Berkeley: Peace and Justice City

By Wendy Kenin
Vision Magazine, July 2009

From an urban university tree-sit on sacred native lands to a marine recruiting station stand-off, today’s big issues out of Berkeley continue to lead the nation and the globe on responsibility and justice. The city of Berkeley is a leading player with an active structure that encourages community involvement from local to international spheres.

The Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission (PJC), established by the city council, is chartered to “advise the Berkeley City Council and the Berkeley. Unified School District on all matters relating to the City of Berkeley’s role in issues of peace and social justice.” This past year, PJC has addressed a broad array of topics including Juvenile Life without Parole sentencing, sweatshops, the city’s Nuclear Free Ordinance, and the call to investigate John Yoo, a tenured professor at the University of California, Berkeley, for having promoted torture under the Bush administration. Individuals and community groups bring their concerns about peace and justice to the commission’s monthly meetings, eventually having an impact on local law.

Considering that Berkeley is a United Nations City, PJC is slated to coordinate reporting to the U.N. about local matters, an activity that all vicinities are invited to do. Berkeley is the only participating city thus far. PJC reports will include city statistics that reflect community wellness and disparities.
“What we deal with locally is always related to global issues. So we need to respond to global issues as they pertain to the issues we deal with in our town,” says Diana Bohn, PJC member and member of the U.N. Subcommittee.

In an item sponsored by four-term City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, the Berkeley City Council condemned the U.S. Border Wall at Mexico in February, 2008, emphasizing the severe impacts of the wall on Native American communities of the international boundary zone. The wall is possibly the largest physical visual affront against the indigenous peoples of the Americas, fencing in the presidents’ portraits at Mount Rushmore in the Lakota Black Hills, and keeping out indigenous peoples who flee here for their survival from across our southern border.

“The reason we have to deal with immigrants is U.S. foreign trade policy that impels migration,” Bohn says. “Now people locally are being deported, we have the wall, [and] we have ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] raids. We have criminalization of people locally because of U.S. foreign policy.” ICE raids homes, workplaces and schools, terrorizing the communities of Alameda County, throughout California, and across the nation.

A test of the cultural awareness and sensitivity of commission members, PJC is playing a central role in coordinating a response on behalf of the City of Berkeley, in conjunction with other city commissions and civic leaders, to the apprehension and arrest of union worker Jesus Gutierrez by the University of California, Berkeley in April. The University arrested Gutierrez for fraudulent identity theft, a charge that is sometimes used to apprehend suspected undocumented immigrants. He was transferred to the jurisdiction of ICE, despite the City of Berkeley’s Sanctuary City status. The city is calling on the University to become a Sanctuary Campus.

“We’ve heard that the personal is political. I would say also that the political is personal,” Commission Chairman Bob Meola remarks. “These national and global issues of peace and justice affect the individual lives of Berkeley residents as much as fixing potholes in roads.”

With echoes of free speech and feminism, Berkeley endorsed the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) on May 19, during the eighth session of the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York. PJC had recommended this action to the council in fulfillment of its functions as stated in its charter to “support human rights and self-determination throughout the world.” With the passage of UNDRIP, the indigenous Ohlone people who continue to live in the Bay Area will now have a recognized basis for exercising their innate government-to-government relationship with the city around critical issues of sacred sites and self-determination. Members of the American Indian Movement and the International Indian Treaty Council have stated their intent to advance this model in the greater Bay Area and internationally.


Local indigenous issues are evident in international crises such as the massacre of indigenous peoples of the Peruvian Amazon beginning June 5, who were protesting oil exploration and extraction of ancestral lands resulting from the U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement. Just days earlier, the fourth Continental Indigenous Summit Abya Yala was held in Peru, with native representatives of over 22 countries of the Americas. The summit proclaimed May 31: “We are witness to a deep crisis of Western capitalist civilization that superimposes upon itself to encompass the environmental, energy and cultural dimensions, the policies of social exclusion and even famines, and that as an expression of the failure of Euro-centrism and a colonialist definition of modernity that was born from ethnocide is now carrying the whole of humanity to slaughter…leading us now to a planetary suicide.”

In Anchorage, Alaska on April 24, the Indigenous Peoples’ Global Summit on Climate Change declaration had called for a “phase out of fossil fuel development and a moratorium on new fossil fuel developments on or near Indigenous lands and territories,” emphasizing UNDRIP’s provisions. “When specific programs and projects affect them, the right to Self-Determination of Indigenous Peoples must be respected, emphasizing our right to Free Prior and Informed Consent including the right to say ‘no.’” During the climate crisis of our day, the United States receives more oil from Canada than from any other foreign country, mainly from First Nations lands without consultation with or compensation to tribes.

The city council adopted the Berkeley Climate Action Plan on June 2, which had been in the works for over three years. Consistent with the new international “Transition Towns” trend, the plan seeks to reduce carbon emissions and localize green jobs by promoting public transportation and wise land use, utilizing renewable energy in home, business, and institutional buildings, reducing waste while stepping up recycling, reuse and composting, and raising awareness and responsibility in the community.

The City of Berkeley does not celebrate Columbus Day; here we call it Indigenous Peoples Day. We strive to pay respect to the indigenous people who are from the place where we live. The coastal fertility, the inception vigor that quakes about Alcatraz Island and Mount Tamalpais; that shakes the San Francisco Bay, the golden hills, the remaining local redwood stands; the passion, emergence and birth of creative thought; and the abundance can be wholly received and implemented when it is observed with graciousness for the original peoples who continue to walk these ancient lands.

Wendy Kenin is a doula and mother of four in Berkeley, CA. She is the Vice Chair of the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission, and serves on the Editorial Board of the Green Party of the United States. Contact her at

This article first appeared in Vision Magazine. You can view it at


About greendoula

Birthing babies, social movements, and new world paradigms!


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