Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Berkeley Bashing

Once again, the world is frustrated with Berkeley. I love the city, often agreeing with the political vibe that runs through certain parts of our population. I also reserve the right to take issue when I disagree. However, the difference between me and say those who publicly went on record with the following quotes, is that I am content to live in an arena where public debate and civil discourse can be debated at any of our fine coffee establishments or in any one of many creative ways.

“I have had it with Berkeley, California, that anti-American bastion of disloyalty to the values and existence of the United States of America,” Dr. Laura, the syndicated pop psychologist wrote on her website. “I am calling for Berkeley to secede from California and the United States and go form their own pathetic country.”

Fox Nation was blunter: “Berkeley Gives America the Middle Finger,” read the headline of one article.

And David Gewirtz, the executive director of the U.S. Strategic Perspective Institute who not only went to Cal, but who teaches at UC Berkeley Extension, wrote that

“The Berkeley City Council, as a body, is nuts. Always has been. Probably always will be. I can say this both because I used to go to grad school and work in Berkeley, and because their actions support the label.

“The City of Berkeley thinks it’s a sovereign nation. It’s not, of course, but that’s never stopped Berkeley.”

So what is it that makes people so upset with Berkeley? Admittedly some of us are snobs, bigots, and/or hopeless dreamers, but they exist in the rest of the US as well. I often hear the phrase: “Well this is Berkeley, not America.” We even celebrate this with a How Berkeley Can You Be street festival.

I recently met two elder gentlemen and discovered how one of them was apparently the guy in the 60’s who had made and sold a passport for People’s Republic of Berkeley. I’m not convinced to this day whether they had been serious, given their rueful thoughts on the matter forty years later.

However, while I will man (or person) the barricades of free speech on Telegraph Avenue, I do understand one comment made by someone critical of the latest council motions.

Berkeley suffers from pockets of poverty, areas of high crime including homicide, and West Berkeley is an environmental mess. Perhaps we might serve the world better by being an example of solving these not exactly unique problems with sustainable, caring solutions.

However, just to show that I have no pretense at cultural equality, Jon Stewart is allowed to have his fun at our expense.


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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

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