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Mario Savio on Sproul Hall steps, 1966
Born 8 December 1942
New York City, New York, United States
Died 6 November 1996 (aged 53)
Sebastopol, California, United States
Alma mater Martin Van Buren High School, San Francisco State University
Occupation University lecturer
Known for Political activism
Spouse(s) Lynne Hollander
Mario Savio (December 8, 1942 – November 6, 1996) was an American political activist and a key member in the Berkeley Free Speech Movement. He is most famous for his passionate speeches, especially the "put your bodies upon the gears" address given at Sproul Hall, University of California, Berkeley on December 2, 1964.
Savio remains historically relevant as an icon of the earliest phase of the 1960s counterculture movement.
During the summer of 1964, he joined the Freedom Summer projects in Mississippi and was involved in helping African Americans register to vote. He also taught at a freedom school for black children in McComb, Mississippi. In July, Savio, another white civil-rights activist and a black acquaintance were walking down a road in Jackson and were attacked by two men. They filed a police report where the FBI became involved, however, the case stalled until President Lyndon Johnson, who had recently passed the Civil Rights Act, allowed the FBI to look into it as a civil-rights violation. Eventually one of the attackers was found, fined $50 and charged with misdemeanor assault.
When Savio returned to Berkeley after his time in Mississippi, he intended to raise money for SNCC, but found that the university had banned all political activity and fundraising. He told Karlyn Barker in 1964 that it was a question as to whose side one was on. "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."
Savio's part in the protest on the Berkeley campus started on October 1, 1964, when former graduate student Jack Weinberg was manning a table for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). The University police had just put him into a police car when someone from the surrounding crowd yelled, "Sit down!" Savio, along with others during the 32-hour sit-in, took off his shoes and climbed on top of the car and spoke with words that roused the crowd into frenzy.
The last time he climbed on the police car was to tell the crowd of a short-term understanding that had been met with UC President Clark Kerr. Savio said to the crowd, "I ask you to rise quietly and with dignity and go home", and the crowd did exactly what he said. After this Savio became the prominent leader of the newly formed Free Speech Movement. Negotiations failed to change the situation; therefore direct action began in Sproul Hall on December 2. There, Savio gave his most famous speech, on the "operation of the machine", in front of 4,000 people. He and 800 others were arrested that day. In 1967, he was sentenced to 120 days at Santa Rita Jail. He told reporters that "[he] would do it again".
In April 1965, he quit the FSM because "he was disappointed with the growing gap between the leadership of the FSM ... and the students themselves."
"Bodies upon the gears" speech Edit
Bodies Upon The Gears Speech on YouTube
Also known as "Operation of the Machine," this speech is possibly Savio's most known work. Speaking on the steps of Sproul Hall, on December 2, 1964:
We were told the following: If President Kerr actually tried to get something more liberal out of the regents in his telephone conversation, why didn't he make some public statement to that effect? And the answer we received, from a well-meaning liberal, was the following: He said, 'Would you ever imagine the manager of a firm making a statement publicly in opposition to his board of directors?' That's the answer!
Well, I ask you to consider: If this is a firm, and if the board of regents are the board of directors; and if President Kerr in fact is the manager; then I'll tell you something. The faculty are a bunch of employees, and we're the raw material! But we're a bunch of raw materials that don't mean to be—have any process upon us. Don't mean to be made into any product. Don't mean… Don't mean to end up being bought by some clients of the University, be they the government, be they industry, be they organized labor, be they anyone! We're human beings!
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!