Mario Savio (for Aulelia)
Mario Savio (December 8, 1942 – November 6, 1996) was an American political activist and a key member in the Berkeley Free Speech Movement. He is most famous for his passionate speeches, especially his “place your bodies upon the gears” address.
The son of a Sicilian born factory worker, Savio grew up in New York City, went to a public high school (Martin Van Buren High) in Queens, and attended Manhattan College and Queens College before enrolling at the University of California, Berkeley as a philosophy major in 1963. In March of the following year, he was arrested for demonstrating against the San Francisco Hotel Association for excluding blacks from non-menial jobs; in the summer, he traveled to Mississippi as a civil rights worker, helping African Americans register to vote.
Savio rose to prominence as a leader of Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement, delivering a fiery speech in Sproul Plaza on December 3, 1964. But Savio was not a fame-seeker and took modest jobs for twenty years before returning to college in the 1980s, this time at San Francisco State University, where he received a summa cum laude bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in physics. Savio died at 53. He had a history of heart trouble, and while carrying his son’s small amplifier to the car, suffered ventricular fibrillation and lapsed into a coma; his family authorized doctors to disconnect his life support. At the time of his death, he was on the faculty of Sonoma State University teaching mathematics and philosophy.
Honorifics and controversies
In 1997, the steps of Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley, where he led the Free Speech movement, were officially re-named the “Mario Savio Steps” in his honor.
In 2004, it was revealed that Savio was the subject of a massive FBI surveillance program even after he left the Free Speech Movement. The FBI trailed Mario Savio for more than a decade after he left UC Berkeley, and bureau officials plotted to “neutralize” him politically, even though there was no evidence he broke any federal law.  According to hundreds of pages of FBI files, the bureau:
- Collected, without court order, personal information about Savio from schools, telephone companies, utility firms and banks and compiled information about his marriage and divorce.
- Monitored his day-to-day activities by using informants planted in political groups, covertly contacting his neighbors, landlords and employers, and having agents pose as professors, journalists and activists to interview him and his wife.
- Obtained his tax returns from the Internal Revenue Service in violation of federal rules, mischaracterized him as a threat to the president and arranged for the CIA and foreign intelligence agencies to investigate him when he and his family traveled in Europe.
- Put him on an unauthorized list of people to be detained without judicial warrant in event of a national emergency, and designated him as a “Key Activist” whose political activities should be “disrupted” and “neutralized” under the bureau’s extralegal counterintelligence program known as COINTELPRO.