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Memorial Services for Mario Savio

The Berkeley Memorial Service

          An overflowing crowd of 1400 mourners crammed Pauley Ballroom for Mario's memorial service at U.C. Berkeley on December 8, 1996, hardly noticed by the C-SPAN cameras they pushed to the wall. The speakers included his widow Lynne Hollander, his son Nadav, and his brother Tom; Truston Davis, his friend since jail; Bettina Aptheker, Anita Levine, Michael Rossman, Jack Weinberg, and Reggie Zelnik from the FSM and later friendship; Oliver Johns from S.F. State, where Mario returned to school; Elaine Sundberg and Mette Adams from Sonoma State, where he taught; Cobie Harris from San Jose State and Hatem Bazian from the UC/B Graduate Assembly, who worked with him recently in statewide organizing to defend affirmative action; Genaro Padilla, UC/B's Vice-Chancellor of Undergraduate Affairs; and Grant Harris and Kevin Zwick from the ASUC, who announced plans to rename Sproul Steps to honor Mario.

          The complex and moving tribute -- organized by Lynne, Michael, Reggie, and Anita -- flowed briskly for more than two hours, marked by many passages of deep feeling and thought as people spoke of Mario's personal character and ways; of his commitment to and influence in social action, before and during the FSM; of his distinguished studenthood in physics and his career as a teacher; of his recent political engagements; and of his meanings to so many, to us all. The intensity shifted at intervals, as John Fromer and others of the Freedom Song Network led the gathering in dear songs; and as Joe McDonald sang the touching tribute to his father, lately passed, from which the title of our newsletter is adapted. At the close, we all went outside to gather on the Steps, hold hands, and sing "We Shall Overcome" -- and then dissolved into a hundred knots of conversation among old friends who see each other rarely, or walked away in silent feeling, past the Xplicit Players performing a slow, naked masque in Mario's honor, in silent tribute to the freedom of expression still nourished in this place.

          No one's speech was more impressive than the whole, and so much was said so well by so many that no summary will serve; but two seem specially notable. I felt that Bettina Aptheker's eulogy brought to focus the compassion and wisdom of the whole memorial. As for the Vice-Chancellor's unscheduled appearance, it brought a complex comic relief, as an audience by then deeply unified watched Padilla gracefully field reminders of old, unsettled scores. Yet his sincerity and the meaning of his presence were lost on few. For as the university had had no high administrators of color in our time, his position was to some degree one fruit of the FSM; and his speech before national media was a substantive token of the university's ambivalent commitment to defend affirmative action. Following on Chancellor Tien's statement to the FSM reunion in 1994, it was also a further, fragile sign that the university may be preparing to come to honorable terms with this charged episode of its history. (For more on this, see the sections on the Savio Steps dedication, and upcoming news about the Library's project.)

          By all accounts, Mario's memorial was an impressive affair, worthy of future reference. Yet what seemed most impressive and vital to me was not the platform program, but the congress gathered there to participate. As I am apt to run on about how a collective spirit is conjured in certain circumstances, I will choke this off; but the objective sociology remains. Though many young and others who had not been in the FSM were among our 1400, we were mostly of a certain vintage in both age and nurture; a good half had been involved directly in the conflict, and most others in ways no less real. We had in common not simply that experience and the textures of adult life since, but a synergy of these, since for so many in so many ways, the FSM has been a transformative experience with life-long consequences still working out. In this circumstance moved deeply to recall, in remembering Mario we remembered ourselves at our best as social citizens and perhaps more deeply, and what we had managed to make of this; and remembered ourselves in a larger sense also, or so I fancy.

          One looked around: there was him, whom you hadn't seen since when, and her, both looking surprisingly like themselves still, inside wrinkly skin; and then more hims and hers among the hundreds one had forgotten from the sit-in and the picket-line, as the remembrance dawned: we are still ourselves, still a community in life's action, whatever that means. No sociology describes such an entity, a community of collective cause whose defining event continues to resonate as complexly in its members as in the world; nor has ours any language to speak to itself as itself, but at most a mute self-consciousness as such. That our gathering in Mario's memory should evoke it is hardly surprising, yet what was there to say? Of the thousand stories gathered in Pauley, dispersed on the Plaza, one could catch fragments of only a few; who can grasp our tapestry? Yet even in the random scraps one gathered, one could recognize so many connections and synergies among our varied lives that the sense of larger connection unfolding in history throbbed in our assembly. We are still ourselves, whatever that means, whatever we make it mean. From this sense as much as any other, our venture in the Free Speech Movement Archives has taken form.

