by Steed Dropout
June, 16, 2012

Berkeley, Ca

All over America, when you lift the lid of your computer for the latest news, over breakfast, you will read that Berkeley is about to renounce it’s civil-liberties roots by banning sitting on public streets, perhaps in November, when the measure goes before Berkeley voters.

San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Santa Monica all have such bans, or worse, and they are all liberal enclaves, like Berkeley — a five-star Hilton to the homeless.

Liberal-progressive councilmen long ago lost their plurality on Berkeley’s City Council, lost it to what some call right-wing reactionaries beholden to economic interests, and wealthy Berkeley property owners. But even as liberal-progressives were defeated, 6-3, in their attempt to rescue Berkeley’s tarnished civil-liberties tradition, they made an Alamo last stand.

The last stand played to their radical constituents, some of whom still believe the revolution is coming — and soon. More than a hundred showed up to ridicule the mayor’s ban on side-walk sitting.

Berkeley mayor. City council chambers' mural depicting Berkeley's progressive past.
Photo by Ted Friedman.

What’s wrong with referring the measure to the voters? Isn’t that democracy? Not according to a majority of street kids, former city officials, local activists, and civil-rights attorneys — and three progressive councilmen.

Turns out you can’t trust voters in the hills to protect the rights of indigents downtown, on Telegraph, and even in People’s Park, the citadel of Berkeley 60’s radicalism. Meanwhile, the steady police hunt for Berkeley’s perps and miscreants proceeds at an unrelenting pace.


In Philip K. Dick’s movie-inspiring (Blade Runner, ’82) 1968 androids novel, a futuristic dick cracks down on humanoid robots. Is that happening here, as Berkeley bears down down its androids, a street population of mostly lovable, if loopy kids, whose behaviors veer to robotic?

The softy-crackdown I described in my last blog, with pictures of kids sprawled illegally downtown, may be more insidious than I thought. It starts with a warning, progresses to an infraction, then a misdemeanor, and then a stay in county jail, followed by parole violations after release, until you’re looking at serious jail time.

Outside Berkeley City Council meeting, June 12--on steps of old City Hall.
Photo by Ted Friedman.

Once you are cited, you cannot apply for benefits, furthering your decline on the street, foreclosing the possibility of nearly $900 a month.

A radical friend recently did 36 days of what he called “hard time” at county jail. This was his 86th incarceration, a record of which he is proud.

But he’s a professional radical activist with a full time career. He is also homeless, bereft of benefits.

Most street tramps, as some proudly call themselves, learn the drill, and can work within the street-system. As they told me last year, the solution to an anti-sitting ordinance (lying was outlawed years ago, and seems not to be strictly enforced at this time)…they say that if warned to not sit, they’ll just stand up.

But at City Council this week, demonstrators outside and inside council chambers were touting, “stand up for your right to sit-down.” Hundreds of speakers, who showed up for public comment at council made the point that both sitting and lying were basic human needs, protected by the U.S. Constitution. Is it the right to assemble? says, “Under this law [sit-lie] a person could be issued a ticket for simply sitting, even if that person is not intentionally obstructing the sidewalk or engaged in any behavior that is otherwise illegal or disruptive.” They leave out the measure’s mandated warning, at which time a savvy street kid would be on his feet.

Warnings or not, a leader of a loose coalition of street kids told the council, . “We’ll sit when we want,” the emotional leader vowed. “We don’t have any money, so you can fine us all you want. [If jailed] I’ll get three hots [meals] and a cot.”


In the 1935 Sinclair Lewis novel, Lewis asks if Nazi Germany could happen here. Nazi and fascist are two popular terms in Berkeley, where such pigs are anyone you disagree with.

Defiant speakers await turn to rag on the mayor. Tall street kid in chicken outfit, off center, followed mayor after meeting, screaming, 'some day when you are down and out, I won't help you like you're not helping me.' Photo by Ted Friedman.

Covering an historic Berkeley City Council meeting for the Berkeley Daily Planet this week that lasted until 1 a.m., I heard the term fascist hurled repeatedly at the mayor, who was doing nothing more than limiting the audience’s free speech. Finally, one of the councilmen, who was also being limited, snapped, “Mayor I’m not one of your punks.”

The audience, who had come to jeer the mayor, loved the punk jive.

Punk defined: Punk: worthless; Punk: hoodlum or crook; Punk: passive-receptive homosexual.

Had the councilman said that the mayor, fascist or not, was butt-fucking his staff? or rather to have announced that he, the councilman, did not take it up the butt, whatever that means.

Leave such matters to Geoffry Nunberg, NPR’s resident linguist, who regularly opines on colorful colloquialisms.

Attempts to muzzle the “I’m-not-your-punk” minority councilman failed, failed brilliantly as the councilman attacked the idea that the city could legislate its citizen’s street conduct. “What’s next,” he mocked — “breathing?”

“Is this how we want to look to the world,” Max Anderson, Dist. 3. intoned.

Past movements have “expanded” our rights, Anderson said, but the mayor’s proposal “contracts” our rights. This is no profile in courage; a profile in courage would be to resist this,” the fiery councilman roared.

Winners (mayor in hat), and losers, Kriss Worthington, left) - 1 a.m. after rowdy council meeting. Photo by Ted Friedman.

So if you read, over your morning coffee that Berkeley has sold out to corporate interests know that it put up a magnificent fight, even if it lost the corporate wars years ago.

Dropout drew an all-nighter on this wee hours yarn.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.