Stay informed: Sign up for eNews Subscribe

The Free Speech Movement Reflections on Berkeley in the 1960s

  • by Robert Cohen (Editor), Reginald E. Zelnik (Editor)
  • October 2002
  • First Edition
  • Paperback
    $30.95,  £24.00
    $30.95,  £24.00
  • Title Details

    Rights: Available worldwide
    Pages: 638
    ISBN: 9780520233546
    Trim Size: 6 x 9
    Illustrations: 30 b/w illustrations

Read Chapter 1

Part One: Roots

Thirty Years Later: Reflections on the FSM

Mario Savio

  On November 15, 1995, at the invitation of historian Barbara Epstein, Mario Savio gave a talk on the FSM to the History of Consciousness Department colloquium at UC Santa Cruz. Mario did not have a prepared text for this talk, but—as was his usual practice—worked from notes and spoke in an extemporaneous fashion. Capturing on paper Savio's uniquely dialogic style of speaking is like trying to cover the concert of a jazz musician or singer by transcribing the notes they hit. What follows is not a full verbatim account of the speech but a somewhat abridged version that faithfully relays its central ideas and, we hope, a good deal of its texture.

. . .

I'd like to share with you some ideas about how my consciousness, my piece of collective consciousness and that of my friends, developed. We had our beginnings in the 1940s and 1950s. [I was born in] 1942. I was a war baby. But spiritually speaking, [our consciousness formed largely] in reaction to the 1950s. It was in reaction to the 1950s that we did the kinds of things that we did.

[The television sit-com] Roseanne recently had a program where [Roseanne Barr] did Roseanne of the 1950s. It's really quite remarkable because Roseanne's caricatured version of the 1950s is in some ways the pretend world that we were reacting to. Now it had some darker things in it too, and they didn't make their way into the Roseanne episode, but I thought [overall her rendering of the 1950s] was really wonderful. Here on the tube, this major [source] of information is disseminating stereotypes of the left. It's interesting because most of the media that disseminate stereotypes disseminate stereotypes of the right. And now, it would be nice if we could get beyond the stereotypes, but at least we should have some of ours up there, not always theirs. So I loved it. It was really marvelously done.

The fact that Roseanne could do that and that it would be very popular, canned laughter and all, means that it is no longer possible to be, to unself-consciously accept being, "normal." You see the fifties were "normal." The fifties are bizarre, but they were the last normal decade, [when] everything was still just in place the way it ought to be. The man thought he was in charge, the woman let him think that while making certain decisions in the house (she took care of the kids, made sure they were all washed and went to school, everything went just right), and the only black man they knew was the one who came around collecting money for charity. And that was what happened in the episode. It was tremendous.

That was the last normal decade. Those were the last normal people. [Today] there are hardly any normal people left. And I think that's really significant. Bill Clinton is not normal because after all he is married to Hillary and Hillary is not normal, right? That is, she's not part of that normal world, thank goodness. And Newt Gingrich is not normal. He's less normal but certainly not normal. It's now the case that even people in positions of power are clearly [not normal]. Here's a president playing the saxophone. There's something really abnormal about it. All of us who grew up in normal times know that that's so. That's really quite significant. It's no longer possible to be unself-consciously normal. We are in a very strange period of transition. In periods that are not periods of transition, everybody's normal, right? Now, hardly anybody is.

How did such a strange state of affairs begin? You could imagine back, say, in the time of the Reformation: you want your own church? Abnormal, right? You see, that kind of a revolutionary situation is where the abnormal, the crazy people, people who want their own church, get to have one. And I can just imagine, coming out of the church that I came out of, how it must have made the cardinals really go ballistic that any of [these reformers, who] previously would [have been dismissed as] kooks , would be in charge of a kingdom or a principality. You know, this crazy person nails these theses to the door of the church, and soon there were people saying, "That's great! Go for it Luther!"

