For each student involved, this last week in September was also a personal crisis.
For example, there was Brian Turner, l9-year-old sophomore in economics, who had joined SNCC little more than a reek before. On the 29th the “little deans” had approached him, as others, and asked if he knew he was breaking the rules.
“I backed down on Tuesday because I didn’t want to go alone,” he said. “I folded up the table and went home. But I thought about it overnight and I went back. When they came up to see me again, my own principles prevented me from leaving. I had decided that the freedom of 27,000 people to speak freely is worth the sacrifice of my own academic career at Cal.” (S.F. Chronicle, Oct. 3.)
Turner’s background was only mildly liberal (and in fact he was going to become one of the “moderates” in the FSM spectrum) but in one short week he had to educate himself fast on the most fundamental characterological question in politics: In confrontation with oppressive Power, do you adapt discreetly or do you go over into opposition?
Mario Savio, a junior, who had become the spokesman of the group on September 30; was a different case: he already knew who he was. This was perhaps his main title to the mantle of leadership which did in fact fall on him.
Not a glib orator, retaining remnants of a stutter, rather tending to a certain shyness, he yet projected forcefulness and decision in action. This was the outward glow of the inner fact that he was not In Hiding – he was in open opposition, and he had no doubts about it. He became the recognized leader of the FSM not in a contest but mainly because there was no other eligible student around who was morally as ready and capable of assuming the burden.
Still under 22 when the fight broke out, Mario Savio had been a high-grade student in three colleges: Manhattan College (Catholic), Queens College (New York City), and Berkeley. He had moved from absorption in physics and mathematics to a major in philosophy. He had spent his summer in 1963 on a do-gooder project in Taxco, Mexico; then in the summer of 1964 he became a SNCC voter-registration worker in Mississippi. He saw a co-worker beaten. Most important, he saw Mississippi, where the relationships between Ideals and Power quiver out in the open like exposed nerve endings.
When at summer’s end he returned to Berkeley, from a state where Law and Order meant the legally organized subjection of a whole people, the administration greeted him with the news that Law and Order meant he could not even collect quarters to aid those people. He knew all about this kind of Law and Order.
Last updated on 27.8.2006