Nearly 33 years ago Mario Savio, a frustrated UC Berkeley student, walked the seventeen blocks from the point his car had broken down to campus in time to make his 11:00 o'clock Poli Sci class.
He would have been on time but, on his way to class, his anger spilled over as he was passing a small group of peace demonstrators on the steps outside Sproul Hall.
This wasn't the first time Savio's 1959 VW Bug had broken down. It was the fourth. And always there ensued a hassle to repair it with the dealer he was buying it from and who had warranted its dependability.
Anticipating another such battle, frustrated Savio took it upon himself to usurp the student activist's venue for his own purposes that morning--to attack unscrupulous local car dealerships he felt were preying upon university students.
Stopping atop the steps outside the hall, Savio, began his rant:
"There's 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, the people who own it that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!"
His inspiring incitement of the audience present and their appreciation afterwards made him late for Poli Sci. But we now know some students scurrying between classes and overhearing part of Savio's rage against the "People's Volkswagen" dealership on south Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley mistook it for a protest against the University, against the state of California, the nation and it's war on Vietnam.
What ensued is now pretty much history. From Savio's impassioned admonishment of a local car dealer to fix his Beetle, to passing students who misunderstood what he was trying to inspire, the Berkeley Free Speech movement was born on the steps outside Sproul Hall that early December morning in 1964.
Free speech, always a radical and frightening concept to society's power centers and their supporters, unknowingly launched Ronald Reagan's political career that very same morning, for just two years later he was elected governor of California on a platform that promised to "clean up the mess in Berkeley."
[Dada note (yeh, I know, another note): In 1997, Mario Savio was honored for his pursuit of the radical concept of free speech when the steps of Sproul Plaza were named in his honor. In a nearby universe on this same plaza, there is erected a rusting '59 Volkswagen.]
************"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." ~Mario Savio