Monday, January 16, 2012

Teach-In at Cal State Fullerton

The following is an excerpt from a work-in-progress called The Town I Live In.

On february 17, 1967, Cal State Fullerton hosted its first "Teach-In." What is a "Teach-In"? It was a relatively common thing in the 60s, an extra-curricular college event in which speakers were invited to give their thoughts on a wide variety of issues, often involving civil rights and U.S. government policy. The subject of the February 17th Teach-In was "The American Policy in Vietnam." It was sponsored by the CSF Understanding Asia Committee, a joint student/faculty group.

Dr. Stuart Silvers, the faculty advisor of the committee, explained the purpose of the Teach-In in an editorial in the Titan Times: "It is felt that now is a crucially important time to present as fully as possible an examination of the U.S. policy on South East Asia, and in particular Vietnam…In the face of continuing demonstrations and protests against the continuation of the war, the Administration continues with apparent impunity to increase the scale upon which it seeks to fight the war. This Administration continues this policy of escalation even in view of the reluctance of our allies to support us. There is virtually no support of America's policy in Vietnam, throughout so-called free world, yet we are continually told by members of the Cabinet and the President of the necessity of the war. Except for several unpopular and hence hard to buy magazines and newsletters, the mass media has offered, we believe, very little in the way of analysis which reflect positions alternative to those of the Johnson administration. Television and radio carry news reports from Washington which are in conflict with reports found in European newspapers and this has come to be known as the 'Credibility Gap.' This is serious, and in an attempt to do something toward bridging this gap, the Understanding Asia Committee has gathered a host of well-known spokesman for various positions with regard to U.S. foreign policy and especially Vietnam."

Among the speakers at the Teach-In were James Farmer, an economist from San Fernando Valley State College, who had spent two years in Vietnam from 1962-62; Edward M. Keating, founder and publisher of "Ramparts" a liberal catholic magazine; Robert Scheer, author of the book "How the U.S. Got Involved in Vietnam"; Theodore Edwards, the Southern California Chairman of the Socialist Workers Party, and a commentator on the Los Angeles radio station KPFK; John Harris, an African American civil rights activist, founder of the Watts Progressive Labor Party, and a participator in the famous "Freedom Rides" in the American South; economist Arthur Castens; and a special recorded message from philosopher Bertrand Russell.

News of the Teach-In alarmed local residents and politicians, who formed the Concerned Fullerton Citizens' Committee, and distributed handbills around neighborhoods asking questions like "Do You Want Berkeley in Fullerton?" The Fullerton Police Department was called in to maintain order in what was sure to be a controversial event.

On the day of the Teach-In, local groups set up protests outside the CSUF gym, where the event took place. Among the protestors were Ralph Forbes, president of the American Nazi Party in Southern California. Forbes partnered with Reverend William Fowler of El Monte to set up a makeshift speakers stand and say things like "If the same determination was shown in Vietnam as was shown in Germany, the war would be over now."

Local labor unions picketed the event, mostly the "communist" speakers. They carried signs reading: "We have traitors in the U.S." Inside the lobby of the gym, tables were set up representing groups like the Students for a Democratic Society. the Socialist Workers Party, and the black Muslims.

The event was open to the public, and was well-attended, by both supporters and opponents of the war in Vietnam. Attendance was estimated at over 1,000. Speakers were met with both boos and applause. President Langsdorf and others criticized the event for not booking more speakers in support of the war, as the vast majority of the speakers were against the war and for peace. Dr. Silvers replied to these remarks by stating: "More invitations were sent out to pro-administration representatives than to all others and the overwhelming majority of those invited declined." A student added "There is no paucity of official government views on the Vietnam conflict."

This event was unprecedented in Orange County, and its mixed response represented a growing conflict between the older conservative Republicans and the younger student Democrats in the county, a conflict that continues today.

Source: Daily Titan Archives

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