In Memory of Mario Savio

Revolutionary Worker #882, November 17, 1996

"There is 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 tacitly take part, and you've got to put your bodies on the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, 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."

Mario Savio, December 2, 1964

The RW was sad to learn of the death of Mario Savio on Wednesday, November 6, 1996 in Sebastopol, California. He was 53 years old. Mario Savio was best known as a leader of the Free Speech Movement student upsurge at the University of California at Berkeley in 1964. From a working class background, Savio, whose father was a machine punch operator, enrolled at Berkeley as a philosophy student in 1963. Mario was among the college students who joined the Freedom Summer in Mississippi, and he described his reaction to attempts by the UC Berkeley administration to censor the political activities of students in the civil rights movement. "I spent the summer in Mississippi, I witnessed tyranny. I saw groups of men in the minority working their wills over the majority. Then I came back here and found the university preventing us from collecting money for use there and even stopping us from getting people to go to Mississippi to help." More than 800 students were arrested in building takeovers, as the Berkeley students defied UC President Clark Kerr, who referred to the university as a "factory." The FSM kicked off a nationwide movement of students in support of the Black liberation movement and against the war in Vietnam--a movement which challenged the role of the universities in perpetuating oppression and inequality throughout the society. When asked later what the rising of students meant, Savio quoted Moby Dick: "Woe to him who would try to pour oil on the waters when God has brewed them into a gale."

Savio, who began teaching math and philosophy at Sonoma State University in the 1990s, showed his spirit at a 1994 reunion of FSM protesters, calling Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senator Jesse Helms "crypto-fascists." He also reported that one of his sons, age 13, had told his father that he would not comply with the anti-immigrant measures and he would not furnish required proof of his citizenship when he entered high school the next year. "They say the fruit never falls far from the tree," Mario added, "Thank God."

In the same week Mario Savio died, hundreds of students rose in opposition to the passage of Prop 209, which would outlaw affirmative action in California. Mario Savio would have been proud. And they remembered him. During the protests students laid flowers in his honor at Sproul Plaza.

This week, in remembrance, we are reprinting an essay by Bob Avakian--which was submitted in response to a call by organizers of the 30th anniversary reunion of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement (FSM) in 1994. In this essay Comrade Avakian shares his thoughts on the process of becoming a revolutionary.

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This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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