While going through the writings of the recently deceased peace activist, Alice Hamburg, I found an article she wrote in 1952, which made me realize how long Berkeley has had a tradition of visionary political leadership. In 1952 Paul Robeson was invited to sing in Berkeley and the city was faced with the question whether the newly-built Berkeley Community Theater could be used for the concert. I was amazed at the parallels between the controversy over that question and the current one over the City’s resolution on the events of Sept. 11.
In 1952, then Mayor Laurence Cross led the 3-2 majority that approved the controversial use of the Community Theater. The decision created a city-wide furor with hundreds of letters to the press supporting the majority decision, but also with attacks on the decision from “patriotic” organizations. Mayor Cross was not intimidated by critics who warned that the “yes” vote could be interpreted as giving support to communism. When former District Attorney Frank Coakley urged that the decision be rescinded and cautioned that a riot might take place if Robeson were allowed to sing, Mayor Cross responded that Coakley’s letter was “an inciting to riot” and that constitutional rights should not be abridged for political purposes.
Today we have a controversial issue, the city’s resolution on Sept. 11, and a city-wide furor with an overwhelming number of supportive letters in the press. All we lack is a mayor with vision, courage, and principle.
Unlike Mayor Cross, Mayor Dean believes that dissent is not permitted in time of national crises and, instead of standing up for the city and responding to its critics with powerful truths, she has been busy fueling the critics with false fears she has created about an alleged boycott that is no more real than was the “riot” in 1952.
We are entitled to better leadership from our mayor — leadership that reflects the political courage of Berkeley residents. Maybe we need a new Laurence Cross for mayor!