Mario Savio

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There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part.

Mario Savio (December 8, 1942November 6 1996) was a political activist. He is famous as a leader of the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley in the 1960s.


  • We have an autocracy which — which runs this university. It's managed. We were told the following: If President Kerr actually tried to get something more liberal out of the Regents in his telephone conversation, why didn't he make some public statement to that effect? And the answer we received — from a well-meaning liberal — was the following: He said, "Would you ever imagine the manager of a firm making a statement publicly in opposition to his Board of Directors?" That's the answer.

    Well I ask you to consider — if this is a firm, and if the Board of Regents are the Board of Directors, and if President Kerr in fact is the manager, then I tell you something — the faculty are a bunch of employees and we're the raw material! But we're a bunch of raw materials that don't mean to be — have any process upon us. Don't mean to be made into any product! Don't mean — Don't mean to end up being bought by some clients of the University, be they the government, be they industry, be they organized labor, be they anyone! We're human beings!

  • There is 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!
    • Speech, Sproul Hall, University of California, Berkeley (1964-12-02).
  • The university is well structured, well tooled, to turn out people with all the sharp edges worn off, the well-rounded person. The university is well equipped to produce that sort of person, and this means that the best among the people who enter must for four years wander aimlessly much of the time questioning why they are on campus at all, doubting whether there is any point in what they are doing, and looking toward a very bleak existence afterward in a game in which all of the rules have been made up, which one cannot really amend.
  • "The "futures" and "careers" for which American students now prepare are for the most part intellectual and moral wastelands. This chrome-plated consumers' paradise would have us grow up to be well-behaved children. But an important minority of men and women coming to the front today have shown they will die rather than be standardized, replaceable, and irrelevant.
    • "An End to History" Humanity (December 1964).
  • The university is a vast public utility which turns out future workers in today's vineyard, the military-industrial complex. They've got to be processed in the most efficient way to see to it that they have the fewest dissenting opinions, that they have just those characteristics which are wholly incompatible with being an intellectual. This is a real internal psychological contradiction. People have to suppress the very questions which reading books raises.
    • Quoted in interview with Jack Fincher, "The University Has Become a Factory," Life magazine (1965-02-26).
  • I am not a political person. My involvement in the Free Speech Movement is religious and moral... I don't know what made me get up and give that first speech. I only know I had to. What was it Kierkegaard said about free acts? They're the ones that, looking back, you realize you couldn't help doing.
    • Quoted in interview with Jack Fincher, "The University Has Become a Factory," Life magazine (1965-02-26).
  • You can't disobey the rules every time you disapprove. However, when you're considering something that constitutes an extreme abridgement of your rights, conscience is the court of last resort.
    • Quoted in interview with Jack Fincher, "The University Has Become a Factory," Life magazine (1965-02-26).
  • Freedom of speech is something that represents the very dignity of what a human being is. If you cannot speak... I mean, that's what marks us off. That's what marks us off from the stones and the stars. You can speak freely. It is almost impossible for me to describe. It is the thing that marks us as just below the angels. I don't want to push this beyond where it should be pushed, but I feel it.
    • Quoted in an interview by Douglas Gilles (December 1994) from the film Free@30 (1996).

Quotes about Mario Savio

  • [1964 was] when I met him. He was a year older, a junior and a philosophy major, very brilliant. [There was] a thing about him that was so marvelous for me. I was the daughter of this very famous communist, so in these radical circles, that’s how I was always thought of. It was hard for me to establish a person who wasn’t the ‘daughter of’ [my father]. It was also a part of the sexism at the time and again, I wasn’t conscious of it, but I knew it made me uncomfortable. Mario didn’t care who I was the daughter of. What mattered to him was human to human connection. Of course, the movement was very very intense, and we were meeting all the time, often until the wee hours of the morning. There were 11 of us on the steering committee, [and] there was a larger executive committee that met. Also informally, we hung out together a great deal of the time. We would go to a movie, talk about a book, have a cup of coffee. It was never romantic, but the right-wing papers would say, this young (Jewish) communist is corrupting this blonde hair blue eyed fellow.
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