Mario Savio gave his famous speech on the steps of Sproul Hall, located in the campus of the University of California at Berkeley. This event is often cited as the sparking moment of the Free Speech Movement (FSM), though it had been ongoing through the efforts of UC students and off-campus allies for some time before the date of his speech. What brings this event to mind now, in the times we face, is the fire with which Savio spoke, his articulate outrage at the suppression of our supposed freedoms. That fire, that passion, is going to be needed in coming months and years, as the false fronts erected all along our nation’s Potemkin democracy are increasingly shown for what they are–showrooms filled with mannequins, set pieces with little to no relationship to our actual lives. The example of Savio–beloved to those who personally knew him, whose integrity was borne out through his life, including his post-FSM years working as a teacher in the public schools–is a good one for us to hold close in these times when so much that is worst in people is thrust into our faces via media, often emanating from the top echelons of “our” government.
The extract from his speech that echoes down history and still reverberates, is this:
“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.”
It is our lives that are being ground down by the vain, privileged people held up to us as our leaders. We need to nurture and keep alive in ourselves the outrage and determination evinced by Savio and the rest of the FSM–who were, let us recall, ultimately successful in restoring freedom of expression on the UC campus. We will need all the resolve and passion we can muster in the struggles that lie before us.