By Marilyn Bechtel
OAKLAND, Calif. – Poetry, music and film came together Sept. 30 as artists and community gathered at the Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library to join in 100,000 Poets for Change, a celebration of artists around the world who are working for peace, economic and social justice.
The celebration was one of many in the San Francisco Bay Area, with hundreds more held in many countries during late September.
The program featured celebrated Caribbean percussionist and singer Val Serrant, who opened the program and performed several times during the evening.
Serrant was joined by area poets, whose works dramatize the issues facing working and poor people today.
Roxanne Jones’ poem told of the troubles of growing up with an impoverished single mother: “Have you seen it? Three days later, we faced syrup sandwiches because my mother hadn’t received the welfare check. I’d hear her say Hi to the mailman, and ask me to look in the mailbox to see if the welfare check had arrived. No, shit!”
Lupe Copendah wrote of the young cab driver she met while volunteering with Oakland’s Senior Companion Program. “Your eyes are like midnight, and your heart is like gold. You are my treasure to behold, and I shall call you, Midnight Gold … You are Muslim, I’m a Christian, but we bonded as two friends…We have kept each other just as we are…”
In her poem, Courtney shared her story of living with drug addiction: “… my world is twirling, so I shoot you into my veins. Now, life is art, a living painting …” She now has a non-profit in San Francisco where she works to help homeless youth find “other avenues like art and media and social justice and change in our community, other than drug use.”
Film held a central place in the program. The evening’s MC, Cassandra Lόpez, “Mama Cassie” to the community, introduced the collective producing the film work-in-progress, “We Tell Our Stories: This Side of Oakland,” led by writer and activist Lyndsey Ellis. A short clip featured Layloni Marshall, a young single mother of three, who, with help from the community, was recently able to graduate from San Francisco State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology.
“… be true to yourself,” Marshall says in the film. “That’s something I had to learn. I had to learn that no matter what people say, it doesn’t matter if you know who you are, and why you’re here. No matter what anybody says, if you want to do something, do it! This is your life, you are going to have to live this life.”
Also featured was a short clip from Alsenosi Adam’s film, Losing Oakland, an award-winning exploration of gentrification Adam made while a journalism grad student at UC Berkeley.
The clip begins with Adam telling host Kenny Choi of CBS TV’s Bay Sunday that his film seeks to look at what’s happening in West Oakland, “from a different angle, so we can really have a healthy discussion about gentrification, which is happening all over the world.”
Adam said that as he interviewed local people for a reporting class, he kept hearing, “Oakland is changing, Oakland is not what it used to be…and I set out to make a film about housing, a lot of people losing homes, and it was more than that – it was a community that is breaking down, that’s in fear of losing their homes. I wanted to tell it so it makes a difference, and that’s how I came to do Losing Oakland.”
Adam told how Lόpez – who is featured in the film – came from Detroit to San Francisco, and then to Oakland, in the late 1960s. “She loves Oakland; to her Oakland used to be a black community hub. And as she taught in the schools, she saw in time how our community is getting pushed out and broken down. Now,” he said, “she runs a library in West Oakland where she holds round-table discussions with African American community members, where they talk about the issues facing the community, like how they can stay in this ever-changing city.”
In the film, Lόpez says, “My biggest fear is that Oakland will lose its diversity and its class composition, that it will become like San Francisco. I like Oakland.”
The film also highlights the new people – largely white and younger – who are moving into Oakland as housing costs soar around the region, and who see the city as a good place to settle and build a new life.
Adam says he felt people going through gentrification are “talking at each other, not with each other…You set a table for an intelligent conversation when they meet somewhere.”
Lifelong Oaklander Swakemyua Mohammad followed his poem with a plea for fundamental changes in today’s society. “When we become older, we become wiser, and we see the way this (corporate) system is set up, it is doing exactly what it is meant to do. … Until we put a face on the true enemy in our society, day in and day out, we will never defeat that enemy. It’s not a race thing – it’s a human thing, a human condition, who we are as human beings.”
The evening ended with the audience viewing a video, Why We Vote, prepared by a group of young people as a call for audience members to not only vote themselves, but to make sure family and friends are registered and go to the polls on Nov. 8.
