Poetic Resistance to the Berkeley Sitting Ban

Poets held a poetry reading to challenge the City Council’s proposed sitting ban. How delightful it would be if we could just sing our way right past this terrible proposal to outlaw something as natural as sitting down. We should pour enough poetry on it that it is doused entirely.

by Carol Denney

 

When I first heard that Berkeley might try to enact another anti-sitting law, I turned to the poets, singers, activists, and musicians I know and told them about the proposed legislation. The immediate result was disbelief. And poetry. And songs.

People started to write and sing about it because that’s what they do. It was like suddenly finding a beautiful river springing to life around me.

"Sitting is a human right." Scores of protesters brought chairs to downtown Berkeley and held a sit-in in solidarity with homeless people. Lydia Gans photo

One poem in my e-mail box made me dance around my room because it seemed so perfect for the issue. I found myself raving about it at the next meeting I attended, and found I was raving about the poem to its author, poet Gary Hicks.

So! It made sense to find a way to share it all with each other and our communities.

Harold Adler of the Art House Gallery and Community Cultural Center (2905 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley) loved the idea of having a completely free night of shared art in opposition to the proposed anti-sitting law. Paul Kealoha Blake of the East Bay Media Center and B.B. Simmons agreed to videotape it. The Revolutionary Poets Brigade agreed to co-sponsor the event with the Stand Up for the Right to Sit Down Coalition and the art started to flow like crazy.

We began with musician and author Philip Rosheger’s breathtaking works for classical guitar. Philip has played both Carnegie Hall and the local BART stations. He lost all his original folios in his housing struggles, but still has a breathtaking grasp of both the fretboard and international politics. He was too shy to speak, but his music says it all.

We covered every inch of the sidewalk-sitting issue: deep, political, funny, breathtaking, angry, short, long, and gloriously incomprehensible. We laughed a lot.

Berkeley City Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Max Anderson were there to assure us that we had their support if the proposed anti-sitting legislation ever makes its way to the City Council.

But our strategy is to gather poetry so powerful, stories so stunning, music so moving, and singing so seductive that absolutely everybody wants to be on our side. Then we not only succeed in making sure we don’t join the shameless communities which have passed anti-sitting laws, we become a model for a way to cream bad public policy with so much spectacular art that the bad policy wanders off ashamed and meditates on how it got off track.

It isn’t that we aren’t willing to go to jail — so many of the artists, poets, and musicians conveyed that to me as we gathered steam for the poetry event on May 20, that it was clear we had enough of them willing to sit down for justice to clog jails for miles around since most holding cells aren’t designed for a big crowd.

But how delightful it would be if we could just sing our way right past this terrible proposal, pour enough poetry on it that it is doused entirely. That would be a marvelous model for the next community tempted to outlaw something as natural as sitting down. Art on!

 

Berkeley Poets Speak Out Against the Sitting Ban

 

For You Brother & Anti-War

by Arnie Passman

Ill-dressed for comin’ on coldusk,

I rush past the homeless vet,

And his sign, did he have a dog?

At the edge of the UA 7 profit province,

And pull up

When the dove faced young usherette

Comes out and asks him to move.

If you can believe it.

He gets up, howling,

“Yeah, I’ll move.  I fought in two wars,

but yeah, I’ll move.”

I shiver, and rush on

back to my four-day $7 a day

gangster Buick Lucerne.

If you can believe it?

But feel all through my heart,

No one must ever tell any vet

To move,

Or anyone already on the

sidewalk never, ever to be a vet.

 

The homeless….

by Ava Bird

I have so many mixed feelings

about homeless people

and the deeper repercussions

of free enterprise:

suits and ties

disguised

as narcissistic,

ME first!

vultures

pecking away at our culture.

I must say though,

about the homeless…

that more and more

I see them camping,

napping in the doorways of the banks,

banks like:

Skank of America and Wells Fargo,

well, fuck you and go!

these gangsters of money

known as banksters.

Sleeping with

Pranksters like at&t

spying on me!

More and more,

I see homeless people

on their cellphones

with funny ringtones,

sleeping in no parking zones

moaning for a few bones

begging  for a free loan,

or maybe

they just want the cops

to leave them alone!

These homeless and their carts,

Pushing and pulling around

a life savings,

Sometimes they scare me, to be honest.

The clothes they wear,

the smells they bear,

sometimes they tear my heart apart,

to see someone else’s life so torn apart.

A lot of them are really smart,

with warts, and all,

and kind hearts

but lets not get started

on the homeless problem!

the homeless burden!

its just capitalism flirting!

….OUCH!  ITS HURTING!!!

I Am A Black Man in his Mid-Sixties

by Gary Hicks

i am a

black

man in

his

mid sixties

of a

people

with a

history

of

being told

where

we can’t

stand

sit

or even

have

our feet

walking

firmly

in mid-air.

 

i am the

child

of an

auto worker

who

was a member

of that

union whose

workers

sat in the

plant owned

by the bosses

until justice

was had.

