In her eight years on the Berkeley City Council, Polly Armstrong has long argued that council’s time and energy was better spent dealing with “police and potholes,” not the international issues raised by colleagues.
The current political climate, though, has caused Armstrong to rethink her stance. Twice in the past month, she not only voted for, but played an active role in, the passage of city resolutions targeting national issues.
“This time in American history feels to me like a time when I can feel very strong that, by taking the stand I’m taking, I am representing my constituents,” said Armstrong. “This is my country moving in a direction that my world doesn’t approve of.”
Armstrong, among City Council’s moderate faction, bridged the contentious divide with the progressive group over a city resolution condemning the federal Patriot Act. Circumventing potential debate, Armstrong helped broker a compromise that criticized the legislation as a violation of civil rights, to the satisfaction of every council member. The resolution passed unanimously Sept. 10.
More recently, Armstrong and fellow moderate Councilmember Miriam Hawley introduced an agenda item to support a failed Congressional resolution calling for the United States to work through the United Nations before using military action in Iraq. Councilmembers Linda Maio and Maudelle Shirek proposed a similar resolution. Council passed its anti-war resolution Oct. 8.
“Our country is struggling with how to deal with a rogue country that may be a threat to us and to the world,” Armstrong explained in a recent letter to the Daily Planet.
Though Armstrong said no one had encouraged her to write a resolution on Iraq, she said a number of people have called and e-mailed her in support of the move.
“It was really very touching,” she said.
With a well-earned reputation for doggedly trying to keep the council out of national and international politics, Armstrong assures residents that her recent action is “not a trend.”
“So often the City Council has taken positions on foreign policy issues that don’t directly affect our residents,” she said. “My problem is that the rhetoric is so outrageous.”
Progressives on the council welcomed Armstrong’s change of heart on recent matters.
“Whether it is for political reasons or personal reasons, I am just happy the council can agree on this,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington.
Mike Berkowitz, aide to Councilmember Maudelle Shirek, also a progressive, agreed. “Better to find religion late in life than never at all,” he said.
-Stream Weir contributed to this story.