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How Quirky was Berkeley? Ken Stein’s Berkeley buttons

Photo: Ken Stein
Photo: Ken Stein

Once upon a time, not all that long ago, Berkeley was all about causes and all about buttons that celebrated the causes. Here are buttons from the campaigns of several Berkeley radicals for political office — Bob Scheer running in the Democratic primary for Congress in 1966; Jerry Rubin running for mayor in 1967; and Stew Albert running for Sheriff in 1970.

These buttons are from the collection of Ken Stein.

Ken Stein. Photo: John Storey
Ken Stein. Photo: John Storey

Stein has a collection of several thousand political buttons, which he explains here:

“My first wife Janet’s Uncle Don MacLeod, along with Janet’s father (Don’s younger brother Stuart MacLeod) were lifetime workers/leftist union activists at  Durkee’s Foods and Colgate Palmolive in West Berkeley.


“In 1937, when Janet’s Uncle Don was 25 (then a member of the Young Communist League) he joined up as a volunteer and headed off to Spain as a member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Which, of course, became a focal point of his life.

“Don collected political buttons from the 1930s to the 1960s. I began collecting political buttons when I first got to Berkeley in 1969. When Don died in 1987, his family gave me his button collection which I added to mine. Resulting in a collection of thousands of buttons, covering a vast array of movements and causes. From feminism to farm workers, labor and civil rights, political campaigns, you name it.”

Among the hundreds of buttons that came from Berkeley political struggles are these:

Photo: Ken Stein
Photo: Ken Stein

These buttons are from the early days of student activism at Cal. SLATE was a left/radical student organization on campus from 1958 until 1966. SLATE led demonstrations against the House Un-American Activities (HUAC) meeting in San Francisco in May, 1960.

Photo: Ken Stein
Photo: Ken Stein

The Free Speech Movement rocked the campus, California, the United States,and the world in 1964.


Photo: Ken Stein
Photo: Ken Stein

Berkeley was an early center for opposition to the war in Vietnam. The Vietnam Day Committee was formed by Jerry Rubin, Paul Montauk of the Socialist Workers Party, Abbie Hoffman, Stew Albert, and others in May 1965. It was one of the first anti-Vietnam-war groups in the United States.

And then there was People’s Park.

Photo: Ken Stein
Photo: Ken Stein

The struggle for People’s Park and Governor Reagan’s bloody response to protesters were significant markers of the cultural and political battles of the late 1960s.

Photo: Ken Stein
Photo: Ken Stein
Photo: Ken Stein
Photo: Ken Stein

The Berkeley Tenants Union exists today, but the fervor and fury of its early years in the late 1960s and early 1970s is no longer present.

Photo: Ken Stein
Photo: Ken Stein

Our Center for Independent Living, founded in the early 1970s, was one of the first, if not the first, in the country.


And so on. We had causes and we had buttons. You could argue that we were indiscriminate in the causes we supported. But — at least we had causes. They evoked passion and demanded action. And none of them ever used the word “livable.”

Tom Dalzell, a labor lawyer, created a website, Quirky Berkeley, to share all the whimsical objects he has captured with his iPhone. The site now has more than 8,000 photographs of quirky objects around town as well as posts where the 30-year resident muses on what it all means.

For a fuller version of this post, see Quirky Berkeley.