A Look Back on The Occupation of Alcatraz

Today, we’ll turn on the news or look at online articles, and we’ll see a lot of what’s going on with the Occupy movements, a collection of events that many of us have followed for the past couple of months. We can even walk around campus and find information about the OccupySFSU movement. Knowing about these events currently, many of us look back to the San Francisco State 1968 strikes as an inspiration and motivation to speak out. However, we should also look back at a very important and very meaningful occupation movement: the Occupation of Alcatraz.

This nineteen-month-long movement (November 20th, 1969-June 11th, 1971) first began with, and primarily included urban Native American Indian college students from around the Bay Area, and was planned by Richard Oakes (Mohawk). This movement was a response to Nixon’s Termination policy, which called to end all Indian Treaties made with the United States. It was also a response to all of the mistreatment of the Native American Indians, because of the different laws made by the United States Government over the years.

“Up to that time, Congress had passed some 5,000 laws dealing with Indians, and most of them were bad for Indians.”—Dean Chavers, in his article “Alcatraz Occupation Four Decades Ago Led to Many Benefits for American Indians” from Indian Country Today.

Indigenous people (later to be known as the Ohlone) have been on Alcatraz about 10,000 to 20,000 years before any of the European settlers appeared on this land. Then, during the occupation, the many people involved represented various tribes, and had all identified themselves as “Indians of All Tribes.”

What’s different about the Alcatraz occupation, and the Occupy movements of today (besides the reasons as to why the people involved with the movements have protested) is the organization of the publicity, and spreading the word to others about what’s going on. Today, we can use social networking, such as Facebook invites, twitter posts, and even emails. However, the information about Alcatraz occupation took much more effort and time to spread (again, this movement took place way before internet!).

“An ‘Indian Desk’ was set up at the SAC offices to handle public relations. The office was initially staffed by Livermore and other Indian volunteers. One worker summed up the efforts of the many volunteers: ‘Everyday was HECTIC, but wonderful.’”—Johnson, The American Indian Occupation of Alcatraz Island

It’s very awesome and inspiring to see and look back on this kind of movement done by young people who stood together for a change they longed to see, just like today’s Occupy protesters.

A Further Look into Campus Strikes

Two books called, The Long Walk at San Francisco State by Kay Boyle (which is an account from her own perspective of the 1968 strikes on SF State Campus) and Confrontation on Campus by Art Seidenbaum (a collective view of many well-known strikes on California university campuses), were recently donated to the ROMC Library. To be given these books means that the collection for the 1968 strikes can grow further as well, and can help give information to students about how the University was able to get the Ethnic Studies program that it’s well-known for today. It also means that students can get a detailed look at what campus protests looked like from decades ago, how these protests rose, and what issues these protests were based on.

As many students today have gone to the recent Occupy SFSU movement’s general assembly meetings, and are continuing to work together against CSU tuition hikes, the feelings of wanting to get our opinions heard as San Francisco State Students are rising. The donation of these two books give the ROMC archives more growth, as well as more of a power to educate students about the culture of our school from long ago, in comparison to today’s culture, as well as reinforcing that we as individuals at San Francisco State have voices. In other words, it is an awesome opportunity to have gotten these books, while our current events of the Bay Area have had a lot to do with protest.

In the book The Long Walk at San Francisco State, Kay Boyle who at the time was an instructor in the English Department in the late 1960’s, recalls the relationship that developed between students and faculty, as well as between all different races, because of the cause they fought for:

“We saw our students for longer periods, and in many instances more frequently than we had in our classrooms, for without willing it, and without wholly understanding it, we had become outcasts together, and the old artificial barriers were no longer there. Black, oriental, white, and Mexican, were resisting together the armed invasion of a territory we knew was entirely our own.”

–Kay Boyle, The Long Walk at San Francisco State

Art Seidenbaum, author of Confrontation on Campus, says that even peaceful efforts to fight can be seen as violent pushes for the cause:

“Society’s attention has effectively been called with predominantly hostile result. Polls indicate that the general public—more than administrators, more than politicians, and certainly more than faculty members—is more than fed up with college unrest and in a mood to punish. Legitimate questions concerning campus governance, obscured for the public by the ‘non-negotiable demands,’ nonsensical vandalism, and Anglo—Saxon name calling.”

–Art Seidenbaum, Confrontation on Campus