But we are in that kind of strange situation now. That is one of the reasons that the right is so "strong" now. They're not strong because they are actually strong. They're strong because the world is not any longer the normal world that they're trying to preserve. That's why we call them "reactionaries." They're trying to go [back] into the nineteenth century. But we're much closer to the twenty-first. They seem stronger than they are because they recognize [that they are losing ground]. Why, for example, are they so gung ho for family values? Because most of the families aren't like those families of the fifties. Even the ones that are as close as possible are not really like that. I think it's important to keep that in the back of one's mind when we feel really oppressed by how strong they are, just think how weak they actually are. And one clear example of that to bear in mind is the following: Colin Powell is going to run as a Republican. . . . I was gearing up to decide whether I would vote for the first time for a Republican . . . because the country could use a black male president. I mean it's fantastic. Fortunately I didn't have to make that decision. But look, all of these right-wing Republicans up on a stage, a whole phalanx of them, denouncing this Republican. Denouncing him. That's not a sign of strength. That is a sign of terrible weakness. Why would they have to do such a thing? They were afraid. Why? They are trying to pull us back from what they imagine is sort of a pit, [a loss of their own institutions]. Trying to pull us back, and here they think, "We've got it, we've got the Republican Party," and they realize they can lose it just like that. They're very scared. So the situation may not be quite what it seems to be. How did it get this way?

Well, I'll tell you how it got this way for me. I grew up as a Catholic. I was an altar boy. I was going to be a priest. Now obviously the eldest son in an Italian Catholic family, a person who would become a priest if anyone was going to be—and I was going to be that person. My two aunts are nuns. I came into it from liberation theology. I read things that probably most people in this room have not read. I read [Jacques] Maritain, I read [Emmanuel] Mounier, I read things put out by Catholic Worker people; I was very much immersed in that sort of thing. And that was how I came at it. By virtue of my Catholicism and the particular character it was taking, for me a major decision was whether to be a priest. Therefore I was not a careerist. I couldn't be a careerist. I had something more important to do. I was trying to save my soul. And I made pacts with myself repeatedly. "If you can just believe these things, then you will have to apply to become a Jesuit." That was the image I had—a romantic image. But the point is, I certainly could not become a careerist.

Now it turns out that from various other paths, many people I met at Berkeley were in the same situation. Not all Catholics—mostly not. But they, for one reason or another, were in some kind of peripheral relationship to the society, not really able to put career first but rather to put ideas first. There were a remarkable number of people there at that time of that kind. And not just at Berkeley. Some of them were from Jewish families, some from Protestant families even, which is really remarkable to me because I don't think of there being that many Protestants in America because where I grew up [Queens, New York] there were only Catholics and Jews. But in any case, I understand there are a lot of Protestants in America and we, in fact, encountered some. And in any case, whichever background they came from, they were not set on being careerists. The ideas actually mattered. For me it was because of the reasons I've described, but for others with different backgrounds it would have been for other reasons. That was a significant part of that time. And maybe one of the reasons it was possible was because they were prosperous times. It's harder to eschew an excessive concern with career when you want to make sure you have one, right? We knew, no problem, you can get student digs for thirty-five dollars. Astonishing. So one didn't worry about the material world. One could afford to be above the material world, and a lot of people at that time really were, and I think fortunately.

We also were the first generation to grow up under the threat of the bomb. That actually was special. We were the first generation to do that. They exploded them on the [TV] tube. See, they hadn't yet put them [under] the ground. Periodically there would be an explosion of the hydrogen bomb or the latest device there, chow, boom! Right on the news. And I remember even as a little child they had us ["take cover"] under desks. There were periodically drills in the schools as I was growing up in the fifties and you would go under desks. Now, I ultimately took degrees in physics, so even then I asked myself questions like "Will it actually do the job?" And I made up these stories. Maybe it's the flash, so maybe the desk could keep me from going blind. You try to think, "What could this wooden desk [do to protect me in a nuclear attack]?" So I would actually try to think, what would it do? and I never raised the issue with the teacher. I mean, one could, right? One could say, "You know, I don't want to make a big thing about this, but will it really work? Could you maybe explain it to me?" But I did think about it, you see. Lots of people did. One of the reasons they put [fallout shelters] underground was because people were super scared. People were more scared of the bombs than of the Commies. [Even people] like me, coming from a background where, [for] Catholics of a certain kind, J. Edgar Hoover was a person to take seriously as an intellectual almost, from a sort of a Catholic point of view. So, in other words, the Commies, I knew, were bad. I later met some and discovered they were very warm human beings, but it took me a while. But the bomb, you knew that was bad, right? So that was part of the background.

