Mario Savio: Fan of the 1st and 2nd Amendments, and family values

January 20, 2015

I picked up an interesting book, Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power, by Seth Rosenfeld, who says in the prologue that the book is based on hundreds of thousands of documents that took him years, and ongoing lawsuits, to obtain through FOIA.

So far I’ve been most fascinated by the portrait of Mario Savio and Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement that he found himself leading in 1964. A few months before the incident that sparked the movement, he took part in the Freedom Summer project–young whites converging on Mississippi to go door-to-door in an effort to convince blacks to register to vote, something most of them had never even attempted to do.

Two things in particular got my attention. First:

Savio worked hard to convince people to register. As he recalled, “We’d go in teams of two, and I talked oftentimes,” he recalled [sic]. “Knock, knock–person comes to the door: ‘What do you want, sir?’ It’s always “sir.’ So, ‘May I speak to the head of the family?’ And there always was one, it was always either the father or the grandfather

Second was the fear that everyone felt, knowing that racist whites, if not Klansmen themselves, might show up. Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney had already been murdered, and Savio himself had seen a friend brutally beaten on the street.

One night a strange car approached the Freedom House without giving the proper signal, and the volunteers ran through the dark woods, hearts pounding, to the homes of friendly neighbors. “We subsequently discovered that all the farms around us are armed to the teeth,” he wrote. “Holmes County–as comparatively safe as it may appear–is the peaceful exterior of a dangerously live volcano. If it were not so very well known that the Negro farmers are not non-violent, I seriously doubt that a non-violent student movement would be possible in Holmes.”

And then there’s this, a finger in the eye of today’s Orwellian speech codes that have turned “tolerance” into enforced conformity:

The Free Speech Movement set up an executive committee representing all the student groups involved in the movement, from the Young Socialists to the Young Republicans. Members of any political group were welcome to join so long as they supported the movement’s main cause.

It seems safe to say that Mario Savio was (a) an absolute advocate of the the First Amendment, and (b) aware that his enjoyment of the First Amendment was protected by the Second Amendment. All modern “activists” who fool themselves into thinking they’re his ideological heirs need to realize that they’re standing on the wrong side of the lines he drew.

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