                                                                       -- Michael Rossman

Sonoma State Memorial Activities

          One year after the death of Mario Savio, friends, colleagues and students gathered at Sonoma State's Inter-Cultural Center on November 5, 1997 to remember Mario and the seven years he spent here teaching math, philosophy and liberal studies. A display of photographs and articles about Mario continued until his birthday, December 8. A group of Latino students, who had studied with Mario and worked with him on the campaigns to defeat Propositions 209 and 187, created a traditional Day of the Dead altar in his memory, including candles, photographs, incense, "pan dulce", and individual mementos. At this private remembrance, people shared their special memories of Mario and discussed the impact his life and death have had on them as individuals.

          At the public memorial service held previously on December 5, faculty, staff, students and members of the Sonoma State community paid moving tribute to Mario Savio, "husband, father, son, teacher, friend, mentor, activist, colleague." Over 250 people attended the memorial held in Person Theater. Among the speakers were Lynne Hollander, Mario's widow; Professors Elaine Sundberg, Victor Garlin, Bill Barnier, Francisco Vazquez, David Walls, and Dianne Romain; students Mette Adams, George Schult, and Matthew Morgan; SSU staff Aswad Allen, Leo Alvillar, and Leslie Hartman; and community activists Judith Volkart and Michael Smith. The SSU Chorus under the direction of Robert Worth opened the memorial with South African freedom songs, and the event was interspersed with musical selections chosen by Lynne Hollander.

          Currently underway at SSU are plans to create a permanent memorial in Mario's honor. A "free speech" podium is being designed by the Sculpture Club and will be placed in a free speech area yet to be designated. Its design will incorporate highlights of Mario's life, speeches, and causes, and will be built by students and funded by the Associated Students and the Mario E. Savio Memorial Fund. Additional fundraising continues, with the goals of creating a student internship in the area of human rights and social justice and funding a lecture series. Donations can be made to "SSU Foundation -- Savio Memorial Fund," Sonoma State University, 1801 E. Cotati, Rohnert Park, CA 94928.

          Finally, an open forum, "Committing to Diversity in a post-209 World," was held on December 8, 1997 at SSU. Faculty and student speakers addressed concerns about diversity, equity and access following the passage of Prop. 209, the initiative Mario Savio was fighting against in the final weeks of his life. Mario Savio's memory and legacy continue at Sonoma State. For those of us who worked beside him, studied with him, and enjoyed his conversation, his intelligence, his wit, and his passionate engagement with life continue to miss him deeply and try to move forward in his spirit.

                                                                      -- Elaine Sundberg

New York Memorial Activities

          An informal memorial for Mario took place in Manhattan last December, organized by Art Gatti. About fifty people attended, including many who had known Mario in his youth, and others transplanted from the West Coast. Among the deep sentiments expressed there, one thread brought Gil Faggiani to recall how he had been freed from a sense of shame in his heritage by hearing Mario speak about how his Italian cultural background had nourished his politics. This led Gil to organize a panel on Mario as part of the May conference on "The Lost World of Italian-American Radicalism", sponsored jointly by the CUNY Graduate School of History and the John D. Calendra Italian-American Institute of Queens College. On this panel, Gil and Art were joined by Lucia Ciavola Birnbaum, whose presentation on the "Black Madonna" figure in Sicilian culture linked it to a local history of inter-racial tensions, and to Mario's involvement in the Civil Rights movement. Art's own presentation will be published in the Radical History Review.

Remembrances at San Francisco State

          Mario's time at San Francisco State University was quite different from his time at U.C. Berkeley or even Sonoma State, in that his focus as SF State was personal and philosophical rather than political. He came to SF State as a re-entry student in Physics, a subject he had loved and then had to interrupt some twenty years earlier. He was an outstanding student, getting his Bachelor's degree Summa cum Laude, and later being selected as the outstanding Master's degree graduate in the School of Science. Thus we remember Mario as a seeker, a probing intellect, a man touched by genius of a different order from his political one. The remembrances of Mario at SF State were therefore quiet and personal, rather than large and political. The department of Physics and Astronomy had speeches of remembrance at its colloquium and a moment of silence. Mario's picture and obituary were posted on the door of the Department office; the School of Science newsletter had a special section of remembrance. Small things, but deeply felt, by a faculty and student group that remembered and remembers him with respect and love.

                                                                       -- Oliver Johns, Physics Dept., San Francisco State University 


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