Academia

Where Have You Gone, Mario Savio?

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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.

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  1. When I was at Florida State in the late 90’s, there would be people giving speeches in and around the Student Union about all matters of subjects that would fuel arguments, such as politics or religion. And the speakers were always extreme. Racist and homophobic rhetoric prevailed and it always got the student body against the speaker. They weren’t just one party speeches, but frequently went interactive.

    This was always during mid-terms and finals weeks, so it was rumored the school placed these speakers out there to get people shouting at each other, supposedly because it would let everyone vent and get that release from the pressure of exams.

    I don’t know if it worked or not, but if true, it’s the only time I’m aware of that a school has intentionally incited the students.

    1. Were Reverend Jim and Sister Cindy still making the rounds?

      1. Oh, yeah, I remember them from UF.

        1. Didn’t they have a catch phrase that was Dada-esque weird?

          1. I barely remember them. There was something scandalous, but I can’t even recall what that was.

            1. Reverend Jed
              There is a website:
              http://brojed.org/index.php
              and more available via your favorite search engine

  2. Nick,

    Apropos of nothing, but did you have a lot of Krishnas on campus? I remember them exercising speech rights in Gainesville pretty prominently. I haven’t noticed them at USF (I’m on campus there every blue moon or so) but wondered about Tallahassee.

    Most of the speakers brought to campus at UF seemed to me to be pretty extreme in one way or another. I always thought it was just what the kids wanted to hear.

    1. My experience with the Krishnas was limited to their constant dancing at events, and the times they brought horrible smelling food to the student union. It was amazing how disgusting a smell it was and how it consumed the whole area down wind of where they set up.

      I honestly don’t remember them speaking to an audience at any time.

      1. No, I was just thinking about them wandering about on the plaza, not any formal speaking. Not really sure what made me think of them.

      2. What do Krishnas eat anyway?

        1. Pe-ople.

    2. Lots of Krishnas in and around the Berkeley campus!

      1. In the city I grew up in their headquarters were next to a golf course I played at a fair bit. Good times on the 12th tee.

    1. Did the government force them to shut their conference down?* If not, the hotels were just exercising their ‘freedom of association’. Poor, poor oppressed “whites rights” groups.

      *I couldn’t finish watching that douchebag talk to get the answer.

      1. Note that I’m heckling you and not at all disrupting whatever it is you’re trying to say (even though I’m pretty sure whatever you’re trying to say is stupid).

        1. When will the white man finally catch a break?

    2. 1) That chick is hot.
      2) The government didn’t shut the group down.
      3) That chick is still hot.

    3. Is this an infomercial? I wonder if the chick is wearing swastika panties?

  3. Free Speech Movement (MSM)

    Freudian?

    1. FSM has religious significance for many of our readers, so it would be inappropriate to use that acronym.

      1. Pasta be upon you.

        RAmen.

      2. May the peace and meatballs marinara be upon you. May the Noodly One place his noodly appendages on you, may he make his face shine upon you and give you olive oil so that thy face may also shine.

        RAmen.

  4. VANNEMAN? ARRRRGH WARTY SMASH

    The only speaker of note I remember coming to my campus was Henry Rollins. That was way more awesome than your Hare Krishnas.

    1. The 3rd best Black Flag vocalist.

      1. So Vanneman was lead singer before or after Rollins?

  5. 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

    So, they weren’t really opposed to authority figures controlling speech; they just wanted to be the authority figures controlling speech.

    1. Freedom as a means to an end.

    2. I would bet that you had a good number who genuinely supported free speech. But people who seek (and get) positions of authority tend to be of the means-to-an-end authoritarian type.

    3. “So, they weren’t really opposed to authority figures controlling speech; they just wanted to be the authority figures controlling speech.”

      They’re just absolutely convinced that the reason we don’t want what they want is because we haven’t heard about it.

      You see it all over the Obama Administration. What do you mean the people don’t want it? !

      …that just isn’t possible in their world. Does not compute.

    4. A lot of people are like that. They want freedom, but only for the things they happen to like. Conservatives who want freedom to carry a gun, but want to ban porn. Liberals who want to say and print whatever they want, but want to ban “hurtful” language. It’s not really unusual when you think about it.

  6. It’s been a while, but I remember seeing Jim Belushi (talking about improv) and some ex-CIA agent trashing the agency. We had the usual big names on occasion, too, but I can’t really remember anyone specific.

    Oh, I also saw a general who had something to do with SDI.

  7. 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.

    And was promptly ignored by the true-believers who knew how evil she was. This is pretty much the exact same mission creep you see in MADD and almost any other marginally successful organization/movement.

  8. Attorney General Eric Holder didn’t tell the Senate Judiciary Committee about seven Supreme Court amicus briefs he prepared or supported, his office acknowledged in a letter Friday, including two urging the court to reject the Bush administration’s attempt to try Jose Padilla as an enemy combatant.

    Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/s…..z0iGPdEYhN

    1. Again, this is a libertarian blog. Those briefs would be held as Holder’s finest hour, and bring lamentations that he’s strayed from this line in decisions since he’s been AG.

  9. I was at Camden market in London in 2002. My friend noticed some Hare Krishnas and wanted to take some pictures. He asked me if I thought it would be okay. I said “what are they going to do, beat your ass?” and laughed.

    He still has scars from the tambourine, but he started talking to me again a few years ago.

  10. Savio drew a line between “heckling” (raising hard questions in a challenging manner…

    Hmm. Who does that remind me of…

    does he also encourage people to post the answers to ToughQuestions to YouTube?

    Maybe LoneWacko IS mario savio…..? BizarroLoneWacko? Break out the red kryptonite people…

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