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It’s Not the Old Days, but Berkeley Sees a New Spark of Protest

Protesters march in Berkeley, Calif., Monday, Dec. 8, 2014. in response to police killings in Missouri and New York. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Protesters march in Berkeley, Calif., Monday, Dec. 8, 2014. in response to police killings in Missouri and New York. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

BERKELEY, Calif. (New York Times) — This is the college town where the Free Speech Movement was born 50 years ago, spreading across the nation with sit-ins, marches, demonstrations and arrests. So at first glance, the demonstrations against police conduct in Ferguson, Mo., and on Staten Island that gripped Berkeley over the past few days should be no surprise.

But the University of California campus here today is nothing like the one that became the symbol of student activism in the 1960s, with its demonstrations for civil rights and protests against the Vietnam War.

Large-scale activism here is mostly the nostalgic cause of the aging Berkeley graduates who never really left and who talk of the “F.S.M.,” in-the-know shorthand for the Free Speech Movement. A small number of them showed up in October for a subdued and decidedly gray 50th anniversary rally marking the arrest that started it all.

Now, Berkeley is again racked by protests, fueled in part by the student body here. On recent nights, protesters have come out in force — more than 1,500 were estimated to have taken part in Monday night’s demonstrations, in which 159 people were arrested, an Amtrak train was stopped in its tracks, a central freeway was closed down for hours, and the BART system was halted.

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