‘Such Is the Magic and Spirit of People’s Park’

The mayor has no understanding of the awful defeat the loss of People’s Park would be. No comprehension of the cost in lives and the sacrifices people have made for the Park’s ideals. So many still find it a refuge in a country needing a political and spiritual overhaul.

by Daniel McMullan

Another milestone came and went on September 26, 2017. It would have been the 81st birthday of Berkeley icon and People’s Park denizen Hateman, also known as Mark Hawthorn.

A group of about 35 people showed up at People’s Park to remember him at his spot at the top of the Park, while down at the stage his lifelong philosophy of “oppositional caring” was hard at work.

The Hateman believed that no meaningful relationship can get off to any kind of a start without a demonstration that you are at least willing to express negativity and clear the air.

Hateman felt that some people have a huge aversion to expressing themselves negatively, in an upfront and honest way, and that this avoidance doomed many ventures from the start with passive-aggressiveness and sabotage taking root when negative feelings are not openly stated.

The people who were in the Park recently when the alleged alt-right showed up had no qualms about their honest expression, but it was also clear that People’s Park is a place where all have a right to free speech.

I was proud of our Park and the people there who made it clear that anyone had a right to speak and to speak back. And that includes those being spoken to expressing how moronic they find what you are saying.

It was funny they showed up on a day when a memorial for a friend included people yelling at the top of their lungs: “I HATE YOU!!!!”

It was in remembrance to Hate, who did not survive last winter’s killer storms. Such is the magic and spirit of that Park.

The Park Under Attack

The park has been under attack lately by some people who feel that open space, inclusion, community and caring are something from a bygone era. Something passe in our Berkeley.

Now, we are in a time that seems caught in its isolation. Friends can no longer hail each other on the streets due to the ear buds in our ears, and children no longer play without an appointment.

I was mortified to read Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin expressing in a local blog (they call themselves a “newspaper” but they are not in print or available to anyone that isn’t online) that he is of a generation that has no love for the Park and is young enough to be free of any nostalgia or respect for what People’s Park really stands for.

He has no understanding of the awful defeat for community self-determination the loss of the Park would be. No comprehension of the cost in lives and the sacrifices people have made for the Park’s ideals and the real cost it will be to the lives of so many that still do find it a refuge from a world growing increasingly hostile and a country needing a political and spiritual overhaul.

I will not get into the long storied history of the Park but I will share a little of my own story and the story of the Park.

Writer-artist-activist Carol Denney summed it up so well last April in her reflections on Hateman’s passing. “Since the block between Haste, Dwight, Bowditch, and Telegraph’s rowdy, explosive block of ungoverned culture, mostly in shared houses, was bulldozed in 1967, the UC Berkeley administration has torn its hair out trying to quell that culture and the concomitant gentle warriors who carry it with them in their smiles, their pace, and their willingness to greet the National Guard with flowers. Hate Man’s embrace of ‘oppositionality,’ oddly fit right into this strange revolution, an oddly quiet revolution unless certain people were behind the faders. But then, if you know the people behind the faders you can have an effect on that, too.

“The City of Berkeley’s ‘Pathways Project’ continues in a decades-old parade of fallacies: that you need freshly-built buildings to address housing needs, that only carefully ‘vetted’ people deserve a roof, and that our eccentrics are a threat. Those lucky enough to have known Hate Man are sad today to lose him, but will forever see him on our streets and in our Park, and loosen their constricted expectations of others and themselves. And maybe bring a baby stroller. Nothing is funnier than the poor police officer who tries to explain what is wrong with that.”

People’s Park is a place of friends talking, joyous music, games of chess, Frisbee, and speeches, many speeches. Lydia Gans photo

 

My Story of People’s Park

I was in the motorcycle accident that severed my leg at a bad time. The second coming of Ronald Reagan saw care for just about everyone being scrapped, denied, withheld. After 14 months in the UCSD Medical Center, I was sent to the notorious Edgemoor Hospital in Santee, California, where I was greeted my first night with a woman being boiled alive in a bathtub. I was then invited to stay in Berkeley with my cousin, but when he moved, I was once again in dire straits.

For year after year, I was refused the disability or medical coverage that I qualified for, through my own labor and that of my deceased parents, with a yearly letter stating: “We have determined that your condition will not last longer than a year.”

A cost-saving measure in the new Reaganomics.

But year after year, my leg never grew back, my arm never knitted itself back correctly, nor did my vertebrae pop back into line. Go figure. The government seemed pretty sure of itself in their letters!

The “services” in Berkeley were a huge circle of no help, going around and around and around.

The Park and its people were my only refuge, my only friends, and the only place I could “be” while I slowly pulled my life together and fought through a battle to get my life back.

My story is not special. I have seen it play out dozens of times over the years. I have seen it play out both favorably and horribly, too.

The state of mental health and mental help in Berkeley is a disgrace. To see our elders and the severely disabled tossed to the streets is something that still keeps me up at night.

People’s Park has never been the problem, It has been a solution. The kind of solution that presents itself when greed and neglect and corruption take over a society.

I am glad the beautiful Park is there. It saved my life and saves many more as I write this.

It is also a place of joyous music, a quiet game of chess, an exciting basketball pick-up game, throwing around the Frisbee. And, oh yes, speeches. Moving speeches, that will bring you to tears. Speeches ugly, that will have you barking back.

But speeches in freedom, open to all comers, be they ugly or beautiful.

It was great that the spirit of Hateman and the spirit of the park, showed up for his memorial on September 26. No one who has been around the Park for any length of time would be surprised.

Our Park is a powerful place.

People’s Park Forever.

***

Coming April 2019: People’s Park 50th Anniversary. A week-long celebration of music, food, movies, stories, dance and speeches, plenty of speeches.

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