Press Releases

Is Free Speech Dead in Berkeley? By JOHNATHAN WORNICK

Friday August 12, 2005

Known around the world for alternative thinking, tolerance, magnificent beauty, a great university and birthplace of the Free Speech Movement, Berkeley residents have much to be proud of. 

Due to the real estate boom of the last decade, the wealth necessary to buy homes in Berkeley has shifted the demographics of our city to include people who hold a broad range of political viewpoints. While a majority of these new residents are registered Democrats, they are interested in preserving what they have earned and are naturally more fiscally conservative. Witness the last city-wide election where several tax measures were defeated by an organized citizen base of homeowners, fed up with carrying too much of the financial burdens of a poorly managed city government. 

On a national level, our country is currently in a cyclical shift to the right as clearly expressed by the election of a two-term Republican-led administration, House and Senate.  

I believe the combination of new, more moderate-leaning residents in our city and a national shift to the political right has caused the radical left in Berkeley to feel marginalized. This marginalization has made this group feel threatened. They have little power nationally, but locally they are willing to take whatever steps necessary to hold onto the power they have. Recently I have learned how far they will go to hold onto this power.  

As a member of the Peace and Justice Commission since September, some of the views I’ve expressed have been out of the norm for what has predominantly been a radical left-leaning organization. As a moderate Democrat, representing a growing demographic, I am still an anomaly in Berkeley political involvement. Yet, my understanding of the Free Speech Movement and liberalism meant that people in Berkeley would always stand up for the First Amendment, and I would not only be free to express my views, without fear of reprisal, but welcomed and perhaps even respected. Amazingly, I was mistaken.  

Over the past couple of months I’ve caused what could best be described as a minor ruckus. I dared to vote against a resolution supporting a federal Department of Peace. Later, when I wrote a commentary for this paper explaining my vote, even more people were outraged. (I loved the one where my name was changed from Wornick to Warnik.) Why all the outrage? I spent considerable time reading the legislation originally proposed by Rep. Dennis Kucinich. As a student of political science, my analysis of the legislation was that it would fail on many levels and was seriously flawed. Furthermore, because of the lack of support nationally—only 12 percent of the House has signed on as co-sponsors in over two years—there was no urgency, nor any reason for our City Council to waste time and our money debating and passing a resolution to support such legislation. I did exactly what I was appointed to do.  

As my detractors have pointed out, I was the only no-vote. I hardly represented any major threat to the old guard radical left on the commission. Yet, if you read the responses in this paper and the e-mails I have received, you would think I was leading an army of thousands across the city lines, ready to take over City Hall with my supposedly right-wing views.  

Alan Moore, a man with limitless amounts of free time and a self-described long-time advocate of progressive causes, wrote an opinion piece attacking me and my vote in this paper. Not only did he manage to obfuscate my actions and words, he asked Berkeley citizens to request that City Councilmember Gordon Wozniak, my appointer, remove me from the commission. Moore and the rest of the radical left believe I don’t belong on the commission. He wrote that, based on my vote, I am not a “real advocate for peace.” This comment could have been offensive if it wasn’t so laughable. Of course I am a real advocate for peace, but I have a different view than some on how to achieve it. Do I not have a right to express my opinions in Berkeley? Is there no room for an alternate view? Does being on the Peace and Justice Commission require a commissioner’s automatic support for every idea that is brought to it?  

I am reminded of the brilliant marketing ploy by the anti-abortion movement. Years ago they began to call themselves pro-life. The name itself inferred that if one wasn’t pro-life, they must be pro-death. Of course this isn’t true. Here in Berkeley the group that I am at odds with calls themselves “advocates for peace.” Does this mean that if you don’t agree with them you aren’t for peace? They’d like you to think so. 

The radical left on the Peace and Justice Commission is not alone. Some of our city councilmembers speak of “Berkeley values” as if there were one universally accepted version. In the last several years I have seen the rise of intolerance here in Berkeley. On campus, political figures, authors and other speakers who don’t represent these so- called Berkeley values have been heckled, protested, threatened and on several occasions driven out. People who have attempted to attend theses events have been blocked by protesters, amazingly with the full support and involvement of some members of our City Council and UC professors! How has this intolerance been tolerated?  

The other issue I suspect that has gotten under the skin of the radical left is my position that our City Council shouldn’t be wasting their time and our tax dollars debating issues of national and international politics. Of course I understand the importance of an occasional symbolic gesture. The public record has shown that I have supported such things. Nevertheless, I strongly believe our local officials have been elected solely to run the city of Berkeley. The Peace and Justice Commission shouldn’t be in the business of sending three or four resolutions a month to the council to move on, particularly if the resolutions are flawed, sloppy and not representative of a broad base of the city’s residents.  

In the months since I have been on the commission, I have witnessed the radical left up close and in action. I contend that after years of control and power they have become arrogant and intolerant, just like their sworn enemies on the opposite side of the political spectrum. Do they not see this? For some reason I represent a threat and they want me gone. 

Is free speech dead in Berkeley? Is the radical left so fragile that it can’t tolerate an opposing view? If I rattle a few cages it can only make Berkeley stronger. Ultimately, that is my goal. I love the city of Berkeley, but not what some are doing to it.  


Jonathan Wornick is a member of the Peace and Justice Commission.