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Free Speech Obit.

First Amendment Warrior
Mario Savio Dies

Mario Savio, a leader of the Free Speech Movement at the University of California at Berkeley in the 1960s, died Nov. 6 at Palm Drive Hospital in Sebastopol, CA after suffering a heart attack four days earlier. He was 53. Savio, a silver-haired, ponytailed math instructor at Sonoma State University, rose to public prominence as a forceful orator in the student struggle to win the right to practice political activism on the university system's campuses.

Thirty-two years ago, Savio first made headlines and history when he climbed on top of a police car at UC Berkeley and helped launch one of the defining movements of the '60s. His actions set the stage for the turbulent Vietnam War-era protests that helped bring an end to that conflict. Following his student activism, Savio withdrew from the frontlines of political dissent and remained out of the spotlight until just recently. Seven years ago, he moved to the county in search of "a peaceful life" and to work at Sonoma State in Northern California, where he taught mathematics and logic and led seminars in science and poetry. He purposefully kept a low profile, instead concentrating on his work and family. But the anti-immigration sentiment that led to California's Proposition 187 prompted Savio once again to step onto the political stage. "I feel in some ways the country is being taken over by barbarians," he told the Sonoma County Independent in February 1995, shortly before appearing as a guest speaker at the local ACLU chapter's annual awards dinner. "The people who feel strongly that there needs to be an alternative vision have to stand up now," he added.

Savio recently was involved in an ongoing effort to curb student fee increases at Sonoma State, and also spoke out against Proposition 209, the state initiative that may eliminate most affirmative action programs. He died just hours after state voters approved the measure, which the ACLU is challenging in the courts. "People I speak with feel, 'Oh my God, I thought this was settled 20 years ago,' " he observed in the 1995 interview. "And those who are just assuming that this is going to go so quietly don't realize what's out there [in terms of the opposition]. ... We've backslid. There's no question about it. But I don't feel this is a lost cause. On the other hand, I'm not the kind of person that needs a guarantee of success before I start out to do something. " Savio is survived by his wife, Lynn, and their three sons. Contributions to assist the Savio family can be sent to the Savio Family Fund, c/o ILE, Sonoma State University, 1801 East Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park, CA 94928; or to the scholarship fund at Camp Winnarainbow, 1310 Henry St., Berkeley, CA 94709.

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