Hundreds of people rose at dawn Friday to greet the sunrise together in “the greatest little city in America,” at a quintessential Berkeley event that was dubbed a celebration of shared values rather than a protest of Donald Trump’s election to the presidency.
“While many of us may still be coming out of the darkness, we are here, and our love for Berkeley shines bright,” mayor-elect Jesse Arreguín told the early-morning crowd. “We live in the greatest little city in America, we are here, together, and the sun is rising as we speak. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
While Arreguín said he felt “energized” by recent events — “it takes a lot more than one crummy election to defeat us, right?” — many of those who showed up for the chilly event said they were still in shock.
“People have been really really depressed and upset and frightened,” said Lisa Bullwinkel, talking on Thursday. Bullwinkle organized the gathering at the request of Arreguín and Sophie Hahn, newly elected councilwoman for District 5. “We wanted to do something for the community.” The hastily arranged gathering was not an official city event and was totally volunteer-run, she added. “We want to provide a contrast to what is going on elsewhere. We are now once again the counter-culture.”
The morning was a uniquely Berkeley mix of old ’60s symbolism (some scattered tie-dye apparel and the creation of a human peace sign) and 21st-century technology (a video-equipped drone that flew over the crowd, operated by Kevin Kunze, to photograph the peace sign.)
There was even a nod to the ’80s with an instant re-write of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. “In this time of loss and fear/with open hearts we gather here/I can see the hope and love light shining through ya,” sang Gary Lapow. “We come today to make a stand/to stand together hand in hand/No lying, sexist, racist’s gonna fool ya.”
Overall, the gathering was a contrast to some of the demonstrations, some of which led to arrests, that have taken place in other cities. There was a clear intent by the organizers to stay positive by focusing on the local rather than the national. “Sure, we have a new president, but look around, folks,” Arreguín said. “Nothing has changed here. We are still who we are …. Let us remember that what we cannot accomplish nationally we can — and will — do here. … Berkeley is a little city with a big voice, and we will continue to use it.”
“Find somebody you don’t know, and buy them a cup of coffee — no, a kombucha, this is Berkeley!—and learn something from them that you do not yet know,” said Jhos Singer, congregational leader of Chochmat HaLev synagogue. He joked that wherever there are two Jews, there are three opinions. The third opinion, he said, is the one that emerges when they wrestle with each others’ views. “Polar opposites can bring peace if they really listen to each other,” he said.
“We have to model the things we aspire to in our country, model them right here at home,” Hahn said, speaking to Berkeleyside the day before the event. “My hope is that people in this community will actively invest in making this the very best place it can be.”
She said that Berkeley has among the greatest education gaps and the greatest wealth gaps in the country. “We also have a huge disparity in health outcomes that falls along racial and economic lines,” she said. “We have a burgeoning homeless population, a housing crisis, and our civic and public spaces have been neglected for a long time.”
There’s a lot of work to do locally, Hahn added, regardless of the results of the national election. “We congratulate ourselves for having good aspirations and a decent amount of progress, but we could do so much more,” she said. “I would like Berkeley to be a model for other communities. I want us back on the cutting edge.”
“We all need the support of like-minded people at this point,” said Tom Kelly, an environmentalist and 24-year resident of Berkeley, who attended the celebration. “I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything quite like this. I mean, I think about the election of Richard Nixon and kind of long for those days.” He added that, while the Environmental Protection Agency and Clean Water Act were created when Nixon was president, President-elect Trump is talking of abolishing those very institutions. “You can tell this is all wearing on everybody, but they all showed up. That’s a demonstration of what the people of Berkeley really are. Of course, we need to make sure we follow through on this.”
“I think we are devastated and we don’t really know what to do about it,” said artist Annie Hallatt another local resident who took part in Friday’s event. “I’m a ’60s gal, and this is a hard pill to swallow. But we all need to step up and take responsibility. We always felt that Martin Luther King or John Kennedy or Barack Obama or some charismatic leader would take care of it. What’s really clear is that our political system is failing us, and we’re in unknown territory.”
Hallatt said that while making a giant peace sign was “a good start,” what is called for now is for Berkeley residents “to step up and become leaders. We all have good intentions, and we also have some expertise. Democracy requires us to put ourselves out there” and take action.
Also present at the gathering was Cheryl Davila, newly elected District 2 councilwoman; Ben Gould, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor; Zoning Adjustments Board member Igor Tregub; Leah Simon-Weisberg and Alejandro Soto-Vigil of the Rent Board; and City Auditor Ann-Marie Hogan.
Scroll down for more photographs, and watch drone footage of people forming a peace sign, shot by Kevin Kunze:
This story was updated after publication with some quotes from participants.
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