Emeryville school board candidate approves of a Berkeley boycott

By Mary Spicuzza, Special to the Daily Planet
Friday November 02, 2001

A.M. Fonda, an Emeryville mailman, poet and candidate for Emery Unified School District board election, was first at the mic during Monday’s poetry reading at Spasso Coffeehouse. His fellow poets had gathered to celebrate Halloween, Day of the Dead and the Celtic new year, but Fonda wanted to talk about modern politics and real-life terror.  

Sitting in a corner wearing a faded denim jacket and white T-shirt, he told one George W. Bush joke, which involved Bush, Bill Clinton, an attractive blond and a large woman. Then Fonda read his poem, “Midnighters,” in honor of a political activist recently killed in Afghanistan:  

“Midnight watch towers rise above low hanging fog/beneath a starry canopy,” he began. “Restless souls down on their luck/disturb birds/create a ruckus in their tree.” 

Fonda said he has no problem raising tough issues, whether he is composing poetry or campaigning for a spot on the school board in the struggling district. Like the other three candidates running for seats on the board, Fonda said he wants to improve school facilities and help restore financial stability to Emery Unified, a district that in August was $2.3 million dollars in debt. 

Fonda does have some distinct issues in his platform. He wants to bring poetry to all California schools, thinks students should be studying how to balance checkbooks, and believes Emeryville can help fight terrorism by protesting the recent Berkeley City Council resolution calling for a quick end to the bombing in Afghanistan. 

“I’ve taken a real stand on the issues. I’m the only candidate urging a boycott of Berkeley,” Fonda said, adding that Berkeley councilmembers may be able to redeem themselves if they change the resolution. “The City Council would be wise, I think, to redraft the whole thing.” 

Fonda said local media made Berkeley’s resolution sound more “condemning,” than it really was, but said the council’s actions encouraged American passivity. 

“As a people we have to stand up,” he said. “We can’t wait until the next thing comes along, so that these anthrax monsters, so they don’t have a sanctuary in Berkeley.”  

He said Emeryville needs to boycott its neighbor “until reason is restored to the City Council there.” 

His pro-boycott stance has earned him criticism from local political activists, like Dana Engen, a member of the Emeryville Green Party. 

“I think its very unfortunate that he would say something like that, if he intends to represent the city of Emeryville,” said Engen, who worked with Fonda on a campaign to recall former school board candidates. “It didn’t condemn the U.S. government, it asked that the bombing end as soon as possible. It really represents to me that he’s incapable of doing a good job on the school board.” 

Competing candidates said they feel there are more pressing issues that need to be addressed by the board. After the state take-over of Emery Unified in August, three former board members were recalled. The school board recall occurred less than a year after former superintendent J.L. Handy was arrested for misusing district funds. 

“The highest priority, of course, is to make sure the students are getting the best education,” candidate Josh Simon said. “And getting the financial accountability systems in order.” 

Fonda has had previous success organizing, and his current campaign is not his first foray into local politics. He campaigned to encourage term limits for the official California Poet Laureate, a position that had been a lifetime post. Gov. Gray Davis signed the poet term-limit bill into law on Aug. 30. Fonda said he is thrilled with his political success, and is urging the governor and senate to pick a California poet quickly. The seat is currently vacant. He has visions himself with teams of other poet laureates, teaching in schools all over the state, and around the nation. 

Fonda said he wants to balance kids’ poetry education with solid math skills. 

“The thing that really interests me is teaching money management to children,” he said. “It seems like education is somewhat disjointed from reality.” 

Mayor Nora Davis said she was thrilled to have four candidates running for three seats on the school board, and said she finds Fonda a “very interesting guy.” 

However, he is the only candidate she has not endorsed for school board. 

“I’ve worked with him on a number of issues,” Davis said. “And you know, he’s a poet. But the others have been very involved. I just don’t know what his interest is in the school board.” 

Other poets gathered at Spasso this week said Fonda seemed a natural choice. 

“I think he’d be terrific on the school board,” said Holly Goodwin, the poetry reading organizer . “He’s certainly literate.”