Niebyl Proctor Library Proudly Presents: 7th Annual
Juneteenth Awards Dinner “Embracing our successes while confronting today’s challenges”
Bar-b-cue Extravganza Family& Friends
Recognition of community members: Music, games and great conversation
Niebyl Proctor Library- 6501 Telegraph Avenue
June 25, 2016 @ 6:30pm-9pm
Tickets to help cover expenses: $20 adults
$5 for our little ones
Sponsors: Niebyl Proctor Library
We Tell Our Stories Film Collective
For more information:
Mama Cassie @ 510-517-0150
Clark Richard@ 510-290-5595
May 27 2016
OAKLAND, Calif. – The life of the longest-surviving member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade – the 2,800 Americans who helped fight the emerging fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930s – was celebrated May 21 by friends and family from around northern California.
The celebration of Del Berg’s life was held at the Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library, and was co-sponsored by the library, peoplesworld.org, the Northern California Communist Party, and Veterans for Peace.
Esley Delmer Daniel Berg – known to all as Del – was over 100 years old at the time of his death on Feb. 28, 2016.
A lifelong political activist and leader, Del grew up in a poor farm worker family. In his early 20s, alarmed by the rise of fascist forces in Europe, he joined the Americans who traveled to Spain as part of the 40,000-strong International Brigades, to help Spanish anti-fascist fighters in their struggle against soon-to-be dictator Francisco Franco and his German and Italian fascist backers.
Though their mission ultimately failed, the “Lincolns” – sometimes called “premature anti-fascists” – have been celebrated ever since for their courage and dedication. Some 800 of the Lincolns died in Spain, and many of the survivors became among the most distinguished fighters in the U.S. military in World War II.
Returning to California in 1939, Berg later served with the U.S. Army in the Pacific before returning to life as a farm worker.
Del Berg’s multifaceted life – always fully engaged in people’s struggles for economic and social justice – inspired the speakers at his memorial celebration.
Among the many organizations he joined or supported was the Communist Party USA, which he joined in 1943, after returning from Army service. Northern California Communist Party chair Juan Lόpez said Berg “served with distinction” for years, as a member of the leadership collective, making the grueling trip to the Bay Area from his home in the Sierra foothills despite his age.
“At meetings, he would listen intently to anything that was being discussed,” Lόpez said. “When it came his turn to speak, he would tell you exactly what he thought – but his insightful views were founded on solid, often personal, experience in the struggles of the day.”
Nadya Williams, who MC’d the program, also cited Berg’s active membership in a broad spectrum of peace and social justice organizations, including Veterans for Peace, the United Farm Workers, the Mexican American Political Association, the California Democratic Party, the California Alliance of Retired Americans, and the NAACP, where he was elected vice president of his local chapter. Berg was also active in the anti-Vietnam War and anti-nuclear weapons movements, and women’s rights struggles as well.
John Veen, who traveled with his wife, Vickie, from their home in Fresno, Calif., told how Berg reached out from his Sierra foothills home to people in different parts of the Central Valley. “He was always talking about the need to bring together the Mexican American community, the African American community and the labor movement in general,” Veen said.
Though Berg participated in events organized by the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, his mind was always focused in the present. “He wanted to talk about, what are we going to do now, John? What little, or not so little, thing can we do right now, to move forward? He was always giving me names and phone numbers of people in my area, and he wanted me to contact them.”
Nor were all of Berg’s activities political. Veen told of visiting Berg’s beautiful home up in the foothills, which he had built himself decades earlier, after retiring. Berg described how he blasted the foundation, including the time he accidently launched a big boulder into a neighboring area – fortunately with no known ill effects. Another time, a boulder that refused to move became an integral part of Berg’s study, known to family and friends as “the cave.”
“Another thing about Del – he danced!” Veen told the crowd. “Raise your hand if you’d be surprised to know there was a dance club, and Del was elected president!” No hands were raised.
When the mic was opened to friends in attendance, several told how Del Berg would always maintain that he wasn’t a “learned” person, and was very modest about his knowledge. But they emphasized the depth and clarity of his thinking, and his broad and thoughtful approach to every issue.
Berg also maintained an extensive correspondence with activists in the U.S. and internationally – all handwritten in an extremely neat script since he didn’t use a typewriter.
After listening intently to the remembrances by his father’s friends and comrades, son Ernst Berg added his own memories. “As it is with fathers and sons, sometimes you don’t have good communications. Unfortunately, that was the case for us. But seeing how much you all care, I can talk about my father’s personal life. He lived a long time because of a healthy environment and a dedication to the betterment of the human race.”
Ernst Berg called his father’s home in Columbia “an amazing achievement” – telling how his father had poured cement for the road, and brought up a giant crane to move boulders. “I don’t know where he got a crane, but he did. A crane and a dump truck.”