And then, part of the background for me and, I think, for others was the Holocaust. I'm not Jewish but I saw those pictures. And those pictures were astonishing. Heaps of bodies. Mounds of bodies. Nothing affected my consciousness more than those pictures. And those pictures had on me the following impact, which other people maybe came to in a different way. They meant to me that everything needed to be questioned. Reality itself. Because this was like opening up your father's drawer and finding pictures of child pornography, with adults molesting children. It's like a dark, grotesque secret that people had that at some time in the recent past people were being incinerated and piled up in piles. I saw those pictures. I couldn't believe them. And I thought as a [high school] kid looking at those pictures: "If this really happened, then everything must have changed." Germany must absolutely have been a transformed government—from sinners to saints. They must actually have rooted out the possibility of such a thing happening—totally rooted it out—[and] have totally transformed society where even the least possibility that anyone could do anything bad again is prevented just from the fear of what once happened. Otherwise this couldn't be real. It must be a fake. I mean how could it possibly [be]? But I knew it was real. And this affected me more than any other single thing. I started to get the idea that people weren't really coming completely clean about things. In other words, that there was almost a conspiracy not to tell the truth to oneself, even on a mass scale. Because I knew that if the kind of transformation that would have to have happened in Germany, reflective of taking these pictures seriously, [actually happened,] we'd know about it. You'd hear about it on the news: "German chancellor just nominated for sainthood," or something like that. Some sort of absolutely astonishing things would be happening in Germany if there were any human response to these heaps. So it's clear that that hadn't happened, and that's [the] point. And that was the thing that started me questioning everything about reality. It was really those pictures. And I'll bet you that those pictures had such an effect on thousands and thousands of people, whether they were Jewish or not. This is not the good that comes out of the bad—à la Saint Augustine—that justifies the Holocaust. But this is the good that comes out of the bad because we've got to get on into our next millennium or something. Those pictures had an impact on people's lives. I know they had an impact on mine, something not as strong but akin to a "never again" feeling which Jews certainly have had. But non-Jews had that kind of feeling, too.

In the midst of all this, the Civil Rights Movement exploded. To me that was very important at that moment because I had had this confrontation with the ideas of the Holocaust. I was not a careerist. I was someone who took good and evil exceptionally seriously. I had two aunts who were nuns. I could have been a priest. And, suddenly, there's the Civil Rights Movement. And since I'm breaking away from the Church, I see the Civil Rights Movement in religious terms. [In the] Civil Rights Movement there were all those ministers; it was just absolutely rife with ministers, bristling with ministers. And so, to me, this was an example of God working in the world. Allying myself in whatever way I could with that movement was an alternative to the Church because I couldn't actually believe those [biblical] stories. Not that things couldn't have happened that way, but there seemed to be lots of reasons to think maybe they hadn't happened that way. I couldn't bring myself to believe the religion I was born into on a factual basis. But the spirit of "do good" and "resist evil" was an important part of my religious upbringing. I saw [that] present in the Civil Rights Movement—and I wanted to ally myself with that. I believe that thousands of people from different religious points of view who no longer believed in their religions literally still kept with them that germ of truth, part of which is do good and resist evil. And for them the Civil Rights Movement was the thing they were waiting for—a real counterbalance to the evil that they had seen or imagined, to the bombs exploding and [telling people], "This is just normal; we have to protect ourselves from the Communists and so we create a weapon that could destroy the world." And everyone knows it. And they said it. Here finally was, in counterpoint to palpable evil, something that was palpably good and that was an example of resisting evil and doing good.

I was drawn to it in that way, and I think lots of other people were, for these kinds of very positive, ethical reasons. What makes it possible to be drawn to something for ethical reasons? You've got to be in a position of relative prosperity. If you're not in a position of relative prosperity, then economic concerns do assert themselves and become more overtly determinative of your behavior. But the sixties was a period of comparative prosperity and so lots of kids, especially from middle-class families or, in my case, upper working-class families, could orient a large segment of their lives along a moral axis because they could afford to do so.

I then went to Berkeley. I was a philosophy student, and this was the case of "philosophy student goes South." I'd been studying physics. I then realized that I had to take a little sojourn into philosophy because I had to finally make the decision—am I a Catholic or not? So I decided to do it in this very systematic way. I became a philosophy student. That was interesting, and I am now toying with the idea of finally getting a Ph.D. in philosophy because I might as well actually complete this and make some kind of late career move which I wasn't able to do at all [in the 1960s]. And let me say something about the spirit of philosophy at Berkeley in those days. There were two main branches to philosophy at Berkeley in [the sixties]. There was the analytic tradition out of British empiricism and as developed by the philosophies of ordinary language—especially J. L. Austin, whom I was very taken by, actually moved by. And then versus that was a very strong countertrend which was based at least in the early [sixties] on existentialism, only later [in that decade] on Marxism. And so, at the very beginning, in the early sixties, the two trends in philosophy at Berkeley were analytic philosophy and existentialism. Existentialism had the coffeehouses and analytic philosophy had the lecture halls. But they were both present, and people who were interested in those things could get both and did. I remember that the term just before the FSM broke, Jean Wahl from the Sorbonne was [in Berkeley] giving a lecture on philosophy of existence, a series of lectures. I took those lectures, and then I wrote a paper based on a comparison of Gabriel Marcel to G. E. Moore. It was mostly about Moore, and the person who read the paper said, "This isn't about existentialism." It's an interesting little sidelight. I was more drawn to the analytical side because I was always more in favor of giving precise answers to small questions [than] excessively imprecise ones to big questions—although I was aware that the questions were small. Other people not only liked the precise answers but also thought those were the only questions. That's another story. I was never suckered into that.

