A New Look at Berkeley’s Battles of the 1970s Against Police, Marijuana, and Apartheid



David Mundstock at a street side voter registration table interviewed by television media in 1971. The historian’s records will be on display at the Berkeley Historical Society next month. Credit: Jim Yudelson

Love it or hate it, Berkeley is different from most other cities.

Earlier this month, we were reminded that on October 12, 1992 – 29 years before the nation – Berkeley became the first city in the country to officially celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day. Formalized by city council on the eve of Columbus’ fiftieth anniversary, the review was led by Berkeley activist John Curl and several Indigenous leaders.

From the streets to the polls: Berkeley politics in the 1970s,
Berkeley Historical Society,
1931 Center Street,
until April 2022

But Berkeley is home to many other policy firsts, a fact reflected in the Berkeley Historical Society’s exhibit “From the Streets to the Ballot Box: Berkeley Politics in the 1970s,” which opens November 6 and runs through. mid-April 2022.

David Mundstock was an activist and historian of electoral politics from Berkeley who died on August 28, 2020. He was the only child of Jewish parents who emigrated from Nazi Germany to Canada and then settled in San Francisco. Mundstock was an undergraduate and law student at UC Berkeley and was deeply committed to the democratic promise of electoral politics. He spent countless hours putting people on the electoral rolls, but his greatest contribution was to organize the students to become a major constituency of the progressive coalition who elected the first representatives of the “new politics” to Berkeley City Council in the early 1970s. The coalition became known as Berkeley Citizens Action, or BCA.

David understood the nuances of the Berkeley electorate and painstakingly compiled data on each election, often reflecting the results in color on large riding maps.

I was a member of the Inkworks Press collective, which printed many Berkeley campaign materials, and befriended David while researching election posters. He asked me to review his extensive archives in 2016, so while I was surprised to learn of David’s death, I was not surprised to learn that he bequeathed his collection to me. After extracting box after box from under dusty eaves and creaky filing cabinets, I examined the documents and donated them to the Berkeley Historical Society. One of the meta-messages here is how the community’s citizen-scholars passionately build collections that eventually need to be moved to more secure and accessible institutions.

The Mundstock Collection is a powerful body of work detailing the evolution of politics in a bustling city – over 30 boxes of documents as well as 150 political posters, boxes of campaign buttons and bumper stickers. He is still being treated at the BHS; this exhibition is a selective showcase highlighting some of the many topics available for further research.

Here are three of the many progressive campaigns documented in this collection:

The need for a fundamental change in policing, dramatically highlighted with the murder of George Floyd in 2020, has a deep history in Berkeley. In September 1970, the “community police control” measure qualified for the spring elections – an unprecedented proposal to replace city-wide police forces with three independent “neighborhood” services. , under civilian governance and requiring the police to live in Berkeley.

The measure was put forward by members of the UC Berkeley School of Criminology and the National Anti-Fascism Committee, a coalition of the Black Panther Party and several community organizations. Berkeley had seen significant law enforcement struggles during the 1969 battle over People’s Park, where the main problem was the behavior of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department and the involvement of federal agencies. , including the FBI. The move responded to lingering local concerns with the Berkeley Police and served as a model for grassroots organizations across the country fighting against police racism.

In the early spring of 1971, a large public debate took place in Berkeley on community control over policing, with Representative Ronald V. Dellums and Deputy Mayor Wilmont Sweeney. Dellums pointed out that there had been numerous incidents of racist behavior on the part of the police, which numbered only six black officers in a department of more than 200.

On April 7, 1971, voters elected three members of the April Coalition’s progressive list, but rejected the police measure by a large majority. In 1973, Berkeley voters again rejected police reform measures, including a local residency requirement and the “demilitarization” of the force, but approved a civilian-led review board, one premieres in the country. In 2002, Berkeley’s former deputy city manager said the Police Review Board “saved the city at least $ 100,000 from just one potential trial.”

Berkeley Marijuana Initiative (1973) and Measure C (1979)

Tom Accinelli came up with a fundraising idea for a dollar-a-dollar “Win ​​a Kilo†marijuana raffle, drawing national attention to the Berkeley Marijuana Initiative. Courtesy of the Berkeley Historical Society

Cannabis in California has been legal for medical use since 1996, and OK for recreational use since late 2016. Given Berkeley’s counter-cultural credentials, it’s no surprise that efforts to decriminalize marijuana were an early tool in the electoral arsenal. These efforts lacked a commitment to engage with communities of color, which have always borne the brunt of the fight against drugs. But despite everything, they paved the way for less draconian community standards.

David Mundstock wrote one of the shortest initiatives ever. Key Operational Clause: “The Berkeley Police Department will not make any arrests for possession, use and cultivation of marijuana without permission from Berkeley City Council.”

No voting arguments were put forward against the Berkeley Marijuana Initiative, but it gained national attention when Tom Accinelli proposed a fundraising idea for a “Win ​​a Kilo†marijuana raffle at a dollar a ticket.

The measure was challenged in court and was never implemented as planned. So in 1979, military conscientious objector Steve Bloom drafted a new initiative. Measure C would direct city council to ensure that enforcement of marijuana laws becomes the Berkeley Police Department’s “lowest priority”. The measure further cut funds for marijuana law enforcement, attempted to end arrests, and made reporting of all marijuana law enforcement activities to city council mandatory. Without opposition, the measure won.

A raffle ticket. Courtesy of the Berkeley Historical Society

South Africa Divestment (1979)

Can a city influence social justice in a distant land? That was exactly the question citizens answered in 1979, when Berkeley became the first city in the United States to add municipal weight to support the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa.

That year, four Berkeley Citizens Action candidates were elected to city council: Mayor Gus Newport, John Denton, Florence McDonald and Veronica Fukson. Along with City Councilor Carole Davis who switched sides, there was now a progressive majority on Berkeley City Council. The ballot also included a pair of own-initiative ordinances which BCA said would help the campaign by fostering greater voter interest and participation – Measures A and B, Responsible Investment Ordinances regarding South Africa.

Concerns over investments by the city of Berkeley that have supported white-ruled South Africa have been voiced for years, leading to various unsuccessful city council motions. In 1978, students in the UC Berkeley section of the California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) decided to approach this issue with an initiative. The Campaign for Economic Democracy and the people of BCA from the campus community joined in the effort.

Measure A condemned apartheid and demanded the withdrawal of Berkeley city funds from banks doing business with South Africa, and a citizens’ committee on responsible investment would help the council implement this policy.

Originally imperfect in its language, the supporting city prosecutor’s office submitted an amended initiative to reflect a “minimal” negative financial impact if measures A and B were adopted en bloc. There was no campaign against them.

Eventually, massive international pressure led to the fall of the apartheid system in South Africa. Nelson Mandela was released on February 11, 1990, and negotiations to end apartheid officially lasted four years, ending with Mandela’s election as president. In 1996, the country created a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to take into account gross human rights violations during apartheid.

Lincoln cushing is an archivist and author who documents, catalogs and disseminates the opposition political culture of the late 20e century. His books include Revolution! Cuban poster art and wave! Educate! To organise! – American Labor Posters and he was curator of the All or None: San Francisco Bay Area Art Posters exhibition at the Oakland Museum of California in 2012.


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