“If you live long enough, you’ll see that every victory turns into a defeat.”
– Simone de Beauvoir
If he were alive today, surely these would be the thoughts, if not words, of UC-Berkeley Free Speech movement architect, Mario Savio.
This week on the very hallowed ground where Mr. Savio made his famous free speech remarks in 1964, massive rioting shut down a talk by Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos.
And did they ever shut it down. The speech was cancelled. Yiannopoulos was evacuated from the area, and according to Breitbart Daily News:
News of the rioting made cable news last night as students smashed ATMs and bank windows, looted a Starbucks, beat Trump supporters, pepper sprayed innocent individuals, and set fires in the street. Others spray painted the words “Kill Trump” on storefronts.
So, who exactly is this hateful, bigoted, racist that campus lefties needed to silence? Paradoxically, Mr. Yiannopoulos’ profile is more in line with the left than the right – except that he identifies as a conservative.
Born in Greece and raised in the UK, Yiannopoulos is an avowed homosexual with a preference for black partners. He claims to be a practicing Catholic with a personal connection to Judaism through the influence of his mother. In 2015, he began a national college tour in the UK and the U.S. called The Dangerous Faggot Tour. To say that Yiannopoulos is edgy is an understatement. His speeches lean toward the outrageous – so much so that many establishment conservatives find him offensive.
But it’s not the right that wants to silence Yiannopoulos. It is the hard left. That bastion of tolerant progressives who fought for free speech more than fifty years ago in a movement which gained national attention on the grounds of – wait for it – UC-Berkeley.
Perhaps a little history lesson is in order for these young students? From the conservative [sic] conduit NPR:
These days, thousands of students casually stroll past scores of information tables in Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza, on everything from the fossil fuel debate to voter registration.
But 50 years ago, before the Free Speech Movement, UC students were barred from distributing flyers about the major issues of the day. In 1964, it was the civil rights struggle.
“It was the passion that fueled the Free Speech Movement,” says Lynn Hollander Savio, who was a senior at Berkeley in October of 1964.
“[Hollander Savio recalls the day that]…former math grad student, Jack Weinberg, was arrested for distributing civil rights literature. He was thrown into a patrol car while thousands of curious students watched.
“Somebody shouted ‘sit down’ and students who were there to watch this happening sat down, and that police car didn’t go anywhere for 32 hours,” Hollander Savio says.
As the students spontaneously chanted “let him go,” the Free Speech Movement was ignited. Its leader was a mild-mannered but fiery orator named Mario Savio, who would become Lynn Hollander’s husband.
In December of 1964, weeks after the initial confrontation, Savio spoke just before a massive sit-in that led to the arrest of 800 students.
A reporter described what followed as a “gauntlet,” as students were pushed down the stairs, beat and kicked. The confrontation proved too much for the university, and the university faculty voted to end all restrictions on political activity. The student movement — ranging from Young Socialists to Young Republicans — was victorious.
Fast forward more than a half century, and the student’s victory has turned into a defeat due to the actions of a new intolerant generation who cannot, will not, and must not, permit differing points of view on campus. Yiannopoulos reacted with the following:
The left is profoundly antithetical to free speech these days, does not want to hear alternative points of view, and will do anything to shut it down,” Yiannopoulos told Fox News host Tucker Carlson in an interview on Wednesday night. “My point is being proven over and over and over again.
Never one to be left out of the discussion, President Donald Trump tweeted the following in reaction to the massive rioting at Berkeley:
If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 2, 2017
Yiannopoulos was unable to respond to the President with a tweet of his own as his Twitter account was “suspended permanently” by the company this past July. Another silencing.
So, it seems we’ve come full circle.
But there is an ironic dénouement to this story. Free speech organizer Mario Salvo passed away in 1996. Upon his death, a memorial fund was set up in his honor called the Mario Savio Young Activist Award given to “a young person (or persons) with a deep commitment to human rights and social justice and a proven ability to transform this commitment into effective action. The recipients should have demonstrated leadership ability, creativity, and integrity.”
Milo Yiannopoulos should be this year’s grand prize winner, but somehow, I doubt that will happen.