Carol Denney

Criticizing people who show up wrapped in homemade armor and equipped with improvised weapons to “defend” you from alt-right rallies will fill your mailbox with outraged messages about how ungrateful you are. They’re defending us, we’re told, from racism, from sexism, from exposure to right-wing views the expression of which will surely make us wither and die. We should be thanking them, we’re told, for their bravery. Otherwise a long parade of conservatives, or perhaps right-wing provocateurs, will come to our university town and…speak.

I want to reassure all these self-appointed civic defenders dressed up like the Unibomber that we’re good. We got this. We don’t need defending from provocative speech, or racist speech, or sexist speech. We’ve heard it all our lives. Maybe there’s a mean-spirited group out there hoping to bankrupt our decidedly liberal town, hoping we “clutch our pearls” and have a riot every time we hear a different point of view. But most of us are not that person. Most of us have heard racist, sexist speech all our lives and know how to handle it.

First: let people speak. Cultivating the patience it requires to allow even an offensive perspective will be a better shield than any plastic trash can lid, and more useful than anything you can re-purpose from Home Depot. If you don’t want to hear it, or don’t know how to respond, you can always walk away, which is the first rule of self defense.

Most of us aren’t hearing anything we haven’t heard or read before. We’re not only up to hearing it, we’re pretty good at responding. We’re a university town where even odious ideas find an occasional harbor. And that’s okay. It may seem old-fashioned, but the First Amendment still has a lot of fans.

With a Perspective, this is Carol Denney.

Carol Denney is a Berkeley activist and musician.

People go to People’s Park and look for different things. Tourists look for a 1960’s museum experience so they can go shopping. University of California officials worry that the sixties are still there hoping they’ll be over someday. But others look for the people who make the Park what it is, people who, as much as the weather, predict the likelihood of good music, good stories, arguments and jokes. Maybe a friend they met in a holding cell they can borrow a couple bucks from or pay back. And usually there was Hate Man.

Hate Man, born Mark Hawthorne, was a philosopher who encouraged people to confront negative feelings, which he saw as more honest. He was articulate, educated, and loved conversation. He dressed in creative attire unusual even for Berkeley, which, like his philosophy, gave quiet permission to others to stretch their ideas of personal expression. And when he died recently, our town stopped to pay him and his eccentric ideas gratitude and honor.

The University of California’s war on eccentricity still exists in their “People’s Park Rules”, which criminalize baby strollers unless carrying a baby. That was for Hate Man’s colorfully decorated baby stroller he used to carry his possessions, and for the strangely gracious power of a philosopher they repeatedly forced into court.

After the block now known as People’s Park was bulldozed in 1967, the university tried to quell the revolutionary culture and its gentle warriors. Hate Man’s embrace of “oppositionality”, fit right into this revolution.

We are sad to lose him, but will forever see Hate Man on our streets and in our park, and loosen our constricted expectations, of ourselves and others, and even of baby strollers

With a Perspective, this is Carol Denney.

Carol Denney is a musician, writer and activist living in Berkeley.

I know what most people mean when they describe someone as “political.” They mean they’re tedious. They mean someone who is always angry, repetitive, boring, and don’t forget repetitive. They’re afraid they’re going to dominate a gathering with speeches or worse, make them eat kale. I’ve met the people who fit this category. You can only hope they all end up having to sit next to each other someday on the same bus.

What confuses me are the people who claim they are not “political”, as if you could take it off and hang it up like a coat. I saw one recently stomping through a party trying to turn off the faucets of conversation everywhere about, for instance, the Electoral College, as though the room would flood. It’s especially entertaining to watch them parse songs as either “political” or “not political” considering the many efforts, both historic and contemporary, to prohibit indigenous music, or religious music, or music entirely.

How do they do it? My hat is off to the exhausted people who try. It’s a touchy time, after the recent election, and it’s hard dodging the mea culpas and analyses flying through the air like butterflies in spring. It’s hard to know where the third rail is in a room full of strangers, who might well be at musical, let alone political, odds.

But one thing I am sure of is that after you’ve ironed all the politics out of your Thanksgiving, your gathering, your songs, your speech, and the patterns of your life, I hope somebody lets you know that you’ve committed an extremely political act. That is, if you haven’t silenced them entirely.

With a Perspective, this is Carol Denney.

Carol Denney is a musician, writer and activist living in Berkeley.

Some of who we are is accidental. It’s the book somebody lent us, the school we attended, the luck of our genes. Some of who we are is the unexpected collision we’ve had with brilliance, joy, and creativity we could never have predicted, and can never forget.

Artists, musicians, dancers, activists, poets, and other cultural workers are as burdened by the skyrocketing Bay Area rents as anyone else. But they’re also saddled with additional exotic issues; where can you practice the drums, rehearse the band, work with a blowtorch or spray paint, work out choreography, or hold an arts event.

Where do you meet others who share an interest in traditional arts, or original works, either of which might be too old or too new to interest a conventional art gallery or music venue? Where can you create opportunities to stretch, invent, and simply play?

