In the Sixties, an era defined by the counterculture and social revolution, the University of California, Berkeley became a center of student activism. It was home to the Free Speech Movement, one of the era’s most influential student protests, and a wealth of civil rights and antiwar demonstrations. It was when Ronald Reagan, in his first public office as the state’s governor, campaigned to clean up the “mess” at Berkeley.
In 1981, Seth Rosenfeld, a young journalist at UC Berkeley’s campus newspaper, the Daily Californian, received a call from his editor that would immerse him in this history and come to define the next three decades of his career. The newspaper had obtained about 10,000 pages of documents on protests at the university through a Freedom of Information Act request it filed in 1977–and the editor was giving Rosenfeld first crack at them.
The request had been submitted in the wake of the Watergate scandal and Church Committee Hearings in the mid-1970s, the groundbreaking congressional hearings led by Sen. Frank Church, an Idaho Democrat, on domestic surveillance by the FBI, CIA and military agencies.