Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mario Savio And The Gears Of The Machine

Image credit: Occupy Together/McMillan/Furlow

The more I discuss and watch the Occupy movements, the more I'm reminded of the last turbulent time in our history, the 1960s. For those who weren't around back then, this was the time when many of the things people take for granted today started. The war in Vietnam was perhaps the biggest concern, but the Civil Rights movement, which was aimed at achieving equality of opportunity for African Americans and other minorities, was also in full swing.

As I wrote after Barack Obama's victory in the 2008 presidential race, when I was a boy there were still many places in America where they would have been debating whether someone like President Obama, a child of a white mother and black father, could use a "whites only" water fountain or not. In most of those same states, his parents' marriage would have been illegal, merely because they were from different "races".

It would have seemed incredible back then that a black man would one day be President.

That change didn't happen because people sat back and waited. It's one of the sad ironies of modern America that our President, the first black man to hold that office, should think so little of the people today who are trying to make their own futures better.

Which brings us to the title of this post. I had not heard of Mario Savio before tonight, but as Rachel Maddow observes, what he said in December, 1964 is timeless. It is as much about today as the 1960s. Back in 2009, Battlestar Galactica used the phrases that Savio made famous almost verbatim in the episode "Occupation". It has become a part of our culture, much as Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech did:
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.

Wikipedia: Mario Savio
That reference is in the first few minutes of this clip, but I think it's worth watching the whole thing if you have the time:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

(See NOTE 1)

That's what the Occupy movements are, and will have to be in order to succeed - the bodies that are flung on the gears. Until the people who run things realize that they will not profit from things as they are now, they will not let things change.

Whether we know it or not, that's what people like Mario Savio have taught us.

In the early part of that clip, you'll notice that Savio refers to "a well-meaning liberal", meaning someone who, while he might wish for a more progressive society, wasn't willing to rock the boat to get one. You can see those same types of liberals today, talking about how we can't go too fast, that the Occupy movements are the wrong way to express our ideas, etc. They seem unable to grasp that we've already tried the approved way of changing things, and it didn't work.

What we got was Barack Obama.

Obama was the candidate the rich and powerful approved of. He was a hit with just about every news organization of sufficient size to include television stations. It happened overnight, as I remember now. That was the first sign that things weren't what they appeared. With the Obama Administration coordinating the beatdowns of Occupy movements throughout the country, we can now see things coming full circle - the man who benefited from the changes of the 1960s enough to become President has fully repudiated any notion that what people did back then was of any value.

The wonderful thing about history is how it keeps happening over and over again.

NOTE 1: Since MSNBC provides the video for free, I leave the links here that they provided with the embedded clip code. No endorsement is expressed or implied.


James Ala said...

"the man who benefited from the changes of the 1960s enough to become President has fully repudiated any notion that what people did back then was of any value".

Ladder kickers are not a new phenomena Cujo359. Especially among African Americans. They are definite class of people. They are the 10% that marginally benefit from the establishment. To be very politically incorrect they are the house n***ers of the Black Nationalists used to rail against in the 1960's. They have existed ever since the agricultural revolution allowed gross disparities of wealth to occur. They were the body slaves of the ancient world, whispering in their master's ear what a great guy he was.

The most recent example I can think of before "Barry" Obama is Clarence Thomas. Thomas was and is a real piece of work. He is the perfect example of a kiss up and kick down conservative. Without Affirmative Action Thomas would have never reached the heights he achieved. And deep inside you know that just eats at him in a very dark and dangerous way.

As for Obama, there is no nice way to discuss what he is. The best I could do was here

Obama use the color of his skin to get ahead. He played a confidence game of the ages. Damn Shelby Foote, but he got Obama down cold. Obama, the conciliator, was a nice safe black man the establishment could approve of.

In a very weird way Obama got a double helping of white privilege. He was raised in a white household, given all the advantages that being white accure in this society, plus he got to use the color of his skin to multiply that privilege out. Thus, are you really surprised he does not give a damn for blacks who are not part of the charmed circle? They have never been a part of his wheelhouse, they have only been convenient foils for his rise to power. "Don't worry boss, I got this, I'll keep them under control" has been his message, "I am one of the good guys, I'm reasonable--not radical."

Obama was and is a social climber who's entire goal was to become liked, then loved, by the establishment. He wanted to be part of the Lords of the Universe. If you ever read or listen to his books you can see the absolutely lack of a political core with Obama. Obama's only concern is to be seen as "reasonable," to negotiate compromise within the elites. Ordinary people, especially ordinary Africans, have never been part of his concern; they have only been a means to an end. Maybe that is the "character flaw" that Taylor Marsh keeps talking about: the utter lack of real passion or concern for anyone that is not Barack Obama.

Cujo359 said...

Of course, you can find such people in any ethnic group, and I suppose you can find them in just about any socioeconomic group, too. I'd guess that it's worse among groups that have lower status on average.

By the time I started watching Obama, enough was known about him that his character was pretty clear. He always avoided voting on any issues that were likely to cost him either votes or campaign money, depending on how he voted. I was also suspicious of his conversion to Christianity. Non-believers do convert sometimes, but his conversion to a form of Christianity that was widely popular among people in his district seemed awfully convenient.

I never once got the feeling that there was something he believed in strongly enough to work for it or give up something for it.