Our arts communities are way ahead of our planners. The best settings for creative, connected arts groups have spaces where there’s room for our unpredictable imaginations to experiment with the almost magical intersection of unexpected ideas. This is what many artists build together naturally, and what the Oakland warehouse known as the Ghost Ship, at its best, was before the tragic fire.

Our best tribute to the talented young lives from all over the world lost to us that night is to realize the vision they had of art spaces where creative communities can come together to nurture and inspire unique expression. There is no reason this can’t be done safely.

If Bay Area wants to keep its creative communities, it needs to plan for them. We are talented, inventive, and we can afford to support safe harbors for creative self-expression. What we can’t afford is to lose even one more precious, creative life.

With a perspective, this is Carol Denney.

Carol Denney is a musician and housing advocate, living in Berkeley.

Something about tiny houses makes intelligent people go weak in the knees. But what issue does the miniaturization of housing actually solve?

I like tiny houses same way I once liked the Betty Crocker Easy-Bake Oven. But one 264 square foot micro-unit hit the San Francisco market this past December for the “affordable” price of $425,000. Developers who capitalize on the housing crisis are no more likely to be motivated by community needs than the college students who compete for annual prizes with tiny house designs in which they have no plans to actually live.

The suggestions that tiny houses are part of a solution to homelessness seem especially bizarre since the issue isn’t the size of the house or tent; it’s the unwillingness of your public official to allow them to exist at all in public spaces. Tiny house misconceptions are passed around like cookies, especially the misconception that there is not enough land or money to address the housing crisis. This is nonsense. We are a wealthy nation capable of housing the poor. One should never confuse an absence of resources with an absence of political will.

But the misconception that poor people (and apparently nobody else) should start living their lives in miniature is not just nonsense, it is offensive. Do poor people somehow need less room to cook or have friends over for a meal? Do people who have survived grinding poverty need less light, less space, less access to computers, art supplies, pianos, or room for their children? I would argue the opposite.

Live in a teacup if you like, I would say to tiny house proponents, those who aren’t frankly capitalizing on the housing crisis or jousting for some academic design prize. But think before requesting the miniaturization of someone else’s life. It’s cynical to arrange companionship-free living for others while the developers, happily living in large houses, periodically dust the environmental prize hanging by the mantel.

With a Perspective, this is Carol Denney.

Carol Denney is a freelance writer and human rights editor for Street Spirit newspaper.

Protesters tried to set fire to my apartment building Saturday night, white people in masks who were stopped by my young Latino neighbors. The protesters brought a tank of gas with them to the march. We had to rescue a recycling bin, which they wanted to use as a barricade or perhaps burn. All this does is hemorrhage overtime pay into police pockets, frighten people away from joining marches, and put more black lives in disproportionate danger.

We have children in this building. We have dozens of residents who stood in front of our apartments astonished at being targeted, watching the helicopters circling in the moonlit sky. We have everything in common with people who oppose police brutality and support police accountability. We are old and young, we are Black, White, Latino, Asian and Pacific Islanders. We are a rainbow community with stories of our own about police misconduct.

What do masked protesters prove with broken windows? What message is sent by smashing a grocery store, a yarn store, or even the local Wells Fargo branch, which is right under my neighbors' apartment homes?

I'm not someone who has not marched, sat in, gone to jail. But I will not provide cover for cowards who exploit a peaceful effort to join the united national voice against police corruption at a crucial moment. Broken windows might catch a photographer's or reporter's attention momentarily, but whatever ambiguous message vandalism sends is not nearly as powerful as numbers, which masked vandals never seem to master.

Peaceful, nonviolent tactics don't just sound nice.They are the practical path to change.

With a Perspective, this is Carol Denney.

Carol Denney is a community activist, writer and musician living in Berkeley.

Decades ago Berkeley realized that our police force needed the community's cooperation to have public safety. We instituted what was called "police review," an arrangement where people could complain about police misconduct to an independent, civilian oversight council.

Those days are gone. The commission exists, but thanks to recent state law, it now operates in secret, and seems unmoved by civil liberties violations, raising, for instance, no objection to the criminalization of sitting, which, thankfully, our voters rejected.

Police officers who commit irresponsible behavior today have little incentive to care about community objections. They work closely with the district attorney. Their uniforms prejudice juries. Their supposedly non-lethal weapons kill. When a police officer shoots an unarmed person, as happened recently in Oakland, San Francisco and Santa Rosa, it shakes a community to its core.

I've been arrested for standing on a public sidewalk silently with a candle. I've been arrested for sitting on a chair on an unobstructed sidewalk playing the fiddle as part of a demonstration illustrating legal behavior, according to not only the civil rights lawyers I work with, but also the police supervisor on the scene. These illustrations of police over-reach produced no policy change, no discipline against the arresting officers, nothing.

The first time I was arrested, 36 of us were rounded up for sitting silently in a circle in a public park. The women were searched as many as eight times while moved from one holding area to another. Some men were not searched at all. We were held for three days without charges. When I asked what the charge was, as instructed by non-violence trainers to do, they said, "We'll think of something."