So, it was in this environment. And what was the environment then? It was back to basics intellectually, trying to get precise about the kinds of questions that the existentialists were asking. Among the students a serious contender for sainthood at that time was Albert Camus. [He was] Everyman's saint. Much later in life I went to Provence and put some flowers at his grave. The combination of analyzing everything to the root and the [notion that the] really important things are the decisions you make and the life you choose—that was the spirit of existential philosophy, combined with the Civil Rights Movement going on outside the campus.

People on the Berkeley campus got very involved in the Civil Rights Movement. And there was a local branch of it. The Bay Area civil rights movement was tremendously attractive to students and a minority of [them] took part. There were demonstrations all over the Bay Area, often the same faces, and they're faces now that I see elsewhere at demonstrations, same people, a little grayer. And, here's what's interesting: they were successful demonstrations, militant demonstrations that brought results. And that was very energizing to people, the fact that you could compel a store to hire people [of color] they weren't previously hiring. And there were consequences if they didn't do that. That's, by the way, how affirmative action got started. Affirmative action got started in the streets in the sixties. We called it in those days a response to "de facto" discrimination. De facto discrimination means, you didn't have to prove the [employer] actually hated people of a certain kind; just that he didn't have any of them working for him was enough. And now, they're trying to do away with that idea. It's a very important idea, we felt. We put the burden effectively on the business. You either hire these people or you show us why you shouldn't hire them, and they couldn't [justify their discriminatory practices]. In which case they get closed down. When people say that affirmative action is counter to democracy, they better recognize that filling in boxes with your particular kind of ethnicity and so forth, if that isn't liberal democracy, I don't know [what is]. It really is quite a liberal democratic alternative to fill in boxes with your ethnicity, right? It's very orderly. The alternative is back to the streets. That's where it came from, in those days.

I was at one of those demonstrations [against discriminatory employment practices in San Francisco]. I got [recruited] to the demonstration by being handed a leaflet on the Berkeley campus, at this strip of land [at Bancroft and Telegraph]. They gave me this leaflet. I said, "Oh. Demonstration, okay." These demonstrations had the moral cachet of the campus. Absolutely. They had won out over football games, no question about it. And so, I believed in all this, and, in addition, there was this girl I wanted to impress, so I didn't become a football star, I went to this demonstration. It's true. I can say it now right because what's the big deal? But I think it was actually a healthy thing. We were creating an alternative society, and in the alternative society, you impress people you want to go out with by doing things that are alternative, right? And so, that's how that happened. Well, so I took this leaflet. I read it. I knew I had to go there. I went to the demonstration, got arrested for the first time, and I remember we were all holding hands, locking arms and stuff like that. There was this lady [a guest at the hotel]; she was looking down, "You go back to Russia!"

"I don't come from Russia."

"Well, just go back to where you belong, go back to Russia. You're a Communist."

"My parents are from Italy." This actually happened.

I was, as a result of getting that leaflet, arrested. I'm in the holding pen when someone named John King, whom I've never met, says, "Oh, are you going to Mississippi?" Well, that summer was going to be Mississippi Freedom Summer. This, if the good guys win, is the seminal event of the twentieth century. When you get past the Second World War, this is it. This is what determines the rest of the history of the country in this century. This particular event, the Mississippi Freedom Summer. That created the cadre [of student activists] for the whole country. Fantastic event. That doesn't mean that you had to be there. You just had to know somebody who was there. It was electric. So if I'm nominating people for sainthood, Bob Moses wins hands down. I was, on this trip, then [a philosophy student suspecting that] nothing is [real], [wondering] what is real. They tell you [one thing while] they pile bodies. I was really on a "doubt all things" trip, in part fed by analytic philosophy. I tended in the worst moments to believe it's all sense data that's just a patch of purple, and so I was [on] a super-Human trip combined with this tremendous ethical drive. It's a terrible combination actually to be faced with, and so I wanted to come into contact with some reality. I had to go to Mississippi. That was obviously the proof. Okay, you had to go to Mississippi.

