On Saturday evening, former councilmember/peace activist Maudelle Shirek was given a standing ovation for all the work she has done in her life. To a cheering, ecstatic crowd of more than a couple hundred Berkeley residents, Shirek introduced herself with a famous Mark Twain quote.
“Thank you for coming,” said a vigorous Shirek. “First let me say that reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated. I’m still here and I’m still involved.”
Many local leaders, like Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson, Mayor Tom Bates, Assemblymember Loni Hancock, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, and Councilmember Max Anderson, talked about how Shirek never compromised her values and always spoke about what was on her mind.
They described her as a leader in fighting for just causes on many current issues. Shirek proved what they said by expressing her views about current controversial issues in Berkeley, including affordable housing and the closure of Derby Street.
“Like Santa Claus,” said Shirek in a booming voice, “I’ll be watching you to see if you’re good, like supporting affordable housing, or bad, like trying to close Derby Street.”
Last week the City Council voted unanimously to name Old City Hall for Shirek. Dec. 10 was also declared Maudelle Shirek Day by the council. The mayor served with Shirek for only wo years, but he said that even within that time, she made an important impact on him.
“She spoke with such passion,” said Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates. “She spoke from the heart. It makes a big difference. I wish that I had been able to work with her longer.”
“I know the word ‘hero’ is a bit overused,” added Councilmember Max Anderson, who holds Shirek’s former seat on the City Council. “In Maudelle, we see an activist of the greatest integrity. We are here today to celebrate her heroism.”
Assemblymember Hancock, a former Berkeley mayor, talked about her personal experiences with Shirek.
“Once, I was eating lunch with Maudelle,” Hancock said. “I reached for the salt shaker and Maudelle said, “Don’t use that!’ And still to this day, I remember her words of wisdom.”
Rep. Barbara Lee has tried for more than two years to name the main Berkeley post office on Allston Way after Shirek, honoring her for her activism in the community. However, an effort by House Republicans, led by Iowa Rep. Steve King, blocked the measure in September. Naming post offices and federal courthouses are so commonplace that generally a voice vote is used (which signals solid, unanimous approval).
Robert Chambers, a candidate for King’s seat in the House, said at Saturday’s event that he isn’t proud of King’s behavior.
“This isn’t the first time that Iowans had to apologize for Mr. King’s actions,” Chambers said about King’s efforts to block honoring Shirek. “We are deeply and profoundly embarrassed. What he did was insensitive and inaccurate. One of the reasons that I came to this event was to send an apology to Berkeley, to Barbara Lee, to Maudelle Shirek, and to many others.”
Donations to the Maudelle Shirek Scholarship Fund, which will be used to benefit underprivileged children, can be sent to: Maudelle Shirek Scholarship Fund/Vanguard Foundation, c/o Max Anderson, 2180 Milvia St., Fifth Floor, Berkeley, CA 94704.
Photograph by Rio Bauce
Former City Councilmember Maudelle Shirek is given warm congratulations by admirers for her long career in Berkeley politics.