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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Postcard from the Mario Savio Steps at Sproul Plaza

Mario Savio

It has been a long time since I saw Sproul Plaza so full of cheering patriots. It was like this when I was in graduate school at Berkeley in 1984 celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement and later protesting against the university’s investments in South Africa. History has shown that most of UC’s board of regents and administrators have been on the wrong side of the significant social justice issues of the last half century. Even they must be appalled by the recent police brutality exhibited by their own force on the UC community. But they seem confused, as do the many mayors of cities across the country, about what the Occupy movement stands for. Professor Robert Reich laid it out for them, and for the nation, Tuesday November 15 at the annual Mario Savio Memorial Speech on the Mario Savio Steps.

One thing I love about Reich is that he maintains a sense of humor—which the left sometimes forgets. You have to be able to laugh at the absurdities and the contradictions. Otherwise you risk getting engulfed by rage.

He began his talk by saying, “I’ll be short.” He only spoke for about twenty minutes, but I could have listened to his reasoning long into the night.

He spoke about the Citizens United decision at the Republican-dominated US Supreme Court. About the falsehood that money is speech and corporations are people, he said, “I will believe that corporations are people when Georgia and Texas execute them.”

He argued that we must protect the First Amendment rights of regular citizens who don’t have money and do not constitute a corporation. He continued that sometimes the First Amendment is messy, but it is more important that we go out of our way to honor it and pay the price of a democratic system of government. Mayors across the country and the UC administration seem to have missed the point. It is critical that the 99% without resources can join together to make their voices heard.

It is absurd that the one percent in cahoots with the government have privatized human rights like education and healthcare. The cost of rising fees at UC now makes a public education out of reach of a broad swath of the public. But Reich pressed a larger point, and this is really the main point of the Occupy movements everywhere. The increasing concentration of wealth in our society means that a few hundred of the wealthiest Americans own more than a few hundred million of the least wealthy.

This intense concentration of wealth means that we no longer have equal opportunity by any stretch of the imagination, and the very very rich are controlling the political system.

Reich said, “We are losing the moral foundation stone on which this democracy is built.” He pointed out that over the last thirty years, the economy has doubled in size, but most Americans have not seen the gain.

And he went on to ask, how can we be the wealthiest nation on earth and provide so little? “Where did the money go?” I think we know where it went.

It’s time to get it back. I hope some radical Santa hears my wish.

Mario Savio went to Freedom Summer in Mississippi in 1964 before he became famous on the steps of Sproul Plaza that fall. Robert Reich concluded his talk by remembering his childhood friend (and protector) Mickey. Mickey (Michael Schwerner) also went to Freedom Summer in 1964, but he never came back. Freedom can cost lives. We have to remember that when those in power are threatened, they stop the media from covering events, let loose police on nonviolent protestors, and even torture and murder people. All we can do is resist in the best way we can. Yesterday I found out that my cousin’s kids were at UC Davis camping out. I am so proud of them for standing up—and lying down—for freedom!

You can see Robert Reich’s speech here:

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