Berkeley, what are we seeing about ourselves this morning? Many of us woke up this morning feeling a deep depression about the state of our country, especially as we absorbed the vast numbers of people who supported the arrogant, self-serving, mean spiri ted leadership of our president. I, like many others in Berkeley, felt marginalized in my perspectives about everything from international policy and national priorities to individual and social concerns. But when I look at my own community, I see some of the same trends that I see in the national results. I am heart sick at the defeat of Measures J, K, L and M—which would have paid for youth programs, libraries, police, fire and other front-line services. In the decision to save those of us who might hav e had to spend a few hundred dollars a year, from having to spend those dollars, I see a community that is trying to “protect” individuals at the cost of our commonwealth. Sound familiar?
In Berkeley, like many other places all over, many of us feel mor e pressed financially than we felt five years ago as well as more worried about our childrens’ future and the future of the world. And when I look at the local election results, I see us responding to our fears, by doing exactly what Republicans have been trying to make us do in response to our fears, i.e. think about how each one of us can take care of “me and mine” better (the first step of which is always to tighten our own pocketbooks). The Republicans want us to turn away from believing that what wi ll take care of each of us, is to do whatever it takes to make our communities stronger—whether they be local, national, or international communities. They want us to turn away from those who argue that we need to increase our generosity with each other d uring hard times, rather than accept a scarcity model that has us holding on, for dear life, to our individual piece of “security.”
But it is strong community, and a sense that people will come forward to take care of each other, (each and every one of u s) in hard times, that gives people a real sense of security, as well as a hope in humanity and the world. It is continuing to invest in community—especially in the hard times—that will help our children not feel as afraid to inherit the world they are gr owing up in. It is not solutions that imply that we should watch out because our civil servants are incompetent, or trying to milk us, that truly help our children, (or any of us for that matter), to feel less afraid.
There are segments of our community, who have become increasingly proud of themselves simply because they are willing to not feel “pressured” to toe what they consider to be the Berkeley “correct” line. These segments have begun to associate “integrity” with being the person who is willing to fiercely stand up to another segment of our community—rather than to define integrity as that part in each of us that enables us to do what is difficult to do as an individual, because we understand that it is in the service of the common good to do s o (emphasis on “in the service of the common good”).
And what does it mean, anyway, to join the Right in pointing the finger at government, or civil servants for our problems? It is government; our elected representatives and civil servants who spend th eir every working hour trying to serve the public good. We are pointing our fingers at the non-profit entities in our communities—e.g. libraries for heavens sake, as the source of problems and pressures we are each feeling. I am sure that there are inefficiencies in government, and that there are things that are not perfect in the ways that money is spent in government. (These are problems one finds in the private sector as well). But I look at our city representatives and civil servants as the people in our community who most have to deal with the economic and social disparities of our town. It is
they who are devoting their work lives to trying to deal with some of the trickiest challenges facing our society, (including representing the will of supposed ly one of the most progressive communities in the country). Could the people who backed BASTA—the people in those businesses and associations do these jobs better? Whether or not they could, they are not the ones who have chosen to devote their lives to t rying. They are business owners, professionals, and whoever else, trying to make a living in whatever ways they do. But they are not dealing with the limited resources and growing needs of our community as a whole.
Shame on those of us who have voted dow n raising our taxes to support city services; the city’s request of us that we tighten our individual belts to enable our Berkeley to hold on to our community values. In this moment of history, with Bush and the Republicans pushing the public to believe t hat the problems we are experiencing are caused by government and will be alleviated if we cut taxes, what does it mean that we, in Berkeley, find people in our midst making the same arguments. And what does it mean that we, in Berkeley, supported those v oices? In the wake of the tax cuts many of us have received from the Republican-controlled congress, their unfunded mandates and cuts to all kinds of human services, what does it mean that we feel that we cannot raise our local taxes?
When each of us, wh ether we voted for, or against these measures, feels depressed and incredulous at the support for Bush and his administration throughout this country, let us look to what we need to do to change the dynamics within our own community. Let us prepare for th e next election in which the same needs will be there, and the same arguments will be made against putting any more of “our own money” to meet the needs. Let us prepare to answer even the argument that it is not worth giving any more money to our city government services until the city gets rid of all its efficiency problems.
Our children deserve to see this community of adults as role models of generosity, role models of knowing the importance to our own sanity, and even world peace, of our taking care of “the other,” and asserting a public priority on serving every member in our community. Our children deserve to believe that it is possible to live together in community without believing that in order to meet individual needs we have to close our eyes to the needs of the community as a whole. Let us show them that “go it alone” and “take care of ourselves” are not every American’s reaction to hard times.
Nancy Feinstein is a North Berkeley resident.