In 1957 a series of events led to the formation of a UC Berkeley campus political party, TASC (Towards an Active Student Community). TASC was one of the first student political organizations in the rising New Left and student movements and an important influence on these movements. It emerged slowly, at a time when University rules prohibited student organizations from taking positions "on political and related controversies." Yet off campus controversies regularly impinged on campus life.
TASC, and then SLATE, grew out of the student government on the UC Berkeley Campus. On February 19, 1957 Associated Students of University of California (ASUC) Graduate Representative Ralph Shaffer raised the issue of discrimination in UC Berkeley organizations. Shaffer asked the ASUC student government to deny recognition to any groups that restricted membership according to race, color or religious or national origin. While the fraternities and sororities were not specifically named they were the implied targets because their memberships were often restricted by race and religion. The national charters of most fraternities and sororities restricted membership by race and religion as well as gender. Campus houses could not remain affiliated with national if they did not follow the national rules.
The Executive Committee of the ASUC refused to act on this issue. Because of the debate and the Executive Committee's refusal to become involved, fellow graduate student Fritjof Thygeson proposed the formation of a campus political party at UC Berkeley. Shaffer, Thygeson and Rick White formed TASC, a political org of students who could to run for ASUC office and force discussion of discrimination and other such issues that affected both the campus and the greater society, nationally and internationally. TASC linked local and international issues of social and political importance and related these to the society that the students were hearing about and preparing to enter. TASC campaigned specifically against racial discrimination in fraternity and sorority housing, as well as against apartheid in South Africa. It campaigned for free speech on campus and voluntary ROTC and against the loyalty oath, the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee), and it vigorously opposed nuclear testing.
TASC modeled itself on the British Labour Party in holding resignations from its candidates with the understanding that the party could accept these if, once elected, the candidates strayed from the party platform. The California Socialist Party used the same practice around World War I. However, this concept was too foreign for contemporary US consciousness, and the resulting furor on campus ended TASC 's short life.
Only Thygeson won a seat in the Spring 1957 election on the TASC ticket. However in late 1957 senior Mike Miller, who had been elected to the ASUC government a year earlier, resigned in protest to what he called its "sandbox politics". He called together a group of student leaders including former members of TASC and other previously unaffiliated students, and proposed they run as a "slate" for student government office. This "slate" quickly rejuvenated interest in serious student politics on the campus. While in that first election (Fall 1957) none of the members of the "slate" were elected, they did gain from thirty to forty percent of the vote. Perhaps more importantly, twice the number of students voted in the election compared to the previous election with TASC candidates.
On February 5, 1958, SLATE was officially organized. The Temporary SLATE Coordinating Committee included Charleen Rains, Owen Hill, Patrick Hallinan, Peter Franck, Fritjof Thygeson and Mike Miller. Soon after, February 28- March 1, 1958, SLATE held an organizing convention during which roughly one hundred students founded SLATE to run candidates "committed to a common platform for student office in order to engage in issue-oriented political education both on and off campus. But SLATE did much more. It educated students on issues and actively worked for benefits to students such as a "fair bear" minimum wage and affordable housing. Toward this end it published the Cal Reporter, a four page newspaper, put out pamphlets and brought outside speakers to campus to address a variety of issues.
SLATE was involved with both on-and off-campus issues such as "fair bear" minimum wages for students and affordable housing for students. SLATE led protests against compulsory ROTC, demonstrations against the death penalty, protests against the California House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and protests against racial discrimination. The organization and its work were quickly noted across the country. Tom Hayden spent part of the summer of 1960 living with SLATE leaders in Berkeley and learning of their methods. On returning to the University of Michigan that fall, (where he had just been appointed editor of the student daily newspaper,) Hayden formed Voice, a campus political party at Ann Arbor.
Beginning in 1960 SLATE sponsored four well-attended summer conferences, focusing on issues such as student political action, civil rights movement, and educational reform.
SLATE was the first model for a number of similar campus political parties that came into existence in the next few years, including PLATFORM at UCLA, FOCUS at Reed, SCOPE at San Francisco State, ACTION at Columbia, TASC and SPUR at San Jose State, THINK at the University of Oklahoma, Progressive Students League at Oberlin, DECLARE at UC Riverside, Independent Student Union in Los Angeles, SCOPE at the University of Illinois, and several others. Many of these organizations were assisted by members of SLATE and there were personal contacts between SLATE organizers and organizers at other campuses. The University administration was from the start wary of the popularity and pronounced liberal-left leaning politics of SLATE. (SLATE was jokingly referred to as the "Student League Accused of Trying to Exist"). The administration routinely and continually tried to diminish SLATE's popularity and political power on campus. Overwhelming graduate student support for SLATE led, in April 1959, to the University disassociating graduate students from the ASUC, in an effort to take away some of SLATE's electoral power. However, in the May 1959 election SLATE candidate David Armor beat fraternity-backed independent candidate, Dan Lubbock for student body president. Also during that election SLATE candidate Cindy Lembke was elected representative-at-large. Two SLATE graduate students, Marv Sternberg and W. Carey McWilliams, still on the ballot, were elected graduate student representatives (though they would not be allowed to serve). The dissociation of graduate students took away SLATE's largest constituent and much of its electoral power and while the group continued to run candidates following the 1959 decision, few SLATE candidates were elected.
