One of my favourite bands is Linkin Park. And one of my favourite Linkin Park songs is Wretches & Kings which begins with one of my favourite speeches of all time known commonly as the ‘operation of the machine’ or ‘bodies upon the gears’ by Mario Savio.
Savio was an American activist and spokesman for the free speech movement at Berkeley University in the 1960s. At the time students across the USA were taking a stand against racial injustice and Savio played a major part in changing university rules to permit political speech which then allowed students to speak out in support of the civil rights movement. The ‘operation of the machine’ speech in 1964 was preceded the year before with one of Martin Luther King’s most memorable ‘I have a dream’ speeches and the two men and the two speeches to me are inextricably linked.
Mario Savio’s ‘operation of the machine’ speech (1964)
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.
Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech (1963)
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.
Savio went on to become a teacher of mathematics, physics and philosophy. He later spoke out in support of immigrant rights and affirmative action devoting his life to causes in support of minority groups never standing by passively. And although the ‘operation of the machine’ speech was written within the context of the free speech movement, it is now used more broadly as a call to action against pervading persecution, prejudice and injustice.