8-10 Nov 96

[The Netizen]

Today's columns:

by John Heilemann
GOP factions fight to fill Dole void
Media Rant
by Jon Katz
Cyber narcissists: Deconstructing the Digerati

Voter of the Month Club

Netizen Archive

Rewiring Forum
Forum Wrap-Up

Post of the Day
Reform campaign finance: Ban campaign ads
Rage Against the Machine
Netizen Tribute

by Steve Silberman

[T]he image: An intense, wiry young man named Mario Savio, addressing the conscience of the nation through a thicket of microphones as students and reporters swirl around him.

The moment: 2 December 1964, when the newly born Free Speech Movement electrified the imagination of the largest generation of college students in history with the power of Savio's metaphor of raging against the machine.

"There's a time," the 22-year-old son of a machinist declared, "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 indicate to the people who own it that unless you're free, the machines will be prevented from working at all."

John Heilemann

[Daily Poll]
Africa Adrift
Daily Poll

[Daily Quote]
Less, Not Mars
Daily Quote

[The Netizen on TV]
Seize the Future
The Netizen on TV

[A voice to be heard]

Among the people caught by surprise by the FSM firestorm was University of California president Clark Kerr, who had gazed into his Magic 8-Ball in 1959 and predicted, "The employers will love this generation. They aren't going to press many grievances.... There aren't going to be any riots."

What had so changed Savio himself was his experience with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee the previous summer, teaching the sons and daughters of sharecroppers at a "freedom school" in McComb, Mississippi. Another veteran of that Freedom Summer, Thomas Powers, recalled, "I was plunged immediately into another world, fearing the police cars which waited on side streets at night ... fearing the white, thin-faced farmers in pickup trucks who followed us along dusty country roads ... fearing the approach of strangers.... I remember thinking ... that I knew how the world appeared to the Viet Cong."

What Savio perceived - along with the other student leaders who had been transformed in the alembic of the civil rights movement - was a continuity between oppression of blacks in the segregated South, the war raging in the rice paddies of Vietnam, and the efforts to quash the free dissemination of information on their own campuses.

"[Savio] was the first," wrote historian Adam Garfinkle in his book Telltale Hearts, "to conceive of all of America as the battlefield of protest."

Savio's metaphor of the machine shaped the language of the entire youth movement that was to come.

"I am a student - do not fold, spindle, or mutilate" read one FSM placard, appropriating the language of data entry to frame the students' struggle to regain their First Amendment rights as a battle between the living and the already dead. As a crafter of persistent memes, Savio was more canny than his colleague Jack Weinberg, who launched the slogan "Don't trust anyone over 30" during the same season of protest.

Savio matured past 30, and then past 40 and 50, as the most heartening kind of radical: one whose commitment to a transformation of society never fossilized into mere rhetoric, and whose understanding of his own role included humor. Defending affirmative action at his alma mater, Savio reflected recently, "There are so many things wrong with the galaxy, you'd be fighting Klingons if you tried to take on every one of them."

Taking on injustices like Proposition 209, one at a time, until his death of heart failure on Wednesday, Savio proved himself worthy of the attention he earned as a young man. As one who raged against inhumanity - while considerately removing his shoes before climbing onto a police car to address the world - Savio proved himself a humane warrior in our shared struggle: the defense of the uncensored exchange of ideas, which continues today on the frontier of a most human network of machines.


Thoughts on Mario Savio's passing? Speak out, in Threads.


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