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Button-maker bids farewell

By Matthew Artz
Monday September 23, 2002

For a city that has changed immeasurably since its hippie heyday, Telegraph Avenue can sometimes seem a land suspended in time. But some peace activists say that after this weekend, it will never be the same. 

John Vance, an icon among Telegraph avenue tablers has decided to pack up his “F--k Bush” bumper stickers and “Don’t Believe Everything You Think” pins and ride off into the sunset of San Diego. 

“Telegraph is like an outpatient clinic,” said Vance who has worked as a street merchant in Berkeley since 1991. “I’ve reached the point where I want to go somewhere for some quiet time.” 

But in fitting form, the Berkeley rabble rouser did not leave quietly. 


Friends and fellow activists threw Vance a rollicking going away party Sunday at another testament to Berkeley’s counter-culture past – People’s Park. 

In what seemed like a time warp, members of the original People’s Park movement, homeless activists and even a colony of nudists frolicked on the lawn in celebration of Vance’s contributions to Berkeley. 

The freewheeling scene reminded Vance why he decided to leave Oregon for Berkeley in 1991. 

“I thought Berkeley was a place where I could do what’s not so acceptable in other places,” he said. 

Since his arrival, Vance became the glue to Berkeley’s disparate activist community. From his table at the corner of Telegraph Avenue and Channing Way, Vance served as a liaison between activists of different causes and made a monthly calendar highlighting their events and rallies. 

Vance, though, has his own political agenda. Many of the stickers, pins and other paraphernalia he designs and sells express his distaste for President George W. Bush and his concerns about police brutality. 

Vance does not come off as the prototypical Berkeley leftist. A former landscaper and Vietnam veteran, with thick muscular hands, Vance seems more carpenter than activist.  

He said he never considered politics until he was in his 20s, when he watched a documentary about a Massachusetts’s company that poisoned the environment of a New England town. Since viewing the film, he began organizing for progressive causes and became a bit of a vagabond. He has crisscrossed the country several times, making several stops in Berkeley during the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. 

Although his imminent move to San Diego may signal a desire to slow down, Vance doesn’t plan on keeping his stickers and buttons in the moving box for too long. 

“I’ll be looking for a spot there too,” Vance said. “It will be interesting dealing with San Diego. They have a progressive community, but they also have a lot of Republicans who need to get woken up.”