California Protests in the 1960s

Naked Memo

In the late 1960s protest movements swept the Western World, and perhaps no year saw more upheaval than 1968.  In Paris student demonstrators attempted, but eventually failed, to find common cause with striking workers.  The Prague Spring movement in Czechoslovakia, led by Alexander Dub?ek, was a period of political reform before it was brutally repressed by a Soviet Invasion.  Meanwhile, in the United States 1968 would go down as a bloody and contentious year.  That year’s Presidential Election was hotly contested, with the War in Vietnam a central issue, and at the Democratic Party Convention in August there were massive protests with hundreds of arrests.  In April 1968 Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and on June 5, 1968 Senator Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles after winning the California Democratic Presidential Primary election.

Running for Governor of California in the 1966 election, Ronald Reagan had pledged to “clean up the mess at Berkeley” if elected.  At the time many citizens saw the protests as disruptive and chaotic intrusions into their daily lives.  This memorandum to Edwin Meese, the governor’s Legal Affairs Secretary at the time, concerns one particular protest in February of 1968.


  1. What type of relationship does the writer of this memorandum appear to have with Edwin Meese?
  2. How does the writer of the memo feel about the protest and the protesters?
  3. What were the protesters demonstrating against?

Thinking Questions:

  1. Were there links between the protests in California and protests in other parts of the world in the late 1960s? What were the differences between protesters in California and protesters elsewhere?
  2. How did events earlier in the twentieth century create the conditions that led to such widespread protests in the United States in the 1960s? Discuss social issues, politics, economics, racial issues, and other events that preceded these protests.
  3. Why was the San Francisco Bay Area such a haven and hotbed for protest movements?
  4. What, if any, changes did these protest movements bring about in our society? Were the protesters successful in achieving their goals?  Did Governor Reagan achieve his goal of “cleaning up the mess at Berkeley”?

One thought on “California Protests in the 1960s

  1. Very interesting to see how Mr. Smith described the protestors in a pejorative and funny way especially the “excessive amount of hair” of Mr. Poland body. These protests were necessary for society evolution as it was initiated by the youth which is the society future, it was unless necessary to keep it in a frame and to control it as Mr Reagan tried to do it (very delicate job and hard to do well but necessary for societal balance). We have to keep in mind that this generation was the baby boom one, and as being an after war one, they had in thoughts the WWII and all harmful consequences of it, they did not want a new one and feeled totally different than their parent’s and older generation. This is why the protests were inevitable, especially with the Vietnam War which crystallized the worries and errors of the past the new generation did not want to happen again.

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