 

i am the

younger brother

of the woman

who refused

to give her

seat to the

jim crow

privileged

white man

and turned

alabama

inside out

the contemporary

i am of the

sisters and

brothers

who turned

oklahoma city

greensboro

and then the

south on

its ear

 

don’t even

think

you

can

tell

me where

i can’t

take up

space

rich

privileged

folk need

to get

ready to

get up out

of their

chairs

there are

real people

waiting to

take command

and like

the sister told

you all

in atlantic city

back when

we didn’t come

for no two

seats

‘specially when

all of us

is tired. i

have the

right

and soon

will

have the

power

to sit down.

I Ain’t Yo Antichrist … I’m Yo Uncle Sam!

by Patrick Fahey (aka Gunther The Clown)

I Ain’t your AntiChrist, I’m your Uncle Sam!

You see me in everything and damn, that’s where I am!

Don’t blame me for getting rich and getting all I can!

I ain’t your AntiChrist, I’m your Uncle Sam!

 

Been in Korea and Vietnam since 1954

CIA in Nicaragua and El Salvador

Got a million refugees in jail, but I don’t give a damn

I ain’t your AntiChrist, I’m your Uncle Sam!

 

Don’t blame me for getting old, don’t blame me for getting cold

Don’t blame me for getting old, don’t blame me for getting cold

MY HISTORY’S (uhh!) ABOUT TO FOLD

Don’t blame me for getting old, don’t blame me for getting cold

Don’t blame me for getting cold, I said…COLD, COLD, COLD

 

Slave labor camps still in the south and ghettos in the north

I’d like to colonize the Middle East for the oil fields of course!

I’d like to colonize the whole wide world but FREEDOM’S in the way

People are still our biggest problem, we’ll have to kill them all off some day!

 

Our lies are getting obvious, our weapons are laid bare

The truth is getting out on us, and people getting scared!

But the threat of PEACE is on the move and people still have a choice

To stick their heads way up their asses or really raise their voices!

Well…

 

I ain’t your AntiChrist I’m your Uncle Sam!

You see me in everything and damn that’s where I am!

Don’t blame me for getting rich and getting all I can

I ani’t your AntiChrist … I’m YOUR UNCLE SAM!!!

Song of the Wealthy Man

by Carol Denney

Chorus: it’s the song, it’s the song,

the song of the wealthy man!

always right, never wrong!

try to be just like me if you can!

it’s the song of the wealthy man!

 

you are not my brother we’re nothing alike

I’m driving my hummer you’re riding your bike!

if I were in your shoes I know what I’d see

if I were in your shoes I’d want to be me! (chorus)

 

you are not my sister no how and no way

your troubles won’t ever come darken my day!

you’re different it’s your fault you’re stuck in a ditch

you should have planned better like me and got rich!

(chorus)

 

I am not your keeper so get on your knees

and if you want something you’d better say please!

 

it’s best if you flatter obsequiously

I’ll hear you much better if it’s about me! (chorus)

 

if you’re out of money well I’m not to blame

of course I’m a winner I made up the game!

you should have planned better it’s easy to see

go talk to your broker quit whining to me! (chorus)

 

a snap of my fingers they follow like geese

I own the officials I own the police!

the sidewalks are mine and the medians, too

so get up and move before I arrest you! (chorus)

 

you’re poor so of course no one listens to you

It’s amazing what big piles of money can do!

I encounter agreement whatever I say

And if they try to tax me I faint dead away! (chorus)

 

raise a glass to the rich ‘cause they’re better than you

better shod, dressed, connected, well insured, too!

money may not buy love as the songs always say

but it buys politicians and they’re here to stay! (chorus)

 

Defeat Sit-Lie Couplets

by Lincoln Bergman

The streets of Berkeley scenes have seen

Of battles, marches, freedom dreams

 

Groves of academe that stand

And working folks in the flatland

 

Not just the University

But People’s Parks of what could be

 

A park named after Ho Chi Minh

A rising chant of We Will Win.

 

Yet times have changed and now it seems

Nightmares do intrude on dreams

 

In a place with freedom rep

Some want to take a vicious step

 

Pass sit-lie ordinance to announce

That in these streets po-lice can pounce

 

As if there aren’t already laws

Protecting those sharp business claws.

 

This strikes a sad and sour note

Of cruelty, called the scapegoat

 

As if the cause of economic woe

Is poor folks with no place to go

 

When what has caused us all to bleed

Is sheer unmitigated corporate greed!

 

In a place once known for freedom

Defeat such laws—we just don’t need ‘em.

 

We lend our voices to proclaim

That Berkeley must defeat sit-lie

if Berkeley wants to keep its name!

 

Undesirables

by Julia Vinograd

Teenagers sprout from cracks in the sidewalk

like weeds. Pliant, pushy.

Merchants want sidewalks paved over

and people without roots

pulled out by their roots.

Kittens, spikes, piercings, puppies.

