11 September 2011


This article, from what many would call a conservative - and certainly a Catholic - web site, calls for another Mario Savio.

Perhaps.  I confess to being dubious.  I am not, perhaps, the best judge of this sort of thing.  I have never been particularly political.  I should make clear that I do not think politics of no importance.  I think it of great importance, and, potentially, of great good.  It is the means whereby we, in Ronald Knox's phrase (from "The Belief of Catholics"), a way of deciding disputes by "counting heads instead of breaking them."

Nevertheless, due more to cowardice, laziness, and self-absorption - and perhaps a certain fastidiousness - than to any virtue, I have never been able to be very interested in politics.

I do not recall the precise date in September, 1964 when I first arrived back at the University of California in Berkeley, but already, before Jack Weinberg was arrested on 1 October, there were exciting disturbances going on around Sproul Hall Plaza.

Exciting is the word.  I was very much involved in each of the events that occurred between that arrest, with the students surrounding, occupying, and effectively destroying, the police car that Weinberg was put in, and the rally at the Greek Theatre on 7 December of that year.  I shouted with the rest.  I called for ... well, for whatever was being called for.  I marched.  I carried a sign once - but I don't recall what the sign said nor what it was supposed to be about.  My involvement was not political.

Certainly that of the leaders was political.  Jack Weinberg was arrested at the CORE table.  The movement for black civil rights had been going on since the CORE 1947 freedom ride, and before.  I had known some who were active - passionately active - in the movement to end racial segregation and similar injustices, even in 1960-61 at UCLA.  But I understood almost nothing of this, and, honestly, was not very moved by any of this.  I do not defend this.  It is a lack and a failure in me.

But marching, shouting, carrying signs, listening to impassioned speakers was exciting.

My involvement ended on that day in 7 December.

I don't recall precisely what the rally was about.  The president of the University, Clark Kerr, spoke.  I think his message was an attempt to say that all legitimate demands would be dealt with properly, but that the disruption of University life, and and demand that the University of California campus must make itself available to political action, were not legitimate and must stop.

I confess to thinking, now, at age almost-69, that these are quite reasonable positions to take.  This is why I said at the beginning of this that I was less than convinced that our age needed another Mario Savio.  I do not very clearly see why the young, who are, certainly, impassioned, are ipso facto wiser than others.  Perhaps my age has something to do with it.  Perhaps - but I think this has been my view for as long as I remember.

Whether or not, I do remember that rally at the Greek Theatre.  The President had been one the one who called the meeting.  I call it a 'rally' but it was in fact a convocation called by the administration.

The President was still speaking when Mario Savio came up, grabbed the microphone away from him, and began shouting - demands, whatever, I don't recall.  What I do recall was his saying that we must all rush down to Sproul Plaza to ... well, I suppose, to have a rally.

We did.  We rushed out of the Greek Theatre and down the hillside.  We were shouting, I recall.  And we - I, anyway, and I was imitating others - were destroying.  Destroying plants, mostly - pulling up bushes, knocking over small trees.

I am not certain that had there been people in our way, we would not have been destroying them.

We got down to Sproul Plaza and Savio began to speak.  I was more or less on the outside of the crowd.  And I remember being shocked.  I do not know that my thoughts were as coherent as, "what in the world is this about?  I don't know anything about politics, and don't care, but I see that I could have been even more destructive, without any self-restraint - and I am sure that if I go on this way, I am not going to finish my degree.  I have a wife and a child to be concerned about.  I had better leave this stuff alone."

My thoughts were probably not so coherent, but that was their substance.  I was never again involved in any of that after that point.

The degree of my lack of interest in politics may be reflected in what I became much more interested in at this time: fish.

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