On May 1, Stony Brook students reenacted the decade of social protest and counterrevolution, better known as the 1960s. Students enrolled in Professor Robert Chase’s “The Sixties: Unsettled Decade” class and Professor Eric Zolov’s “The Global 60s” class put on a skit as part of an extra credit final assignment, recreating the spirit and the sentiment of that turbulent decade in American history.
The reenactment took the setting of the University of California, Berkeley’s “People’s Park” incident of 1969, in which a clash between students and police ended with the police using brutal force to quell the protesters. These protests came at a time in American history where many advocacy platforms were arising, which in effect, has shaped much of what society defines as social protest today. Chase’s class epitomizes the social, political, and cultural revolution of the 1960s, and sought to convey these revolutions for students through reenactment.
The students’ jobs involved not only researching their designated historical figures, but also entailed embodying their personalities while understanding the general context of what exactly was at play during this time period.
“The point was for them to not only take on their individual roles, but to recreate the space and environment for social protest,” Chase said. “This is, after all, the generation that has seen the anti-Wall St. movement that, like many movements in the 60s, was quelled by a response from the state, and a response from the police to silence them.”
Students prepared for their roles by watching a film in class on the People’s Park movement, as well as researching their individual historical characters. Ariel Kodis, a junior sociology major, prepped for the role of Shulamith Firestone, an outspoken feminist who was part of the Redstockings radical feminist group in 1969.
“I watched a lot of her interviews, because she’s really really radical, and she’s very confrontational,” said Kodis. “I had to really watch her to see how she speaks.”
The other groups represented in the skit included the Black Panthers, the Vietnam Veterans against the War, the Conservatives, the Hell’s Angels, the counterculture hippies, the Young Lords and United Farm Workers and, lastly, the Students for a Democratic Society and the Free Speech Movement. Students from each of these groups read their speeches and engaged in mock argument with the then-governor of California, Ronald Reagan, played by student Vasiliy Slobodov.
“I had to improvise a lot,” Slobodov said, junior developmental genetics biology major. “The speech reading part was great, but the improvisation…I think I went a little off the beaten track.”
Chase required students to write their own speeches as a means of really understanding their characters. “Having them write their own statements was fantastic, because they not only got into character, but its a way to get what historians really wants students to do, which is to get into primary sources, to read the actual words and voices and speeches and then utilize it as their own.”
The main objective of the assignment was to portray the various movements and platforms of the 1960s and to help make better sense of it for students to understand. While many saw the 1960s as a period of social progress, led by groups like the Black Panthers or the feminist movement, others saw it as a lapse of law and morality in American history.
“It was definitely an interesting time,” said Chris Dasilva, representing the Veterans Against the War group. “That’s when protests started really getting big and heated, with a lot of movements going on at the same time, and a lot of change going on.”
The skit was not only informative of the People’s Park movement, and of the movement of many other advocacy groups, but it was also entertaining. “Reenactment really is a great way of learning,” said Chase. “I really find that students really imbibe that history when they are part of it.”