Act of Conscience

An excerpt from a work in progress memoir about my San Francisco years 1968-71

Act of Conscience

I met Randy Kehler at a Committee of Returned Volunteers meeting. He was active with the War Resisters League. We went to San Francisco State College during the student strike. Chicano and African-American students had done some research and documented what they could already see. The minority enrollment at San Francisco State College had been going down steadily for the past several years. It was becoming an all-white, middle class college.

At one time there were more than two thousand students and supporters in a marching picket line surrounding the small campus. After a while, Randy and I went into the College of Business to take a leak. That was exactly the wrong building. Riot police headquarters was in the College of Business, of course it was. Four tactical squad members followed us into the restroom. The first two cops jammed Randy and me against the wall and demanded identification while the other two searched the stalls and wastebaskets.

I fumbled for my driver’s license and it fell to the floor.   “You dropped your card.” The cop had a nasty curl to his lips. He didn’t move back. I slid down and picked up the card with about six inches between me and the cop. One slight wrong move and I figure I was going to get hurt. Randy had some granola in a bag. The cops looked inside the bag and then dumped it in the trash can. Outside, students and supporters clapped their hands and some chanted as they walked in the picket line that surrounded the small campus. One chant was, “It is time to off the pigs.” Which meant, murder the police. Finally, the mounted cops responded. They crashed down on heads with four-foot long saber-shaped clubs.


From the 2008 fortieth anniversary of the student strike.

1968 student-led strike was the longest campus strike in United States history. The five-month event defined the University’s core values of equity and social justice, laid the groundwork for establishment of the College of Ethnic Studies, and inspired the establishment of ethnic studies classes and programs at other universities throughout the country.

The Black Student Union and a coalition of other student groups known as the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF) led the strike, which began Nov. 6, 1968 and ended March 20, 1969. Clashes between the strikers and San Francisco Police tactical squads made national news. Students, faculty and community activists demanded equal access to public higher education, more senior faculty of color and a new curriculum that would embrace the history and culture of all people including ethnic minorities.

As a result, the College of Ethnic Studies was instituted in 1969 and hundreds of other higher education institutions across the country followed SF State’s lead. According to a 1981 report issued by the Education Resource Information Center, 439 colleges in the country offered a total of 8,805 ethnic studies courses by 1978. “For the United States to adequately prepare citizens for responsible participation in a complex culturally pluralistic society and a multicultural world, ethnic studies should be represented in general education,” the report concluded.

“The idea of changing universities to be more inclusive and using academia to improve society remains relevant,” College of Ethnic Studies Dean Kenneth Monteiro said. “Even today in a globally focused world, many institutions of higher education have not expanded their curricula to include the histories, philosophies, sciences and arts of a greater range of the world’s intellectual traditions.”

….Many SF State strike alumni rose to prominence in the fields of social justice, law, public health, education and public service. They include actor and activist Danny Glover, who was a member of the Black Student Union, and Superior Court Judge Ronald Quidachay, who worked on the strike as a member of the Philippine American College Endeavor (PACE) and was a TWLF spokesperson. Alumnus and statesman Willie Brown, then a young lawyer and legislator, worked to free striking students who were jailed, as did, former U.S. Congressman, Oakland Mayor and alumnus Ron Dellums.

Of the strikers who chose public education as a career, several returned to SF State and are currently on the faculty including Associate Dean of the College of Ethnic Studies and Professor of Asian American Studies Laureen Chew, Professor of Asian American Studies Danilo Begonia, Associate Professor of Asian American Studies Dan Gonzales, Professor of Raza Studies Roberto Rivera.

Wikipedia and War Resisters League on Randy Kehler:

 In 1969, during the Vietnam War, Kehler returned his draft card to the Selective Service System. He refused to seek exemption as a conscientious objector, because he felt that was simply a form of cooperation with the US government’s actions in Vietnam. After being called for induction and refusing to submit, he was charged with a federal crime. Found guilty at trial, Kehler served twenty-two months of a two-year sentence.

     Daniel Ellsberg’s exposure to Kehler in August 1969…was a pivotal event in Ellsberg’s decision to copy and release the Pentagon Papers (It was Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers which led to Richard Nixon to create a group of in-house spies, who undertook the ill-fated Water Gate break-in, which led to Nixon’s resignation)

The refusal of Randy, and his wife Betsy Corner, since 1977, to pay taxes for military expenditures resulted in the 1989 Federal seizure, and eventual legal forfeiture, of their house in Colrain, Massachusetts. This was documented in the film An Act of Conscience (1997).

About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (, and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation ( I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
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