkeley Free Speech Movement, 1963-64: A Narrative Summary, http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/50s/berkeley.html.
17. Intimate, 152.
18. Bettina Aptheker, Big Business and the American University (New York: New Outlook, 1966), .
19. Big, 5.
20. Big, 5.
21. Intimate, 157.
22. Intimate, 155.
23. Intimate, 162.
24. Intimate, 199.
25. Chronological Index of the Archives of the Free Speech Movement, Part 1, Sept to End Nov. 1964, Free Speech Movement Archives, http://www.fsm-a.org/stacks/chrono-table1.html.
26. "Provisional Platform of the Free Speech Movement," , 2.
27. Intimate, 146.
28. Intimate, 146.
29. Intimate, 146.
30. Bettina Aptheker, FSM: the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley, an Historical Narrative (San Francisco: W. E. B. DuBois Clubs of America, 1965), 1.
31. Bettina Aptheker, Big Business and the American University (New York: New Outlook, 1966), 5.
32. Big, 5.