Editor’s Note — February 2005 marks the 35th anniversary of student protests that led rioters to burn down the Isla Vista Bank of America on Feb. 25, 1970. The last of four parts, this series looks back on the ’69-70 year in UCSB history. The entire series is available online at dailynexus.com.
Violence in Isla Vista was renewed in June 1970 during one of Malcolm Gault-Williams’ shifts as a DJ for campus radio station KCSB.
“I was on the air on one of the nights, and I re-titled my show to be called the ‘Music to Riot By,'” Gault-Williams said. “And of course, the thing back then was to play all revolutionary songs to give spirit to those of us who were trying to change the way things were.”
Among the songs he broadcast that night were “Volunteers of America” by Jefferson Airplane, “Street Fighting Man” by the Rolling Stones and “Revolution” by the Beatles.
On June 10, 1970, several days of scattered scuffles with police culminated in a sit-down rally at Perfect Park, meant for Isla Vistans to peacefully protest an evening curfew that law enforcement had imposed on the town. When the peaceful demonstrators would not disperse, police arrested over 300 and pepper-gassed and beat the rest. Of the several hundred arrested, Superior Court Judge Joseph Lodge — who currently teaches a class in criminal justice at UCSB — ordered all released without charges the next day.
By the summer of 1970, UCSB and the surrounding community had been through three tear gas-filled riots, the destruction of the Bank of America by fire and the accidental death of a student, Kevin Moran, at the hands of police. Fired anthropology professor Bill Allen never got his open hearing. Law enforcement arrested hundreds, and hundreds more reported injuries. Mistrust of authority and the raging Vietnam War radicalized many draft card-holding students who turned out to anti-war rallies in droves.
Gault-Williams, who came to Isla Vista in 1969, volunteered at KCSB while enrolled at Santa Barbara City College. He said he was typical of many other students at the time in that he did not consider himself political before the onset of campus unrest.
“As a student, I was vaguely against the war,” he said. “It was really only after the riots that I really took a stronger stand. That was after what I saw happening in terms of the police repression and the inadequate response of leaders at the time — both university and community leaders at the time.”
In May 1970, Gov. Ronald Reagan sought to quell campus unrest by ordering all University of California campuses closed. However, the shutdown hardly kept students away from the large and numerous anti-war demonstrations held at UCSB in reaction to President Nixon’s announcement that the war had been expanded across the Vietnam border into Cambodia.
“Reagan closed the university instead of letting the movement close it, so the [student] response to that was, ‘Let’s open it,'” said UCSB sociology professor Richard Flacks, who spent his first year teaching at UCSB during the tumultuous 1969-70 term. Flacks, who had been a well-known figure in Students for a Democratic Society in Chicago, moved to Santa Barbara in 1969 to accept a tenured teaching position.
“I was fascinated to encounter students here because in Chicago, the anti-war activists were political in a long-term sense,” Flacks said. “Many of them [were] raised in liberal families and politics was part of their experience. But my sense here in Santa Barbara was most of these students were radicalized by the war, by the police treatment of the drug culture [and] by the university itself.
Flacks said UCSB students viewed the university as a force supporting restriction and alienation.
“I mean, that was a big word, a buzz word of the time: alienation. Student alienation,” Flacks said. “So it was more like the protests about Bill Allen were kind of like, ‘This was a guy who was like us more in the counterculture, [who] tried to teach in relation to what we cared about, and they fired him maybe because he had a beard and long hair or something.’ And then it was police harassment — or whatever word you want to use — that I think precipitated what happened in the streets of I.V. and … led to this bank-burning.
In addition to the heavy police enforcement of drug laws, which irritated the marijuana-laden town of Isla Vista, Flacks said men’s fashion in 1970 simultaneously helped males fit in as part of the counterculture, but also marked them as targets for police.
“So if you were driving a psychedelically painted van down [Highway] 101 with your long hair flying in the wind, you were going to be stopped, searched – and that was very anger-producing,” Flacks said. “And you’ve got to add that these were a lot of fairly rich kids, so the idea that the cops were treating them like the urban poor was offensive.”
Highway 101 and Pass/No Pass
On May 6, 1970, according to articles published in El Gaucho — the forerunner of today’s Daily Nexus — several thousand anti-war protesters marched from an on-campus rally on the lawn slope behind the UCen to Highway 101. Entering the freeway via the Glenn-Annie/Storke Road off-ramp, demonstrators physically blocked the roadway at several exists, holding up traffic in both directions for nearly an hour.
“We were walking all the way down Hollister, and off Fairview is where they had [the 101] blocked off,” said Doug Hewitt, who was a UCSB freshman that year. “There weren’t any major leaders other than somebody with a blow horn saying, ‘Come on, let’s go.'”
Hewitt said that before attending college, he had no exposure to arguments against American involvement in the Vietnam War.
“You go to college, and you’re opening your mind and saying, ‘Fill me up,'” Hewitt said. “Well, what we were hearing was people that were telling us things about Vietnam that we didn’t know about. Our parents never told us that Vietnam may not be good.”
With the latest anti-war demonstrations consuming student attention, UCSB administrators rendered all classes that Spring Quarter pass/no pass. In addition, university officials approved the formation of a 10-unit course titled “The National Crisis.” Students could drop out of their current courses and enroll in the specially designed course for full credit. Flacks said the idea behind the new course was to allow students to stay in class while studying the issues arising from current events.
