Op-ed: Berkeley should be the first city in the US to host the ‘Anything to Say?’ public art project

On Nov. 3, 1964 Mario Savio stood in defiance of the establishment on the UC Berkeley campus and called out words now embedded in history: “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 on the gears and on the levers, and on all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop.”

Savio’s speech became a catalyst that contributed to the Free Speech Movement, the Black Power movement, anti-Vietnam war demonstrations across the country and other movements for women’s rights, gay rights, trans gender rights, leading today to the Arab Spring the Occupy Movement and more.

On the down side, the reaction against these movements led to 40 years of Reaganism, oil wars, the perceived war against the Muslim World and the ISIS reaction, a growing police state, the explosive growth of the 1% and a Supreme Court and Congress they control and a Presidency they dominate. This has produced a society split between those convinced that “big government” is the problem (allowing corporate power to run free), and those who recognize that the problem is the extreme imbalance of power between rich and poor.

The “Anything to Say?” public art project is an attempt to address the problem of power imbalance and keep Mario Savio’s words alive by honoring and supporting three individuals who have had the courage to stand up against government power aided by corporate power gone amok and sacrificed their freedom to protect us: Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and Julian Assange.

American journalist Charles Glass and Italian sculpture Davide Dormino collaborated to create “Anything to Say?,” which opened May 1 in Berlin and is now touring Europe. The concept is simple. Dormino has created impressive life size bronze statues of Snowden, Manning and Assange standing on chairs, with a fourth empty chair.  Anyone who wishes can stand with them on that chair to show support and exercise their free speech.

Davide Dormino’s dream is that Berkeley, home of the Free Speech Movement, be the first city in the United States to host “Anything to Say?” One important change will be to honor and respect Chelsea Manning’s courage as a transgender person, and Dormino will have her statue recast as she is today in prison garb, and not as she appeared when arrested.

Glass and Dormino would also like the statues located near where Mario Savio spoke and through the local sponsoring organization, Green Cities Fund, have approached the University asking to place the statues near the corner of Telegraph and Bancroft only a few feet from where Mario Savio delivered his fiery speech in 1964. Then, the University, under pressure from Governor Reagan in collaboration with FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, fought the Free Speech Movement [1]. Hopefully it will make a wiser choice today and allow Snowden, Manning and Assange to stand on this hallowed ground.

Supporters of the “Anything to Say” project in Berkeley include Free Speech hero Dan Ellsberg, who released the Pentagon Papers and is subject of the documentary The Most Dangerous Man In America, UC professor and former Poet Laureate of the United States, Robert Hass, Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Mayor Tom Bates.

Green Cities Fund is in the process of raising $80,000 for the project, a portion of which will be donated to the honorees’ legal defense funds. $10,000 has already been raised.

Anything to Say? in Berkeley, California – Indiegogo from Almaz Media on Vimeo.

For more information, or to contribute go to the Green Cities site.

[1] Seth Rosenfeld’s book “Subversives” is a fascinating account of this unholy collaboration against Free Speech.

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Tom Miller is the president of the Green Cities Fund.