So I went and I had my touch with reality. And my touch with reality was one particular moment that summer. All that effort to get one particular moment. I brought somebody to register to vote. You weren't supposed to say a word. This guy comes. The guy was about sixty, seventy years old. There's the sheriff's wife behind the counter. 'Doffs his hat and he just stands there. Silent. She goes about her business. Finally, finally, she comes over: "What do you want, boy?" Head down. "Wanna reddish." "Boy, what do you want?" "Wanna reddish." "Reddish, what's that boy?" Here—he's obviously older than she is. He's worked all his life—such silence, such dignity, such composure. And meanwhile I cannot say anything. We're not allowed to say a word—going to watch that's all. And this went on for a long time. "What do you want, boy?" "Wanna reddish, ma'am." They all said "reddish." The word register became a two-syllable word in Mississippi and that's what they said: "Wanna reddish. Wanna reddish." Finally she throws the thing at him, and now he has to interpret a section of the Mississippi constitution in order to qualify as a registered voter. And that was my moment of reality. And you don't need that many. I only needed that one.

I endangered people by bringing them down to register. I was into chutzpah, okay? I made up a line. How did I get this guy to register? I would go round to the houses. We'd go in teams of two, and I talked oftentimes. 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. "What do you want?" [I'd] explain we're here to organize people to go down to the courthouse to vote. "I don't wanna vote." They were afraid, obviously. Didn't want to lose his job or worse. And I got to say the following line. I couldn't believe it; I'd say, "Did your father vote?"

"No sir."

"Did your grandfather vote?"

"No sir."

"Do you want your children to vote?"

That's all. I don't know where I got the nerve to say such a thing. And always then, when I came to the third question, they were ready to register and that was it. Change was in the air and they wanted to be on that freedom train. And I do not know how I got . . . I mean it was almost an effrontery to ask those questions. But I asked them. Nobody told me to.

Obviously I endangered people. When I went back to Berkeley, back to California, nice, sunny California—home of none of that, right? [And] lots of other people were in the same boat. I was then the incoming president of University Friends of SNCC, and when we came back to California, the [campus] administration sent out letters to all these various organizations saying "that strip of land," the very place where I'd gotten the first leaflet, "we have now discovered that this is University property," and so we're not allowed to have advocacy of anything on University property and therefore there will no longer be these card tables to distribute literature. No more distribution of leaflets, no more collecting of money, no more doing all of the things that had gotten me to go to the demonstration where I was first arrested and ultimately to Mississippi to endanger these people. And to me it was a very clear question, "Am I a Judas?" I'm going to betray the people whom I endangered now that I'm back home? Forget all about that. Was that reality? Or is it just a fantasy? A little childish game? I did my little childish game in Mississippi, and now I'm back to the serious stuff of becoming whatever I was going to become (I had no idea what that was anyway)? And all the other students seemed to feel the same way: the ones who could do something about it, all the people who received the letter, all the people [opposed the ban], including the Republicans for God's sake, and not for civil rights reasons, for strictly libertarian reasons.

The letter said, "Please come and we'll explain; if you want to have this explained to you, what this policy change means, we'll be glad to explain." And this [letter] was [from] Dean Katherine Towle, a lovely person, really, and so we went. We didn't go one by one. We went together, en masse. We did that from the beginning, and we never did it any other way. It was always together. So here we are together [with] the dean. "How do we change this?" That's all we wanted to know. [She says,] "This is University policy. You can't change that." And I remember asking questions like this at that very meeting. I said, "Okay, I'd at least like to know something." (My training was in philosophy.) "Does the law require the University to forbid these tables here? Show that to us. Or does the law simply grant the University the right to forbid these tables here? Is this discretionary?" I made it quite clear what I was asking. She said, "Oh, it's discretionary. But that's our policy."

I say, "Oh, so in other words, this is a matter of discretion and you've adopted this as a matter of policy. What's the justification for it? [We are] willing to listen. You need a reason. If you exercise discretion, you need a reason and we insist on getting a reason."

"We're not required to give a reason, the law doesn't require it."

"Oh yes, but we require it. This is discretionary and therefore you made a decision to do this. You're not obliged to make that decision. You have to have a reason. I mean, you surely didn't make it in an arbitrary fashion. You must have had a reason. What was the reason?"

