Red Tide, Vol. II, No. 4 (Issue #8)
Victory at Uni: Fonda to Speak
[By Michael Letwin]
Early in the second week of January, the RED TIDE, and the Student Government Class at University High, embarked on a joint project to have Jane Fonda, anti-war activist and recent visitor to Viet Nam, speak at school. Jane was contacted, and she consented to speak on Weds., January 17th, 1973, on what she had seen in Viet Nam, and what people can do to end the war.
A week before she was intended to speak, Michael Galizio, Student Body President, a sponsor of the event, went to talk with John Welch, the principal, in the hopes of getting an invitational assembly, at which time Jane could speak and possibly show slides and films on the war. This was denied by Mr. Welch. Galizio then asked that there be an extended lunch period at which time Jane could speak. This too was denied. And finally he asked that there be a regular lunch period for her to speak. This, too was denied.
Mr. Welch denied these requests at first on the grounds that Jane Fonda is “too controversial”, and that “members of the community might object”. Yes, believe it or not, instead of welcoming Jane Fonda as a person who has a wealth of knowledge to offer, Mr. Welch withdrew in horror because as he indicated, “some people consider her a traitor”.
Over the next few days a campaign was launched to put pressure on the administration to allow Jane Fonda to speak. Parents and community members were called, and urged to inform Mr. Welch that he did not have legal grounds to stop Jane from speaking.
A petition was circulated for one day and a half which collected about 1,200 signatures of students and teachers who felt that we have a right to hear Jane Fonda, and anyone else that we might consider relevant to our education. An article appeared in the WESTSIDE section of the L.A. Times, and the news was broadcasted over KFWB that the struggle for students to hear who they want was being waged.
But when Weds. rolled around, Jane Fonda was still not permitted to speak. However, the reasons for non-approval had changed. Now it was that “of course we would like to have Jane but we don’t have enough time. . .” or “we don’t have clear guidelines to refer to. . .” Other arguments employed by the administration were things like:
1. “If you have a superstar like Jane Fonda speak on campus, you have to have a superstar of the opposite opinion to speak for the War”.
2. “If its this Weds., she might mention the demonstration on Sat. Jan. 20th”.
3. “Finals are too close”.
4. “I want to get the opinion of the Community Advisory Council”.
These refusals on the part of the administration have great significance.
They first of all deny students the right to hear speakers of their choice. When the administration tells us that we will have to wait until they are ready to approve or disapprove a speaker, that is in effect saying to us that our rights depend on their whims, which means that we don’t have rights.
Another aspect of the situation was the fact that Jane Fonda was not allowed to speak at a time when Vietnamese were being killed by our government at an extremely high rate. To not allow a speaker on such a vital topic speak when it is relevant is in effect their statement on the War in Viet Nam.
The official reasons were spelled out Weds., the day that Jane was to speak. In a letter to Michael Letwin of the RED TIDE, Mr. Welch said that the reasons that Jane could not speak on that day were that no representative of the speaker had gotten in contact with him, and that therefore he did not know what kind of program to expect.
However this argument too is faulty. Mr. Welch was informed that Jane Fonda would speak on the topic of the War, and what she had seen there. The Board rules say nothing about a speaker being required to speak to the principal before the program.
WHAT ARE THE RULES?
The rules in the Board of Education’s STUDENT RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES HANDBOOK states that:
“Contributions from people who are gifted in the arts and sciences, who have specialized knowledge, and/or who have wisdom derived from experience should be an integral part of the educational process through presentations made to student groups. Students should have the opportunity to participate in the planning of such programs and in the selection of speakers. Programs to be presented should be educational in nature, challenging and appropriate to the age group concerned, and approved in advance by the sponsor and the principal of the school. In general, the subject matter of the presentation should relate to the educational program, and the speaker should be competent in the subject matter to be presented. Students may suggest and plan programs by conferring with the principal and student representatives through procedures established at the local school.”
WHERE IS “DEMOCRACY”?
Is American democracy only in theory? It seems so. One of our basic First Amendment rights is to be heard, and for us to hear who we wish, on any topic that we choose. That all sides of an issue have a right to be heard, not just those in the history textbooks, or in the government or school administrations.
This is what we are taught in our civics classes, and its too bad that where it remains. Where are our democratic rights if we cannot hear who we want, peaceably assemble, speak about what we want, without administration approval and censorship?
If you look at American history you will see that the vast majority of people never had, and still don’t have, democratic rights.
The people have never had a say about what happens to the natural or produced wealth in the nation, they have never had the power to change the basic social and economic structure, and they have only had the illusion of controlling the politics within the system.
This is even more so in high school, where those in power know that we may not have completely accepted their lies and philosophy, and that there is still hope for us to change. That’s why when they say “education” they mean their point of view, their perception of things.
STUDENTS WON A VICTORY!
Much was gained in this fight for students’ rights.
The Community Advisory Board passed a resolution which supported “Students First Amendment right to hear who they wish, within the Board guidelines”. The combined pressure of students, teachers, and parents all helped and counted, and as a result, Jane Fonda will speak at Uni on the 5th of February.
But don’t sigh too soon in your worn out joy, for there are many more battles around speakers and students rights in general that are going to have to be fought for. The freedom to peaceably assemble, to speak about what we please, the right of privacy — all of them and many more rights are denied to us.
One other thing that we have to learn from these type of fights, and that is that we are going to have to push hard for these changes. “Good working relations with the administration” are not sacred, and usually are not what brings us victories. What does is the education of each other, and our united action.