Activism Through the Years
By Daily Bruin Staff
Feb. 22, 1996 9:00 p.m.
Activism Through the Years
History of UCLA rife with student political protests
By Brooke Olson
Daily Bruin Staff
For more than 75 years, UCLA has reflected the world during
times of political and social unrest.
From the 1930s Communist Red Scare to the current 1996
affirmative action demonstrations, UCLA students have continually
and loudly reacted to controversial government and administrative
This political activism has not gone unnoticed. Last year, UCLA
was ranked among the top 10 activist campuses by Mother Jones
This year, the legacy of campus activism continued in the form
of a massive 3,000 student protest supporting affirmative action in
October and Wednesday’s sit-ins at Bunche and Murphy Halls.
Campus activists are well aware of the tradition they’re
continuing – a tradition that began in 1934, when Provost Ernest
Moore declared UCLA "one of the worst hotbeds of communism in the
Later that year, Moore suspended five UCLA students, including
the undergraduate president, for alleged communist sympathies. This
action, made without consent of university authorities, enraged
students all across the campus.
The next day, more than 3,000 students swamped Royce Quad,
protesting the suspension. Protesters threw a police officer into
the bushes, but dispersed before any arrests were made. University
President Robert Sproul revoked the student suspensions in the
Unlike the anti-establishment protests of the 1930s, UCLA
activists in the 1940s ardently supported causes such as World War
Students openly displayed their support of both the soldiers and
the war by wearing soldier uniforms. Fraternity houses were
converted into barracks for naval cadets.
But in the late 1960s and 70s, with the deployment of U.S.
soldiers to Vietnam, college campuses – including UCLA – erupted
with violent and often deadly protests.
Newspaper clippings attest to the resurgence of demonstrations,
and the pages are filled with photos of police in riot gear and
students clutching each other’s hands in opposition to the war.
The protests at UCLA began in 1967, when more than 500 students
protested Dow Chemicals recruitment of college graduates. Dow
produced napalm, a deadly burning chemical used in firebombs during
the Vietnam War. Demonstrators charged that by allowing Dow to
recruit on campus, the university was complicitly involved with the
Jeffrey Palmer, an undergraduate student at that time, likened
Dow to "an American version of Dachau and Auschwitz."
Graduate students donned black robes and grim reaper attire in
protest of the recruitment when they attended job interviews for
One week later, on Nov. 15, 1967, 250 students staged a 4
1Å½2 hour sit-in at the administration building to protest the
war. The demonstration ended after then Vice Chancellor Charles
Young, in compliance with the protesters’ demands, ordered the
police off campus.
Letters protesting Vietnam dominated the Daily Bruin’s Viewpoint
pages, and students routinely gathered at Royce Quad to denounce
The war dragged on and the number of violent student protests
increased as the months progressed.
In May 1968, Young was appointed chancellor of UCLA. In an
interview with the Bruin 28 years ago, Young said he did not
support the tactics students employed during their
"If you’ve got a legitimate beef, there is some way of being
heard and having appropriate action taken without having to sit in
the administration building or some other place," he said.
Less than a year later, on May 16, 1969, more than 1,500
students gathered outside a Board of Regents meeting at the Faculty
Center. Demanding an end to the war, students said they were
prepared to become violent to make their voices heard.
"It’s necessary to do everything as nonviolently as possible to
bring about change, then do everything violently as possible to
bring about a change," said John Donaldson, a student at that
More than 100 Los Angeles police officers, 30 highway patrol
officers, and 40 university police quickly and quietly dispersed
Five days later, 1,200 students filled Murphy Hall and held a
peaceful all-night sit-in.
The anti-war demonstrations were not the only conflict which
deeply divided UCLA.
Angela Davis, a controversial UCLA philosophy professor, was
fired in 1969 by the regents because of her political affiliations.
Davis was a member of the Che-Lumumba Club, an all black collective
of the Southern California Communist Party.
In a letter to Young, Davis announced that she was a communist.
Both Young and the university’s Academic Council displayed
unfaltering support for Davis, much to the shock and dismay of the
After Davis was fired by the regents, outrage erupted among
members of the campus community. Faculty threatened to withhold
grades if Davis was not reinstated. Nearly 2,000 students crammed
into Royce Hall’s auditorium when Davis delivered her first
lecture, despite the regents’ decision to remove credit for the
The students wore buttons reading "on campus, for credit, as
planned," and the overflowing audience gave the 25-year-old
professor a standing ovation.
On Oct. 22, Young complied a state superior court order
overruling the regents’ decision by restoring course credit to
Davis’s class. Eight months later, the regents again dismissed
Davis from the UCLA faculty.
Two years ago, in an interview with the Daily Bruin
commemorating his 25 years at UCLA, Young said the Davis
controversy was one of the most difficult decisions of his
"There was hardly a day I was free from the Angela Davis issue
from July 1969 to June 1970," Young said. "It was very stressful,
personally and institutionally."
Meanwhile, anti-war demonstrations continued to dominate and
divide the UCLA campus.
On May 5, 1970, students marched through campus, vandalizing
several campus buildings, including an ROTC building. A fire caused
$5,000 worth of damage, destroying part of Murphy Hall. Classes
were cancelled as the city declared UCLA to be in "a state of
emergency." Police arrested 74 students for failure to disperse and
for police battery.