Merchants worry about tattoos.

Does writing on bodies lead to writing on walls?

Is there a clear and present danger

of tattooed dragons burning their window displays?

Can tattooed pirate ships sink merchant ships

with their holds full of keychains

and souvenir ashtrays?

Teenagers wear leather jackets

over a public disturbance of soft and warm.

Teenagers wear chain necklaces bolted over smooth throats.

Chain stores. Locked out. Locked in.

They’re a skinny, damp-palmed sprawl

playing peek-a-boo with death

and blocking the doorways.

A girl with purple hair lost her bellybutton ring

and wants the others to help her look.

No one pays much attention.

Night’s coming and they’re all out of cigarettes.

They talk about clubs and bands but it’s just talk.

If there were light they might be lovely.

If there were time they might be young.

 

Home Free

Song by Jim Byron

I wrote this song after I left college without a diploma, and knew I would be living a vagabond’s life, and I knew that I would be homeless. But I didn’t like that word, “homeless.” It didn’t sit right with me. I was home free. I sat on many a sidewalk singing this song. That is why I support the fight against this “sit/lie” law. We need more places to sit on the sidewalks, not a law saying no one can sit there. Period.

—–

You are home, my friend, Home free

You are home, my friend

There’s nothing you’d rather be

 

Some may call you homeless but that’s false cos

You got your home everywhere you roam

Some may call you hopeless but that’s false cos

You got hope that they have never known

Some may call you useless but that’s false cos

You are used to lending your helping hand

 

You are home, Home with me

You are home, Home free, yeah

There’s nothing you’d rather be

 

From the thirsty wasteland to the isles

The shining desert to the sea a’ moaning

From the prosper ranges to death valley

Whispering ghost towns to the ‘urbs a’growing

There’s nothing that you’d wish to be owning

Than to hear the windy freedom choir sing out

 

Home, Home free

Home, Home free, oh yeah!

There’s no place that you’d rather be

 

May you always be welcomed somehow

May you always be allowed inside

Trustworthy for when you have nothing to show

You surely haven’t got nothing to hide

Trust me my friend nothing shall confine you now

You’ve got infinite karma waves to ride

You’re invincible!

 

You’re home, You’re home free

You’re home, You’re home within

There’s no one you’d rather be

 

Tell Big Brother Where to Go

We Don’t Want You to Have to Push Little Old Ladies and Homeless Veterans Around Even More Than You Do Now.

by Ava Bird

Dear Berkeley Police Officer:

First of all, THANK YOU for all your hard work on our streets! For showing up to car accidents, stranded motorists first and other horrors & twisted scenarios!

I am writing this letter to inform you of the changes in your job status. See, as a citizen of the community, a nice neighbor and caring member of society, we wanted to share with you some drastic changes to your chosen career path:

We know you are a professional and chose your profession as a high calling — and as some of your own cars say, “to protect and to serve.” As a public service paid for by taxpayers, I guess we are sorta your boss. We pay your paychecks and, unfortunately, the bearers of some pretty scary and bad news: See, your pimp daddy, the city council, mayor, board, etc., are planning an underhanded attack on you with a new proposed law — though without guns, batons, or spray mace, they are going over your heads and attacking your very daily responsibilities.

Artwork by Tiffany Sankary

Their callous decisions will make you a clean-up crew, the shit sweepers in these sweeping new changes in your pay structure and increased responsibilities (Was this in your job description?!?)

I know your original intention was to help humanity, serve your community, unionize and rescue your neighbors. We know it’s a hard job, some of you even become alcoholics in the process, with the horrors of humanity.

I respect you as a community member, a human being, and want you to maintain dignity as a public employee! We don’t want you to have to push little old ladies and homeless veterans around even more than you do now, and, in fact, this would make it illegal for even YOU to gather with your doughnuts on sidewalks — we don’t want to have do a citizen’s arrest!

Damn Man, I just wish we could all just get along!

And even though I don’t want to see you in my neighborhood, in my rearview & hope against hope you never have to come over, I still wish you all the best, understand your chosen profession and glad I don’t have to do it. I have compassion for what you do and want you to retain your dignity! We know you don’t want to have to harass people more now, you’d have to be Monsanto to get away with that! Or at least a private corporation!

Officer, We are calling on You! Our public servants who protect and serve, now the tables are turned, we must “protect and serve” YOU! We, as unionized community, want clean safe streets too & are propositioning you to stand up for sitting down. We need you to “Get Tough, cop!” STAND UP! Woman and Man up! Stand up for your right to sit down now!

Please join your neighbors and fellow human beings to protest your city’s ridiculous attempt to control sitting down in public spaces. We need more park benches and areas to sit and rest and listen to the birds sing, not criminalize this activity! Come on! This is fascist, sick, insane and absolutely unbelievable in the city of Berkeley. Tell Big Brother where to go, my friend.

Sincerely,

A very concerned neighbor on behalf of the Stand Up for the Right to Sit Down brigade

 

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