What would Mario Savio say about the Occupy movement?

Nicole Lim/Staff

“There comes 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 all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop, and you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, the people who own it, that unless you’re free the machine will be prevented from working at all.”

Those words from my father’s most famous speech ring in my ears as I watch Occupy unfold. Now is clearly such a time and there are many, many people – perhaps not 99 percent of the country, but more, to be sure, than the many thousands who are actually camping and marching – who are feeling a sense of relief and hope that someone has finally stepped forward to say, “We’ve had enough.”

Critics of the Occupy movement have tried to dismiss the protesters as unserious because they haven’t yet articulated a detailed reformist political agenda. It’s impossible for me to say how my dad would have reacted to this. On one hand, he took action, when he did, out of a relatively straightforward moral imperative. “The one moral principle that I took from my (religious) education was this: Resist evil,” he said in 1994. Surely he’d applaud Occupy for doing just that. On the other hand, I can imagine him now, were he still with us, working to help the Occupiers articulate a persuasive agenda from their righteous nonconsent.

What sort of movement would Mario help build? Well, that’s the hard part. What I’m struck by in looking at a few of his speeches is that he wasn’t at all extreme in his advocacy. Here’s what he told an audience on the Berkeley campus in 1984: “America, to accommodate the just demands of the new majority, has to become at least a little bit less capitalist.” He went on to advocate a fairly modest shift away from pure maximization of profit and towards basic social benefits like universal health care. (A similar sentiment was nicely expressed in a Wall Street protester’s sign: “Replace capitalism with something nicer.”) Mario then added, and I think this is incredibly relevant: “Becoming less capitalistic means we don’t have to become less democratic; we can become more democratic!”

Indeed, for all the talk of tactics and strategy, perhaps the most salient aspect of this movement has been the conspicuous display of in-this-togetherness across a relatively wide swath of the country’s demographics. My dad had a faith (though it could be shaken) that a more just world is possible and that such a change can only come about through people working together and caring for one another. He was never a Marxist, but he loved the iconic statement: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” What I have found most moving and most hopeful in the Occupy movement is the embodiment of this sentiment in images and stories of simple communal living and spontaneous caretaking. I believe my father would have been deeply moved simply to see a broad spectrum of people coming together, laying their bodies on the gears and helping each other face an unjust, inhumane machine.

Nadav Savio is the son of Mario Savio, the iconic leader of the Free Speech Movement.

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  • capcomm

    So, now, four years later where is the Occupy Movement? Where is the FSM for that matter?. Seems on most campuses, it is really the FLSM (Free Leftist Speech Movement). From Harvard to Cornell to Yale to UC, papers that convey a conservative viewpoint are downgraded by leftist professors who comprise a ~90% majority on the vast majority of college campuses, certainly virtually all of the big ones.

    I dropped out of high school in 1970 to join the fracas at UCLA just as the Student Strike erupted after Kent State. Even then, when “they were shooting us”, opposing viewpoints were being exchanged and there was free marketplace of ideas. Today looks, sadly, more like the French Revolution; a Tyranny of the Majority. One minority cable network espouse a conservative viewpoint as the Big Media marches in lock-step to “the line” of the left.

    Finally, Nadav, I did meet your father, finally in 1978. I gave him a couple of sailing lessons at the Cal Sailing Club. I was still ardently leftist at the time and wanted to be regaled with his pearls of wisdom and history. I told him what an inspiration he had been to me and how I planned a career in “changing the world” through left-ideal media infusion. He had no interest. I wonder why not?

  • Anonymous

    This is a false dichotomy.  Capitalism isn’t the problem.  Market fundamentalism and corporatocracy are.   Get it straight. 

  • UCMeP

    Why Occupy Cal when you can Mockupy Cal?

  • get the money out

    look the fact is some things( like education and healthcare)  should not be run for profit. These things are human rights and Americans are finally realizing this.

    • Guest

      A college education is not a human right.

    • Anonymous

      Let’s say education is a human right even though it’s not.  That means your government should provide an education to you.  Not the banks.  So why blame banks for your lack of education when you should be blaming the government, the regents, and even the highly paid professors who had to be bribed to teach at Cal instead of Yale or Stanford?

      • Confused

        Because the banks are getting bailed out while education gets cut. The banks get blamed for taking all the money, because they’re at the source of the problems in our economy. The government is too busy bailing out banks that have failed, and have deprioritized education. California’s funding got cut, so instead of blaming the symptoms – like the Regents having to raise tuiton – people are being smart and going to the source of the cancer. If the problems with how the banks operate aren’t fixed, then this situation wont get fixed. 

  • Mario Savio’s activism laid the groundwork for our defeat in Vietnam, dooming millions of people to tyranny and embarrassing the United States.

    • Myob


  • Yichenstar

     Mario Savio, we need you

  • Anonymous

    Your dad would be very proud of you, for speaking up for him.  I sold FSM 45 rpm Christmas carol records to help support the cause.  You mom and dad have always been a great inspiration.

    • Nadav Savio

      Thanks for the note. I still remember those Christmas carols from when I was a kid!

  • Guest

    The real question is, what would Mario the Plumber say about the Occupy movement?


    • Anonymous

      Wiki-leaks Lives!

  • Carol3

    “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” discourages ability, and adds incentive to being needy.

    Neither of those belongs in an educational institution.

    • Anonymous

      “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” discourages ability, and adds incentive to being needy.

      I don’t see that at all. IMO, it encourages division of labor, which very few people find troubling. You and I probably have different strengths and different weaknesses, no? If we pool our strengths, we can do together what neither of us can do alone.

    • Lynne

      I guess you disapprove of need-based scholarships; poor families should pay as much for tuition and fees as wealthy ones.  Then we can go back to the good old days, when only the rich attended college. 

    • Mark

      How does “from each according to… ability” discourage ability, or anything else? How is “to each… according to needs” an incentive?  It seems you may have a need for deeper understanding, and to develop a more compassionate spirit.  Both of which can be found in an educational institution, in the spirit of what Mario and the Free Speech Movement stood for, and in the core impulse of OWS.

    • [“From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” discourages ability, and adds incentive to being needy.]

      True, but the fact it has been a disaster everywhere it has been implemented (Russia, China, Cuba, Zimbabwe, North Korea) hasn’t quite sunk in with these frothing idiots…

      • HexamethyldiFAILazane

        Tony finds it inconvenient to admit that Stalinism (& Leninism &Maoism) were gross perversions of the communist ideals.

        Kinda like crony corporate oligarchy is a perversion of capitalism.

        As always, Tony = Troll = FAIL.

        • I Fucked Youre Mom

          U MAD BRO?
          COME AT ME BRO!
          Y U SO MAD THO?

        • The standard leftist answer to the failures of communism is that OMG IT WASNT PERFECTLY IMPLEMENTED.

          Did you notice how conservatives think capitalism is imperfectly implemented in America, yet still point to the US as an example of the virtues of capitalism? Huh, wonder why.

          • Confused

            That has more to do with ego than any real success on our part. 
            Our economy is failing. The dollar is failing. We, as a country, are failing. 
            Some people just don’t want to admit it yet. 

          • We’re doing better than almost everybody else. Fact. (Oh, and we could be doing way better without liberalism, but still.)

  • Barrie Thorne

    Thank you for writing this, Nadav.  The spirit of your father, and the FSM, has been much invoked during the current struggle on campus.