Opinion: Wayne Hsiung’s run for mayor isn’t about Berkeley — it’s about Wayne Hsiung

Imagine the worst-case scenario. Next fall, fires engulf the Berkeley Hills — displacing thousands — but Berkeley’s new mayor can’t help because he is on trial in Utah.

Imagine the worst-case scenario. Next fall, fires engulf the Berkeley Hills—endangering and displacing tens of thousands of your neighbors. Busy standing trial in Utah or North Carolina for trespassing charges, the Berkeley mayor is nowhere to be found, and the city is left to manage the crisis without him. The mayor’s leadership and ability to work with the City Council have been badly tarnished from a year of bruising fights that never achieved anything for Berkeley.

As a former associate of candidate Wayne Hsiung, I believe this is exactly what Berkeley residents should expect if he wins his long-shot race against Mayor Jesse Arreguín.

In 2018, I met Wayne rescuing abused animals from a farm in Petaluma. His organization, Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), had admirable aims: raising awareness of the cruelty farmed animals endure in the food system. But the more I learned about his organization, the more I realized Wayne’s leadership is both ineffective and self-serving.

To advocate for animal welfare policies and influence Berkeley politics, Wayne’s organization established a political branch, “Compassionate Bay.” As a new member, I was surprised to see Wayne frequently interrupting and dominating the group’s conversations; there was nothing open or participatory about this organization.


Worshipping Wayne as the “Martin Luther King Jr.” of animal rights, Wayne’s current campaign manager barred me from team meetings for having polite and good-faith disagreements with their strategy. My apparent transgression was suggesting DxE stop storming local businesses to shout at diners and shoppers about the horrors of factory farming, a tactic that had caused backlash rather than genuinely inform people.

When other team members expressed dissenting views, I saw Wayne shoot them down as well. As I would later discover, nearly 40 DxE co-founders and members have resigned to protest his arbitrary and dictatorial leadership. Over the years, Wayne has gaslit and assailed the character of those who disagree with him, while promoting “yes men” who see him as the Second Coming. If Wayne wins the race for mayor, I have no doubt that he will pursue a similarly divisive agenda that ignores rather than unifies the community in common purpose.

This “Wayne first” organizing strategy has had predictable consequences. Wayne takes credit for passing legislation he had very little role in developing, such as the Berkeley fur ban, advocated for by former members of Direct Action Everywhere who resigned to protest Wayne’s leadership failures. These advocates successfully worked with the council to further animal rights through consensus building and persuasion, not confrontational screaming.

In the training manual for his campaign volunteers, Wayne criticizes Mayor Arreguín and the City Council for opposing his extreme legislation called “Right to Know.” He instructs volunteers to share the seemingly false statement that the Mayor “reneged on his promise to take on factory farms with Right to Know policies.” In violation of the First Amendment, this law would have required companies selling animal products in Berkeley to label them as cruel. Obviously, even the most well-intentioned of Berkeley businesses would not be willing to implement this unconstitutional proposal. 

After leaving the defunct DxE offshoot Compassionate Bay, I was lucky enough to work in City Hall, where I saw firsthand Mayor Arreguín’s commitment to combating climate change through the food system. Our mayor helped pass the Good Food Purchasing Program resolution, the first step in committing the city to purchase healthier and more sustainable food across all departments. Mayor Arreguín’s biggest inspiration, United Food Worker leader Cesar Chavez, was also a committed animal rights advocate who believed “kindness and compassion towards all living beings is a mark of a civilized society.” That’s a shared vision that most Berkeley residents can get behind—unlike Wayne’s harassing and self-aggrandizing antics.

I know Mayor Arreguín will continue to be a champion for a more sustainable, humane, and climate-friendly food system. And I am confident in his ability to listen to the community and consider the full spectrum of viewpoints represented on the city council. Wayne’s campaign for Mayor isn’t about making Berkeley green or raising taxes on the wealthy.  He may talk a good game. But don’t be fooled. His campaign is about Wayne’s self-promotion and his divisive agenda for animals. Both Berkeley—and the animal rights movement—deserve better.

James Davis is an animal advocate and former legislative assistant to Councilmember Sophie Hahn. He has volunteered for animal welfare ballot measures and nonprofits across the country.