Where Have You Gone, Mario Savio?


Via Alan Vanneman comes a link to this interesting Nation story about Mario Savio, the head honcho of the vaguely leaderless force known as the Free Speech Movement (MSM) at U.C.-Berkeley in the mid-1960s. A snippet:

Notwithstanding its declaration of victory in 1965, the FSM also left behind a good deal of unfinished business. Its most clear-cut legacy is the liberalized atmosphere on the Berkeley campus and others across the United States. Despite early attempts by Berkeley administrations to shut down the political carnival of Sproul Plaza, it has become a mostly shared point of pride--a public sphere that offers a bazaar of causes, from the Campus Crusade for Christ to the International Socialist Organization, as well as a venue for large-scale mobilizations.

But is "free speech" truly free? On the one hand, the polarization of US politics has meant that, on the Berkeley campus at least, conservative speakers have a difficult time getting a respectful hearing. Savio, for one, objected when audience members booed US Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick off a Berkeley stage in 1983, despite his loathing of the Reaganite policies toward Central America that she sponsored, because he felt that her free speech rights had been violated. Making a distinction that contemporary campus administrators would appreciate, Savio drew a line between "heckling" (raising hard questions in a challenging manner) and "disruption" (preventing speakers from delivering their remarks), and asked protesters to stay on the heckling side of the divide.

Now that Berkeley's better known as a basketball school and campuses are scenes of repressive speech codes enacted in many cases by people who helped Savio push the limits of free speech back in the day, read the whole bit here.