The Daily Bruin documented police officers’ indifference and
oftentimes hostile attitude toward the protesters.
"We’re watching the animals play," a policeman said in reference
to the protesters in the May 5, 1970 issue of The Bruin.
"Yeah," another added, "they don’t have a cage big enough."
Police, as noted in the May 5 issue, were also tired of telling
the crowd to disperse.
"From now on, (police) tell you once, move, and if you don’t, we
arrest you, so get the hell out of here," one cop was quoted as
saying. "Nobody was hurt except one punk who resisted the whole
time down so we had to rough him up a little," added another
Two years later, more than 2,000 student protesters angrily
denounced the U.S.’s continued involvement in Vietnam. The month of
May was filled with massive protests and marches.
A spokesman for a leading campus organization said in the May 4,
1972 edition of The Bruin, that the anti-war protests would not end
until the United States involvement in Vietnam did.
"The students have led the spearhead against the war in Vietnam;
we must continue to make the country aware that a massive air war
is still being conducted in Southeast Asia," he said. The climax of
the protests occurred when protesters barricaded themselves inside
Murphy Hall. More than 200 L.A. police officers were needed to
remove the barricades, and 54 students were arrested.
But as the nation’s involvement declined and finally ended in
Vietnam, campus protests lost the fervor and size of the anti-war
Students, however, continued to protest and march for and
against various issues. Campus political debate in the 1980s
centered primarily on the South African government’s apartheid
policies, U.S.’s Central American policy, and the affirmative
In the April 8, 1980 issue of The Bruin, undergraduate student
Baback Naficy described the resurgence of activism.
"We are not going back to the 1960s but this is a revival – the
pendulum is swinging back," he said.
On April 23, 1985, 2,000 students boycotted classes and staged
an anti-apartheid rally. The students were protesting the regents’
$2.3 billion investment in companies which conduct business in
South Africa, saying it perpetuated a system of racial segregation.
More than 200 students spent the night in Murphy Hall.
One year later, another anti-apartheid rally was held by 2,000
students who barricaded themselves inside the Placement and Career
Planning Center. Police arrested 25 students for failing to
In the 1990s, the campus continues to be rocked by student
activism; however, instead of national and international issues,
university and statewide concerns dominated the scene.
On May 12, 1993, in a massive show of support for the creation
of a Chicana/o studies department, more than 150 students staged a
five-hour sit-in the UCLA Faculty Center.
The rally became an ugly confrontation with police as students
refused to leave the private club until the administrators agreed
to their demands. Students broke windows, ripped up a $20,000
painting and wrote "Save Chicano studies" on the walls. Police
arrested 83 students and charged 80 of them with misdemeanor
Two days later, more than 500 students, staff, and faculty
members marched peacefully to Young’s office, demanding that the
program be implemented. Demonstrations were peaceful after the
arrests, and continued almost weekly until the program was
On May 24, nine protesters began a 13-day hunger strike, which
ultimately led administrators to create an interdisciplinary center
for Chicana/o studies.
From 1994 to 1995, the front pages of The Bruin were dominated
by anti-Proposition 187 protests, Student Association of Graduate
Employee (SAGE) recognition demands, and ROTC anti-discrimination
The Proposition 187 protests began on Oct. 7, 1994, when 200
students and staff marched up Bruin Walk, yelling that the
initiative was discriminatory. After California voters
overwhelmingly passed Proposition 187 on Nov. 11, more than 100
UCLA law students and faculty organized a walk-out in opposition to
Seven days later, 26 students who protested the initiative by
sitting in Murphy Hall, were arrested by university police in full
The Proposition 187 protests were not the only demonstrations on
campus. On Oct. 25, 1994, SAGE rallied for university recognition.
To this day, UCLA has refused to recognize the organization as a
legitimate bargaining union.
Last year was also notable for the anti-fee hikes protests. In
1994, students from all UC campuses presented the regents with more
than 5,000 T-shirts. The message was that the shirts can be taken
off student’s backs, but fee hikes would not be tolerated.
For three years, students have been successful in stalling
further fee hikes and this year has been no exception. Since 1995,
the undergraduate government has organized postcard campaigns and
phone call-ins to the regents in protest of the fee hikes. Two
months ago, the regents voted to not increase fees for the 1996-97
But the most notable protests this year, though, were those
supporting affirmative action.
On Oct. 12, 1995, 3,000 students marched from the UCLA campus to
a major Los Angeles intersection to protest the regents’ July 20th
decision to abolish affirmative action.
The march, which ended with the arrest of 31 UCLA students, was
the culmination of the student-organized "12 Days of Education,"
which began on Oct. 1.
This Wednesday, student activist groups reignited the fire
against the ban on affirmative action. More than 600 students
occupied Bunche Hall and Murphy Hall for more than four hours, and
submitted Young with five demands.
Student groups today acknowledge that the mistakes of the past
have not gone unlearned.
"We’ve definitely begun to learn from the mistakes of the past
and we are trying new things," said Max Espinoza, the chairperson
of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de AztlÃ¡n (MEChA).
"The oppression of (students) continues to exist today … but,
as grass-roots organization (we), much like other campuses, will
continue to affect immediate as well as long-term social change in
Daily Bruin File Photo
Protesters rally against apartheid in the mid-80s.
Daily Bruin File Photo
A demonstrator is arrested while protesting in the Faculty
Center during a show of support for the Chicana/o studies center in
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