Gina Sasso, 49, who died last Wednesday of complications of pneumonia, was feted Sunday in People's Park and later memorialized by an ad-hoc demonstration at the corner which was formerly the home of Cody's Books on Telegraph. She was a Berkeley activist who touched the hearts and lives of the more than 75 people who showed up Sunday for a hastily-assembled celebration of her life and many others. The upbeat event was organized by longtime Sasso friends, Max Ventura and Soul.
A sizeable contingent came from the disabled community Sasso had served for nine years in her role as executive director at Easy Does It, an organization linking caregivers with the disabled. One of them remembered her as "an effective bureaucrat," who was "so good she had to be fired."
Despite his grief and rumors that he was hobbled by his wife's death, her husband Michael Delacour, 73, a prominent participant in the original People’s Park action, assumed his familiar inspirational speaker's role to rouse the crowd to action to pay tribute to Gina’s memory with a symbolic sitting protest after the event at the former Cody's corner, the scene of Sasso's last protest in April.
Ten loyalists who responded to Delacour's appeal to action sat down at 4 p.m. as her memorial in the park ended. Their vigil continued until 6 p.m. according to Michael Diehl, a homeless advocate who vowed to step up his own activities now that Sasso is gone.
In his speech, Delacour blamed the healthcare system for his wife's death, claiming that her death could be traced to her firing at Easy Does It, which caused her to lose her health coverage. "She had received a bill for $1,800" according to Delacour, for treating her granddaughter’s broken arm recently. It was that medical bill, he said, that had kept her from seeking treatment when her pneumonia, which she thought was the flu, persisted.
"How is it," Delacour asked, "that we can fight three wars, but not fund healthcare?"
From eulogizing his wife he segued into an impassioned plea to stage the spontaneous demo at Cody's after the celebration. Anyone who may have speculated that his wife's death would stop Delacour, doesn't know Delacour, according to close friends.
Gina's last cause was opposition to a proposal backed by some owners of commercial property for Berkeley to enact a prohibition on sitting or lying down in the Telegraph and Downtown business district. She rallied a contingent from the Cody's anti sit/lie protest in April to take the issue to the council meeting that same night in hopes of influencing swing votes on the council.
According to Jesse Arreguin, the District 4 City councilman whose district includes Downtown, the pie-in-the-sky ordinance now might just slip away altogether—since two of his pro-ordinance colleagues on the council are in fact wavering, he said. According to Arrequin, even if the ordinance, which has not yet been written, were adopted, it would undoubtedly be challenged and ultimately go to Berkeley voters as a referendum.
Meanwhile, nevertheless, a draft of a sit-lie ordinance by the Telegraph Berkeley Improvement District, a group of Teley property owners. moves slowly forward. A board-requested re-write is to be submitted to the TBID next week.
All the performers at the memorial gathering—speakers as well as musicians—began their sets with personal Gina tributes and stories. Carol Denney told of being mistakenly identified as Sasso in a demonstration and subsequently arrested. She showed up with a tribute-song written just for the event in which she immortalized Gina as, "my little Gina girl…who'll be our sunshine now."
After hiding Saturday, the sun had appeared in time for the Sunday event.
Soul presided over the stage, and also performed a spoken word piece.
Ernest “Boom” Carter, Sasso's brother-in-law, famous for drumming on Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run", praised his sister-in-law and played a guitar set dedicated to her. Two of Gina’s sisters, Alice and Elizabeth, were present, as well as her foster son and grandchild, Dusk and Angelina.
A "handful" of the Funky Nixons performed "Screw the Rich’, and Andrea Prichett, Copwatch founder and a close activist-ally of Sasso's, sang.
Several speakers recounted Sasso's twenty-plus years of activism, including her support of the Memorial Stadium tree-sit protest and her 1992 opposition to the University of California’s ultimately failed attempt to install beach volleyball courts in People’s Park.
At the time of her death, she had emerged as an effective organizer who organized her own events. She was a community advisor to Berkeley's B.O.S.S. the group which advocates for accessible housing and medically under-served Berkeleyans, and was an on-air personality at Liberation Radio, 104.1 FM
Letters of appreciation from Sasso's adoring clients at Easy Does It were read. Kathleen Stuck, a poet, activist and close friend of Sasso's, said the last official words, and then the microphone was opened to the public. One speaker said that "often, the most recent friends—in a honeymoon state—have a special loss. They lost their future with her."
As the size of the hastily called event proved, Sasso was loved by many, and her death has inspired them to carry on her causes.
Michael Diehl has announced an anti sit-lie demo for June 7; 6:15p,at old city hall, 2140 Martin Luther King Way. A free meal will begin at 5:30p, according to Diehl.
This video was produced by B.O.S.S. and shot by janny,a B.O.S.S. employee.
Ted Friedman reports for the Planet, mostly from Southside.