Well, there wasn't any reason that could really stand muster there. They'd been pressured by the Oakland Tribune, by these sort of right-wingers who were peripheral then and are now making a bid for national power. That was their reason. But that reason they couldn't put forward. I guess if she knew what was coming, she would never have agreed to the first premise that this was discretionary. But, of course, it was and everyone knew it. So here's how the FSM [arose] in the simplest [terms]: We insisted on a reason. They said the only reason is that this is University property. But, as I and others pointed out in the very first meeting, "That's not a reason. That's a fact."

Now that was, that was really decisive. They got spiked right there: "That's not a reason. That's a fact." How'd they get spiked? See this was the "end of ideology" era. And we just had turned the tables on them. They were attacking people who were taking moral action on the basis of "well, you're just emoting, just making value judgments." As if this were not a normal human thing to do. That the only real solid things were facts. So when you tell me that the reason you're doing this is because it's University property, then I'm at perfect liberty to say, "Choup! That's a fact. That's not a reason." And of course that's exactly right, it was just a fact. What made it just a fact? The fact that they had discretion. That is, we had learned our end-of-ideology lessons very well. And in learning the lessons, we had honed a very, very sharp knife. And that knife was now turned at them. I hope this point is really clear because it is extremely important. Why is this business about end of ideology important here and relevant to this? What was this end of ideology about? It was about destroying socialism. Because what were the alternatives? The alternative was a perfectly "natural" commercial society in which everything happened according to the laws of nature's god, or whatever. There it is. You couldn't tamper with that. The alternative was tampering with the market, maybe even elements of a command economy. All of that was against nature, and based upon an ideology. We here, in the land of nature's god, we have no ideology. It's just according to the facts. This is the natural way to do things, right? Buying and selling is natural. The market price, that's the natural price. It's only you wicked people over here who tamper with the laws of nature's god, and you have ideologies behind you. Okay. Very well. But then if you say that you have a policy, and you have discretion to develop that policy in this particular way, then, and you have no reason for that, and you offer as your reason that it's University property, I have learned very well what answer you need. "That's not a reason. That's just a fact. And facts can't be argued into reasons. No way." And we told them those things. It's quite remarkable to realize now. Now we're past those debates; they're in the past. But it was super powerful at that time. We talked their language but not to their purpose.

I'd like to say how I was drawn into the FSM personally. You may say, "Haven't you said enough about that?" No. Everyone needs his own personal hook. We had a meeting early in the movement, and we had to choose a name. We were "name tripping." Anybody who's chosen names knows you can go crazy choosing names. There were various revolutionary organizations then with letters, and so someone finally said "Free University." No. "Free Speech Movement" and "FSM"—okay, and that sounded almost like some Latin American revolutionary [organization]. I think Jack Weinberg proposed that name, and I asked him years later, "Why did you like it?" "Oh, it sounded like some Latin American revolutionary organization." But that's not why it appealed to me. I personally had a tremendous stammer all through high school. I couldn't speak. And that name, as soon as he said it, I said "Aw!" It's a pun. For me it was really a tremendous pun, which meant a lot to me [as it signified the free movement of my own speech]. And I must say that free speech meant a lot to me and means a lot to me. There's this wonderful saying of Diogenes the Cynic. "Cynic" meant something different in those days—it was where he came from. Anyway, Diogenes, who supposedly had the lantern during the daytime to see if there were any honest people around, said, "the most beautiful thing in the world is the freedom of speech," and I really feel that. And we weren't going to let go of it. I wasn't going to let go of it.

We almost lost. This is important to understand. To people today [the FSM seems] successful. [But] we were almost unsuccessful. We worked our little hearts out—our little tushes—for a whole term. We worked like crazy to mobilize the students and to educate the faculty. Above all we had to educate the faculty. Students come and go. Faculty had position there, they had jobs, they had tenure in many cases. And if we could educate them, we could win. There was no hope of educating the Regents, okay? And that's why there's a problem today. The faculties are in favor of affirmative action but the Regents aren't. So this is a serious problem. [We] wanted to educate the faculty. And we worked so hard at it. The FSM had almost run its course. It was toward the end. Things were still very touch and go. There was this meeting at the Greek Theatre. Clark Kerr had decided on the solution. He had his plan. His plan had nothing in it about free speech. No correspondence at all between his plan for solving the "campus chaos," which was all he was concerned about, [and the FSM's free speech position]. Nothing at all in his plan that was responsive to any of the things that we had said. So the Greek Theatre. Very, very, very nice. The symbolism was beautiful. They had this stage, they had these baronial chairs and sitting on them were the department heads. The chairs on the chairs and there they were like the barons. And so he made a speech. The speech was over. They turned off the microphone. I walked to the center of the stage to tell people, to announce simply that we're going to have a meeting down in [Sproul] Plaza. That was my intention. To discuss these issues. We were afraid of losing it at that very moment. And we could have. And fortunately, they had ready their cops, and they came and they pulled me down. Astonishing!

