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Diversity Is a Responsibility

By Mario Savio

Text of a speech written for the UC Regents meeting, July 20, 1995. Due to time restrictions, Savio was unable to deliver his speech.


      Elite groups tend to get out of touch. There is ample evidence that those on this body who favor the Connerly-Wilson anti-civil rights resolution are now dangerously out of touch with reality -- the reality of the campuses, the campuses which you are bound by law to protect from political interference.

      All of the associated students organizations, all of the faculty senates, all of the chancellors, the university president and the president of the Alumni Association -- all, I repeat, all segments of the community oppose passage of this anti-civil rights resolution. Ladies and gentlemen: You need a reality check, and that's why we are here.

      Maybe you need enlightenment as to why people feel so deep a moral commitment to civil rights -- and what, if anything, that has to do with affirmative action.

      The Civil Rights Movement had two overlapping phases. In the first phase we finally checkmated the citizens councils and the Klan. Remember, not long ago, there were still places in this country where people of different races could not use the same toilet. We checkmated that sort of barbarity in Mississippi in 1964. And, contrary to the Hollywood version commended to us by Mr. Peter Wilson, it wasn't the FBI that did it.

      In its second phase, the Civil Rights Movement turned to opening up opportunities in education and employment. I was arrested for the first time during such an action, right here in San Francisco at the Sheraton Palace Hotel. In those days, to see black people, if at all, it was "in the back" -- washing dishes, scrubbing the floors, making the beds. We compelled -- and I am proud to say we compelled the Hotel Employers Association to hire black people in well-paying, visible jobs. That was "affirmative action" before the name caught on.

      Affirmative action, as we know it today, is the institutionalization of that second phase of the Civil Rights Movement. That is why I refer to this most imprudent measure before you as the Connerly-Wilson anti-civil rights resolution.

      Well, what did we demonstrators gain? I claim that we forged a facet of the social contract. You Republican business types know a thing or two about contracts. Both sides get something, and both sides are bound. Affirmative action is a contract for the gradual but steady and enforceable eradication of racism and sexism from this society. You get "gradual;" we get "steady and enforceable." And we all know that we still have a long, long way to go before the work is done.

      And because affirmative action is part of the social contract, it is also a social tripwire. Please do not be lulled into complacency by the temporary quiescence of the Civil Rights Movement; and do not underestimate the caliber of moral idealism of today's students as your predecessors on this body foolishly and tragically underestimated the moral fiber of my generation.

      If you cross the affirmative action tripwire -- you will trip. And if you trip, ladies and gentlemen, you may fall. Remember, and do not forget, "Pride goeth before a fall."


Reprinted from The Daily Californian, 7/25/95.

Copyright 1995 by Mario Savio, 1998 by Lynne Hollander. This work may not be reproduced in any medium which is sold, subject to access fee, or supported by advertising or institutional subsidy, without explicit prior consent by the copyright holder. Reproduced here by permission of Lynne Savio.


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