Guest Post: What’s the First Crusade Got To Do with the Free Speech Movement?

Fifty years ago today, at 3:05 a.m. on December 3, 1964, Edward Strong, chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, started speaking through his bullhorn to the eight hundred or so people occupying Berkeley’s administration building. Strong told protesters to leave the building they’d occupied peacefully the day before, or face “disciplinary action” and more than six hundred police surrounding the area.

The protesters stayed. That event was one in a series of clashes. I met with some of these protestors at Berkeley’s FSM50 reunion this fall. Miriam Hope Friis, my stuttering sixteen-year-old from The Ninth Day, accompanied me. (In the book, December 3 is “The Fourth Day.”)

By now Ooligan Press knows my passion for connections across time and space. But why, they’ve asked, link the Free Speech Movement and the First Crusade?

Let’s start with 1964. Since The Ninth Day is a companion novel to Blue Thread, I had to play by Blue Thread rules. The main character had to be about sixteen and named Miriam after a dead relative. I could have gone back from the 1912 of Blue Thread, but going forward worked better. Miriam Hope Friis is named for her grandmother (Miriam Josefsohn) who died of cancer, a disease I was diagnosed with after finishing The Ninth Day. For the family saga between Blue Thread and The Ninth Day, go to my website and download the free ebook, Florrie’s Story: Life after Blue Thread.

Doing the math, I found myself in 1960s America. Yes! A wild and bumpy ride filled with tragedy and hope, angst and excitement, grand plans, catastrophes, and the push, push, push for a better society. The 1964 campus-wide protest at Berkeley started with an administrative notice that a small strip of land would be subject to a ban on political speech. According to the notice, the ban had already been in place on campus for years. No big deal, right? Wrong.

Now let’s shift to Pope Urban II speaking (without bullhorn) to a council gathered in a French church in 1095. Urban II urged the assembled to raise an army to defend Christian Constantinople (now Istanbul) from falling to the Muslim Turks. Not a huge army, more like an elite band of knights who might later defend the pope himself. No big deal, right? Welcome to the First Crusade, and several more crusades and events that have led to bloodshed to this very day.

That’s the link that got me started on The Ninth Day, but here’s the one that knocked my knickers off. The LSD haze-craze of the 1960s and the religious fervor fed by Saint Anthony’s Fire, a disease plaguing the European poor in 1095, are bound together by the grain-infesting fungus ergot. Ergot, you could say, drives much of The Ninth Day.

I believe that what happened in Berkeley, California, during the fall of 1964 changed human society for the better. What happened in Clermont, France, during the fall of 1095 changed human society for the worse. Of course, who am I to say? Just one person. A writer. A teller of tales. But remember this: one seemingly small action can make a big difference. Don’t ever let anyone—especially yourself—tell you that you don’t count.

The Temptation of Saint Anthony, engraving by Martin Schongauer, d. 1491.

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