The April Third Movement was a life-changing experience for hundreds of Stanford students in the 1960s and 1970s. Sent to Stanford by our parents who anticipated we would receive a top-notch education, we found ourselves transforming the very world we were studying. As we read about the War in Southeast Asia, we came to understand the role of the United States, and of Stanford University, in conducting and perpetuating that War. We saw films of the Vietnamese people, living and working and educating their children under ground, to avoid the bombs being dropped by the United States. We witnessed the destruction of their small country, as the bombs devastated the crops and the countryside and the people. We were haunted by anguished women and children running from U.S. planes loaded with deadly napalm.
Our reactions to what we saw and read were colored by our knowledge that Stanford University was complicit in this war on the people of Southeast Asia. We learned that research to develop chemical, biological and other high-tech weapons, as well as electronic warfare and counter-insurgency techniques, was being conducted at Stanford. The War was being waged in our own backyard. And we felt personally responsible.
We spent countless hours studying, discussing and strategizing to end the War. No action was taken without lengthy study and debate as we tried to implement “participatory democracy.” Hundreds of students sat in buildings, occupied the Stanford Industrial Park and defended ourselves against tear gas when the police reacted to our civil disobedience. We risked our futures as many of us were arrested or disciplined by the Stanford power structure.
Our political awakening was inextricably bound up with our personal development. We found ourselves in the midst of a cultural revolution, as we questioned authority, elevated love over destruction and underwent profound transformation in our lifestyles. We strove for equality – between races, between sexes and between classes. We studied together, we worked together, we lived together. Our values were reflected in the music we loved, performed by the poets of our time – Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs, Simon and Garfunkel, Nina Simone, Jefferson Airplane, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead.
Ultimately, we were successful. Our efforts contributed to ending the War. But it didn’t stop there. Many of our lives have been guided by the values we internalized during our days in the April Third Movement (named for the date in 1969 when we decided to sit in at the Applied Electronics Laboratory; the occupation lasted eleven days). We have continued to do progressive work as community organizers, educators, lawyers, journalists, farmers, doctors, poets, politicians and scholars (to name a few). And we salute the activism of the current Stanford students as you try to make the world a better place, by supporting workers, minorities, gays and lesbians and environmentalists in their struggles for justice.
The University must be a laboratory for both theory and practice. It is here we have the opportunity to study; but it is here we also have the responsibility to use our knowledge to change ourselves, and in turn, our community. Please join us this weekend as we look back at the 60s and 70s as well as ahead to the next century. Let us work together to make the world a more humane place for all.