Mario Savio died a few weeks ago. It was the first time his
name had been in the papers for years, yet everyone recognized it. Mario had the strange fate of being famous for
something he did long ago, something that
could be neither repeated nor continued. He lived a quiet life, but when he died people
said, "Ah, Mario Savio, remember? Berkeley, 1964."
In 1964 at the
University of California at Berkeley, there was one tiny free speech area near the university's
main entrance. But that fall the school
administration decided to prohibit
student political activity even there.
The various student groups joined in
protest, and the Free Speech
Movement (FSM) was born.
At first the movement was small. Then
one day Jack Weinberg, a member of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) decided to
engage in civil disobedience. He set up a table in the plaza in front of the administration
building and began passing out leaflets.
This was prohibited. The administration sent
in the police.
As it happened, the police car arrived at noon, exactly at the time when an FSM rally was
scheduled. I remember the shock of coming to the rally and finding a police car with a student arrested inside.
Somebody shouted, "Sit-in!" Immediately hundreds of students sat
around the car, and it couldn't move.
The next problem was what to do
about the rally. This was the moment when Mario had the insight that changed his life and left a mark on history. "We'll have it here," he said. He grabbed a microphone, took off his shoes,
climbed on the roof of the police car,
and began speaking to the growing
The rally was
transformed from a mere gathering
to an act of people power. The police were prevented, peacefully but forcefully, from completing the arrest. The car was
transformed from an instrument of police
power to a platform for free speech ― speakers on top, prisoner inside.
The rally continued all day and all
night. Speaker after speaker climbed on the car and explained why freedom of speech is something worth
fighting for. By the evening of the second day, some five thousand
students were gathered around the car. Since a university is made up of its students, to end the sit-in by force would mean the university would
have to arrest itself. Weinberg was released.
Among the many
speakers, Mario Savio somehow
captured the imagination of the crowd best. A shy man, he spoke haltingly. Unlike some smooth, skilled speakers, he would be thinking as he spoke. So listening
to him was also an act of thinking. The honesty, clarity and moral force of his speeches made him the
spokesman of the FSM. For the next few
months he was nationally famous.
After the FSM ended (in victory),
Mario left the public spotlight and
returned to his studies. Occasionally
after that he made public speeches, but he never again was ― or tried to be ― a public figure. He carried out a great political act, but he
was never a politician.
Shukan ST: Dec. 6, 1996
(C) All rights reserved
- recognized it
- had the strange fate of being famous for 〜
- something that could be neither repeated nor continued
- lived a quiet life
- tiny free speech area
- school administration
- student political activity
- joined in protest
- Free Speech Movement
- Coordinating Committee
- engage in 〜
- civil disobedience
- set up 〜
- began passing out 〜
- sent in the police
- exactly at the time when 〜
- was scheduled
- police car with a student arrested inside
- had the insight
- left a mark on history
- "We'll have it here"
- grabbed 〜
- climbed on the roof of 〜
- growing crowd
- was transformed from 〜 to 〜
- mere gathering
- act of people power
- were prevented（from 〜）
- peacefully but forcefully
- completing the arrest
- instrument of police power
- why freedom of speech is something worth fighting for
- is made up of 〜
- end 〜 by force
- have to arrest itself
- was released
- somehow captured 〜 best
- spoke haltingly
- smooth, skilled speakers
- would be thinking as he spoke
- moral force
- left the public spotlight
- public figure
- carried out