Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Bless Berkeley!

Just about the time that I've begun to think that the entire world has gone dormant, or, that the prevailing wisdom has dropped ten notches -- I re-visit my old home and am regenerated.

Last night three women from Richmond and I drove in to the Jewish Community Center for an evening that promised to be spirit-lifting. The event was entitled: "RECLAIM DEMOCRACY: Acting for Change". After some networking over fresh pizza slices and caesar salad in the courtyard, we moved into the small auditorium to hear speeches by Ronnie Gilbert (peace activist and member of The Weavers) who read from the words of the inspirational Granny D of New Hampshire (who is running for the senate at 94), then sang a topical song for us that was recently written by Holly Near.

Oh, I should mention before going further, that Ronnie was introduced by the evening's moderator, Arlene Blum -- Berkeley climber who led the first all-woman ascent of Annapurna, and who has since led several more.

Patricia Ellsberg, who contributed to the decision to release the Pentagon papers that helped to end the Vietnam War was scheduled to appear, but cancelled with a letter that explained that she and Dan were in Washington, D.C. attending a large gathering of potential whistle blowers. "Since you believe that you won't have a job if the current administration remains in power anyway -- then do it now." Makes sense to us, right?

Then came wonderful, humble, and delightfully wide-eyed (at her success) Joan Blades, co-founder of MoveOn.org.
What an inspiration! What started as a plea for some sanity during the Clinton impeachment craziness with a single paragraph to her family and mail list of about 100, total, turned out to have a response of 100,000 in just a couple of weeks. "The rest is history," as we say. Joan announced that MoveOn has registered over 400,000 non-voting citizens in the swing states. It has raised over 2.3 million dollars online, with the average contribution being $35. Now THAT's grass roots!

Farai Chideya, founder of popandpolitics.com and author of Color of Our Future, plus her latest book, Trust, followed. Farai is a Zimbabwean-American Stanford Fellow, former White House correspondent, CNN journalist, spoke about the "100 million missing voters," those who have stopped dreaming the dream of democracy. "We must begin to dream it back into being, or democracy will surely perish." We've met before and it was great to renew and catch up.

Re-connected with a number of acquaintances from my life as a university spouse, and it felt good. I'd not seen some of these friends for almost twenty years, though it surely didn't feel that long. Another incarnation ... .

On the drive home, we got busy planning a youth candidate's night, and a Sunday Salon featuring some of the women we'd just been inspired by. This may be the way to break through what I perceive as a kind of urban isolationism that prevails in Richmond. It's peculiar and disturbing, especially in times such as this when the whole is threatened by the disunity and alienation of its parts. Berkeley and Richmond are a mere 4 miles apart in physical distance, but light years apart in political activism and a world view. Maybe that's more closely related to Berkeley's being a university town than anything else. Richmond may be far more like its nearby coastal neighbors that have yet to put down permanent roots to look beyond their own borders and their generically-scarred shopping centers.

But Richmond can be far more than that. Unlike the bordering extensions that have incorporated into townlets, it has a rich history and a colorful past. Richmond has been here for a very long time, but seems to have reached a kind of "old age" without ever going through the process of maturation. It's a strange thing ... .

But now it's morning and I'm off to re-live World War II yet another day at the National Park Service office, and that could get to be less and less satisfying when the present is so compelling and the future is so uncertain ... .

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