“We said, ‘Why don’t we faculty create courses for students to take that would enable them to get back to finish the quarter, but would connect their anger [and] concern about the war and about Kent State and about all the rest of it in some academic way,” Flacks said. “And so we very quickly created a set of crisis courses. … I felt that, from an academic point of view, it was very interesting because you could make the argument that there was a level of involvement with using academic resources and doing research and doing just [that] kind of intense engagement that students probably hadn’t experienced in much of the rest of their college time.”
Staff Writer In Exile
A staff writer for El Gaucho during the 1969-70 academic year, Jeff Probst, recalls getting in over his head.
The day after the first Bill Allen rally, in which police officers charged the crowd on Jan. 29, Probst was one of the 19 students arrested. A police informant fingered him as a member of the Radical Union, a group thought to be organizing campus unrest. While reporting news articles from jail, his byline in the paper read, “Staff Writer in Exile.”
Via e-mail from London, where he now lives, Probst said getting arrested for the second time that year is a memory that will never leave him. Although he said he was nowhere near the Bank of America the night it burned down, the Santa Barbara district attorney indicted him for allegedly lighting the match that began the dumpster fire, which in turn ignited the building and led to its destruction. A jury failed to convict him.
“Twice hearing I had been picked out to be arrested,” Probst wrote. “The stuff of my nightmares for decades afterwards — the feeling that they can swoop down and grab you any time they want to.”
Probst said he had planned to graduate in June 1970, but because he was on trial for burning the bank down, he was unable to concentrate on his studies and had to delay his graduation. He graduated with honors in Dec. 1970 with a degree in sociology.
“I had originally come to UCSB as a speech major, then it was French, and finally sociology, since the radical professors in the Sociology Dept. gave the left-leaning males A’s to help keep us out of the draft,” Probst wrote.
After leaving the Santa Barbara area after graduation, Probst said he moved to the Bay area, then to South Africa and now lives in London, where he taught high school English for nine years and now works as a freelance editor, proofreader and “Americanizer” of British books for shelves in the United States.
The Big Chill?
In 1989, Flacks co-authored a book about participants in the 1970 Isla Vista riots. In Beyond the Barricades: The Sixties Generation Grows Up, he tracks the evolution of their political ideas by interviewing them several different times over 10 years.
“The storyline of the book is that the former student activists maintained their critical anti-authority or anti-conventional outlooks as they got older,” Flacks said. “I’m putting it that way because it’s not that all of them remained political. Some of them didn’t, some did. But it was more like, ‘How do you live a life of principle and meaning, given what we believe? How do you go on into adulthood, have a livelihood? What kind of living arrangements? What kind of family arrangements? How do you live with these values in your head?'”
Flacks said the movie “The Big Chill” would have viewers believe that young activists in the 1960s and early ’70s abandoned all of their principles when they grew older.
“And I was just appalled by the movie because I knew from my own extensive experience with people, without having to do this research, that that isn’t… These people in the movie weren’t representative of those who were generally active,” Flacks said.
The people he and his co-author, Jack Whalen, tracked down in researching the book were people who were indicted for burning the Bank of America.
“None of them were convicted, but they went through a very long and difficult trial,” Flacks said. “So we located them 10 years later. And, yeah, there was none of that ‘Big Chill’ quality to what they were. They had evolved in different ways.”
Hewitt, who graduated from UCSB with a degree in history, initially entered the restaurant management business. However, he switched industries and worked at IBM selling computers for 15 years until he changed careers once again, and now works in the real estate business in northern California. His 20-year-old son Matthew attends Santa Barbara City College and lives in Isla Vista on Del Playa Dr.
Hewitt said he remembers his freshman experience at UCSB as the first time world events personally affected him.
“This was the first time we were kind of part of it,” Hewitt said. “It was almost like a coming of age because you go from it being your first time away from home to people being killed and arrested and tear-gassed.”
The Bank of America closed its doors in 1981 and opened an ATM a few hundred feet away, which still operates across the street from the Blue Dolphin Café. The brewery and arcade that occupied the abandoned structure after the bank left are also now gone. In their place stands a university-owned lecture hall.
“[Current students] take it for granted that the I.V. Theaters are university property and classes are held in there,” Flacks said. “And Embarcadero Hall, in some sense, is a delayed victory for the student spirit of that [1969-70] period because, instead of a bank, we have a learning space.”
In the sidewalk facing east, toward Woodstock’s Pizza, a small plaque lies embedded in the sidewalk in front of Embarcadero Hall, on the spot where Kevin Moran was shot to death. “For Social Change, Fair Play and Peace,” the inscription reads.
In Perfect Park, a recently completed monument consisting of archways and benches commemorates all of those who chose to protest peacefully during Isla Vista’s most tumultuous years.
Finding Bill Allen
Allen last returned to UCSB in 1990, on the 20th anniversary of the Isla Vista riots.
Allen, whose full name is William Allen, now goes by “Will Allen.”
Several websites reference Allen as the founder and executive director of the Sustainable Cotton Project (SCP), based in Oroville, Calif., and reference his 30-plus years at the “…forefront of organic farming and environmental activism in California.”
According to the SCP website, the organization is on the “cutting edge of research in the field of organic cotton production.”
An SCP representative, reached via e-mail, said Allen is now on East Coast, working at a farm in Vermont.
The Cedar Circle Farm, a 50-acre organic vegetable and berry farmstead and education center, lists Allen as one of the farm’s managers.
A representative of the Cedar Circle Farm, also reached via e-mail, confirmed this week that Allen works at the farm, but is presently out of the country and, as of press time, unavailable for comment.