"Bodies upon the gears"

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We were told the following: If President Kerr actually tried to get something more liberal out of the regents in his telephone conversation, why didn’t he make some public statement to that effect? And the answer we received, from a well-meaning liberal, was the following: He said, ‘Would you ever imagine the manager of a firm making a statement publicly in opposition to his board of directors?’ That’s the answer!

Well, I ask you to consider: If this is a firm, and if the board of regents are the board of directors; and if President Kerr in fact is the manager; then I’ll tell you something. The faculty are a bunch of employees, and we’re the raw material! 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!

I first came into contact with this speech as an undergraduate at berkeley, waiting in the FSM cafe for a sandwich before going into the library. I saw it on a plaque on the wall. I was shocked by it being such a graphic metaphor, the description of sacrificing yourself not out of some noble ideal but because you yourself really can’t take it anymore… Personalized activism, not activism because you think it should happen or for some moral good. I thought, “I’m so glad they did this in the sixties so I can enjoy this better world. I could never be part of a protest.”

Nineteen-year-old judy had no idea what was coming. Thirty-six-year-old judy doesn’t either and is still scared.

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