Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission follows Ten Key Values
With strong Green presence, commission active in advising city council
by Bob Meola, Green Party of California
Greens are influencing the City of Berkeley not just through elected officials, but also with appointed advisors. The Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission is one of over forty boards and commissions that comprise part of the government of Berkeley, California. Over the years, there have been many party members appointed to the commission, with the position of chairperson often held by a Green. These members have used the opportunity for action, creating a prodigious amount of policy recommendations that the city council has enacted, as well as holding events educating the public on social justice.
The Peace and Justice Commission charter was established by ordinance in 1986 at approximately the same time as the Nuclear Free Berkeley Act. A reading of the Peace and Justice Commission’s enabling legislation shows it has a lot in common with the Ten Key Values of the Green Party. Grassroots citizen responsibility and the call for citizen participation, a look at the causes of war and the alternatives to it, and an emphasis on nonviolence and equity are just some of the parallels between the Council’s rationale in establishing the Peace and Justice Commission and the Key Values of the party.
With 15 seats on the Commission, for a long time it has had a high number of registered Greens filling those positions, and the leadership role of chairperson and vice chairperson is often held by a Green. Steve Freedkin, Green Party member and former Peace and Justice Commission Chairperson said, ìThe Commission’s mandate fits well with the party’s core values. With responsibilities ranging from recommending City positions on global justice issues to reviewing proposed Sister City relationships to helping enforce the city’s Nuclear Free Berkeley Act, the Commission helps Berkeley stand as a model of thinking Green globally and acting Green locally.î
The Commission’s main function has been to advise the Berkeley City Council and the Berkeley Unified School District on matters of Peace and Justice. The enabling ordinance states that, ìëpeace and social justiceí shall refer to the goal of creating a world community in which the relations between people are based on equality, respect for human rights, and the abhorrence of exploitation and all forms of oppression.î
The legislation recognizes that “Individual citizens, unless organized, are virtually powerless in confronting and influencing larger government bodies” and “It is the responsibility of one and all to labor hard for peace and justice within forums of appropriate scale.”
Amongst the tasks the Commission is able to perform is holding public hearings and community forums on issues that fall within the charge of the Commission. In October a successful forum was held on the topic of immigration, which engaged a diverse group of citizens, activists, and organizations that deal with the problems and needs of immigrants in Berkeley in the present immigration climate.
Wendy Kenin, Green Party member and vice chairperson of the commission, said the October forum on Human Rights for Immigrants in Berkeley, ìeducated the commission, several attending city council members, and members of the public on their priority concerns and we were able to discuss strategies and identify resources among the forum participants.î
Kenin added, ìCurrently we are forming a coalition of city commissions to endorse Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention month, and to combine our talents with a regional non-profit task force in developing school district and city policy to support healthy relationships among youth.î
ìSome Green-consistent initiatives I have been proud to implement through the City of Berkeley are in support of indigenous peoples. The city opposes certain federal policies such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall, endorses the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and supports the release of Leonard Peltier. Among other accomplishments achieved by recommendation of our commission, the city has opposed juvenile life-without-parole sentences, and has upheld the Nuclear-Free Berkeley Act.î
Writing and passing resolutions and recommendations for the city council has been the majority of the work of the commission. Berkeley is a sanctuary city for immigrants, conscientious objectors, and war resisters. Commissioners have authored resolutions that the commission and then the city council have passed on numerous local, domestic, and global topics. The Commission has been a force behind Berkeley’s outspoken objection on the situations in Tibet, Burma, Niger, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and many other places.
In the last few years, some of the resolutions adopted by the city council and authored by the commission were: to ban the manufacture, stockpiling, and sales of cluster bombs, depleted uranium, and white phosphorous weapons; to endorse the Universal Jurisdiction suit brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights which called for the prosecution of Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzalez, John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and other war criminals; to establish May 15 (International Conscientious Objectors Day) as Berkeley Conscientious Objector (CO) and War Resisters Day; and broaden Berkeley’s CO Sanctuary City status to include sanctuary for draft registration resisters, draft resisters (if the draft should be re-instituted), and military resisters who, although they might not be traditional conscientious objectors, still could not allow themselves to fight illegal and immoral wars.
The commission recently sent a resolution to the city council recommending Universal Unconditional Amnesty be granted to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan war resisters and veterans. Resolutions passed by the city council are often then sent to the President of the United States, the Secretary of State, the United Nations, the senators from California, and local congress members, as appropriate.
Berkeley has also called for justice for the San Francisco 8 and agreed to, whenever possible, not fill city vehicles with Chevron fuel. The commission has also been chartered to ìDevelop ways to resolve conflict which do not involve violence and which may be applied on a local level as well as a national level.î It brings to mind the ìDepartment of Peace.î
The Commission often passes resolutions that would be good to duplicate in cities from coast to coast. Perhaps more cities ought to establish their own peace and justice commissions for that and other purposes.
Bob Meola is Chairperson of the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission and a registered Green. He is also a member of the Courage to Resist Organizing Collective, a member of the War Resisters League National Committee, and the Movement for a Democratic Society Organizing Committee.
Berkeley Greens influence the world one city at a time
by Steve Freedkin, Green Party of California
Green involvement at the local level in Berkeley has actually helped change national and international policies. Berkeley has thousands of registered Green voters, and there are more than 10,000 countywide. Green Party activism has helped the city to break new ground with policies that are being emulated around the world, from curb cuts to enable greater mobility for wheelchair users, to city financing of home solar installations. Each of these policies was initially derided by critics, but eventually became commonplace.
Berkeley’s large base of registered Green voters extends the party’s influence well beyond the Greens in office. In every election, candidates across the spectrum seek favorable write-ups in the Green Voter Guide, and its questionnaires and interviews push officeholders toward more-progressive positions.