Berkeley Audience

DID YOU KNOW? Mailer’s largest live audience was approximately 10,000. On May 21, 1965, he spoke at a Teach-in at the University of California, Berkeley, which was organized by Jerry Rubin and others. He began his speech by noting that the citizenry’s “buried unvoiced faith that the nature of America” had over the past months “taken a pistol whipping.” The cause: the most advanced nation in the world was “shedding the blood and burning the flesh of Asian peasants it has never seen.” This was being done, officially, to keep the nations of the Far East from falling under the Communist yoke. The Communists could only flounder in the nations they conquered, he argued. The real reason for the Vietnam War, he continued, was that the president needed to get the country’s mind off the civil rights movement at home. His fear, he said, is that President Johnson, this “bully with an Air Force,” was “close to insanity” brought on by “his need for action.” He ended his one-hour speech by urging everyone to attach photos and drawings of Johnson’s face, on every surface, on walls and phone booths and billboards. “You, Lyndon Johnson, will see those pictures everywhere upside down, four inches high and forty feet high; you, Lyndon Baines Johnson, will be coming up for air everywhere upside down. Everywhere, upside down. Everywhere. Everywhere.”

Mailer’s speech was broadcast live on radio station KPFA. Later, portions of the speeches of Mailer and several others who spoke at the teach-in—including Dick Gregory, Mario Savio, Dr. Spock, and Senator Ernest Gruening of Alaska—were transferred to two LP records and issued by Folkways (No. 5765). Mailer wrote to a friend after the teach-in and said that for the first time in his life he had received “a standing ovation which went on for many minutes.” It was most welcome, he said, because that at this stage of his career he was caught between “counter-waves,” of approval and disapproval, and “I am being bounced like a cork at the confluence.”

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