Saturday, 23 March 2013

Mario Savio on Civil Disobedience

History is repeating itself. Those who do not learn from their history are bound to repeat it.


In 1964, Mario Savio's passionate speech rang out at UC Berkely, then throughout the air waves of tv and radio.  He fueled the free speech movement of the sixties at UC Berkley, angered that students were not allowed to pass out political pamphlets on campus.
 "There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart that you can't take part! You can't even passively take part! And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop! And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free the machine will be prevented from working at all! ... That doesn't mean that you have to break anything. One thousand people sitting down some place—not letting anybody by, not letting anything happen—can stop any machine, including this machine! And it will stop!"
The free speech movement later morphed into protests against the Vietnam war.
Mario passed away in 1996 at the age of 54.  His words and passion will live on forever.
But if you think the Occupy Movement is over, you're wrong.   

Mario Savio's The Machine Speech   

  -  STUDENT REVOLT , USA, 1964 

M. Savio was born in New York on Dec 8, 1942.  in Catholic family.  This WWII  boy harbored aspirations of becoming a priest. In 1963, the 20-year old Savio spent the summer working with a Catholic relief organization in Taxco, Mexico. There, he contributed in helping to improve the sanitary problems of the ghetto slums by building sanitation facilities. No doubt he saw Hell on Earth in the time he spent in Mexico, exemplified in all of the weeping and wailing and mashing of teeth that characterizes its prevalence.

After returning home from Mexico in 1963, Savio’s family had moved to California. There, he enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley. One of the early incidents in which the agitator’s reputation evolved was during a 1964 demonstration against the San Francisco Hotel Association’s exclusion of blacks from non-menial jobs. While participating in the protest, Savio and 167 other demonstrators were arrested and charged with trespassing. During his imprisonment, Savio struck up a conversation with a fellow incarcerated protester who sparked his interest in heading to Mississippi during the summer of ’64 to assist the Civil Rights movement.  Savio joined the Freedom Summer projects in Mississippi, helping register African Americans to vote. Additionally, the budding orator taught at a freedom school for black children, no doubt honing his public speaking skills.

Savio returned to Berkeley in the fall of 1964 intent on remaining politically active after all the injustice he had witnessed firsthand.  The young Berkeley student attempted to raise money for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), an important organization of the 1960’s Civil Rights movement that had played a role in the 1963 sit-ins and freedom rides across the American South. To his unpleasant surprise, Savio discovered the university had banned all political activity and fund-raising.  A classic response from the agitator, Savio laid it out in black and white. “Are we on the side of the civil rights movement? Or have we gotten back to the comfort and security of Berkeley, California, and can we forget the sharecroppers whom we worked with just a few weeks back? Well, we couldn’t forget.”

 The UC Regents had long prohibited on-campus political activity at Berkeley prior to 1964. As a result, all political activity occurred on the Bancroft Strip in front of the Telegraph Avenue entrance to the campus. Based on the valid assumption that the Bancroft Strip was public property, the politically active community had an established reliance on this space as one in which political speech was protected from government restriction. In 1964, the UC Regents flipped the script on the mothafuckas, asserting that they had the right to restrict political activity on the Bancroft Strip because they did in fact own the property. 

A demonstration broke out due to this stonewalling of the Free Speech Movement by the bureaucrats of the educational system. Jack Weinberg, a 24-year old Berkeley student, had set up a leafleting table on the plaza on behalf of the civil rights group.  This action violated the campus’ policy prohibiting on-campus political activity, and Weinberg was handcuffed and stuffed into the back of a police vehicle. Savio, at the sight of his friend being subjugated and silenced by the powers that be, climbed atop a police car and kicked off the Free Speech Movement with his electrifying oration. The philosophy student, in all his eloquence, made sure to take off his shoes before he ascended  the  blatant symbol of the machine's authority. Surrounded by thousands, straight-up in his fucking socks,  Savio delivered the first blow to the establishment’s oppressive grasp of people’s right to assembly. For the next 32 hours, students surrounded the police car and held about 600 officers at bay. Savio would climb atop the police car one last time during that incident, telling the crowd that a short-term understanding had been reached with Clark Kerr, the UC President. Savio addressed the enraged multitude with sincerity, “I ask you to rise quietly and with dignity, and go home.” The crowd, mesmerized by the tenacious empathy this man possessed, did exactly as he requested. The event would solidify Savio as an admirable symbol of the youth protests of the 1960’s.  

Protests continued that fall after the negotiations failed to alter the situation.  The culmination of this series of demonstrations was the sit-in by thousands at Berkeley's Sproul Hall. On December 2, 1964, Mario Savio would deliver his legendary speech regarding the “operation of the machine.” He gave this impassioned sermon in front of 4,000 people, with every one of them feeding off his energy while simultaneously reciprocating it back.  Savio, along with 782 others,  was arrested once again when the machine gave its foot soldiers the green-light to clear the area.  

Eventually, the UC Board of Regents voted to drop the university restrictions on speech. Savio would comment on the outcome, “This free speech fight points up a fascinating aspect of contemporary campus life. Students are permitted to talk all they want, so long as their speech has no consequence.” In true civil disobedient form, Savio served a four-month jail sentence for his part in the sit-in. He also received an additional two-day jail term for contempt of court, after the agitator called out a furious judge about the “shameless hypocrisy” of his trial.
Mario Savio on the steps of Sproul Hall, Berkeley, December 2, 1964. )

Free Speech Movement

(Free Speech Movement leader Mario's Savio leading student protestors at the University of California, Berkeley. Nov. 20, 1964. Chris Kjobech, photographer. Gelatin silver print. Collection of Oakland Museum of California. The Oakland Tribune Collection. )
 Mario Savio 's moral clarity, his eloquence, and his democratic style of leadership inspired thousands of fellow Berkeley students to protest university regulations which severely limited political speech and activity on campus. The non-violent campaign culminated in the largest mass arrest in American history, drew widespread faculty support, and resulted in a revision of university rules to permit political speech and organising. This significant advance for student freedom rapidly spread to countless other colleges and universities across the country
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