This documentary concerns a “youth liberation” space called The Purple Thistle a group of Vancouver BC young people ran between 2001-2015. This project was started by eight teenagers as an alternative to school. They involved a series of adult volunteers to sign the building lease, apply for grants and help them find mentors for their various projects.
The film features commentary by several activists and educational specialists who explain the phenomenal success of The Purple Thistle. They feel it’s a big mistake to exclude young people from the community by confining them to a classroom. At all levels, we need to focus more on teaching people to work collectively.
The only rules at The Purple Thistle were no alcohol, no drugs, no assholes (ie no racism, sexism or homophobia and clean up after yourself) and no sleeping (naps were okay). Kids at The Purple Thistle governed themselves via anarchist-based principles of consensus decision making and mutual aid.*
Most of the film focuses on on various creative projects Purple Thistle teenagers undertook.
Berkeley in the sixties is a documentary about the history of 1960s Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement (FSM). Prior to watching the film, I had no idea that Youth for Goldwater helped start the FSM, joining forces with left leaning groups in 12-18 hour strategy meetings aimed at a university ban on political information tables. By necessity, these meetings made decisions by consensus. Decisions based on majority vote always engendered the risk the losing minority would walk away.
In 1963, the FSM would collaborate with black civil rights leaders in a massive civil disobedience that forced San Francisco hotels to end their discriminatory hiring practices.
Following this initial victory, the FSM oriented their protests against the Vietnam War, inspiring similar actions by tens of thousands of students at campuses across the US. In 1967, they successfully shut down the Oakland army induction center for five days.
The documentary also explores the FSM collaboration with the Oakland Black Panther Party in the Free Huey movement, their tenuous linkages with the CIA-fabricated (see How the CIA Used LSD to Destroy the New Left Haight Ashbury counterculture movement and their involvement in the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.
There is some great footage of Berkeley President Clark Kerr and Governor Ronald Reagan behaving like assholes.
*Newton was framed for the manslaughter of Oakland police officer John Frey during a Panther gun battle with the police. He was ultimately released after three unsuccessful attempts to convict him.