We lucked out time after time, and that was our final luck out. We had argued it all beautifully; we presented all of the facts, the arguments, the reasons and theories. We talked to everybody, and yet at the very last moment we could have lost the whole thing. But they saved us in that way just as earlier they had saved [us]; luck had saved us. During the original gathering, they [had] put a police car on the campus to arrest one of our people. You've really got to be bereft of all sense to do that! We could not anticipate that they would do such a thing, that they would arrest a former student on the campus with a police car, that they [would] drive right in the middle of the Plaza, kaplunk! That'd be bereft of all sense. They do this. Okay, great, that's a plus. Just falls into our laps. Here it is. Then what happens? The next day is "Parents Visiting the Campus Day." We were around that car for thirty-two hours, for God's sake. We could have been around that car for another seventy, and that would have really been very upsetting to the trustees and the people who contribute money, the rich alumni; the whole little ball of wax would have just melted, just like that. What were they going to do? They had police ringing the campus. They threatened to come in bludgeoning people. Well, there would have been blood on the pavement, and they wouldn't have gotten the blood off the pavement so easily. That was luck, sheer luck. We knew how to take advantage of luck, but it was luck. And then likewise at the very end. They come [to the Greek Theatre]; I go up to make an announcement, whew! [The] police [drag me] down. I'm in a different place. I'm talking to one of the cops in Italian at this point, true. So I'm really just now in a different world. That's what won it for us.

A couple of days later [December 8] there's the meeting of the Berkeley Academic Senate, and we have worked with these guys, trying to tell them about free speech. These are smart guys. To be on the Berkeley faculty you can't be that dumb. [Yet] it took us a very long time to explain to them the niceties of civil liberties issues where they could understand [them]. But we didn't know even then whether they would understand. And we had done our all. If we'd lost it at that point, it would have been gone. And they voted by about eight to one. In those days it wasn't a representative body [of delegates]; it was a one person-one vote senate and they had a real debate. We had opened up a space for the faculty to have a debate. And that's really a side of the FSM which isn't understood. We had to work like crazy, disrupting the University, taking over buildings, having sit-ins, marches, all this sort of thing to just open up a little space where people would have a real debate. That was America. This is a free country here, and [yet] you had to go crazy so we can have an actual, real debate that could really decide something. Astonishing! And they voted the right way. And we were outside. And [the faculty] came walking through, and I remember we were clapping and tears were just streaming down our faces because, if we had not won at that point, if they didn't get it at that point, I wouldn't be here right now.

It was that close right to the very end, and that gets me talking about where we are now. History works that way. Right—a very, very fine cut. It's not one million workers gathering together and three bosses in a room, you see—it ain't like that. It's usually a very, very fine cut. We had to work like maniacs. I was exhausted and so were the other people. I'm talking personally because I can remember my own experience, but all the people I worked with, Bettina [Aptheker], whom you know, I'm sure, Jack [Weinberg], whom I mentioned, and so many others, we were meeting around the clock. If we had lost it then, and we could have, it would have been all over. There would not have been free speech. The anti-free speech forces would have prevailed. The silence of the silent fifties would have prevailed. It might have, it would have, broken out some other way but not so cleanly and finely—and not so early on, as things go. That was 1964. It would have been a messier event, as many of the other campus movements were. The clear confrontation of the issues, the clear victory, was the product of a tremendous effort, and it almost missed. Have we had other experiences like that? There was a dictatorship in Germany, but there was also a dictatorship in Russia. I wouldn't want to have lived in either place. One was clearly worse than the other. At some point Stalin wasn't so sure which side he wanted to be on. There was bickering whether there should be a pact between the Russians and the Nazis and then maybe the West would sort of wipe itself out and then—very [close], too close. That's how history really is. There was a good side, there was a bad side, but they weren't like that [Savio shows a big distance with his hands]; they were like this [brings his hands close together]. It was a very, very fine cut. The Nazis were defeated. When you think of it in those terms, then you say, "Oh, gulp! Real history is usually a very, very fine cut, and if the right side wins, if you are on the ground, actually involved in the struggle, you are not sure that you are going to win."