With a Perspective, this is Carol Denney.

Carol Denney is a writer, musician, and community activist in Berkeley.

Have you seen an electronic cigarette yet? They look like a cigarette, and contain a cartridge with a nicotine-laced liquid vaporized by a heating element and inhaled by the user. They're flooding the market, promoted on late-night TV as a healthier alternative to cigarettes, and a way to go on getting a nicotine fix in smoke-free areas.

So: are they good for you? Bad for you? Only the guy who owns the proprietary research knows for sure, and in many cases, the tobacco industry owns him.

After years of work getting almost half the country protected from secondhand tobacco smoke in workplaces, e-cigarette promoters want us to let the guy in the next cubicle exhaling toxic diethylene glycol and nicotine go right ahead because it's not technically a cigarette.

The problem is that the emissions are still toxic: the nicotine e-cigarettes leave behind interacts with nitrous acid — a common component of indoor air. Nicotine is a sticky, addictive substance that remains on surfaces for weeks, so the hazardous carcinogens continue to be created over time, and then inhaled, absorbed or ingested. At least one brand is honest enough to caution the user that nicotine "causes birth defects or other reproductive harm."

If you think the tobacco industry's interest in e-cigarettes means they're now in the public health business, you might want to reconsider in the light of their 2006 federal conviction for racketeering and conspiracy to deceive the American public and target children with deadly and addictive products.

We've worked hard for the few protections we have from involuntary exposure to toxic products. Don't let the tobacco industry sidestep our protections and hook another generation through gimmicks and false advertising. Hang on tight to the protections we have from involuntary nicotine and tobacco exposure and stand up for clean air.

With a Perspective, this is Carol Denney.

Carol Denney is a writer, musician and activist in Berkeley.

You're on a dark street. Four people are walking toward you; a black guy in a hoodie, a woman carrying groceries, a 12-year-old, and an old lady.

Which one of the group is most likely to own a gun? Answer: none of them. Quit shaking in your stupid shoes.

If you want to avoid guns, the guys to look out for are older, white, married men who are Republicans.

There's a slight bias toward gun ownership if you're from a western or southern region, according to Gallup polls. Also if you go to church, and have less education. But if you want to evade people with guns, old, politically conservative white guys are the guys to look out for on the street.

Critics will say, "well maybe those guys have the most guns, but maybe they're not the most likely to shoot guns inappropriately, or at least at me."

Good point. Maybe they're responsible, trained gun owners using guns safely for protection. Who's the person with the gun most likely to kill? Answer: not a robber. Not a burglar. Not a rapist.

The person the person who owns a gun is most likely to shoot — is himself. Of the 85 Americans shot dead every day, 62 percent are suicides. The person your shiny new gun is most likely to kill is you.

Gun ownership's link to gun violence is quirky, but gun ownership's link to suicide is stunning. Adolescents' and veteran's suicides are most likely to happen with the family gun.

Without dismissing the very real issue of gun violence we face as a community, one might suggest that avoiding gun violence starts with not owning a gun, and discouraging gun ownership in one's family and friends. The facts suggest that we're all a little too crazy, from time to time, for something so final.

With a Perspective, I'm Carol Denney.

Carol Denney is a writer, activist and musician. She lives in Berkeley.


Reporters routinely call Berkeley the "home of the free speech movement," forgetting that it was UC Berkeley's repression of free speech that engendered the backlash creating the 1964 Free Speech Movement in the first place. You'll still be threatened with arrest if you try to put up a poster in downtown Berkeley's Constitution Square.

Berkeley thinks it is so generous to poor and homeless people that it's done more than its "fair share," and that cracking down on people who might sit down in commercial areas by making sitting down a crime is "the next logical step," according to Mayor Tom Bates and a council majority.

But for decades, Berkeley has systematically replaced low-income housing with condominiums, high-end penthouses and housing unaffordable to people with the most pressing housing needs. Boarding houses once available for a short stay are mostly reserved for students today. Shelters are full, while condominiums and brand new apartments sit empty or quickly convert to student housing.

Anyone lucky enough to have a full-time minimum wage job will fall about $500 short of being able to pay an average monthly apartment rent, with no money left over for food.

Berkeley has no public campground, no day shelter, the same approximately 200 shelter beds it had 20 years ago for its approximately 800 homeless people on any given night, and very few public benches. Berkeley has the largest income disparity in the Bay Area.

Berkeley is a college town, and it wants people here — well-heeled tourists, or those lucky enough to afford an increasingly unaffordable education, or an increasingly unavailable job. Even without an anti-sitting law, police in Berkeley are handing out expensive tickets for trespassing or blocking the sidewalk to people who don't fit the preferred profile, according to the staff at East Bay Community Law Center.

Berkeley puts a lot of effort into a public image of generosity, but it's pretty hard to find on the streets if you're down on your luck.

With a Perspective, this is Carol Denney.

Carol Denney is a local writer, musician and activist.