Beginning as early as 1956, students Henry di Suvero, Peter Franck and Pat Denton, who would later join TASC and most of whom would become leaders of SLATE had, with the encouragement of Clark Kerr (then Chancellor of the Berkeley campus and later President of the University), worked to modify "Rule 17" which limited the free speech and political organizing abilities of students on campus. Kerr encouraged these student leaders to lobby the University President Robert Gordon Sproul to modify rule 17 and allow political speakers and meetings on the campus. However, after becoming UC President, Kerr would later (October 1959) issue the Kerr Directives, which reorganized and codified the rules, (including Rule 17) for political participation on UC campuses and severely limited student groups' ability to organize or speak out on contemporary political events.
As an officially recognized student organization SLATE was not permitted to talk about off-campus issues on campus. It and other student groups generally discussed such issues on the city side of Sather Gate, where Telegraph Avenue turned into Allston Way. Speakers stood on soap boxes, car roofs and trucks parked at the curb to address students standing on the bridge over Strawberry Creek. As a recognized student group SLATE members could speak on campus, but only about issues approved by the administration. In March of 1959 SLATE asked permission to speak on campus in support a Fair Housing ordinance then on the Berkeley ballot and to protest the listing of privately-owned rental units in the University Housing Office that were only available to whites. When the Dean of Students said "no" SLATE asked for permission to hold a rally to discuss the denial.
When the Dean again said no a group of SLATE members held the rally anyway. The students. called into the Dean's office for discipline. were accompanied by the Executive Director of the Northern California Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Subsequently, the Student Judicial Committee exonerated the SLATE members.
In April of 1960 SLATE helped organize students to protest at hearings to be held in San Francisco's City Hall by the House Un-American Activities Committee. An 18-year-old Cal Sophomore was among those subpoenaed by HUAC. On May 13, after students were refused admission to the second day of the hearings, they sat down outside the closed door of the committee room and began to sing. The police turned on the fire hydrants and hosed the students down the 36 marble steps of City Hall. Of the 64 arrested, 31 were Cal students. The next day several thousand students and longshoremen surrounded San Francisco City Hall in protest and HUAC left town.
HUAC subpoenaed TV footage and gave it to a commercial company, which heavily edited it into a 45 minute film that distorted what had happened. Operation Abolition falsely claimed that the demonstrations were Communist-led and inspired. The ACLU produced its own version of "Operation Correction" with a more accurate sound track. Shown to 15 million people all over the country, the films effectively advertised Cal as the place where the action was. In December of 1960, SLATE produced "Sounds of Protest," a record in which Kenneth Kitch and Michael Tigar narrated a different version of what happened.
In 1962 SLATE took part in protests against during the Charter Day ceremonies, at which President John F. Kennedy spoke. Protesters used this event to protest against the resumption of nuclear testing, as well as US-Cuba relations, civil rights violations, both in the South and locally, as well as the activities of the HUAC and compulsory ROTC.
In the Spring of 1963 SLATE expanded its scope to include educational reform. In what would be the last issue of the Cal Reporter SLATE critiqued the education received by the typical undergraduate and provided advice on how to navigate the University. That summer's SLATE conference was on educational reform. In the fall SLATE published The SLATE Supplement to the General Catalog in eight mimeographed pages, which offered student evaluations and recommendations of courses and professors. The Supplement was among the first student evaluations of teachers and courses and was received critically by both the UC administration and the faculty. New and expanded issues appeared every semester for the next few years. Its review of courses and professors was very popular with students. Drawing on questionnaires, personal observation and interviews, it helped students make informed choices about which classes to take. In between these issues the Supplement published pamphlets on higher education. In the summer of 1964 the supplement to the Supplement was a "Letter to Undergraduates" by Brad Cleveland. In twelve pages Cleveland called for an "educational revolution" by "open, fierce, and thoroughgoing rebellion on this campus."
SLATE members took an active part in the formation and life of the Free Speech Movement (FSM) in 1964-1965. During these events SLATE candidates swept the December 8, 1964 ASUC election, Sandor Fuchs, Slate chairman and an FSM leader, said:
"The victory for Slate is a victory for the Free Speech Movement, and an independent ASUC. It comes at a time of the greatest victory for the student movement, just hours after the Academic Senate voted for full free speech on campus."
Art Goldberg and Sandor Fuchs, SLATE's Fall 1964 chairman, represented SLATE in the FSM, but many other SLATE members participated at all levels. Mario Savio, who quickly emerged as the chief spokesman for the FSM, had been in SLATE at one time. Bettina Aptheker had also run for ASUC office with the support of SLATE prior to the FSM. At the end of the Fall 1964 semester all seven of SLATE's candidates swept the ASUC elections. With the Spring 1965 elections SLATE came close to winning a majority in the ASUC, but it lost badly in the Fall.
During the life of SLATE, both as an on campus and off campus group, roughly 850 students were "card carrying" members of SLATE. SLATE members have held reunions in 1984, 2000, and 2004. Very many SLATE members have been politically active throughout their lives, in social movements, the labor movement, elective office, and the press, or worked in public education, academia, social work, public health and other human service professions.