The May 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Oakland Tenants Face Eviction

UC Attacks the Berkeley Freebox

Berkeley Freebox Poetry Contest

Reform Profit-Making Nursing Homes

A Berkeley Fair for Street Youth

Ultimate Gift of a Homeless Veteran

Tax Cuts for Rich Harm U.S.

Many Children Left Behind

S.F. Bayview: History Lesson in Urban Removal

Let Their Chains Fall Off

Poor Leonard's Almanack: On Poets and Poetry

May Poetry of the Streets


April 2006

March 2006

February 2006

January 2006

November 2005

October 2005

September 2005

August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005




Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

The Berkeley Free Box Poetry Contest

Interview by Joan Clair

Community supporters join together to rebuild the Free Box in People's Park in Berkeley after the UC police destroyed it and hauled it away. Lydia Gans photo

Despite the University of California's resolve to remove the Free Box from People's Park, a large group of community supporters have shown just as much commitment to protecting it. Activists have mobilized to rebuild the Free Box every time it has been demolished and hauled away on the orders of UC officials, or burned down by freelance vigilantes.

On April 23, on People's Park anniversary, Charles Gary and Danny McMullan organized the Berkeley Free Box Poetry Contest. The three poems on this page were chosen as the award winners. The event was held to cast the controversy in a more positive light by inviting poets to reflect on the deeper values at stake in the struggle over the Free Box. For many of its supporters, the Free Box has lasting social significance because it promotes the ethical values of sharing, compassion and justice.

Street Spirit: Why did you hold a Free Box poetry contest in People's Park?
Charles Gary: The poetry contest was conceived as a way to bring the Free Box issue to the public in a creative way.

Street Spirit: Can you explain the controversy around the Free Box's repeated destruction and rebuilding?
Charles Gary: The Free Box got burnt, literally, in March of 2005 by "hard partyers."
Danny McMullan: It was not a political act of vandalism, just a bunch of young knuckleheads.
Charles Gary: It's been rebuilt three times since then, and today (April 23, 2006) is the fourth time.

Street Spirit: What happens when you rebuild it?
Charles Gary: Each time we've rebuilt it, within 24 hours, the University has removed it.

Street Spirit: Carrie Guilfoyle, People's Park assistant site coordinator of the UC Office of Community Relations, was quoted in the Berkeley Daily Planet as saying that the clothes were a real problem and that eventually they had to be thrown away.
Charles Gary: Any problem the University brings up could be solved if our common goal was to find positive solutions and serve the common good.

Street Spirit: A UC official said donated clothes could be brought to a store located outside People's Park.
Charles Gary: We need a place where people can get clothes 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. For someone sleeping outdoors who gets wet, they may need dry clothes right away, not just when a store is open. But the real issue is that the Free Box and Food Not Bombs serve in the open because there are so many people who have been abused; they have no interest in going inside.

Street Spirit: You are a member of the People's Park Project and the People's Park Anniversary Committee. Can you tell us a little about the People's Park Project?
Charles Gary: The People's Park Project is a process that facilitates the possibility of user development and a place for free speech.

Street Spirit: Does this include University officials?
Charles Gary: Anyone who shows up is a user.

Award-Winning Poems from the Berkeley Free Box Poetry Contest

Free Box
by Richard Moore, a.k.a. Paradise Freejahlove

Free, like the library and a fruit tree. Free, like a little socialism to breech the chasms and schisms of capitalism's effects on community. Come unity, in a Free Box. The benefits outweigh the predicaments, in a Free Box. Power to the people property, like poetry stocks, free as the air you breathe and the water you see. The sea is a Free Box of fish -- try taking it away from the Fishing Industry. Freedom is not a luxury. You got a problem with the Free Box you got a problem with democracy. I'm speaking publicly for the Free Box, a Free Society, Free Speech and Free Radio as opposed to slavery. All these bureaucracies and hypocrazies chipping away at my statue of liberties. My abilities are being hocked and mocked, cuz you got issues with a Free Box.

How many times have we heard this message before: because some people abuse the system, let's just drop it -- not care anymore? Life is like a Free Box of chocolates, you never know what you gonna get or who's gonna get it. If people want to open up dey closets and dey wallets to help the needy, who are you to block it -- unless you' workin' for the greedy? You outta pocket. Make compassion the fashion instead of fascism -- you need to drop it... instead of bombs and rockets... like a puppet, pontificating like you the Pope, but what about the dope when they dock it? You'd rather sock it to the little man and the children and you call this a master plan? Stan, you need to understand before you try to over stand, take a stand other than hate-tan on a freeman and putting locks on a Free Box.

Fools runnin' round with glocs and you' worried about a Free Box? You need to be socked fa trying to keep babies from shoes and socks, just because it don't mean nuffin to yo' folks in the Hollywoods and the Hollyblocks. Poor and working people flock to the Free Box that you dread and lock against the dreds with locks who can't afford a bed or bread without bread. Freddie's dead cuz he didn't have a cap to keep Jack Frost off his head. And you sc'ed cuz you got too much time on your clocks. So you worried about a Free Box.

Protect the Free Box it represents democracy. It's the poor man's Statue of Liberty. America is the Free Box. Nobody said philanthropy was easy, it's just another one of those freedoms... that ain't free. But it's worthy!

Berkeley's Free Box
by Joan Clair

"...there is greater anxiety, commonly, to have fashionable, or at least clean and unpatched clothes, than to have a sound conscience...."
"...the principal object is, not that [humankind] may be well and honestly clad, but unquestionably, that the corporation may be enriched."
-- Henry David Thoreau

If I were a monk, I'd have one or two robes.
If I lived in a rainforest, I'd have no change of clothes.
If I were a monkey, I'd wear my own back.
If I were a rabbit, I'd feel no lack.

But I'm a consumer, I have lots of clothes,
more than I need in my bulging wardrobe.

Praise the freebox in Berkeley which reduces the bore
of wasting one's life in a clothing store.
If I give to the freebox I become free
of overconsumption's oppression of me.

Oh Freebox!
by Maris Arnold

Oh freebox!
Your very existence threatens the foundations of society
That's why you're gone, for now
The day they took you away
Was another day of another crime against humanity
Oh freebox! How very irritating you are to
Deluded deans, confused chancellors
All of them, grand pooh bahs of destructive decisions to
Preserve higher education, they say
Higher, as in salaries and perks
Given to endlessly recycled fat cat administrators
Higher, as in the cost of a free public education
But they're not higher or even high
They've pledged allegiance to the unfree box
The one they want us all in
But, we aren't going in
Let a thousand free boxes bloom!

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