The Night Berkeley Betrayed The Free Speech Movement

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Twitter / @WBTRadio

On Wednesday night, fires blazed across the University of California, Berkeley campus, the site of the student Free Speech Movement of the 1960s, as protesters violently derailed the finale of MILO’s college lecture tour.

In 1964, Berkeley student Mario Savio addressed his peers in a speech about the importance of the free and open discussion on college campuses. In his address, Savio argued that the university must return to it’s intended function where students are invited to explore all ideas – both radical and mainstream – freely and without fear of social or academic repercussion.

It’s been said, that… you know… we’ve been revolutionaries, and all this sort of thing… uh… in a way that’s true. We’ve gone back to a traditional view of the university. The traditional view of the university is a community of scholars… of faculty and students… get together who… um… you know, with complete honesty… who bring the hard light of free inquiry to bear… upon important matters in the sciences… but also in the social sciences… the question of just what ought to be… not just… what is.

Before discovering the work that the Berkeley free speech activists did under Savio in the 1960s, MILO inspired me to write a manifesto for college students who, in 2016, desired a similar return to form for American universities. Interestingly, a lot of the language in my manifesto echoed the sentiment offered by Savio over 50 years ago.

Savio directly called for a return to the university’s original function; a place where scholars of all political persuasions can come together and participate in free inquiry. In my early 2016 rally cry to my conservative and libertarian peers, I argued for something very similar.

The tides are changing on the American college campus. Authoritarian administrators and faculty members and pearl-clutching campus social justice warriors are finally being challenged by a new brand of radicals poised to reclaim the American university and return it to its original function and purpose: expanding young minds.

When I first learned about Savio, I felt an instant connection to him. Aside from being 22-year-old champions of free speech and intellectual freedom on our campuses, Savio and I are both of Sicilian-American ancestry. We also both put in time as altar servers at our local Catholic churches. Despite our similarities, Savio and I diverge when it comes to personal politics — except when it comes to free speech.

Savio joined the socialist party as a symbolic rejection of the two-party system that dominated the politics of not only the country but also the University of California in the 1960s. But despite our ideological differences, Savio and I sought something very similar for our campuses – the return of the university to a place where students and faculty of all political persuasions are encouraged and feel welcome in expressing themselves without fear of social or academic repercussion.

Tonight, fires blazed across the same parts of the University of California, Berkeley campus from which Savio once addressed his fellow students. Attendees were attacked and left bleeding by mask-wearing thugs. Windows were smashed. A girl was pepper-sprayed.

By responding to MILO’s call for “no restrictions on the content of speech” as Savio did so many years ago with riots and violence, the Berkeley socialists of 2017 that participated in the riots have betrayed the efforts of those that came before them.

Tonight, Fox 10 Phoenix anchor John Hook, during a live broadcast of the Berkeley riots, argued that “MILO made his point without saying a word.”

Now more than ever, we need to listen to Savio’s impassioned plea for a return to a university that values a diversity of perspectives, keeping in mind that, tonight, some of the students who follow in the tradition of socialistic activism at UC Berkeley burned the ground on which he once spoke in the demand that the university censor speech that they found objectionable.

Tonight, Berkeley betrayed the free speech movement for which the institution is famous. The university has much work to do if it is to protect the legacy of Mario Savio and reclaim the values espoused by the Free Speech Movement of some 50 years ago.

For the rioters, engaging with MILO’s call for open discussion and intellectual freedom on college campuses wouldn’t be a bad start.

Tom Ciccotta is a libertarian who writes about social justice and libertarian issues for Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @tciccotta or email him at


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