Editors, Daily Planet:
Today, we are ashamed to live in Berkeley. Today, we read an article by your reporter, Richard Brenneman, that completely lets go of something we hold dear: accurate, unbiased reporting. His story (“Pagans on Parade Cavort in Downtown Berkeley,” Daily Planet, May 18-20) insults an entire community, the readers, and his profession.
From the onset, this article is filled with ignorant and inaccurate statements, derogatory implications, and judgment. (The particulars are pointed out bellow.) It makes fun of 1,500 people that came together in a positive display of community unity, peace and pride. This event has become a Berkeley tradition three years in the making. With this event, the Interfaith Pagan Pride Parade and Celebration, people of many spiritual traditions put themselves out there for the public to see in order to further understanding among neighbors. For their brave efforts, they were called “polytheistic peddlers”! Allow us point out that these “peddlers” include Native Americans (both North and Central), Hindu, Konko, Indigenous Philippine and Hawaiian, several neo-Pagan traditions that revive the old European beliefs, and others. There were serious authors sharing their work and encouraging a new generation of readers and connecting with their current supporters. There was free music, dance and poetry for all to enjoy. One group voluntarily set up a children’s rest area where they gave away toys and played with young kids in the shade.
None of this was mentioned in the article. All we read was that the parade route (determined by the City of Berkeley, not the organizers) grossly disrupted traffic. There was also an implication that the vendors, most of whom were artists and craftspeople selling their own hand made goods, were nothing short of tax evaders! This was the conclusion that Mr. Brenneman came to when one person questioned him about taking a photo of her booth. Never mind that every single event that happens at Civic Center Park includes vendors, which helps the organization pay for the event and make it free to the public.
Mr. Brenneman did find “one notable exception to the commercialism,” a group of Christians giving away free water because “God’s Love is Free...” They were certainly welcome. They did provide a service. However, the implication that they were a cut above the rest because they were Christian was not appreciated! Forget the fact that we are endorsed by the Interfaith Center at the Presidio headed up by a Paul Chaffy, a Christian minister, The Alameda Green Party, the Berkeley ACLU, and Councilmember Dona Spring.
A few more inaccuracies:
“Shinto and devotees...” The priest, Rev. Masato Kawahatsu, is a member of the KONKO Church of San Francisco, a different yet related belief system of Japan. Had Mr. Brenneman bothered to get a program for the event, or receive our press kit at the information table, he would have been educated enough not to make that mistake.
In the next paragraph: “Nowhere in the parade literature did it say what a ‘Pagan’ was....” If Mr. Brenneman had taken a second to read the program, he would have noticed that on page two, we said:
“Today, it has evolved into a bright and shining example of cooperation and celebration of Earth-based, nature centered, and polytheistic faiths and traditions. Endorsed by the Interfaith Center at the Presidio, the Alameda Green Party, San Francisco LGBT Pride Parade and Celebration, Councilmember Dona Spring of Berkeley, Covenant of the Goddess, and Reclaiming….(Whew!)… this event has become a blossoming new tradition that brings together community, family, friends, and neighbors to celebrate the ‘Spirit’ of Mother Earth.”
But wait! There’s more! To top off this excuse for accurate journalism, this reporter then falsely labeled the entire Interfaith Community in a single bound, with the following misrepresentation: “Recruiters for the Covenant of the Goddess....and legalized prostitution (itself a fine old pagan tradition.)” First of all, those were information tables about traditions, since education is the primary purpose for the event. Secondly, how dare he make the assumption that legalized prostitution is “Itself, a fine old pagan tradition,” and further, assume that these people were with our event! In this, he is accusing the other participating groups—such as the Native American group “Eagle Spirit,” the Oddissi Indian Group, “Jyoti Kala Mandir,” the Brazilian group, “Brasarte,” the Aztec group, ‘Tezkatlipoka,’ and the many others that took part in this event—of supporting legalized prostitution!! This ‘legalized prostitution’ group was actually part of the Saturday farmer’s market next door, and not part the Interfaith Pagan Pride Parade and Celebration.
Shall we even continue? Yes, because the assumptions and half truths continue. He finalizes the article by stating “No animals (or humans) were offered up as sacrifice, and the closest thing to ritual scarification on view were tattoos.” What kind of ignorant yellow journalism does your paper support? Because this is certainly a display of it! How could this happen in Berkeley, of all places in the world??! He finalizes his assault on our community with the following epithet: “There were no temple prostitutes, and no orgies....” What audience does he think he is writing for? This event is sponsored by KPFA, 94.1, the SF Bay Guardian, and BCM Channel 28. At least these media organizations understand what community they are part of—an event of openness and tolerance. Your reporter, Mr. Richard Brenneman, clearly does not want to live in that kind of world.
Finally, he concludes his article by stating, “And the only equivalent of the All-Seeing Eye was the tripod mounted video camera run by a red-coated gentleman from atop the tower of old city hall building.” If he had bothered to ask a simple question of our helpful and informative staff, he would have found out that this was one of our sponsors, BCM Channel 28, recording the event for the community of Berkeley. We think Mr. Brenneman would rather make it out to be something secretive and perverted for the public eye, just to make this community look worse, from the place of his own personal judgment.
Personally, we will never support a paper that continues this sort of “rogue, inappropriate” journalism. We will make sure that all of our hundreds of supporters and our media affiliates know of the ignorance that the Daily Planet wishes to spread to our community. Congratulations on alienating an entire, peaceful community, with the stroke of one, ignorant pen.
We demand nothing short of a public, printed apology for this sloppy journalism, for its inaccurate and stereotypical coverage of what has otherwise become a beautiful Berkeley display of peace and cooperation amongst like-minded traditions.
Should you be inspired to write a second, intelligent article about the Interfaith Pagan Pride Parade and Celebration—and we hope that you do—we would be pleased to provide you with plenty of information that the bigoted Mr. Richard Brenneman never bothered to gather.
With regret and disdain,
Micha Dunston and Katya Madrid,
co-directors, 2004 Interfaith Pagan Pride Parade and Celebration