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SF State Strike Commemoration

By Joy Magezis, 7 March 2020

On Tuesday 3rd March, the poet, veteran activist and former student radical Joy Magezis joined strikers on the Royal College of Art picket in Battersea. Holding her book in hands red with cold, she read a poem written about her own experience at San Francisco State College in 1968 when students struck for five months over demands to see an Ethnic Studies department established. This stands as an early effort to decolonise education in America, in the context of the Civil Rights movement and Vietnam War, in which they eventually succeeded. She read the poem in the spirit of building hope and solidarity across the generations and across history, which we would like to share with others in turn.


Back in 1967

this radical girl

came to San Francisco State

from Community Organising


Link with SDS project

for housing, rent strike

and Baltimore students

also on campus


So joining SDS

at SF State

seemed so natural

with other projects


Spring’68 blossoms

worldwide struggles

from France to SF sit in

for ethnic admissions


September revives

zest for justice

Me now living

with my SDS guy


In telescoped time

we now return

somehow grandparents

Still partners in love


Back then Black Student’s Union

calls strike, sets demands

for department to study

hidden history, culture


Desire to define

their own destiny

In height of Black Power

BSU is leader


From the start

SDS backs strike

helps organise Committee

for White Strike Support


Now this may sound strange

but in emerging energy

for self determination

that was natural flow


Civil rights movement

exposed poverty, racism

clearly for all to see

desperate need for change


Police helped build strike

by beating BSU leaders

White students shocked

witnessing on campus

police treatment in ghettoes


More students joined strike

White Support Committee

As we picketed entrances

campus was polarised


Force field to do right

needed to make it happen

in our vision others students

part of solution or problem 


SDS saw source of problem

propping up racism

as Capitalist ‘me first’

militarist system


At San Francisco State

more working class students

trained to keep system running

not to see bigger picture


In that larger view

white students being used

To help them see how

we formed department caucuses


In Department of Psychology

students critiqued skewed view

that mental illness is within

divorced from socioeconomic


When I gave MMPI test

to my SDS women friends

we came out actively antisocial

labelled ‘juvenile delinquents’


We saw role of psychology

fitting ‘deviants’ back into system

So drink beer, watch TV burnings

of Vietnamese kids as Viet Cong


In Nazi Germany

was sanity beating Jews

and madness protesting

or other way round


For me as a Jew

connection was clear

with KKK Black hangings

and Nazi exterminations


White Student demands

for change in their courses

brought understanding

support for Ethnic Studies


As weather turned cold

and professors struck

‘On Strike, Shut it down’

became a reality


Arrests at free speech platform

brought 450 down to jail

We women were processed

then put in large holding cell


Anyone seen as threat

like woman asking for milk

for girl with stomach ulcer

were put into solitary


From large holding cell

we began to hear screams

of scared young woman

picked off and confined


Alone in tiny cell

more frightening

than she could bear

she shouted to be free


When guards wouldn’t listen

we acted together

banging and chanting

‘Let her out’, ‘Let her out!’


Our call vibrated

throughout jail house

down to Bryant Street

supporter crowd below


In ‘69 Women’s Lib sprouts

with some men still laughing

saying women’s place prone

while others saw struggle link


Back in ’67 at SDS Conference

woman asking us to meet

brought uproarious laughter

still some of women gathered


Problem with no name

begins to have words

Why are we left in background

Mostly not taken seriously


When women like me spoke at rallies

some guys just saw body parts

their long legs or large breasts

excuse for eclipsing their words


But in this time of rising

from Civil Rights to Ethnic Studies

struggling against oppression

helped us see ours as women


Earlier at Anti-Slavery Convention

barred for being female delegates

Mott and Stanton were inspired

to organise for women’s rights 


Strike women met when it ended

empowered by what we’d been through

Challenging old assumptions

exploring strengths, building movement 


So the rebirth of feminism

was there in that holding cell

when, beyond fear, we chanted

‘Let her out. Let her out!’


Guards dragged over fire hose

put nozzle through bars

Sudden force of water

knocking us off our feet


Drenched, we regained balance

and guards did let woman out

Our solid action together

engine vibrating deeply


* * *       


Forty year on lessons

power of energies united

Force beyond each one

belief in justice vision 


Mass march together

Agit Prop Theatre

Running from police chase

hiding, swapping jackets


Scared facing jail unknown

but not wanting to disappoint self

be Germans just looking on at

packed cattle cars of human cargo


In that youth of belief

that we can change world

though seemingly impossible

shifts ripple through country


Now celebrate achievements

of College of Ethnic Studies

Women’s Movement growth

Peaceful prosperous Vietnam


Much writings of Strike, SDS

even England, Shoe Store School

Gordon DeMarco now passed on

Bob Biderman and I


I want to share lessons

of traps we fell into

perhaps could be useful

for generations now


Seeing in absolutes

that blinder limiting vision

to either all right or wrong

allows no way to come together


Sectarian in fighting

finally destroyed SDS

Though reborn in this time

of new student challenges


It was our condemning vision

part of problem or solution

No middle ground possible

Needing to prove we’re right


I used to work out of anger

feeling the force of its power

rush against social injustice

keeping me active in struggle


I just couldn’t trust myself

to work from kinder emotion

For my external anger

also turned in on myself


Internalised as Guilt

needing to prove I wasn’t bad

seeing badness all round

limiting love getting through


Over decades life taught me

that anger is not most effective

Healing my own inner pain

compassion naturally flowed out


Better way to hand leaflets

against Iraq War

Not pushing them at ‘others’

but handing each person peace


More people take leaflets

feel safer beyond judgement

to touch inner peace yearning

have common ground to speak


Listening, more important

than my talking to convince

in deeply hearing others  

we find same core within


Then we see not separate

but interconnected

Poverty, racism hurts us all

in fairness we each benefit


Joy Magezis

October 2008

delivered at

40th SF State Strike Commemoration


This poem is included in Joy's anthology, Blossoming: Dharma Diary Poems, Black Apollo Press, 2012.