FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Afterlife of Mario Savio

by CLANCY SIGAL

Veterans of the 1964 Free Speech Movement in Berkeley, California, an event that electrified young men and women world over, will return to campus for the fiftieth anniversary reunion this October.  (If interested e-mail FSM50th@gmail.com.)   FSM’s most famous leader, Mario Savio, won’t be there because he died in 1996.

I’m intensely interested in the personal lives of famous people once they “fade from the limelight”.  You have this thrilling moment that defines you in popular culture…a speech, an 80-yard kickoff return…an Olympic gold medal…and then?  For Savio the moment came when he gave his immortal speech on the steps of Sproul Hall:

“We’re human beings! 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, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!”

Mavio’s speech became an antiwar rallying cry during Vietnam.  Before Jane Fonda, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan he was the face of protest.  And then?  It’s said that the ancient Spartan mothers told their sons just before a battle, “Either with your shield or on it.”  Or as the Australian swimming gold-medalist Shane Gould reflected on her life after the Olympics: “It was like being taken up to the highest mountain peak to see the view, and then being brought down, never to be there again.”  Sandy Koufax would know all about that.

It’s quite common for world-class athletes to fall into depression and illness after they’ve given their all to achieve perfection for one brief moment.  Same is true of movie actors once their time in the sun is over.  Stars become waitresses or drunks or overdose or suicide – that is, those who don’t take the precaution of marrying rich which some happily do.

Adrenalin gets us up the mountain but when the rush is gone normal life can seem unbearably gray and unexciting.

You bring your baggage with you up to Everest, and it can be a killer coming down, especially if like Savio you’re a decent person unwilling to exploit your temporary fame.   Raised Catholic the son of a steelworker, he might have become a priest but instead joined Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker movement and the Mississippi  civil rights fight before convulsing the UC Berkeley campus whose chancellor Clark Kerr was trapped between protesting students and Neanderthal regents.

Savio held fast to the end: radical, reasonable, intransigent.   He married and had children, had a nervous breakdown, went back to school, taught math and philosophy and had an early heart attack.  Personally, I see his “afterlife” at least as heroic as his big moment on campus.  Normal life ain’t that easy for any of us especially if you’ve been lightning-struck by media attention and peer popularity.

Idealistic, high-maintenance activists tend to burn out and some never do come back.  It’s hard to step away once you’ve seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.  I wonder if that’s why certain once-famous once-beautiful actresses retire to serene Carmel to talk to mainly animals.  I can think of very few really famous people who stepped, or were forced, down and did good with their fame.  President Jimmy Carter with his Habitat for Humanity is an exception.  (No, not Al Gore, let’s not go there; and certainly not Bill Clinton with his $100m income and extortionate speaking fees.)

A second stage of heroism just might mean living normally under the radar, with or without kids with or without mortgage.   Problem is, aside from novels and songs there’s no way to celebrate a hero who returns with but not on his shield.

Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Hemingway Lives

 

More articles by:

Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Black Sunset

February 22, 2018
Jeffrey Sommers
Bond Villain in the World Economy: Latvia’s Offshore Banking Sector
Mark Schuller
Haiti’s Latest Indignity at the Hands of Dogooders, Oxfam’s Sex Scandal
T.J. Coles
How the US Bullies North Korea, 1945-Present
Ipek S. Burnett
Rethinking Freedom in the Era of Mass Shootings
Manuel E. Yepe
Fire and Fury: More Than a Publishing Hit
Patrick Bobilin
Caught in a Trap: Being a Latino Democrat is Being in an Abusive Relationship
Laurel Krause
From Kent State to Parkland High: Will America Ever Learn?
Terry Simons
Congress and the AR-15: One NRA Stooge Too Many
George Wuerthner
Border Wall Delusions
Manuel García, Jr.
The Anthropocene’s Birthday, or the Birth-Year of Human-Accelerated Climate Change
Thomas Knapp
Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Russiagate
February 21, 2018
Cecil Bothwell
Billy Graham and the Gospel of Fear
Ajamu Baraka
Venezuela: Revenge of the Mad-Dog Empire
Edward Hunt
Treating North Korea Rough
Binoy Kampmark
Meddling for Empire: the CIA Comes Clean
Ron Jacobs
Stamping Out Hunger
Ammar Kourany – Martha Myers
So, You Think You Are My Partner? International NGOs and National NGOs, Costs of Asymmetrical Relationships
Michael Welton
1980s: From Star Wars to the End of the Cold War
Judith Deutsch
Finkelstein on Gaza: Who or What Has a Right to Exist? 
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
War Preparations on Venezuela as Election Nears
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Military Realities
Steve Early
Refinery Safety Campaign Frays Blue-Green Alliance
Ali Mohsin
Muslims Face Increasing Discrimination, State Surveillance Under Trump
Julian Vigo
UK Mass Digital Surveillance Regime Ruled Illegal
Peter Crowley
Revisiting ‘Make America Great Again’
Andrew Stewart
Black Panther: Afrofuturism Gets a Superb Film, Marvel Grows Up and I Don’t Know How to Review It
CounterPunch News Service
A Call to Celebrate 2018 as the Year of William Edward Burghardt Du Bois by the Saturday Free School
February 20, 2018
Nick Pemberton
The Gun Violence the Media Shows Us and the State Violence They Don’t
John Eskow
Sympathy for the Drivel: On the Vocabulary of President Nitwit
John Steppling
Trump, Putin, and Nikolas Cruz Walk Into a Bar…
John W. Whitehead
America’s Cult of Violence Turns Deadly
Ishmael Reed
Charles F. Harris: He Popularized Black History
Will Podmore
Paying the Price: the TUC and Brexit
George Burchett
Plumpes Denken: Crude thinking
Binoy Kampmark
The Caring Profession: Peacekeeping, Blue Helmets and Sexual Abuse
Lawrence Wittner
The Trump Administration’s War on Workers
David Swanson
The Question of Sanctions: South Africa and Palestine
Walter Clemens
Murderers in High Places
Dean Baker
How Does the Washington Post Know that Trump’s Plan Really “Aims” to Pump $1.5 Trillion Into Infrastructure Projects?
February 19, 2018
Rob Urie
Mueller, Russia and Oil Politics
Richard Moser
Mueller the Politician
Robert Hunziker
There Is No Time Left
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Decides to Hold Presidential Elections, the Opposition Chooses to Boycott Democracy
Daniel Warner
Parkland Florida: Revisiting Michael Fields
Sheldon Richman
‘Peace Through Strength’ is a Racket
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail