Michael Rossman 1940-2008: Activist, Graphic Archivist
At the memorial service in Berkeley for Michael Rossman that was attended by hundreds of activists, a long catalogue of his multifarious achievements, interests, and passions was recited. One interest was science—“He looked under every rock”. Two of his major passions were the Free Speech Movement and political posters.
Michael was one of the leaders of the Free Speech Movement at the University of California, Berkeley in 1964. Those days and their politics defined much of his political outlook for the next four decades. He was unfailingly true to the political principles of “the sixties”, believing that they provided the best template for political action and social conduct. He believed that those political principles, however amorphous, could expand behavior and consciousness both, and thereby change society, and he lived those beliefs every day of his life.
In Michael’s case, this meant to never succumb to the strictures foisted upon us by “normal” society. No sort of dress code registered with him; I don’t think he even owned a necktie. He wore his hair long and braided, and he preferred brightly colored shirts.
Michael's passion extended to collecting political posters, allowing him to amass nearly 25,000 examples, which he pored over unceasingly and cared for lovingly. His collection was called the AOUON Archive, “All Of Us Or None.” The beginning of this interest was when Michael noticed the importance of posters during the Free Speech Movement and the following movements and tactics it inspired.
We are indebted to him for this repository of our activist history, and to him also as an individual who conducted himself with flair and commitment to his final day. Perhaps the most impressive memorial was to overhear someone say of a young activist trying to save trees or the planet or our society, “That’s very Michael-like.” With much sadness that we note his passing, for by his example and his counsel, Michael Rossman changed many lives.
Timothy W. Drescher is a community murals scholar and preservationist in Berkeley, CA.