We are involved in that situation today. Those people who lost in the South are now making a bid for national power; it's much the same people. I mean, where does Newt Gingrich come from? Where does Jesse Helms come from? Where does Phil Gramm come from? They don't come from Maine, okay? They lost in the South. We beat them in the sixties, actually. They're making a bid for national power. They are in an end-game situation. They, not us. If they don't win it now, they don't win it. Why? I'll tell you. The issues that we fought for and developed over the sixties and seventies, mostly the sixties, actually are the issues of today. The national agenda [today] is the agenda that we created. What is that agenda? The simple version is, it's antihierarchy. But what does it mean? Antihierarchy in race, antihierarchy in gender, antihierarchy in class, antihierarchy in the environment. It's not one species über alles. Antihierarchy in the empire [means] not one nation über alles. Those five [points] that Cornel West is happy to name: race, gender, class, environment, empire. That is the agenda that we began the creation of, and that is today's agenda.

Where do you learn to obey and that some people are worse than others? You learn it in the family; you don't learn it out of a book. You learn in the family that it's not what you do but what you are. If you have the wrong kind of genitalia, then you are in one class. And if you have the right kind, you are in another class. Later on, you can easily transfer that learning to other things, but it is a very important lesson learned in the home and very early. Because it's not going to take if you don't learn it early: that it's okay for whole classes of people to be above another on the basis of what they are, not what they do. If you have a woman physicist and a male national football hero, it's right to say that he's better—at football. That's correct. But it's not right to say that he's better because he is a better kind of person. He shouldn't have a higher status. If status breaks down in the home, they've lost it—absolutely lost it. It's very, very serious; this is an end-game situation, as I see it. Well, we began to break the whole idea of status down about everything. It was true about race. People who have dark skin in America were not regarded as normal. The norm was a white male. That's not true anymore. Everybody here knows that's not true. Roseanne knows it's not true, and all her viewers know it's not true. So this is very serious for them, and therefore, they are panicky. They're making a bid for power at the last moment. When Colin Powell said, "I want to be president. Maybe, I'm going to think about it," this whole phalanx of guys make these speeches denouncing him [and] his character. Why? Because he's not a Ward Connerly, he's not a me-too in the trustees. He has his own mind. Okay, his mind is not my mind or your mind. It's his own mind, though, and he's not allowed to do that. They were hysterical. They were afraid. It's because it's the last moment.

If you believe you've got to win by blueprinting a new kind of society and having everyone do that, you're not going to win. History doesn't work that way. We won in '64 very, very closely. The Russians defeated the Nazis at Stalingrad, but you wouldn't have wanted to live in either society. That's really true. What is a similar thing here? Last week I read in the [San Francisco] Chronicle a study of hierarchy in wealth and income in industrialized countries. There've been a million such studies. They compare wealth and income hierarchies in the industrial democracies of Europe, Japan, Canada, the U.S. The studies always come out the same. They compare various different scales, let's say income, of the poorest person in the top tenth and the richest person in the bottom tenth. That's the gap, that's the so-called income gap and wealth gap. The gap is always greatest in the U.S. In Finland it's right now lowest, [where] there's a 2.8-fold difference between that poorest rich guy and richest poor guy. In the U.S. it's around 15-fold. Tremendous, tremendous. What does that mean? Say, that's terrible, [and it can leave you] pessimistic. How could you bring [more equality to America]? [But it is possible to be] optimistic. We only need to shift resources very modestly. If the U.S. had a 5-fold income or wealth gap, that would start us down the right road. It's like this tremendous boat, an ocean liner. You only have your little tugboat. But if you only have to move it a few degrees to port—you see, just a bang! One bang will start [the boat] going the right way, and they're not going to be able to steer it back because this is the end of the line for them. This is their last generation, guys. We just have to give it one good, solid slam in the right direction and then watch and see where it goes. [But] that's going to be tremendously hard to do. Lots of people died so that Stalin could defeat the Nazis, so that the Russians could prevail at Stalingrad. Lots of people died. They died in Stalingrad. They died in the ovens. Lots of people died. It's an agony to make a very, very slight change, and we don't know how this is going to come out. But, what is hopeful is, we don't have to do a miracle. We only have to give the boat a very solid push in one direction and it will do the rest of the job.