Hundreds crowded into Pauley Ballroom for the annual Mario Savio Memorial Lecture Wednesday evening, given this year by Anthony “Van” Jones, who served on President Barack Obama’s Council on Environmental Quality.
Jones — who is currently a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank — discussed the need for a harder push for change in Obama’s second term, particularly in the realm of environmental and economic policy.
“This was a tremendous victory because we didn’t bow down and hand over the country to the worst people ever born,” Jones said in his speech. “But we cannot have four more years where you cannot talk about racism, about poverty, about peace, about the environment. Four years of silence from the left are over.”
The program also celebrated the two winners of the Mario Savio Young Activist Award — an annually awarded distinction that recognizes young persons for their commitment to human rights and proven record of activism.
The recipients of this year’s award are Howard Watts III, for his work on progressive issues in Nevada, and Molly Catchpole, for her work in petitioning against Bank of America and activism in the realm of student debt.
“Funding public education until 12th grade really isn’t sufficient anymore — we’re $1 trillion in student debt and counting,” Catchpole said in her acceptance speech. “Where we are now is an utter failure. I want to live in a nation where we take education as seriously as we do war.”
The lecture takes place annually to commemorate Mario Savio, the activist who served as spokesperson and symbol of UC Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement.
“Mario Savio was a true American hero,” Jones said. “The stand he took for free speech and peace is just as important today in the Internet age as we face challenges to freedom of expression and privacy … these issues are even more pressing now than they were in the 1960s.”
UC Berkeley public policy professor and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich delivered last year’s lecture on the steps of Sproul Plaza in front of thousands of students. His speech, in which he discussed the importance of activism and support for the Occupy movement, came to be seen as the apex of last year’s Occupy Cal movement.
“Forty-seven years ago, as you know, we were graced with the eloquence and the power of Mario Savio’s words from these steps,” he said in his speech. “And those words continue to live on — in fact, the sentiments and words that Mario Savio expressed 47 years ago are as relevant, if not more relevant, today than they were then.”
Sara Khan covers academics and administration. Contact her at [email protected].
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the speech took place Thursday evening. In fact, it was Wednesday evening.