A full afternoon of tributes and memories included a video of Del Berg’s life, put together by People’s World social media editor Chauncey Robinson, and remarks by friends including PW writer Henry Millstein, who interviewed Berg in 2014, University of California at Chico Professor Char Prieto, who read the poem she wrote for Berg’s 100th birthday, and others.
Check out our Facebook page for more photos! https://www.facebook.com/events/228299220866285/permalink/241663346196539/
Last Known Member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade – who died February 28th, 2016 at the activist age of 100.
Please mark your calendars:
SATURDAY, MAY 21st from 1:00 to 3:00 pm
Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library
6501 Telegraph Avenue @ Alcatraz, Berkeley
(just a short walk from Ashby BART)
Speakers, Video, Photos, Food, Memories, Good Company, etc.
*please try to invite NEW people who might not know about: the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), the 40,000 members of the International Brigades, or the nearly 3,000 Americans who fought in the Lincoln Brigade.
Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/228299220866285/
march 9 2016
OAKLAND, CA — The rains poured down on us and the winds howled as we made our way to the Niebyl-Proctor Community Library last Saturday to honor our history.
This year’s celebration would be a roundtable discussion of the presidential election and its significance to our future as a people. Like most events, the organizers watched nervously through the windows to see who may be joining us.
In the kitchen, chickens were frying, corn soup was heating up and barbequed organic sausages were simmering in the oven. Oh my Lord, we sure like to cook! Tables were set with our traditional red, black and green colors. Soulful rhythms filled the air and for that moment all was right with the world.
A few people arrived and then the door blew open wide! Like a gust of wind, young people entered with their children and babies in tow. Quite magically in an instant we had the roundtable fully assembled.
The first hour was spent eating and socializing. Then it was time to begin the discussion. Everyone, including children ranging in ages from 11 months to 19, remained at the table. I supposed some of us thought the children might not stay put, but they did.
Lyndsey Ellis, from the We Tell Our Stories Film Collective, chaired the gathering. Her first question: “Who do you like best between Bernie and Hillary and why?”
Amazingly the young children’s hands went up first. Lil Antoine – nine years of age – blurted out, “Hillary…because my grandpa likes her and he says she’s the best and I believe my grandpa.” Then he gave the two thumbs up.
Nineteen year old college student Kwame Lewis also spoke in favor of Hillary. “Hillary has the big support and the big dollars, so I figure she can’t be beat. Also she’s a woman, and women want their turn in the White House.”
However, some of the young adults were of a different mind. They felt that Bernie, out of all of the candidates, spoke to our issues. Toussaint Stewart, who teaches in the public schools, said that Hillary has too much big money baggage. “How can she truly represent us when she is so tied to Wall Street?” He also spoke about her role in the welfare reform act of the 1990s that put poor people, especially women and people of color, off welfare rolls. “This deepened the poverty that already existed.”
There were those who were not sure who they would support. Symone Bradley, 13 years of age, articulated her point of view very well. “I believe that people need to do their research about the candidates before they decide. Too many people just listen to the news, but don’t read to get the truth about these people and who is behind them. I have not yet decided, and maybe I am guilty of being a little lazy about all of this myself. But what I do believe is that Donald Trump won’t have a chance if people do their homework.”
Brotha Val Serrant, a world famous steel drum musician, had a different take. He said, “I believe the presidential election is a farce. Democrats and Republicans are two sides of the same coin. We need to focus on the local elections where we can have some impact on what is going on right here in Oakland.”
From that point on the discussion got a little heated. Sistah Fischer, a retired educator, and Shannon, a student of Chinese medicine, both spoke passionately about the need for more resources in the black community. The need for good paying union jobs and great schools to prepare our next generation were highlighted. Racial discrimination in hiring also came to the forefront. “Even when more jobs are created, we – black folks – are last to be hired, if hired at all,” I said vehemently.
As master of ceremonies, I expounded on the notion by some folks that the vote is a waste: “If our vote is worthless, why are they working overtime to suppress it?”
I underscored the need for us to use the power of the vote along with other organizing tools in our communities: “We have to use the vote, because it can be a deciding factor in electing someone who will stand with us, helping to unleash some of the much needed resources that our communities desperately need.”
There was consensus among most in attendance that having Bernie or Hillary become president is our best shot.
At the end of the roundtable discussion, Lil Antoine helped bring the meeting to a close by asking people to give a thumb vote for their favorite candidate. Thumbs up for Hillary, thumbs to the side for Bernie and thumbs down against Trump.
The vote was pretty much split, but for Trump it was all thumbs down!
Photo: Touissant & son Dinari, Antoine & Lil Twan
Via People’s World