Mario Savio LivesCory Panshin on March 12, 2011
It’s always pleasant when people show a proper sense of historical precedent. So I was gratified to find that the latest video from Anonymous, which announces an all-out attack on the current corrupt financial system, concludes with the classic call for civil disobedience issued by Mario Savio during the Sproul Hall sit-in at Berkeley on December 2, 1964:
“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!!”
I quoted that speech a year ago in the course of an entry on the rejection of machine society by the 1960’s counterculture. And in another entry a few weeks later, I identified its inspiration as a passage from Henry David Thoreau’s “Resistance to Civil Government” (1849), which first set forth the principles of civil disobedience:
“If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth — certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.”
Thoreau, like Savio and now Anonymous, was issuing his call for civil disobedience at the very onset of a countercultural period. All three are kindred spirits, speaking to one another across the years from identical moments in the cultural cycle.
And though it’s the 21st century now, and the old imagery of inexorably grinding machines may no longer be as relevant as it once was, that call still resonates as strongly as ever. “Until our demands are met,” Anonymous warns, “and a rule of law is restored, we will engage in a relentless campaign of non-violent, peaceful, civil disobedience.”
Just what Anonymous may be planning, and how effective it will be, are yet to be seen. But as a sign of the times, the attempt itself appears both appropriate and inevitable.
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