In December of 1964 I stood in a crowd at the University of California at Berkeley where the student protest movement that shook the sixties and beyond was about to begin.
That day, and the days that would unfold after it across the decades, began with an extrordinary speech by the late Mario Savio, a passionate and tragic man. The speech he gave that day at 22 years of age was, in many ways, the peak moment of his short life. Still it was a moment many would wish they had in their own life. It set in motion many things, some good, some not so good, and some evil. For me it was a speech I would never forget, for better or worse.
It is, I think, a speech that speaks more to our era today, and more broadly, than the incident and world that was its focus when it was given. Like many great speeches it is subject to interpretation, misinterpretation, appropriation and revisionism. What it means now is not exactly what it meant then except in a more far reaching manner than perhaps Savio knew or intended. But then again perhaps he did know and did intend. Give a listen and see what you think.
I've never forgotten Savio's speech and, off and on in my own small way, I've tried to incorporate its sentiments and attitudes into my life through all manner of changing circumstances.
Today, in Daniel Greenfield's "Winning the System" I found an echo of these words from a time more than 46 years past. Reading them I thought about how far we've come from the America of those years and, at the same time, how much we've veered away from the direction of those dreams, preferring to have the experience of freedom and miss the meaning of liberty.
At the same time, in reading Greenfield's thoughts and finding the echo of that long ago December embedded in them, I think that perhaps, after all, the end is not yet and that enough stout hearts and able hands remain to steer the ship away from the lee shore:
All that's left is stopping the machine. That doesn't mean violent revolution, it means determined political change. The Tea Party was the first step of that change. It was extraordinary because for the first time in a long time, outrage at the operation of the machine brought massive numbers of people together around the country. Their principled stand was doomed to be muffled because the system has no interest in shifting power away from its institutions and toward the people. But it's only the beginning.
[In the elections of 2010 we saw that] a giant was slowly waking.
The task of the left is to complete its machine before the giant wakes. Our task is to wake the giant and point him at the machine. In that way the last three years have helped us more than they have helped the left, which could have made the same gains if it had waited and taken it more slowly. They put a face on the machine and that was their mistake. Now they're trying to take it back by putting Wall Street's face on the machine.
We will fight the good fight this election, and with the help of G-d may we win it, but it's the machine that is the real war. We cannot count on an Andrew Jackson to tear apart the machine for us. That will most likely come when the giant wakes and finds the continued operation of the machine so intolerable that he tears it apart. When the day comes that the machine advances and finds its path blocked by millions of people who are determined to stop it from operating then the people will have won over the system. And then the system can be scaled down to human level again. -- Winning the System by Daniel Greenfield
To repeat the nub of Savio's speech:
"There's a time 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 make it stop! And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it -- that unless you're free the machine will be prevented from working at all!"
But there's a lot of power -- and even a prayer -- packed into that last small word in the last sentence: "May. Be."Posted by Vanderleun at October 11, 2011 9:32 PM