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Free Speech at Berkeley

In 1964, Mario Savio, one of the leading lights of the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley gave one of the great student speeches of all time:

".. But we're a bunch of raw materials that don't mean to be — have any process upon us. Don't mean to be made into any product! Don't mean — Don't mean to end up being bought by some clients of the University, be they the government, be they industry, be they organized labor, be they anyone! 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."

Mario Savio at Berkeley

The Free Speech Movement changed society. And free speech s very much back in the spotlight at Berkeley right now. Berkeley Chancellor Carol announced at the back-to-school conference this autumn “We’re going to have a free speech year at Berkeley.”

It is a decision not without risks. For some people, the First Amendment guarantees everyone’s right to freedom of expression, no matter how offensive. “The only way our speech can be protected tomorrow is to make sure we’re protecting the speech that we don’t like today,” said Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky at a panel discussion on free speech in September.

For others, hate speech inflicts harm and shouldn’t be tolerated. “It doesn’t mean we should ban speech,” said John Powell Law Professor at the Hass Institute. “But it means the rationale, the underlying jurisprudence of speech, is radically incoherent.”

And for Iran refugee and current student at Berkeley, Parham Pourdavood, free speech is something that a society should protect. “If you don’t allow hate speech, free speech is going to be gone, too.”

The spirit of Mario Savio lives on.

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